This Author Spotlight is going to be a noteworthy one, because in it the queen of romance, Bella Andre, graciously agreed to answer my questions about her process and journey. For those interested in her full bio, you can read her Amazon author page, but the short version is that she’s sold over 3 million books, is a force to be reckoned with in the industry, and is one of only three folks I know of who have done paper-only deals with trad publishers. Perhaps less known is that she was an economics major at Stanford, which explains why she’s got a good handle on the business skills indies really need to have sustained career success. She works the same insane hours I do, and is a tour de force in romance the likes of which indie publishing has never seen. It’s exciting that she was willing to share her secrets with us, although nowhere do I see tequila mentioned, so our approaches differ in at least that respect. I’ve watched her career with interest, especially since I’ll be doing my foray into romance this summer, and can say she’s a class act in every respect.
So much for the sucking up. Now, without any further ado, heeeeeere’s Bella!
NEWS: My 3 novel bundle, Triple Trouble, just went live on Amazon! The perfect starter package for readers unfamiliar with my work at a rock bottom price!!!
RB: Your romance novels are blockbuster bestsellers. To what do you attribute your success?
BA: I absolutely love the romance genre. I’ve been reading romance novels for as long as I can remember, often at a clip of a book a day. Reading is the most wonderful and relaxing escape for me. Ten years ago I was thrilled to realized that writing romance was just as much fun.
I work really hard to make each book the very best it can be. The most important thing to me is to do whatever I can to always fulfill my promise to the reader—which is to give them emotional, fun and sexy contemporary romances every single time I put out a book.
RB: You’re not exactly an overnight sensation. How long have you been at this, and what was your journey?
BA: I laughed out loud at this question, Russell! You’re right—during my first seven years of writing for major NY publishers traditional publishers, my books (unfortunately) never broke out. In 2010 when the option wasn’t picked up on my contract, a good friend of mine suggested I try self-publishing something. After all, what did I have to lose?
Self-publishing that first novella ended up changing my entire career—and life! Since then, I’ve sold more than 3 million books so far, have appeared on the NYT and USA Today bestsellers lists 16 times, have published more than 20 indie original novels and also turned them into bestselling audiobooks, have had my indie books translated into 10 languages, signed a groundbreaking 7 figure print-only deal with Harlequin for my “The Sullivans” series, have been the #1 author at Amazon on a top 10 list with JK Rowling, James Patterson and Nora Roberts, and was recently named the fastest growing small Publisher in the US by Publishers Weekly.
And best of all? I get to write exactly the books that I want to write every single day!
RB: You’re a hybrid author, published in hard copy with Harlequin. How does that work, and what do you think of the experience?
BA: Last year, I signed a never-done-before deal in which I sold Harlequin MIRA the English language print rights to my New York Times bestselling series about “The Sullivans” while retaining all of the digital, translation, audio and Film/TV rights. They have done an incredible job of getting the paperbacks (and one hardcover) into pretty much every store that sells English language books all over the world. Readers have posted pictures of my Sullivans in paperback from every corner of the planet. Recently the two most recent Sullivan paperback releases (LET ME BE THE ONE and COME A LITTLE BIT CLOSER) have both debuted on the NYT mass market bestsellers list. What’s really fun is that they had previously been on the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists as indie ebooks more than a year earlier.
RB: Let’s talk process. Do you outline, plot and structure, or do you just sit down and write? How long between when a book idea comes to you, and when it’s ready to be written?
BA: I do both depending on the book.
In my head, I always think of myself as a pantser. But then, by the time I’m done with each book, I usually realize I’ve also written a 20,000 word outline and revision document for the book. I actually outline a lot more now than I used to. I’m guessing this is probably because I’m always thinking ahead to future books that I’ve put on my schedule for the upcoming year. When I think of something for a future book, I immediately make note of it in a document I keep with all future story ideas. Having this document helps keep me from panicking about tight future deadlines, because at the very least, I know I’ve got some ideas for the story.
I’m not big on following the “rules” of genre fiction and words like “conflict” and “character arcs” and classes on writing and story structure give me the hives. With that said, it occurred to me recently that by reading thousands of romances for the past thirty years, I’ve given myself an “accidental” PhD in romance novels. The structure of a romance is so deeply ingrained in my head, that could be why I don’t spend much time analyzing structure.
Also, I really like to follow the magic of a story. If writing the story is emotional, if it’s fun, if it’s sexy, if I’m laughing and crying and feeling…then I figure I’m on the right track.
RB: Do you have a set schedule for writing? What’s your typical writer’s day like?
BA: Absolutely! I schedule my books—and production cycle with copy editors and proofreaders and formatters and promotion—a year in advance. On any given day, I need to write between 2k and 5k words to keep everything on track. Right now, for example, I’m working on my first New Adult contemporary romance (KISS ME LIKE THIS: THE MORRISONS will be out this June), and I’m writing between 16 and 20 pages every day.
Once I have a rough draft, I begin the intense re-writing process. This will often take me longer than drafting, which usually takes me about 4-6 weeks. I’m lucky to have a couple of fabulous NYT bestselling beta readers who get back to me with what they love/don’t love, as well. A lot of agonizing (and tons of hours of super hard work) go into rewriting for me because of my goal to always fulfill my promise to my readers of giving them another great book that they will love.
As for a typical writer’s day? HAHAHAHAHA. Good one, Russell! There is no typical day, no matter how much I may try to plan otherwise. During the course of any day or week there are so many incredible opportunities that pop up or business tasks that I’ve got to take care of. Some of these are such high priority that I have to deal with them immediately, even before I reach my writing page count goal for the day. Between writing and running my publishing business, I work 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day. It’s been a busy few years…
RB: Do you have monthly or annual word goals? How’s your discipline?
BA: When I’m working on a book, I have daily goals so that I can get the books done in time. Usually this is between 2k and 5k words per day. There are weeks, however, where I don’t do any writing. I was at the London Book Fair in April and blocked out that week in my calendar because I knew from previous experience that writing and conferences don’t go together. At least not for me. I’m too busy talking with everyone until I lose my voice, usually. I like people! 🙂
RB: What percentage of your time do you allocate to marketing/promo, vs. writing?
BA: I honestly don’t know. Like I said, there isn’t too much rhyme or reason to my schedule, so it changes on a daily basis. I don’t actually spent much time on marketing, strictly speaking, if you mean buying ads and posting on FB/twitter/goodreads all the time (although I certainly do all those things on a regular basis). However, if you consider things like making covers and honing book descriptions and titles marketing, then I spend a TON of time on it.
RB: How do you come up with your characters? Based on real people, pure invention, or a combo?
BA: My characters all come from my imagination. For whatever reason, I’ve never gotten a ton of ideas from “real” life. I try not to spent too much time dissecting the “magic” of story creation, but I do know that once a story idea takes hold, if I have that gut reaction to it, then I know I’m on the right track and it tends to flow from there.
RB: Do you ever have issues with motivation? Writer’s block? If so, how do you move past it?
BA: No, I’m a very self-motivated person. I like to work. I like to achieve cool things. And most of all, I enjoy spending time with my characters every single day.
Walking/hiking, meditation, traveling, naps and good food all help to boost my energy.
RB: Describe your work environment. Quiet? Music? Window? What is it like?
BA: My work environment is wherever I need it to be. While at home I tend to write on a couch in my office or if the weather is good (and in Northern California it usually is) out on the deck under an umbrella. But I’ll write anywhere—in a car, plane, train, hotel room, even while I’m swimming as the words come and I try to remember them!
BA: 5-6 hours of full on writing is when my brain usually says “all done”. I’ll often revise for 10-12 hours in a row, though. When I’m working on a book (which is most of the time!) I’m pretty consistent, although on great days, I can be done with my pages in 2-4 hours.
RB: How many times do you polish before your manuscript is ready for edit – how many drafts?
BA: A lot of times! It depends on the book—some need more work than others—but I am constantly revising and refining after I’ve finished the rough draft.
RB: Let’s talk marketing. Before you were hybrid, what was your strategy, how much of it did you do, and what were the best outlets for you?
BA: My strategy isn’t any different now than it always was: to get the word out about my books to my target audience. How? With covers that draw them in. Book descriptions that resonate. And by fulfilling my promise to my readers with every single book so that they are so happy with each read that it’s natural for them to tell their friends to read them, too!
My newsletter is an important way that I reach out to readers, and I only send it when I have a brand new release. Of course I also love BookBub—we all do, they’re great! I also really like having a fan page and street team on Facebook and reaching readers on twitter and Goodreads, too. Going to conferences and meeting with retailers is very important, too. They’re all really fabulous, really enthusiastic people.
RB: Let’s talk pricing. How do you arrive at your pricing model, and how do you know it’s “right?” Do you see that changing over time? If so, in what way?”
BA: I want my pricing to be fair to my readers and, for me, I feel that $2.99/$3.99 for a 25-40k word book and $4.99/$5.99 for a 65k-90k word book makes everyone happy!
I am always watching pricing trends, but haven’t decided to change the way I’ve been doing it (either up or down) because I still think my prices are working really well.
RB: What do you think about the current state of trad pub vs. self-publishing? If someone came to you and asked which to do, what would you say?
BA: I think there’s never been a better time to be a writer! There are so many options now, options that just weren’t there when I started ten years ago.
People frequently come to me and ask me what they should do, and it always comes down to their individual goals and dreams and what they are comfortable doing.
RB: What counsel would you offer a newbie who was interested in pursuing the author’s path? Is there anything you feel you have done that is primarily responsible for your remarkable success?
BA: Always remember to keep your main focus on the book. We can all talk about marketing and promo and the business all day long…but if the books aren’t great, then none of the business stuff really matters.
RB: What’s your biggest writing regret? The one thing you wish you could do over, or differently?
BA: I’m not a regretful person. 🙂 I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.
RB: Whose work most influenced you, and why?
BA: I love contemporary romance writers like Jennifer Crusie and Nora Roberts along with Irish writers like Cathy Kelly.
RB: Your covers have a distinct look and feel. How involved are you in creating them, and how many iterations have you been through to get them “right?” What’s your philosophy behind your approach?
BA: I create all of my own covers. It feels like it takes an infinite number of hours and iterations to get them just right. My goal is the same every time — to make sure that I’m creating a cover that will reach and attract my target audience. I don’t care about winning any design awards, all I want to do is put up a cover that makes a contemporary romance reader think “I’ve got to read that!”
RB: What’s your current project? Can you tell us anything about it?
BA: Yes, I’m working on my first New Adult contemporary romance called KISS ME LIKE THIS. I’m introducing a new family—The Morrisons—with 6 siblings between the ages of 18-25. This New Adult series will have everything readers love about The Sullivans—rich emotions, fun dialogue and super-hot sex—with the big difference being that the characters are in a slightly younger, somewhat difference stage of their lives as they try to figure out not only who they are, but also who they want to be. Also…FIRST LOVE!
I’m having so much fun with KISS ME LIKE THIS! It’s been a complete joy to work on and I can’t wait for people to read it this June. Release date and cover reveal coming soon on www.BellaAndre.com and www.Facebook.com/bellaandrefans.
RB: What’s the best thing about being an author?
BA: Everything! Seriously, we have such a super cool job. I love making up love stories every day.
RB: You’ve been extremely gracious sharing your time and views. What advice would you leave budding authors with, if you only had thirty seconds to impart it?
BA: Thanks for having me, Russell! My advice? Remember to always put the book first. And also…know that absolutely anything you set your heart and mind on is possible!
That’s right, the first prequel to the popular JET series, JET – Ops Files, is now live.
Why a prequel, you ask?
Good question. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to learn more about how Maya became Jet – the Mossad’s most lethal operative. I was so busy writing other stuff it took a while to get to it, but I decided to chronicle the formative period when she was a lowly private in the Israeli Defense Force, doing her compulsory stint, and explore what happened that resulted in her joining the Mossad. As with all the JET novels, if you’re expecting Tolstoy or Proust, you’d do best to look elsewhere. If you enjoy a good heaping serving of kick-ass female heroine taking on the world with over-the-top action, this is for you.
I’m thinking it will be the first of two or three books that document her adventures while in the life. As I finished this one I realized that there were more stories worth telling, so you can look forward to another Ops Files book in about nine to twelve months. My production schedule is pretty much booked through then, so I’m having to think a year out now, which is a little weird because I’m used to just writing whatever I want, whenever I feel like it.
In the how cool is this department, the German translation of King of Swords released today in Germany, and is in the top 100 of the kindle store there. Woohoo!
I’m in the midst of redoing the covers for the whole JET series, and will unveil those shortly. They will adopt the new theme I developed in Ops Files, and they’re already looking awesome, if I do say so myself.
Enjoy JET – Ops Files. For fans of the series, I think it’s an essential read. But it’s also written as a good introduction to the character, and it’s structured so it can be the first of the JET books one reads. No matter what the sequence I think it’s a barn burner, with more action per page than most novels see in a chapter. That could be a slight exaggeration, but then again, I am a liar by vocation, so hey…
Oh, and for a wonderful, in-depth review of the original JET novel, you can’t beat this new one from John Daulton. It’s a must read.
And just in case anyone thinks I don’t put a lot of time and thought into my covers, I just found one of the original concept drawings for Upon A Pale Horse, also drawn by John Daulton. In retrospect I think I should have used it. I was just a little uncomfortable with the cross-dressing stallion. My bad.
In this final installment, I cover a few of the most destructive myths. A warning before you read further: if you’re looking for feel good affirmations, this ain’t gonna be your brand of cereal. But I’ve always believed that it’s best to go into any enterprise with your eyes wide open. God knows I’ve done a few where I didn’t, and those were always failures.
16) Write a good book and you will make decent money. Or write a lot of good books and you will make decent money. Would that it were so. Reality is that the overwhelming majority of good books, which is to say competently written-and-edited tomes, fail to sell much. That’s the harsh truth. If you dislike that fact, that’s fine. The world should be fair, but it’s not. Puppies starve or are crushed by cars or brutalized by sadists every day, good, hard working people are maimed or killed in horrible circumstances, and evil men who have never contributed anything worthwhile to the world prosper while screwing everyone else. So let’s get clear on that. The world is not only not fair, but it’s highly unfair much of the time. Never more so than in the arts.
In the old days of trad publishing, if you rubbed shoulders with the right people in a small area of New York, your odds of being published were off the charts compared to the great unwashed. One of the reasons is because of nepotism. It’s natural. People are more likely to sign you if they know you. Just the way things work. But even so, that was no guarantee you’d have much more than bragging rights. Because readers reject most books traditional publishing slings at them. Whether that’s because the trad establishment’s hopelessly out of touch with what the vast majority of readers prefer and are victims of their own inbred literary tastes, which are usually far more advanced and nuanced than yours or mine, or because nobody has the faintest idea what the public prefers (even on their best day), is debatable. If you’re reading this, it’s probably not your problem, because you’ve chosen to self-publish. Which is a double-edged sword.
Let’s assume you’ve written a good book. Hell, let’s assume it’s a frigging awesome book. I mean, Lord of the Flies-level prose, an incredibly innovative story with unexpected hooks and a message frenzied crowds can rally behind, mesmerizing mastery of craft…the whole shooting match. And let’s further assume you package it well, and have a competent editor polish it, and a proofreader catch most of the nits. You put it out there with an awesome cover and a breathtaking blurb, you do all the right things, you tweet, you facebook, you advertise, you blog, you do interviews, you go to bookstores and kiss babies and shake hands…and nothing happens. The book doesn’t move. You’ve lost a grand or two and are scratching your head, or if like me, are standing on the roof of your house, brandishing a broadsword and a tequila bottle, screaming incoherently at passers-by whilst making obscene gestures with your man thong. Meanwhile, your slow cousin who can barely cobble together three sentences makes a hundred grand from her zombie-vampire love triangle potboiler, with more typos per page than a prison menu and a plot that would make Dr. Seuss cringe.
That’s reality. Shit happens. If you’re writing because you think it’s your ticket out of whatever misery that is your daily grind, think again. It’s not a ticket to stardom. It can be, if you win the lottery, but that’s not a business. That’s playing the lottery. If you write you should do so because you love it. Not for any other reason. And you shouldn’t expect your first, or your fifth, or your tenth book, to put you into the black. Law of averages says you won’t do well. Sorry. And it’s not because you, or your writing, blows goats. Although you or it well might. It’s because life isn’t fair. So get over it already.
When I offer advice, I do so with the expectation that you can write decently. If you can’t, that’s not necessarily a deal killer, but it makes your chances far, far worse. My message is simple: working very hard and very smart can improve your terrible odds, but that’s all it can do. It’s not a magic pill, nor a recipe for success. There is no such thing. The concept that anyone has one is bullshit.
I can tell you how to operate your writing and publishing company intelligently, but you need to recognize that most well-run publishing companies fail. Just as most well-run any-kind-of-companies fail. Most start-ups don’t last. They go belly up. Even those with the smartest people and shiniest wow products. That’s just how it works. Don’t start a company if you’re uncomfortable with that idea. Own it, internalize it, and if you’re okay with it, then plot how to be the exception. Because being one of the majority means you won’t make it. Harsh? Yes. But that’s life.
As I write this, I realize that this topic deserves more examination than a few paragraphs. So forget the rest of the myths I was going to cover today. Let’s focus on this one.
It’s a depressing business. There’s no certainty to any of it. You dance at the king’s pleasure, and there’s no reason to it – it seems completely random…and yes, unfair. Most authors I talk to don’t like hearing that, or think that somehow, they’re the exception. Only they aren’t. Everyone thinks they’re the exception. Every. Single. Person. They’re right and they’re wrong. We’re all special snowflakes, but the world doesn’t really give a crap. So what to do?
I’m a big proponent of choosing a genre that can support you, which means one that’s popular, and sticking to it (with the caveat that if it doesn’t meet your expectations after a massive, concentrated effort, pay attention to the result you’re getting, and switch to something with better odds). I’m also big on publishing regularly, meaning every three or four months (more often if possible) if you intend to make this your living. I’m huge on pro editing and covers and proofreading. I consider your cover and your blurb essential to success. But those are the basics. Important basics, but still, building blocks.
They will narrow your long odds because most authors simply don’t do what they should to make themselves successful. Understanding that is an advantage. It means you already know more than 90% of those who will publish on Amazon this year. If you do everything right, that will make you the 10% that has a chance.
But still, it’s not a lock. By any stretch of the imagination. Get clear on that. In all businesses, this included, you can do everything absolutely, spectacularly right, and go nowhere. Because God hates you. Or because the world’s unfair. Or because you’re not good enough. Or were born under a dark star. Or didn’t get breast fed enough as a child. Pick your reason. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you recognize that in ALL industries, most businesses do not succeed.
Nobody’s holding a gun to your head, forcing you to write. It breaks my heart when I correspond with authors for whom writing is their last chance – they have no money, no prospects, their life has hit bottom, and their hope is that their book will pull them out of the swamp.
It doesn’t work that way. It can, but it’s as rare as flipping a coin and having it land on its side. Mostly, those are people whose dreams will be crushed by a cold uncaring world. Is that fair? No. Go back and reread my words about life not being fair.
I wish I could tell you how to avoid being that person. I wish there were a formula. What I’ve come up with I share openly: Pick a genre you love and that’s large enough to support you, stick to it, write a lot of seriously good books, focus on improving your grasp of craft each time you sit down to write, make each book your best ever (meaning respect your reader above all else), package and quality control your books like the pros do, market intelligently, and spend massive amounts of time and energy working smarter than everyone else. And above all, be extremely realistic about everything. Some might say, cynical. I’d say pragmatic. Don’t allow your mind to be your worst enemy. Understand you’ve taken on a difficult challenge. Eschew those who cheerlead and cajole – that won’t do you any good. Be your own motivation. Don’t rely on others. Develop a relentless drive to succeed at this, don’t take no for an answer, and build a self-perpetuating engine of achievement and determination. Make yourself essential and relevant. Don’t have an attitude, just focus on backing your mouth with product that delivers. Or have an attitude. Whatever. In the end it won’t matter. The important part is to recognize that your job, should you decide to take it, is to be one of the exceptions, and that to do so is damned hard.
Now that you want to put your head in the oven, let’s look at the positives. Right now, your odds of making decent money, even good money, are better than at any time in the history of publishing. More authors are making five and six figures self-publishing than ever. It’s happening every minute. It’s not an illusion. Every day new names appear on the bestseller lists, but perhaps more importantly, every day more authors are appearing with four, six, ten books in the #1000-#15,000 ranks, which collectively, add up to a nice living. It can be done. And you can do it. Someone has to. Why not you?
I counsel tough love. My inner dialogue isn’t particularly fluffy or fun. I’m hard-nosed as they come when I put my business hat on. I don’t bullshit myself into performance. I sit down, get clear on how hard it is to do whatever I’m thinking about doing, determine what I’ll need to do to succeed, ask myself honestly whether I’m willing to do what it takes, and if so, I spend some serious time researching how to devise a plan that will make me the exception. I’ve done that in a number of different fields. It works more often that it doesn’t. It’s not a magic bullet, but it narrows your odds.
Can you do this part time and make it? Sure you can. So can someone who starts any business part time. Just recognize that your odds of making it are lower than if you did it full time. Duh. Put in 80 hours a week, you might get better results than 10. Big surprise. Can you put in 10 or 20 and still do well? Sure. Again, anything’s possible. But you have to be unable to grasp basic business concepts if you think your odds will be the same. If they were, nobody would put in the 80. They’d all put in the 10, because their odds are identical. Figure it out.
Self-publishing is two jobs, not one. It’s the job of being an author, and hopefully a constantly improving one who’s concerned with mastering an essentially un-masterable craft, and it’s the job of being a publisher, which is a production, marketing and distribution engine. Two separate jobs. Both requiring an investment in time and energy.
I get a lot of emails. I talk to a lot of authors who are making decent to great money at self-publishing. They all work their asses off. Every. Single. One. They all publish regularly, are hyper-aware of the changing landscape of the marketplace, invest money in their business, and are constantly trying to improve their product. And they all love what they do, and are passionate about it. They’d be doing it if they were making a tenth what they make. Because it’s what they do.
What’s my point? That self-publishing is both exciting in its possibilities and daunting in its requirements. And that very few businesses succeed, whether it’s a new shoe shop, or a convenience store, or a restaurant, or a software start-up…or a publishing company. But it’s more possible now to succeed than at any point in the past. I’m living proof. Authors like Bella Andre (who I’ll be featuring this month on an Author Spotlight), Holly Ward, Melissa Foster, Barbara Freethy, Courtney Milan, Hugh Howey, LT Ryan, CJ Lyons, Jay Allen, Saxon Andrew, Joe Nobody, BV Larson, Colleen Hoover, and on and on and on, are doing it every day, and making bank. They’re all exceptions. Every single one. Not one chose the same path. Not one did exactly the same thing. They all made their own way, in their own way.
The good news is there’s plenty of room for more. The question is not whether there will be more, the question is whether you will be one of them, and what your plan is to get there.
Now I’m going back to writing my next one. JET – Ops Files is in the bag and will release in a week, and it’s a barn burner of a prequel to the JET series. My co-authored action/adventure novel with Clive Cussler is already in the top 1000 as a pre-order, five months before release. Sales are good, more readers seem to like me than hate me, and I’m enjoying the hell out of writing for a living. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Jason Gurley. Write the name down. A talented cover designer with a distinctive look.
He retooled the Upon A Pale Horse cover, and just finished a new look for my JET series, which is now a year and a half old.
I wanted something different, but a step above. More polished.
NEWS: BLACK is now available in audiobook format, and I have to say, the narrator, RC Bray, frigging nailed it! Listen to the sample and tell me that’s not noir, baby, noir!
To get the effect I wanted, I hired a photographer and a model. Once we had a suitable number of shots, Jason went to work.
I’m thrilled with the new look. Absolutely stoked. Now I can’t wait to see the rest done.
Jason came to my attention after doing Hugh Howey’s covers. I loved the vibe of those, and was glad when Jason agreed to sully his reputation with the likes of me.
Without further ado, here it is, going live on April 22, and currently available for pre-order: JET- Ops Files (which kicks major action ass, BTW, but that’s not the point of this blog, although I’m certainly willing to talk about it for hours).
Last week I covered the top 8 most insidious falsehoods I’ve heard about being a self-pubbed author. This week I continue my rant and tackle a few more:
9) We are artists, above the vagaries of commerce and filthy lucre. Sure we are. Until we want to make money by selling our work. At that point we’re in the book selling business, which is a commercial enterprise involving the production and sale of books. In the case of self-publishers, of books we have written. Our author selves may well be artists, but if you want to avoid being a starving one you need to develop the skills of a publisher, not an author. They are different. You need both.
NEWS: My co-authored novel w/ the one and only Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, is now available for pre-order!
NEWS: This is kind of fun. My deal with Amazon Crossing has issued forth a German edition of King of Swords!
At the risk of being obvious, if you want to make good decisions for your book selling business, ask yourself the questions you’re grappling with as though you were deciding on selling and packaging other people’s books. That removes you as the author from your publishing business decisions. Which is as it should be. If you wouldn’t sink a grand into packaging someone else’s book on making bass lures out of Coke cans, you probably shouldn’t be doing it for your own, either. Or put really simply, if something looks like dead money, don’t waste your, or your readers’, time, regardless of who wrote it.
If you don’t want to, or can’t, develop those skills, start querying agents, because you won’t have a good self-publishing experience. Uploading your screed on Amazon does not a viable self-publisher make, any more than printing a thousand books and having them in your garage will make you a successful traditional publisher.
10) Your muse cannot be forced to dance. Of course it can. If you were a writer on 24 or CSI or SNL you’d be expected to perform every week or you’d be out of a job. Most who work hard enough to get those gigs don’t want to lose ’em, so they perform. Whether they feel like it or not. Whether they’re particularly inspired or not. The notion that you need to wait for your muse to decide to infuse you with story is fine if your books sell 10 million and you can afford to wait 4 or 5 years between each one. If that’s not you, you need to develop two things: a work ethic, and a system to inspire yourself.
One technique I use is to ask myself how I can make this book, or this chapter, the best I’ve ever written. You get completely different answers depending upon what questions you ask yourself. “How can I consistently write 5K a day and enjoy it?” will get you a different answer than “How am I ever going to do this?” If you’re stuck, ask better questions.
11) Everyone’s got a book in them. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Given that most people are by definition average, most people’s books will also be average, which is to say, mediocre or middling. Yours too. If you want to be above average, you need an edge. Talent helps. But working hard to develop your grasp of craft will result in a far better result than relying on talent alone. Which means if you want to be a writer people are willing to pay to read (be they agents/publishers, or readers), you need to learn the basics of your craft: grammar, spelling, story structure, vocabulary. Far too many sit down and start writing believing they’ve been blessed with unique properties that will enable them to write books people want to read without having done much, or any, of the work to become competent at what they’re doing. Guess what the odds are that turns out well? The same as everyone else’s. Or actually, far worse, because even if 99% of all books fail to find an audience, that includes a boatload of competently executed books. If you don’t know how to write, your odds are way worse than that blended average.
If you want to make your book exceptional, expect to have to work at becoming an exceptional story teller and writer. In my experience that doesn’t happen by clicking your heels together and wishing it were so. It requires effort. A lot of it. Which means you need to study how to write a good book and learn about things like echoes (repeated words), how to vary sentence structure, how to avoid things like head hopping, etc. etc. – unless you have a miraculous gift that’s one in ten million. In other words, expect to have to spend time learning your craft.
I get told I’m a big meanie for saying this. But if I were a piano teacher, I wouldn’t be considered mean if I told students they needed to spend a lot of time and energy getting good enough to be paid to perform. If I were teaching ballet and I told aspiring ballerinas they could expect to spend years before they’d be even close to competent, I wouldn’t be labeled mean. If I taught cooking, I wouldn’t be a buzz kill if I told aspirants they’d need to spend years learning the ropes. Even if you wanted to do something as workmanlike as being a cosmetologist or a plumber you’d expect to spend a while learning which end of the scissors or wrench to hold, and yet many hopeful authors’ plan amounts to, “I’ll just write a book and see how it does.” Or worse yet, “I’ll write a book and it should do well, on account of how special I am.” Here’s the newsflash: nothing worth doing’s ever easy. This, especially. If you think this is going to be easy, you came to the wrong dance.
12) I’m too busy to read. Who’s got the time? This one kills me. How in the hell do you expect to be a good writer if you don’t read a lot of good books? Intuition? Divine guidance? Magic? It’s like saying you plan to be a movie director, but don’t have time to watch and study films. Then how do you know anything about that which you are planning to do? Look, I understand we’re living in an instant gratification world where, if we can imagine it, we feel entitled to it, but that isn’t how this works. In order to master something, you need to do a lot of it (practice) and you need to model successful examples (reading/studying writing). Reading a lot is how you do the latter. There’s no way your writing’s going to be very good if you don’t read a lot. Sorry. Make time for it or find some other pipe dream where you don’t have to work to master it.
13) So-and-so hit big without marketing/with their first book/is illiterate/sucks. Sure. Anything at all’s possible, and you could be the one in a gazillion. But the odds are better that you won’t wake up tomorrow, or will be killed by a crocodile or a falling coconut. Or paralyzed on the way to work. Singling out the exceptions that defy explanation is a fun game, but it’s not particularly useful unless you can reproduce that success, which you won’t be able to do. Because you aren’t them, in the same time, place, market, with the identical set of circumstances, experiences or contacts. Sorry. You aren’t. So pointing to no-talent hacks whose books sold big, while amusing, doesn’t mean your business plan should amount to “be a no-talent hack, too.” Pointing to books that defy all odds and are breakouts is a great pastime, but if it doesn’t enable you to predict the next breakout, it’s useless. Whenever I hear a variation of this, I shake my head because I know I’m hearing a rationalization for failure.
14) I don’t have time/energy/money/whatever to do this right. Fair enough. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head. But as I’m fond of saying, don’t expect full-time rewards from part-time effort. Figure out what the average part-time, unskilled or marginally skilled job pays, and that’s what your expectation should be based upon if you haven’t invested a ton of time mastering your craft (the skilled part) and can only allocate a few hours here and there (the part-time bit) executing.
This one always pisses people off. “But that’s not necessarily true!” If not, why, exactly, not? In what world does putting in time “whenever you can” translate into a successful career at anything (and please don’t point to #13 – some outlier who was a lightning strike)? That’s not to run down those who don’t write full time. I can completely sympathize. For years I wrote whenever I could, practicing, learning my craft, while I did other things. But I didn’t expect to make full time money at it. I didn’t think it was good enough for people to pay to read. I may be many things, but delusional in that regard isn’t one of them. My expectations were reasonable: I expected to get better over time, and maybe get good enough to write for a living, or at least to be proud of what I generated as being worth readers’ money.
That’s just on the writing side. If you intend to query, you better make damned sure your work is frigging brilliant or you’ll spend forever getting rejected. You can spend years getting that one book just right, so that approach can accommodate a part-time schedule. But if you want to be a vocational self-publisher, you also have the full-time job of being the publisher in addition to being the writer. That’s a ton of responsibility and two full-time jobs you’ll be doing only part-time. So what’s your expectation?
I think the biggest killer in this business is having unreasonable expectations. They’re a recipe for disappointment. So many seem to believe that they can put something up on Amazon, after having practiced little or not at all learning their craft, and having invested nothing in editing, packaging, etc., and yet somehow do well. It’s akin to announcing oneself to be a master chef, after having spent a lifetime microwaving TV dinners and dining on fast food, and expecting folks to line up for your culinary masterpieces when you have little idea how to boil water. Not even in the movies does this turn out well. Be honest with yourself. Figure out what it will take to achieve your dreams, and then get ready for some serious sacrifice and work. Maybe you’ll get lucky and be the next EL James, but odds say not so much. Get clear on what a reasonable expectation is, then devise a plan to achieve it.
15) I’m good. I can self-edit. Why throw money away? I can’t tell you how often I hear this one. Usually from novices who grossly overestimate their own competence. Their logic goes, hey, I know how to write, so I’m qualified to edit my own stuff. No, darlin’, you special snowflake, you aren’t. For instance, you might understand the basics of grammar, and then use the same word six times in three sentences while approving stilted dialogue that sounds idiotic and wooden. Or you may simply not know you’re getting half of it wrong, in which case you’ll also fail to see your deficiencies on the editing pass. Or you may be blind to lazy habits like repeating yourself every few pages, or belaboring plot points, or you might have pacing or plotting issues, or myriad other sins you don’t know are problems. To put it into perspective, in many of the arts, coaching is ongoing, be it music, or dance, or acting. But for some reason, many beginning authors believe it’s unnecessary, to their career’s detriment.
It’s possible you’ve been an editor for a decade or three, in which case you can ignore this (although even the editors I know who write use editors for their work). If not, read on.
Worse of all, and this probably isn’t you if you read my blog regularly, are the authors who say “but I don’t have the money to hire an editor.” Ah. But you have a cell phone and cable TV and manage to fork enough into your pie hole to pack on a few extra. So it’s not that you don’t have it, it’s that you either are unwilling to sacrifice and save it, or won’t. To me that’s disdainful of your readers, and is a recipe for disaster, and speaks volume about your commitment to turning out a good product.
I can honestly say that 99+% of serious authors I’ve met appreciate and understand why professional editing matters. Those that argue against it invariably are trying to figure out how to produce the cheapest product, not a quality one. And they will also be the loudest to howl over all the “unfair” and “mean” reviews as their sales stall to nothing. I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely try to argue this anymore. If you think you’re the exception and possess the editing chops of someone with decades of germane experience, or your girlfriend or buddy or second cousin says they can edit your work and you believe that’s equivalent to hiring a seasoned pro, and saving those few hundred bucks are representative of your approach to this highly competitive business, knock yourself out.
That’s my slice of reality from the ink trenches this week. If you disagree, or think I’m a party pooper, that’s your right. I get paid exactly the same for being right as being wrong on this blog. It’s your career, not mine, and I’m just trying to share what I’ve learned along the way. Take it all for what it’s worth.