21 February 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 10 comments

Normally, every third blog entry of mine is a ranting polemic on how to make a living as an indie author.

Today, I read a post that makes my usual curmudgeony (yes, I coined that word, and what of it?) counsel unnecessary. Anyone considering being a self-pubbed author would do well to read it.

The post can be viewed here.

Wow. This whole directing people to other posts thing really cuts down on my workload. That’s awesome. Maybe I’ll do more of it.

I’ve finished up BLACK 4 and am plotting JET VII, but got thrown a curve ball: I decided I wanted to write a prequel to JET describing some of the missions that led up to her decision to fake her own death. I only have the glimmer of an idea right now, but it’s getting brighter by the day. I’m thinking I’ll call it JET – Ops File. It’s basically a thinly veneered excuse for writing a whole lot of Jet kicking asses and taking names. Not that the JET books don’t do that. But I mean just pure, joyful action with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Many would argue that’s what I normally write.

Guess we’ll see. I just need to figure out where it will fit in my publishing schedule for the year. You know, the one where I only write four Russell Blake novels in 2014. Make that five.

You can start to see why my proclamations of only writing a few books tend to ring hollow to skeptical ears.

Hrmph.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Dorothy
    Fri 21st Feb 2014 at 6:03 pm

    “You know, the one where I only write four Russell Blake novels in 2014. Make that five.”

    And so it begins … and we’re not even out of February.

    Reply
  2. Fri 21st Feb 2014 at 6:08 pm

    A Jet prequel. What a great idea. I hope it’s like Night of the Assassin and we get to hear about her childhood too.
    What exciting news! Happy writing.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 21st Feb 2014 at 6:34 pm

      Not really thinking about her childhood as much as I am about the missions she ran.

      Reply
      • Kim Cano  –  Fri 21st Feb 2014 at 6:35 pm

        That sounds good too.

        Reply
  3. Robert Jones
    Mon 24th Feb 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Most of the successful indy authors have certain philosophies in common. Most of those things make good business sense–probably because most of the successful indy authors come from a business background. One thing that seems to be pretty common that makes less sense to me, and that’s a very high word count per day, producing at least four novels per year in order to get noticed.

    I understand what each writer is saying in terms of being constantly in the readers face with something new. What I don’t understand is that most of these writers claim they didn’t start taking off until somewhere between novel 4 and 6, when they have fallen into a better groove with their craft, plus did some re-editing on their early books.

    So my question from a writer’s POV is, was that first 12-18 months just a practice run that helped get their craft up to a decent level? Because if they made little or no money until they fine tuned their craft (and their early works), can this business model of constantly being in the reader’s face really be a proven commodity in this industry?

    I’ve worked for small publishers and larger corporations who put out product. Who will flood the market with something once it’s a proven sale–even if subsequent product is inferior–in order to cash in on something while it’s hot. But the idea of flooding the market with less than adequate work seems like a boat load of work, a poor launch, and hopefully building towards something better that will take off. Since one blog I recently read said the writers less than great work began to sell once he got better books out there, the market would still be contingent upon getting something of quality out there before a trend can be formed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a back log of 4-6 novels ready to be purchased once things take off. That would be a plus, provided you care enough about craft to get better and get noticed in the first place.

    This may not be popular conversation for indy authors, but what if they practiced on their stories, stockpiled them, then launched when their craft was at a higher peak? Doesn’t that set a better precedent for future novels and a larger readership? All agree that out of the millions of people jumping into e-publishing that quality and craft has willed out while everyone else has fallen into a ditch. So what if someone launched with something very good right out of the box instead of setting off on quantity over quality?

    None of the successful indy authors are going to complain about their methods if they eventually found themselves making money at it. And I wouldn’t argue with any of them who worked their way to the top of a growing industry within 12-18 months. All of it done on the fly. All of it was also pretty new territory as well. But if they could go back and launch their careers over again with what they know now, would they have dove in as quickly, or would they have done even better if they attempted to figure a few more things out first?

    Let’s just say I am looking for common denominators in my answers.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 24th Feb 2014 at 8:52 pm

      There’s a mistaken assumption there. That is that we all started out with inferior work, and only started to break big once we had gotten decent at our craft. If you read Fatal Exchange, my first release, or The Geronimo Breach, my second, or Zero Sum and The Delphi Chronicle, my third and fourth-sixth, you’ll find that they read quite well. I tuned Fatal in terms of word choice and an occasional echo after the fact, but it’s 99.9% the same book I originally released. Same with Geronimo, ZS, etc. Ditto for King of Swords and Night of the Assassin, both of which released before I started to see real sales mid-January, 2012 – with Geronimo, of all things.

      Correlation is not causality. What you’re probably seeing, at least in my case, is that it took about seven months for word to spread to the point where a decent number of folks began buying my books. That, and the Select glory days in the first half of 2012. I know I was helped because I had sufficient titles that I could do a free day every couple of weeks, and not repeat myself for at least four or five months, which meant I was constantly on the lists as I rode the waves.

      But that has nothing to do with whether or not I improved in my craft. Some still say Geronimo or Fatal are some of my best work. And while quality should matter, the truth is that oftentimes it doesn’t all that much. The most popular books are rarely the best. If you’re looking for one common denominator of most of the successful indies, I’d say it would have to be that we’re all working 18 hour days, seven days a week. I know Holly Ward does, and Colleen Hoover busts her hump, as does Melissa Foster, Elle Casey, Joe Nobody, Bella Andre, etc. etc. That seems to have way more to do with narrowing the odds than writing the next Lord of the Flies.

      When I was in business, I just took it for granted that if I was going to start a new one, it would require two to three years of 18 hour days to make it profitable. That wasn’t a guarantee it would be, but if I didn’t put in those hours, the odds of it being successful were slim to none. So when I approached the book biz, I expected the same thing. I expected to lose money for the first year or so, just like if I opened any other kind of biz. A restaurant, or a bakery, or a book store, or really anything. And I understood I’d need to invest in my business if I expected to make anything out of it. I didn’t walk in with no money, complain about how I didn’t have the time it took to be successful, and then whine because I couldn’t make full time money working a couple hours a day, tops. And yet that’s what many authors expect, or hope for. It’s unrealistic. It would be considered insane in any other business, but here it’s tolerated. I don’t know why.

      Basically, the secret ingredient is very long hours of working extremely hard and smart. I think what you are mistakenly attributing to number of titles has more to do with it taking at least 6-12 months for that work to begin to pay off, and if you’re working 18 hours a day, writing 10 and marketing 8, you will have stuffed a year’s worth of full-time output into six months or so, which is to say 4-6 novels.

      I’m not sure where you got the idea that flooding the market with sub-par work is a good idea. I have certainly never espoused that as a winning strategy, and I can’t think of anyone that has.

      Reply
  4. Robert Jones
    Mon 24th Feb 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Russell–thanks, that makes a lot more sense from that perspective. I’ve hit some blogs that recommend the hours, but few who seemed to have made sales prior to that 4th, or 6th. And where many will testify to a large number of things you’ve said on your own blog, this was the one gap that needed some clarification as to the why 4-6, or exactly how much of the time was spent learning craft, re-editing, etc., on the fly after the diving in.

    I’m narrowing down my own launch date and need to get some straight answers on the why and wherefores. It would seem e-publishing is what I want to do based on all I’ve read. But with all the changes, I am trying to figure if this IS the way to go Vs. it WAS the way to go when Amazon had all the free giveaways.

    Sounds like you’re saying this is still one of the common denominators based on recent authors entering the pool.

    Reply
  5. Robert Jones
    Mon 24th Feb 2014 at 9:29 pm

    P.S.

    Since I only discovered you about halfway through last year, I had no idea what your early works read like from the beginning. I know you mentioned some re-editing at one point, but didn’t specify as to exactly what it entailed–at least as far as I can recall. I know R. J. Crane in the post you recommended also mentioned some re-edits after getting more in groove. He also said something about his less than great work beginning to sell once he put out better books. That sort of statement demands some clarification in my book. I also asked these same questions of him.

    I don’t feel one can afford to not ask the tough, or even embarrassing questions. I’ve put my foot in my mouth before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again. I’ve learned not to let that stop me if I need and answer to work into my own equation.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 24th Feb 2014 at 10:31 pm

      I’ve been a very vocal proponent of going back and re-editing if you feel anything about your older work could be improved. I see no harm in doing so, because the virtual shelf space is infinite, and if you can improve something, you should do so.

      I think the leap you’re making, which isn’t an accurate one in my case, at least, is that the earlier works weren’t particularly good. I wrote about a million words before I released Fatal. So I’d already gotten some practice in. While I think some of my later stuff is better on things like description and sentence structure, readers don’t seem to notice or care.

      Again, it’s more that it takes X number of hours to make sufficient noise to be noticed, and if you have been applying yourself you’ll have by then put out Y number of books, which assuming they’re all decent, will have gotten you Y number the ops for visibility via also-boughts, as well as slots on the HNR list. I see zero reason to save books and release em all at once, because you are trading a certainty (the market now) for something unknowable (the market in X months or years). Rather, ensure that every book you put out is as good as you can make it, and release on a regular schedule that is sustainable so your audience can depend on you, and spreads the word as it discovers you.

      But understand that most books don’t sell. I’m just saying that the authors I know who are making serious money at this all work incredibly long hours, put out significant volume of work, and approach this like any other start-up business: requiring tremendous effort and energy for at least two to three years.

      Reply
      • Robert Jones  –  Tue 25th Feb 2014 at 9:02 am

        Thanks for taking the time to respond, RB. It has helped me to narrow down some possibilities.

        BTW, I certainly noticed your descriptions and the way you give them little literary touches. In fact, that’s been my top selling point to everyone I’ve mentioned your work to. Because everyone I know wants some good quality wording and sentences structure and have been grocely disappointed by e-authors who neglect these things.

        On the other hand, you’re correct that there are a great many who just want a yarn where something interesting is happening center stage pretty much from start to finish. It’s what they are used to from watching movies and TV…not to mention this is a consideration any author has to keep in mind and compete with, making their story as “visual” as possible. That part isn’t exactly new to book publishing.

        I’m a bit old school. Though I haven’t published a novel myself, I have had the pleasure of knowing, and even working with some writers who shared a lot with me. There are changes that have taken place in recent years, some for the better, some reinventing certain wheels simply because most e-authors were coming from different backgrounds, many not from any traditional arts background. Yet they have discovered some things on their own that some traditional publishers probably hoped they wouldn’t. And good for them. I’ve had my share of getting burned and ripped off by larger businesses.
        From my standpoint, it seems old school and new are on a path that’s destined to meet somewhere in the middle. The changes over the past couple of years seem to indicate this.

        My questions–or mis-assumptions in your case–were not personally directed at you. They were very generalized in hopes of getting some straight answers from several blogs based on what successful e-authors have done, whether they feel the same way about it now, after a couple of years at the wheel. And while it’s true that no one can predict exactly where things will be a year or two from now, all I can do is attempt to take past and present knowledge and try to make the best decision I can by the time my book wraps up. I probably won’t be following anyone’s plan to the letter. I’ve read several variations on a similar theme already and made notes on whatever has worked for most.

        For what it’s worth, everything I’ve read as far as business and marketing on your blog is the most logical. You have solid reasons for what you do and have done your research well. Which is the secondary selling point I make with folks I’ve mentioned you to. Do I agree with all of it, or think it’s a model all can be successful at? Hell no. However, you had certain skills going in concerning craft. And I believe that even the most Hollywoodized of readers picking up your work, with its craft-stengths, compared to say, an author who has a very good plot told without the same degree of strengths, WILL have some sense that there is a difference on the page. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they are from a craft-conscious POV, but most will understand you’re a “better than the avarage bear” kind of writer in comparison to those who may be lacking in certain craft areas–or simply can produce quantity and maintain quality. These are things that are going to vary from person to person even if they sat in the same classes as you, read the same book, articles, etc….

        Your success is neither random, nor based entirely on a particular plan of action. It’s a combination of business skills and a knowledge of craft. You couldn’t write at your speed and maintain the quality otherwise, nor maintain a blog with continous information on both craft and business skills. Knowledge is power andyou’ve continued to demonstrate that you have it, here and in your writing.

        This is key as far as I am concerned. People can scratch their heads, even throw up their hands, and call it by some other name. But I think you and I both understand this is either BS, or ignorance.

        What I need to figure out if I go this route is just how far to work ahead. Because I’m not certain I can produce a novel from scratch every 2-3 months. Unless I can come up with a seconday series that is far less complicated and manage to work it in between my more complicated series and divide my time between both.

        Reply

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