I was talking to an acquaintance today who I haven’t seen for years. He asked what I’ve been up to. I told him, with whatever sincerity I could muster, “I’m an author.”
His reaction was interesting. First, you could see his eyes widen and a look cross his face like, ah, you slick bastard, if anyone could figure out how to make money for nothing, it would be you. Because everyone knows that authors basically sit around and stare at things like the slow kid in elementary school in between bouts of binge drinking, and occasionally, and I do mean as infrequently as the media reports anything resembling the truth, write something.
Which may not be far from the mark, but still. Ouch, you know?
NEWS: My Triple Trouble bundle of three of my most popular novels is price slashed to only .99 today!
So anyway, he then said what I’ve heard so many times that it’s all I can do not to drive my stiffened fingers through the speaker’s thorax.
“Oh, that’s great. I’ve been thinking about writing a book, too. I just never have the time.”
My response? “Yeah, I can see how that would be tempting for an attorney like yourself. I totally understand the feeling. I’ve been thinking of arguing a case before the Supreme Court, but just never find the time.”
Or if it’s a doctor, “I know what you mean. I’ve been thinking about performing open heart surgery, you know, to get it off my bucket list, but life keeps getting in the way.”
Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of folks who are uploading their ill-crafted screeds onto Amazon and pressing “publish,” so the stereotype that basically any idiot can be an author isn’t that much of a stretch. I suppose what bugs me is to be lumped in with the person who spent all of minutes learning their craft, wrote their little ditty with about as much care and attention as I devote to wolfing down a pop tart, and published it.
People don’t seem to get that it’s easy to be a contestant in an open-call talent show. But it’s fairly infrequent to make it to the finals. One does not equate to the other. And being an author that makes a living is akin to being in an open talent show with a million entrants, and only a few thousand finalists, if that.
Perhaps the biggest irritant is the perception that being a writer sort of something you do when you’re bored working your greeter job at Walmart. Perhaps being a bad or marginal writer is, but being a good one is an elusive goal. I’d argue it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I’ve never shied away from challenges. But being a self-published author tops the list, more difficult than it was learning architecture and going on to design dozens of large custom homes, or operating a construction company that specialized in the absolutely highest end for the most demanding people on Earth, or running a successful international import/export firm in dozens of jurisdictions, or making wine with one of the biggest wineries in Argentina…I could go on, but the point is that I’ve done a few tough things which required a fair amount of effort and mental dexterity, and writing makes them all look like child’s play.
The unfair part, is, of course, that being a good, or even great, writer, doesn’t mean squat. I mean, I’m guessing, not because I am one. But play along – the point is that you can be really, really good, and it’s still no assurance that you’ll make any money at this, much less have a career. If you go the trad route, especially now, if your work doesn’t fit in a tidy pigeonhole that represents exactly what a committee of acquisitions editors determines is the most commercially viable (meaning easiest to sell, in their opinion, forgetting for a moment that 90% or so of everything they sign fails to sell much), safest choice, you won’t get a deal.
The point is that if you pursue the trad route, the odds are overwhelmingly that you won’t ever get offered anything, and if you do, that it will be such a shit deal that only a moron would sign it. That’s not such great news for those who devote the ten thousand hours to mastering their craft.
If you go the indie route, the odds of making some money are better, but still stink. The good news is that while your odds of being an outlier who earns tens of millions a year as an indie are almost nil, your odds of being one of the emerging middle class that earns a good to great living are far better than going trad. But they’re still crap. I mean, imagine being handed a revolver with a chamber that held ten thousand rounds, only one of which wasn’t loaded, and volunteering to hold it to your head and pull the trigger, versus being handed one with the significantly better odds of only a thousand rounds chambered and one empty.
Still not great odds.
I counsel authors to write because you love it – to do so for any other reason is delusional given the actual odds of making more than beer money. But that’s different than saying that writing well is easy, or that anyone can do it, hence the poor odds. It’s more like because there are so few slots and it’s such a mercurial business that you can have a thousand wildly gifted authors, and only a few will catch. It’s still extremely hard work to be any of those thousand. I know to laymen it often doesn’t seem that way, but it is.
So if you’re someone who has always thought about writing a book but never found the time, perhaps you’re lucky. Because it’s only once you try something that you appreciate how difficult it is to make it look easy. I think that’s what many miss. They see a gymnast or a dancer executing impossibly hard routines and making it look effortless, and mistake that because, when done well, IT’S SUPPOSED TO SEEM EFFORTLESS TO THE AUDIENCE, it must be effortless to execute, too.
Not so much.
End of rant. I spent my day uploading crap to Wattpad and doing cover stuff and writing this blog, and now the day’s gone and I have to find 5K words somewhere in my head. That will keep me working till midnight. Again. Like I did yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that.
It really ain’t as easy as it looks. Like most passions, do it because you enjoy it, not because you expect a reward other than the work itself.
Sucks, but there it is.
Thank God for tequila.
So you’ve decided to self-publish a book, and you’ve read countless blogs and perhaps a few helpful tomes, likely by people who sell fewer copies in a year than I do per month. You’ve got a cover, which hopefully doesn’t look like some sort of clip-art/stock photo kluge you did with Gimp in your spare time, your tome has been proofread by someone other than a few disinterested, questionably literate acquaintances, you’ve done at least three or four drafts, making it as good as it could ever be (as opposed to as good as you can make it for free in your spare time, because life got in the way or looking after your dozen cats or two kids or whatever was more of a priority than ensuring the product you expect people to pay for was competently executed).
You’ve seen all the stuff about social media, you now refer to yourself as John Doe, Author, and you’re wondering what you can do to alert the world that your novel about a misunderstood student coming of age while struggling with her hormones and the challenges of preparing for a life crocheting sweaters from cat fur while being wooed by hot billionaires, is available.
Here are a few tips: 1) Following several thousand other budding authors on Twitter is about like going to a convention for used car salesmen and trying to sell your junker. You’re pitching to the wrong crowd, assuming you’re pitching anything. Which brings me to my next point: 2) Twitter is largely useless anymore.
Why? If it’s so useless, why do so many books and blogs recommend you use it to “raise awareness” or “broadcast your message?”
Because they’re hopelessly clueless and passing off two to three year old wisdom as current. And it’s appealing to you because you hope to make money investing little or nothing, and Twitter’s free.
Here’s reality. Nobody reads their tweets anymore, or at least damn few do. Why? Because everyone’s got something like Hootsuite software (also free), which enables you to filter the never-ending streams of gibberish from Twitter, and only see things you’re mentioned in or you’ve flagged as interesting. So basically, being self-absorbed and wanting to eliminate the equivalent of junk mail from their streams, everyone filters so they only see stuff with their ID in it, or from specific users whom they’ve decided matter, which ain’t you.
So if you’re putting out tweets trying to hawk your book, a la “Another 5 star: Cat Hair Crocheting called a Riveting Reed!” nobody’s seeing it. Anyone who is will probably ignore you, because you’re doing the equivalent of Twitter telemarketing, but that will be very few, because just as most are automatically programming their tweets so they don’t have to actually interact with people, they’re also filtering them so they don’t have to read your crap. So not only are you wasting your time, whether programming your tweets or not, but you’re also assuming that everyone else doesn’t use Twitter as you do, filtering the overwhelming, unreadable tide of tweets down to only a few interesting tweeters, who aren’t those pushing their books.
Some might say, hey, can’t hurt, but they’re wrong, so ignore them. Of course it hurts to waste your time doing something counterproductive so you lull yourself into feeling like your meaningless action is somehow going to sell books for you. Your most precious commodity is your time. You have a finite amount of it, and being a spam broadcasting station hurts you in the minds of anyone who sees it, unless they’re the kind of person who would pay for a DVD of infomercials. There aren’t many, so stop it.
Now I know I’ll get some comments from people who sell miniscule numbers of books, saying, “But when I don’t spam the crap out of my twitter feed, I don’t sell any!” OK, so you want to master how to sell two books a day, be my guest, follow several thousand people, mostly authors, nearly zero of whom give a shit whether you drown in your own bile or not, and spam them early and often. Let me know when you sell your first million.
Twitter is only good, as far as I can tell these days, for interacting with people who already think you’re interesting for some reason – and hint, putting “Author” next to your name ain’t the reason, unless they also follow several hundred thousand other hopefuls who have the same thing next to their name. (In case you aren’t reading between the lines, that one bugs the crap out of me – it was advised by Locke in his tome where he left out that he bought several gazillion reviews to game the algos back when reviews played into them, and was pure hucksterism, sort of like advising authors to sit in a quiet room for a half hour each day and visualize being Anne Rice or Stephen King – the problem is, of course, that it does exactly nothing, and doesn’t in any way, shape, or form, work, other than to identify to those with a clue that you don’t have one. Of course it’s been widely adopted by a certain type of budding author, exactly NONE of whom have gone on to sell anything of note, because, you guessed it, it gives the illusion of achievement without having actually achieved anything. Sort of like declaring oneself to be John Doe, Human or John Doe, Upright Biped, or even better, John Doe, Psychic or Wizard. Meaningless, and discarded as such by most. Only nobody will tell those doing it that they’re identifying themselves as clueless twats. So I will. There. I said it. Stop it, and start doing things that actually do or mean something.)
Anyway, if your plan is basically to use Twitter to raise awareness of your books, you’re about three years too late.
Facebook is a little better, but again, only a little, because in order for it to work for you, people have to come to you and read your timeline, which implies you’ve given them a reason to, which I guarantee isn’t post after post about your book, your writing, your latest review, your book signing, your thoughts on writing, your cover, your latest price promotion, etc. etc. Again, if it feels like hucksterism and spam, it probably is. Do you go to Facebook pages that are unending streams of ads for whoever’s page it is? Neither do I. So why would you assume anyone would go to yours if that’s what you offer? Because you’ve been told it’s a good way to get your “message” out there in one of those books or blogs, I’ll bet.
Here’s what I’m trying to impart: Think critically. Don’t be an asshat. Don’t waste your time with stuff that doesn’t produce verifiable results. Spamming doesn’t work other than to get your name quickly added to the list of douchebags everyone ignores.
I’m not going to try to list the things that I think are effective, because I already have in many other blogs. They are, simply, blogging and interacting on message boards about things you are passionate about and which really matter to you (that’s not the same as trying to figure out how to glom onto some topical item or celebrity and insert your thoughts into the discourse along with a pitch for your book – another piece of advice that immediately announces you as clueless and desperate to anyone reading), engaging with people via social media (not trying to reach readers via social media, engaging with people, some of whom are probably readers, many of whom are not, none of which should matter to you) like Facebook, and generally being interesting and worth interacting with.
The problem is that it’s hard to write a book that says, “Writing well takes years of hard, dedicated effort, and marketing your presumably competent writing only once it’s actually good takes thousands of hours of extremely hard work and application and money.” Because nobody wants to buy that book. Nobody wants to buy, “Cook like a Michelin chef after spending only a decade working to become one!”
How To books sell when they promise a magic shortcut, a way to cut to the head of the line, presumably without paying the dues or doing the work. Or worse, they promise something they can’t deliver, in which case they are simply snake oil, lies, and manipulations to separate you from your money. Be skeptical of all of these, because in case you haven’t noticed, exactly none of the big selling indie authors who have broken out in the last 3 years did so because they put “Author” after their name, or fired off an endless stream of spam at prospective readers, treating them as dolts. They all respect their readers, do their very best to produce work that resonates with them, in many cases put out a LOT of books before they hit (I think Hugh had 7 out before Wool gained traction, and I know HM Ward had at least a dozen out, Melissa had 5 or 6, Elle had 10 or so, I had 10 or 11, etc. etc. etc.), and kept at it, trying new things, changing gears when necessary, and never wasting their time with idiocy that had no impact on their craft or their sales.
If I sound like Mr. Grumpy, I’m really not. I’m just fed up with people being encouraged to slam their heads into brick walls, or engage in pseudo-scientific BS that doesn’t work. And that’s what the books largely encourage – spending lots of time on things that will create negligible results, but will keep you from practicing your craft. Worse yet, there’s a certain type of book out that not so subtly encourages authors to become carny barkers, treating prospective readers as rubes to be conned or duped. Nobody else will tell you how bad an idea it is, and how damaging it is to your career as well as your self-image, so I will. Don’t buy into it. If it feels like you’re doing something irritating or desperate, it’s because you are, and all anyone will ever remember is you covered with a glistening sheen of flop sweat as you perform an epic fail. Don’t be that person. Reject it, and behave responsibly. Develop a following by writing things they want to read. Doing so on your blog is a good way to start. If you’re a decent writer, prove it. Go write. If you have to give away samples of your work and you believe that will get folks to follow you to your paid content, then do that. Do things you can identify as productive and effective, and have zero patience for silliness that doesn’t work.
I know nobody really wants to hear that.
Now on to other fare. I just sold JET in Germany, so it will be translated into German shortly, which I’m quite excited about, given that King of Swords was translated into German by Amazon Crossing and is selling well, and Voynich just sold to Bulgaria. And it’s only about 90 days until my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler is live, which is also pretty damned cool. I’m almost done with Requiem for the Assassin (targeting June 4th for first draft completion), and JET VII will release next month, and has already gotten a massive number of pre-orders. So all in all, can’t complain.
That’s it for me. Hope you have a productive or relaxing week. I’ll be writing away.
You know, as surprising as this may seem, I have my pet peeves.
Yes, even a figure of Gandhian tolerance and understanding like myself, a shining example to children and recidivists alike, sometimes gets annoyed with stupid shit.
This time, it’s with asinine author marketing.
NEWS: A new interview with Tim Knox at Interviewing Authors. Worth a listen.
What do I mean? Well, I actually bothered to look at a bunch of my spam folder emails, and there are countless Goodreads book launches, .99 sales, and free book announcements. When I go to those authors’ Facebook pages, every post is a pitch for their books. Ditto their tweets.
Does anyone really believe that plastering the equivalent of “buy my book” all over the internet does anything but make you look like a desperate douche? I mean, really? Is it not obvious that 99.999% of the planet is resistant to hucksters trying to sell them crap, and thus if your communication stream is an unending series of advertisements for your book, you look not only clueless, but like the type of self-involved twat who tries to convert every statement or discussion into a pitch for their shitty screed? In other words, like exactly the type most want to avoid at all costs?
Guess what. Trad pub releases something like 300K books a year. Indies easily release double that. Which makes the fact that you wrote a book about as rare as people who have bought a cup of Starbucks coffee at some point in their lives. Contrary to what you might think, the fact that you were able to tap out a few thoughts, slap your slow cousin’s drawing from the refrigerator on it and figure out how to upload it to Amazon, does not make you interesting, and nobody’s going to buy your book if all you can manage for creativity is “5 Stars! Beaver Team Bravo a critic’s fave!” or “Now only .99 – Billionaire Werewolf Bondage!!!” as your communication strategy.
I believe that the only way social media works is if you interact with people. I was asked during an interview today what my social media mix is, and I said about 95% interaction, 5% alerting folks to sales or new releases. Why? Because I don’t believe anyone buys books because some blowhard tweeted in his stream about his own work (if others genuinely like a book and are recommending it, that’s different), or because they saw it on someone’s author blog, or because there’s a Facebook page dedicated to aphorisms about the author’s books, written by, you guessed it, the author. I especially hate the silliness wherein authors tweet a sentence from their own book with the wonder reserved for new parents posting photos of their ugly brat. Get. Over. It. Nobody cares.
Being a self-published author is about as rare as liars in Congress. Every third person has now published their memoir, or the WIP they had in a drawer for 15 years, or a collection of their thoughts on aging, or parenting, or breathing. There is ZERO barrier to being an author. If you can fall against the keyboard and claw out a few lines of sub-custodial drivel, presto, you’re an author. So it’s not fascinating to anyone but you. Honest. It takes more.
If you want to sell books using social media, here’s my suggestion: develop an interesting personality, blog, tweet and Facebook about things that genuinely interest you (that don’t involve you trying to sell someone your stupid book), and maybe, just maybe, if you demonstrate that you can write, are relevant, and have interesting things to say, some folks might think, “hey, maybe I should check out one of his/her books – they might not completely suck, like most of the rest of the dross clogging the drain these days!”
BTW, being as my interests run to writing, publishing, animals, and boozing, that’s what I blog and Facebook about. Actually, I don’t write about boozing, because it’s kind of like telling your mates about your night with a hot chick you met in a bar – they don’t care, and it’s really only interesting to you. So that leaves pets, publishing, and writing.
I’m pretty sure that few or no books have been sold as a result of my blogging. Mostly I’ve pissed off authors who want to believe that if you only slap a big sticker that says clueless sycophant on your forehead and follow some completely bogus three year old How To book’s misleading guidance, you’ll sell a bunch. No you won’t. I know exactly ZERO authors who have sold even reasonably well following the best known example of the How To ilk’s spurious advice. I said three years ago when I started, that if anyone could point to authors who have hit by writing heartfelt blogs about celebrities or declaring themselves to be, Joe Blow, Author, or any of the rest of the stupidity being advocated like penny stocks in a boiler room, I’d eat my bandana. So far, bandana’s intact.
If you’re an author, here’s your newsflash: everyone is lying to you so you’ll spend money on their course, book or whatnot. Exactly none of the How To books or guides I’ve seen will help you sell books. At best they encourage some harmless practices that amount to positive thinking mantras or advice that’s about as useful as, “pray.” At worst they fill your day with tripe, with meaningless activity and silliness, to make you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. They are as false a god as if I scraped together a bundle of sticks and mud, formed a cow head out of it, and declared it to be Basamor, the creator of the known universe. They demean you because they assume you’re an idiot, and their authors should be hunted down and driven from the land on a rail. There should be a zero tolerance in the community for people who mislead in order to separate you from your money, especially peddling silliness that’s as realistic as a guide to unicorn hunting or a list of honest bankers and politicians.
I’ve told you everything I know about publishing, for free. I haven’t told you to manipulate people or view them as rubes or marks, I haven’t advised you to treat your potential readership as cretins, or any of the other mumpsimus that passes for wisdom. I’ve counseled you to improve your craft, spend much of your time writing or reading decent books, to write out of love rather than because you think you’ll make a dime at it, to package and polish your work professionally, to publish regularly, to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about your abilities and the quality of your work, and to hold your audience in the highest possible regard (unless you’re targeting idiots, in which case, never mind that last bit). I recognize that’s a kind of blasphemy to those who are looking for the yellow brick road to publishing success, but it’s the truth. Anything else is obliquity. Silliness. And a complete waste of your time.
I was also asked about my writing and rewrite process, so I’ll share my rewrite approach in a few words, because it should be yours, too: Assume everything you wrote is complete garbage, be extremely suspicious of every word, every sentence, every thought, simile, trope, observation, idea, and make it your mission to fix it. If it seems okay to you it’s because you’re either lazy, ignorant, or delusional. No it isn’t. Do the work, make it good, and if you think it is, learn more, come back, and you’ll see it ain’t by a long shot.
That’s my rewrite process in a nutshell. It’s not forgiving, but it does cut down on the output of complete crap (my work notwithstanding – do as I say, and all). It isn’t designed to make you feel good about yourself, or self-actualized, or talented or special. It’s designed to ensure you create readable prose your audience might actually like, and which might have a chance.
No charge. Although I’m pretty sure if I put this into a How To book nobody would want to buy it, so it’s worth what you paid for it.
There. I got that off my chest. Mr. Buzz Kill hard at work. Now back to the WIP, which is what you should be doing, too, instead of wasting your time with stupid blogs.
Jason Gurley worked his magic on King of Swords, and the result is pretty damn cool, if I say so myself. Again, as with the JET covers, I’m looking for a brand look that differentiates the series from the other series (JET, BLACK), puts a common look and feel in place with an image of a person on it, is eye catching even as a thumbnail (which is how 99% of folks will first see it), and conveys a host of information: genre, title, USA Today blurb, etc.
I think he did a great job.
Next week he’ll be working on the rest of the series. Now, this is the fourth go round for me on the Assassin novels. As a little trip down memory lane, here are the covers, with Jason’s the last one.
Cover 1, the original. This wasn’t bad, but in retrospect, I asked for too much and made a tactical error using the image from the tarot card from which the book draws its name as the primary image. I’m sure a lot of readers were, “WTF is that?” Anyhow:
So then we move to different thinking. Some common elements, namely the sniper scope, to indicate that this is an assassination thriller, but more jarring use of color, and losing the tarot card image in favor of a classing man in the crosshairs theme:
That remained the cover for about 10 months, and then I contracted another very talented designer to do something completely different – a grunge look that was edgy and contemporary and fresh. I really like this cover, and it’s remained the cover of choice for a year or so:
So why change? Well, I like to tinker with the cover until I believe it’s right, right meaning conveys all the elements effectively in a satisfying manner. Here’s Jason’s take on it:
Now, while only time will tell on any impact on sales the cover might have, my personal take is that this has that “trad pub” finished cover look, is just different enough from other books in the genre to be eye catching, and gets a lot of info across – we have an assassin, we have the cover telling the reader that the book is part of the Assassin series, we have the USA Today info, and the title is put across in a slightly different, but polished, manner. We’re still fine tuning a couple of the elements, but I think we’re as close as you can get without buying each other jewelry.
The other departure is that this is the third set of covers where I hired a model, to ensure I have the same look across all the covers. I’m liking that approach.
That’s my thought for the week. I’m now well into Requiem for the Assassin (unless I can think up a cooler title, or you can), which should release in August/Sept, and so far it moves along nicely. Other than that, can’t complain. BLACK is doing nicely after a month of strong sales linked to promotions, I’ve got all sorts of exciting things going on behind the scenes with Hollywood types, and my attitude is as bad as ever.
Now go buy some of my crap. Papa needs a new pair of shoes or whatever.
I get a lot of emails from authors who are just starting out, or who are on the road but frustrated at the level of success they’ve seen thus far. I wish I had more time to correspond with everyone, but the truth is I’m usually slammed with writing/publishing related tasks, and don’t have a lot of opportunity to do more than offer a brief sentence or two.
But the last few missives I received got me thinking about what I wish someone had explained to me before I started self-publishing in June, 2011. So here’s my top 10 list, such as it is:
1) There are lots of talented writers out there. Lots. And it seems like everyone’s now got a book, or books, on Amazon. Being good isn’t enough to guarantee you anything but satisfaction for a job well done. It should, but it doesn’t. Don’t take it personally.
2) There are lots of crap writers out there. Lots. And while many sink to the bottom of the swamp with nary a whimper, some sell well, and some even become bestsellers. This is because the world’s unfair and, depending upon the genre, oftentimes readers don’t care much whether they suck or not, as long as the story entertains or reaffirms some conviction or bias the readers have. These authors succeed in spite of their abilities, rather than because of them. Don’t take it personally.
3) The internet is filled with gurus who know nothing. It’s hard to turn around without bumping into a writing or self-publishing expert. Most of them are completely full of shit, and don’t sell many books – but that doesn’t stop them from trying to get you to part with your money to hear them tell you what you need to do to sell well. Whenever you hear advice, consider the source. If it’s a million selling author, that means more than from someone whose work ranks slightly lower on Amazon than the collected love poems of Adolf Hitler in original German. Seems like everybody but me is selling seminars, courses, or how to books that promise much and deliver nothing. Must be a good business there, but I prefer labeling my fiction as such and putting in a car chase or gunfight rather than trying to trick the dim or desperate out of a few bucks.
4) You need to be able to put out books at a decent clip. Sure, you might hit huge off one, but probably not. You’ll be building your readership the hard way, which means one reader at a time, and the more quality books you have on your virtual bookshelf the more likely one will catch someone’s eye. This doesn’t appeal to a lot of authors’ wish that they could write a book every year or two and have a nice living. Sorry. I have yet to see that happen. But it’s a seductive siren song, so lots of newbies listen to it like it’s still a viable way to go. In self-publishing, not so much.
5) Most authors will mistake causality for coincidence. And most will use the inverse of this to rationalize to themselves why their approach, even though it hasn’t yielded fruit, is still viable. Drives me crazy. I’ve interviewed dozens of successful authors (not successful defined as “if I feel like a success, I am one!”, but rather successful as in having multi-year careers earning six or seven figures self-publishing) and they all have one thing in common: they all work their asses off with single-minded determination. And while they have that in common, they don’t follow anyone else’s path – they blaze their own, paying attention to whether what they’re doing is getting them the results they want, and if not, they change on a dime. They don’t take philosophical stances or make ideological points with their careers. They’re pragmatic, business minded, and are some of the most aggressively competent folks I’ve met. And they didn’t get that way buying someone’s course or book or tuning in on their blog. They researched, figured out for themselves what works or doesn’t (and they change when tactics stop working), and are hard at it early and often. In other works, they augment their literary flourishes with very determined marketing and promotion efforts, and don’t view some things as beneath them or unimportant compared to writing. They do everything, and most of them do everything well.
6) Screw moral support. You don’t need a village to raise an author, and there shouldn’t be any requirement for hugs to make you feel good. This is a very hard business to succeed at, and you need to lose the need for affirmation and community. It will do you no good but connect you with thousands of other authors who aren’t selling anything, either. If you want to feel good, write something really meritorious and put it out there, and then do it again and again until someone notices how good your work is. I’m not saying you should shun the company of your fellow scribes, rather, I’m saying that being the most popular person in the soup line is still a lousy place to be. So aspire to greatness, and do whatever it takes to get there. Every hour you spend on Facebook or Twitter or some forum mewling to other kindred spirits about how your sensitive inner self sometimes gets so confused is an hour of your life wasted that you could have put to good use improving your craft. I’m not saying don’t participate in social groups. I’m saying it shouldn’t matter to you, and you shouldn’t need constant stroking. If you do, fine, join a support group, but don’t mistake being an author for going to meetings.
7) Time is not infinite, and it goes by quickly. Don’t waste it. Don’t write crap, don’t put out stories that are forgettable or that you wouldn’t read if you weren’t the author, and don’t take your audience for fools. Their time is valuable. More than yours. They are paying for your work – you aren’t paying them. That makes them the customer, and you should hold your customer in high regard because without them, you’re nothing. So don’t waste their time with sub-par dross, and don’t waste your own on work that isn’t your very best. You have no idea or guarantee how many breaths you will take between when you read these words and when you keel over. Don’t act like you have forever. You absolutely, positively do not, and the great lie, the most destructive conceit, is that there’s still plenty of road left. No, there isn’t. There might be, but there also might not be, and nobody knows for sure. So don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today, and prioritize your shit so you’re doing things that matter, like you’re only going to be around for a few more hours or days. If you’re wrong, nice surprise. If you’re right you won’t have frittered away what you had left playing some idiotic game or staring at the tube or exchanging vapid pleasantries online. Treat your time as precious and use it wisely.
8) Being a successful author is not a game or a scam or some lucky break. It is a job, just like any other (if you’re lucky) and it requires lots of application and concerted effort, or you’re fired. You are the CEO of YouCo, Inc. and as such have to stay ahead of all curves, drive yourself to consistently outperform, and master new and uncomfortable skills. That’s the gig. If you don’t want to do it, start querying agents in the hopes one of them decides you’re the next Hemingway and he/she is going to make you a massive star. Be sure to let me know how that goes.
9) The quality of your writing, in your ability to turn a phrase, to spin a yarn, is massively important. It can seem as though it isn’t, especially if you listen to all the morons out there advising you to spend N hours on blog tours or giveaways or X hours on social media or Y assembling street teams or Z pricing your work as though you were Ludlum and chasing down distribution so you can compete for physical shelf space with the 300K trad pubbed books that will release this year. But while anything can happen, usually your ability to make a real go of this will come down to how good your storytelling is and how relevant you can make yourself to your readership. All the rest of this nonsense is like cheap icing on a birthday cake. Your job as author is to ensure that you can make a cake like nobody’s business, and once your target customers taste it, they recognize its superiority and come back for more. The notion that you can just fart out cakes that are half-baked is as destructive as any corrosive ideology I’ve seen. Some authors can put out a consistent stream of high-quality work on an aggressive schedule, but they are in the slim minority. Most who do so have to work very hard to keep their quality high, and it’s mind-numbing, demanding work. I’ve had a number of articles and interviews devoted to my publication speed, but guess what? That’s not the story. The story is not being able to release 10 books a year. The story is being able to release 10 books your readership thinks are good and thus sell well. Don’t confuse yourself, and don’t settle for good enough. There’s no such thing as good enough. There’s as good as you can possibly do, and nothing less.
10) Pick a genre that’s large enough to support you. Understand the genre well before you try to write for it. Don’t chase fads. See my point #7 again. Don’t waste your time. Write every book as though that’s the one that’s going to be the breakout. Because neither you, nor anyone else, knows whether or not it is. But if you didn’t put your all into it, it probably won’t be. And there’s a small universe of potential readers for your work when you’re starting out, and they are leery of trusting you. They have good reason to be skeptical. They’ve been burned too many times by sub-par work and sophomoric craftsmanship. So they’re looking for reasons to hand you your head and dismiss your work as garbage. Don’t give them the ammo with which to do so. Know your genre cold, make damned sure you’ve read hundreds of books in your genre, and ensure that your audience, should your work be well received, is large enough to keep you in pens and paper.
A caveat: don’t genre jump. You’re not an exception. Sure, you feel like you are, because you’re so special and different, but the only ones who are going to agree with you are other authors who also aren’t selling anything, and maybe your mom. Pick a genre that’s a decent size, write appropriately to it, spend time letting your potential readers know your work’s available, and develop a system that you can live with. I counsel spending 25% of your time on marketing/promotions/production work, and 75% on writing. I’ve found that a good mix. You may feel differently. That’s fine. Figure out what works, and I do mean really think about it hard – as though your life depended on it – then work your system, and pay attention to whether or not it’s delivering results.
If it isn’t working, change it up. Not after fifteen minutes, but if you haven’t gotten where you want within a realistic period of time, find a better way of doing it, because otherwise you can spend years spinning your wheels. Nothing wrong with that, but I prefer results over effort and I value outcome over process. If my process isn’t working I find something that is, usually by modeling successes in the field and analyzing what they’re doing right.
And my bonus item:
11) Which I never needed anyone to tell me, but still: It’s possible to do it, and it’s possible that you will be the one to do it. It’s more possible that you won’t, but that’s what makes it interesting. You need to find inside of yourself the stuff that matters and do it for real. While that’s no guarantee, there are so many who don’t do it all out, who phone it in or kinda sorta do it, just being one of those who does it balls-out can be an edge. You’ll need all the edge you can get, and being willing to do whatever it takes is certainly an edge.
The good news is that every month, someone does it. Every. Single. Month.
Question is what you’ll do to make one of those your month, and once you’ve had your month, what you’ll do to have a career of ‘em.
That’s what I wish someone had told me three years ago. Now I’ve told you.
Go back and read my “How To Sell Loads of Books” blog, and my “Author Myths” blogs. Combined with this list it’s as good a place to start as any, and I won’t charge you $5 or $50 or $500 to hear it.
Just go buy one or two of my books if you found this valuable. If not, hey, you got your money’s worth, so don’t whine. But you can still buy one of my books. Wink.
I was looking for a way to update and upgrade my JET covers, and managed to convince talented cover artist (and author) Jason Gurley to tackle the job. Jason’s a kind of cover art god, having done Hugh Howey’s Wool and Sand covers, as well as just about anybody who’s anybody’s work. By throwing indecent amounts of money at him and threatening his loved ones, I got him to sully his reputation with my stuff, and I think the results are pretty cool, with a uniform look, a more updated theme, something more contemporary.
Here they are. I’m happy to report I still have a number of shots from the photo session, too, so can continue the look for a few more books.
Now, some might say, hey, you’ve sold boatloads of JET books, why dick with it? Why fix it if it ain’t broken? My answer is, because that’s what we do as retail marketers. We have to constantly strive for better, faster, cheaper, for innovation, or someone will eat our lunch. So if we can come up with a cover that’s even 10% more memorable or eye-catching than what we had before, that’s a 10% edge in stopping the reader and convincing them to look harder at the book. In a crowded market, that’s a big part of getting the sale.
So there we have it. I’ll be releasing JET VII – Sanctuary, end of June, delayed by my broken mitt, and am starting the next in the Assassin series next week, which I’m totally excited about, as I think the plot is the best yet in that series. Guess we’ll soon know for sure. After that will be the first book of a new series, which I believe will be a knockout, and then the summer belongs to romance! I’ll be doing my ab crunches so I can be the cover model on that series – I’ve been working on my brood and my pout, and I think I have that down, along with my come hither glower that hints at approachability. Who knew it was all so hard?
As authors, many in my blog audience tend to focus on mundane issues like how to sell books or how to write good ones. Natural fodder given our choice of vocation, or avocation, as the case may be.
Rarely do I see commentary on how the inexorable decline in popular literacy affects society as a whole – most of the time my blog, and the vast majority of others, focus on commercial, marketing, or craft issues rather than more macro ones addressing literacy. While I can appreciate that burning questions like how to improve one’s chances of selling more books are popular with authors, I’ll invite everyone to consider the ramifications of a population that is increasingly illiterate, and which communicates in text message bursts and abbreviations instead of in English as I know it (although I’ll freely admit I see the same thing with Spanish here in Mexico – there’s an entire generation for whom spelling and whole words are unknown; a casualty of texting and tweeting).
NOTE: All of the comments were wiped out on this blog due to a server change issue by the hosting company. I have recreated them thanks to Alexander, who is both a gentleman and a scholar.
America prides itself on being a classless society – that’s the essence of the American dream, after all, poor boy makes good and builds himself an empire, or at least a decent home with a nuclear family replete with leased cars and mountains of credit card debt. But that classlessness is an illusion (probably has always been, when one considers the history of the land, wherein the more successful merchants and financiers became moguls and industrialists, but that’s beside the point) as a growing chasm separates the haves from the have-nots. And it’s not strictly financial, although that is certainly where the divide is most easily observed. It’s a divide in basic literacy. In our comfort with the language, and being able to read and write well enough to convey ideas more complex than “let’s eat” or “that feels good.”
I recently reread a number of pulp novels from the sixties and seventies (with an occasional eighties and nineties thrown in for fun) – not literary fiction by any means, just thrillers the likes of which I grew up reading. What immediately struck me is how erudite the books were compared to modern fare. They were written at a much higher grade level than current popular fiction, because, bluntly, the average person was more literate, and the assumption was that folks wanted a little intellectual stimulation with their car chases and explosions – that words with more than a couple of syllables could be salted through a tome without fearing a slew of one star reviews written in Pidgin English bemoaning that the author was trying too hard or must have once seen a thesaurus.
It seems to be that somewhere over the last 20 or 30 years the level of remedial literacy possessed by the average person has declined to a state where most are comfortable reading at a level I associate with Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, which is to say at an adolescent level, at best. The average literacy has slid, declined to a point where many readers have no idea what the difference between their, they’re or there is, much less the difference between shuddered and shuttered or breaches and breeches.
Why does that matter? Because as a society loses its basic grasp of literacy, the ability to impart important concepts, its very ability to reason, is lost. Ignorance of one’s mother tongue, much less other tongues, is a terrible thing, and isn’t to be celebrated. It creates a class-based system as surely as share cropping or indentured servitude does. The elite go to the best schools, are literate and capable of grasping and expressing complex ideas (either in writing or through oration), whereas the rank and file are relegated to simple-minded communications, short attention spans, and a sense of apathy that an inability to understand, much less participate in, the discussion, banishes them to. Illiteracy is exclusionary. It is a huge step backwards, to where the only ones who can read are the cognoscenti: academics, priests, and the ruling class.
If you read the Federalist Papers, or anything by the founding fathers, these were people with tremendous powers of not only persuasion, but an incredible facility with and grasp of the importance of language. Literacy was prized as the force that could move you from bondage to freedom, be it racial inequality, or social. Go watch some Youtube clips of MLK or Malcolm X if you want to see erudite arguments for social change from the sixties from men who understood the importance of the effective use of language.
I have to think that the dumbing down of the population serves no good purpose, and is divisive as any racism or bigotry. A population that can’t read at above a second grade level likely can’t reason at more than a first or second grade level, which leaves it entirely unable to grapple with the important issues of its time. It can’t inform itself because it doesn’t or can’t read – any idea beyond that second grade level is lost on it as it tunes out, preferring something more accessible, more facile to grasp. The internet certainly doesn’t help, given that it encourages the assimilation of information in small chunks – only the most cursory treatments. Television doesn’t help, either. The problem being that nuance, that complete and meaningful answers to important questions, explorations of ethical or moral of philosophical or social issues generally require more than whatever can comfortably be contained in a paragraph or two, or the equivalent of a sixty second sound bite, or a text that reads something like, “OMG, he’s so ttly fine, LOL. C U Soon!”
So we wind up with a pool of voters who don’t understand the issues they are deciding, don’t understand basic logical reasoning, don’t understand much of anything – a pool that requires their menus to be presented in pictures, their cash registers to be labeled with icons, their dialogue to be whatever can be contained in a Dr. Seuss-level discussion. That results in an erosion of society over time, as it makes it far easier for dogma to be substituted for reason, and authoritarianism to serve in the place of rational persuasion. It’s a recipe for inequality and fascism, for injustice, for the exploitation of the many for the direct benefit of the few. It creates rulers, who have knowledge and all that goes with it, and the ruled, who are largely ignorant.
I find this trend particularly appalling as a writer, because as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing more powerful than language. It can convince, scold, motivate, embarrass, enrichen, impoverish. It can cause parents to cheerfully send their children to war, to bomb innocents out of existence in order to free them, to force our next generations to foot the bill for our wastefulness by arguing we can spend our way out of debt. Language defines our perception of reality, and he who can most skillfully use language can convince the masses his way is best. It can also excuse the most horrendous of acts through rhetorical sleight of hand, where stealing becomes liberating, where killing innocents becomes collateral damage, where cheating a nation out of its financial legacy becomes equality or redistribution of wealth. Words, and our ability to use them, define how we think about things.
The less comfort we have with words, the less command we have of them, the less we can think in a meaningful manner. We lack the terms, the basic vocabulary, with which to frame the narrative or debate. We can’t reason, use logic, because we don’t understand its basic concepts and rules. We don’t understand what argument from authority or post hoc reasoning or any of the other logical fallacies are because we don’t understand the concepts or the words used to define them, so we make poor decisions or are easily deceived. Again and again. Like a smoker who makes the poor decision to light up a cigarette 20 or 30 times a day, and who ultimately winds up with respiratory problems or worse, we as a society make poor decisions on a daily basis that result in an unhealthy host, a diseased culture riddled with morbidity.
Where am I going with this?
I dislike the trend in popular fiction towards dumbing down. I understand the trend. We want to sell, and if what sells are monosyllabic screeds with the complexity of a comic, then that’s what we’ll write. But one has to ask whether there’s not a better way. A way to raise the bar some, to not pander to the lowest common denominator, and still sell well?
As custodians of the written word, of language, do we want to be the equivalent of pop songs that come and go in popularity every week, or shoot for something more substantial? Is it possible to be relevant and entertaining and popular without being slack-jawed and mouth-breathing?
Look, I write action thrillers and mysteries. I’ll be doing a foray into romance soon. So I’m not saying we should all be aspiring to be Harper Lee, or be trying to write the next Lord of the Flies. I get that we need to balance popular taste with our creativity, and produce products people want to buy. What I’m saying is that, given that the majority of the nation either doesn’t or can’t read, are we not better served trying to raise the bar a little in our offerings for those that still can?
I’m not sure I have a point here. Just more of my ramblings. But as I said, I was struck by how intelligently so many of the books from forty and fifty years ago were written – popular books, too – compared to what’s passes for pop fiction these days.
Call me a curmudgeony old man, I suppose. (Shakes fist. “You whippersnappers have no idea what it was like! The end is nigh!”) And so on. I’m sure I’m just railing against that which I can’t change. All I can do is continue to try to write well, and hope that my audience grows, however that happens.
Now go buy some of my crap. Please. You could do worse than with JET – Ops Files.
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.