11 June 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 62 comments

Why do some succeed, but most fail? Is it random chance, or is there more to it? Are there habits that successful people have, that their less successful brethren don’t? Sure. There are countless books on the topic. They involve things like being driven, focused, organized, hard working, etc.

So that’s not what this blog’s about. Instead, I thought I’d list the seven habits of highly ineffective people – people who don’t seem to accomplish nearly what their successful peers do, no matter the timing, or the industry. I’m using self-publishing as an example, but these are constants in any industry. Just look around and you’ll find plentiful examples.


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1) Spend lots of time on the Internet instead of working. Facebook, Twitter, dumbass blogs like this one, chat groups, forums, Youtube. According to numerous studies I mostly made up just now, those who express the desire to be successful authors (meaning top selling, respected authors) but fail to make inroads spend large amounts of time being social butterflies, and very little time actually writing.

2) Shun marketing. If you want to sell few to no books, ensure that nobody knows they’re available, much less worth reading, and do little or nothing to create visibility. Those who are ineffective book sellers seem uniquely focused on avoiding anything that would sell their books, which makes a kind of sense. They generally believe marketing and promotions are a pain, or beneath them, or that they shouldn’t have to because they’re special snowflakes. They’ll cite plentiful examples of unrelated authors with completely different circumstances who made it without having to sully their hands with the vagaries of filthy commerce, ignoring that these were exceptions, sort of the guy who jumped off the Golden Gate bridge or jumped out of a plane but had their chute fail to open, and lived. Tut tut, they’ll insist, it can still happen. Sure it can. Bridge is right over there. Have at it.

3) Treat your muse as though it were an uncontrollable force of nature, like rain or snow. Completely outside of your ability to make it dance for you. Another aspect of this odd view is that everyone’s different, and not everyone can be creative on command, or work up the motivation to write on a regular schedule. Tell that to the countless Hollywood script writers, journalists, ad copy and web content creators who do in fact create to a schedule in order to be paid. There’s a word for those who can’t master their muse: Unemployed, at least if they’re writers. Or broke, if you prefer brevity.

4) Fail to have a production schedule. It’s sort of like going on a road trip from NY to LA. A production schedule is a map. Apparently the idea that you’re far likelier to get to your destination, on time, and on budget, with a map, is a novel idea to the ineffective. Best to just see what happens. It’ll sort itself out.

5) Have no consistency to your work. Jump around a lot of different genres and ignore what’s working. Keep your readers guessing what your next one’s going to be about, how long or short it will be, when it will be released, or even whether there will be a next one. The ineffective seem to mistake the liberty to fail in multiple genres or form factors with freedom of expression. They ignore the avisos to stick to your knitting, preferring to write whatever their illusive and mercurial muse dictates. Generally to empty seats. A good warning sign is if you’re asking questions like, “Why don’t my short stories sell?” or “Who says you have to do a series to make a decent living at this?” on author forums.

6) Surround yourself with those who aren’t performing. Misery loves company, and if you’re going to spend a lot of time on social media, who better to do it with than other kindred spirits who also aren’t accomplishing anything? See number 1 above for the best way to do so.

7) Nickel and dime everything. Ineffective people will generally spend an hour to save a dime, instead of earning twenty dollars. Everything will be do-it-yourself, and it will be a point of pride at how little their work cost to produce. Of course, they will also seem incapable of grasping that most are discerning consumers who won’t pay for do-it-yourself, amateur efforts. This results in a circle of mediocrity and failure – everything’s done on the cheap, nobody wants to buy it, no money comes in, resulting in everything having to be done on the cheap. Many proponents of the wisdom of this approach are also broke, which is usually directly related to taking this approach in every aspect of their lives. But they don’t seem to see the causality.

So there you have it. If you want to be ineffective as an author, I’ve just handed you the keys to the kingdom. In fact, if you want to be ineffective in most things, these suggestions will prove helpful – using genre as an example, imagine one’s effectiveness to an employer if instead of spending years honing a discipline, like, say, accounting, you jumped around every few months to try something different because you felt limited by that one thing – because everyone respects and wants to employ a dilettante. Or imagine your effectiveness as a business owner if you just can’t seem to work up the motivation to go in today to open the doors, much less get things done. Or as a manufacturer if you failed to have production schedules, preferring to let everyone just sort it out and work at their own pace. In fact, these simple techniques can be used to be ineffective at almost anything, and provide a wonderful window into the soul of failure as leitmotif.

I left out the one about arguing with those who have done well, as though by disagreeing you can make your unsuccessful approach a winner, but ran out of numbers. We can tackle that one next time. Now I’m off to tell the chef at the wildly popular restaurant down the street how there’s more than one way to run an eatery, after which I’ll follow by arguing with my doctor that I read contradictory information from his recommendations on the web, and announce to my engineer that I don’t need to spend years in school learning a bunch of BS, but have decided that I can just sort of tell how much structural steel needs to be in a beam to support a certain amount of stress and weight.

UPDATE: In the interest of clarity, here are some definitions of terms: When I use the term ineffective, I mean ineffective at operating a successful self-publishing business (or really any sort of business, business being defined as commerce, where success is measured in terms of net profit dollars). Ineffective is another word for inefficient in this instance.

When I use the term success, I mean selling boatloads of books for oodles of money. Success has a very narrow definition for the purposes of this blog – it doesn’t mean how you might define it (the joy in your puppy’s eyes at seeing you again, the pride of a job well done, persevering in spite of overwhelming odds, self-actualization, the warming rays of a sunset, modest progress with marginal results, etc.). For the purposes of this blog, success is selling hundreds of thousands of books per year for many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you disagree with the specific definitions I’ve set out for these terms, I’d suggest you find a group that cares about your definition, and write your own blog.





  1. Wed 11th Jun 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks for continuing to help me keep my head from being firmly ensconced in my own posterior orifice. Your words may appear gruff to some, but all I can hear you saying is if someone really wants to make it as a writer, they’ve got to really commit to it and be willing to learn from those who are willing to share their hard-earned knowledge.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 11th Jun 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Sure, recognizing that there’s no gospel. But success leaves clues. If you want success, it’s best to examine the clues and see if there are any patterns you can exploit for your own evil purposes. While everyone’s journey is going to be different, you’d be amazed at how similar many of them really are, once you strip away the meaningless details that didn’t really contribute. I’ve always been a big believer in modeling success. I’ve done it with every one of my businesses, and it hasn’t let me down yet…

  2. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 1:07 am

    I graduated from the short stories not selling seminar. At least not animal short stories. Definitely not writing any more of those.
    Sticking to a genre for my real name and one for my pen name, and I’m good with marketing and pay professionals for all services. This is the only blog I regularly read and spend very little time chatting online as I only talk to a few people. I’m able to re-create a pattern of sales with each full length book I release, and only release a new book when I’ve made enough money from the previous one to pay professionals for all the services to put a new title out. So far so good.
    But I do have one issue. I write too slow, even when I have the time set aside without interruption. It’s no big deal now as my writing pace matches my budget to re-invest in my business, but I’m noticing I’m making more and more , little by little, and my concern is I will soon get to a point where I can afford to put more titles out per year, but will still write too slow. It’s not that I stare at the screen and don’t type, it’s that I keep revising over and over instead of plowing straight through. Not sure how to break that habit and get more done.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 12:28 pm

      It’s like anything else. Do something for 30 days and it becomes a habit. Stop revising. Force yourself to plow straight through. No exceptions. At the end of a month, you’ll have broken the habit.

      • J. R. Tomlin  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 2:07 pm

        I suppose I disagree with chatting online because I enjoy chatting online. Then again I spend ZERO time watching TV, which I suspect frees up more time than giving up Twitter would. πŸ˜‰

      • J. R. Tomlin  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 2:20 pm

        Oh, but I totally agree on the ‘revising & revising’ issue for what it’s worth. πŸ™‚

  3. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 2:40 am

    I got nothin’ to add, except breaking out the DIY mistake to “doing your own covers.” I think that deserves a special mention because it can be so deadly and it’s pernicious…I have a good eye, do competent photography, and still pay top dollar to SOMEONE WHO WENT TO SCHOOL for design… worth every crazy ass expensive penny and pays for itself in weeks.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 6:02 pm

      A-MEN, Sister, AMEEEEEN!!!!

    • Cathryn Cade  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 10:16 pm


      And you write fabulous books to get people to read the next one. Just sayin’

      • Dan Meadows  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 12:08 am

        I was a managing editor for a magazine a few years back and I once paid top dollar for someone who went to school for design. A month later, I also fired that someone and hired someone else who was completely self taught in design with no formal education at all and got infinitely better, top quality work without the sense of entitlement and repetitive style. True professionals come in all forms and the quickest way to overpay for mediocre work is to look at someone’s credentials rather than their skillset, which are two very different things. I found the same lesson applied to virtually all creative skills I hired out for; designers, writers, photographers, etc. The more formal education someone had, and the more vocal they were about it, the less use they were in the real world, and the more expensive, commonplace and uninventive their work. I’ll take a committed, self-taught individual over someone with a fancy school background who thinks that means something every day of the week. Anyone who can write a check can get a degree. It’s no predictor at all of the kind of work you’ll get out of them. Hire them for the quality of their work and their professionalism. Everything else is an illusion.

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 12:57 am

          No question that a qualified person is better than unqualified, whether with degree or no. Wise words on hiring the work, not the degree.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 11:43 pm

      Yeah, you eventually learn that lesson, and it’s one of the more expensive to learn due to the opportunity cost of lost sales while your crap cover scares your small early potential readership off. I can’t tell you how important covers are in the scheme of things. I mean, you know, but I can’t tell others how important…

  4. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 4:11 am

    Some should ask themselves what ‘indie’ is short for, and then look up the definition of the second word. I’ll never forget a thread on a certain message board, asking if marketing was tantamount to cheating.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Groan. Yes, that’s the mindset that convinced me my time was better spent elsewhere. Like napping.

  5. bi
    Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 4:11 am

    This took me too long to read.

    Can I just go back to iCarly now?

  6. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 10:06 am

    Hello, Blake

    I hope people get that your life before being a writer was one of an independent, aggressive businessman (praise). In order to succeed, you made the big sacrifices and you had to think, work like a lunatic, think, plan, overcome micro and macro diversity, think, and use your guts and your brains 24/7.

    Then you started to write.

    Being hard-wired into what it really takes to succeed, you had the tools which you paid for with the coin of experience and will.

    Tell ’em the good and the bad news, Blake: Success is damn difficult, even when its hard-wired into your genes. It takes everything you got, and if you aren’t willing to slug it out, get out of the ring.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Well said. You should be a writer…

      • Larry Bonner  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 7:52 am

        Don’t go overboard, now…

  7. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Raising my hand here as definitely guilty of #1–social media butterfly. But I’m getting into gear this month putting out the first in a new dystopian series, a standalone short, a short for a robot anthology, and a tie-in to another author’s dystopian series. So there is hope!

    And then I’m going to Paris and Venice to feed my muse.

    Thanks for your wisdom, Russell. Off to write now…

  8. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Another great post. The funny thing about the free market is that it tends to eat those waiting for an easier way. I’ve recently put together my long-term production schedule. And it’s brutal (but I get to write, so that’s okay). One thing you might add–though you did alude to it–is that we may have to make tough choices and cut ourselves off from those who share our dream but not our willingness to work hard for it.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 4:40 pm

      The part I shake my head at is those who absolutely HATE my tone and my message, and hound me on other message boards for it, like my observations are a personal insult to their philosophy.

      Here’s what I say: Fine. I’m an ass hat. Go sell a million books and prove your way is the right way.

      Oh. Wait. That would involve selling a million books to prove your way is the right way.

      To be clear, I’m not saying my way is the only way, or even the best way. What I’m saying is that with hundreds of discussions with successful authors, a pattern emerges, and it generally involves them having mastered doing away with the bad habits I list.

      I share that. Not because I make any money sharing it. I have no How To book to sell. No seminars to hawk.

      And people get REALLY pissed. I mean, really pissed.

      Go over to the Passive Voice and check out the exchange over there. Immediately after posting my blog, a flurry of comments come in from folks whose names I recognize from KB, who are vigorously changing the subject from my list of habits, to why they’re successful if they feel they are, and so on. Huh? WTFF?

      Did I miss the detour to where nothing is actually about the topic, and it’s the same laborious dross that I left KB over?

      Who’s got time for that?

      The good news is that the market determines the merits of a particular approach. I don’t. They don’t. The market does.

      The market has determined that those 7 habits won’t result in any big surge in effectiveness, as measured in this business, by sales.

      People get really annoyed by that.

      • Ron Estrada  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 5:35 pm

        Man, and I thought things got nasty on the poet writers discussion boards (a brief flirtation in the belief it would make me a better writer). They understand you don’t have to offer your advice, right? Surely you’re not making your living preaching the good news to other writers.

        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 6:00 pm

          There’s a part of me that’s amused by it, though. I mean, it’s fun to argue with people. And a welcome break from editing.

          No, I get not one cent by dispensing my advice. Actually probably lose sales and collect 1 star reviews from ass clown authors who decide that another 1 star out of several thousand five stars is going to make a difference. It’s a very odd mentality.

          I don’t read many blogs, and I hardly ever go to PV, although I usually am interested in what I read there in terms of the blogs he posts, but it’s a time suck, because I read some comments, and then a part of my brain goes, “Idiot! He’s Wrong on the INTERNET!!!” and then I comment, and pretty soon I’ve written 5000 words that will change nobody’s mind, and I’ve lost two hours of my life.

          Which is why I say turn off the internet.

          Today I was a hypocrite. And I’ll be working till midnight to make up the time. Sigh…

          • Michael Grist  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 7:21 pm

            I’m with you on how the PG comments wee kind of ridiculous. What did you say that was so bad? Maybe they are more made up of hobbyists, and took offense that you defined success as the hard slog that it is. Really do t know why they got so worked up. And the chap with his ninja edit thing, it boggles the mind.
            Keep on keeping on sir. It seems apparent you will anyway.

          • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 8:16 pm

            My take, such as it is, is that a certain type of self-published author gets really offended if you tell them it’s extremely hard to make it, that you can’t waste your time or talents with a bunch of idiocy that involves not writing, and immediately rush to defend “their” interpretation of words like “success” – because they’re defending their accomplishments, such as they are, not actually having a dialogue that’s on topic.

            You see that sort of invective when discussing politics or religion. Alas, for many, self-publishing and being an author have the same sort of zealotry that religion does. Perhaps not the majority, but certainly enough to be very vocal.

            You’ll note in every one of my comments I try to drag the topic back to the 7 habits of highly ineffective people, and not make it about discussions of what success truly means, or any of that. You’ll also note that again and again, those that can’t stay on topic get very defensive, and start arguing about tone, sentiment, etc. It’s like having a fight with a girlfriend or boyfriend, who instead of addressing the problem that caused the rift, insists upon making it about the other person’s tone, demeanor, etc. It’s a cheap rhetorical bit of sleight of hand designed to derail a topic, IMO, which is why it annoys me so.


          • Anthea Lawson/Sharp  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 9:06 pm

            In defense of the commenters at TPV, I think a lot of folks there completely agree with you and didn’t bother to comment on your worlds. It kind of brought the crazy out…

          • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 9:41 pm

            I do tend to incite mayhem wherever I go.

            I actually recognize many of the posters at PV – they are also very active on KB. Where they will also argue for hours that anything that measures success in a way that might color them as unsuccessful isn’t useful, because everybody’s a winner as long as you fell good about yourself, or life, or whatever your goals are.

            Which is super, but has zero to do with being efficient, or inefficient. It just means having very, very modest goals, as in selling a few books a month goals, not selling tens or hundreds of thousands.

            Maybe my brain works differently, but when I encounter people who are selling massive numbers of books, my first instinct isn’t to fight with them, it’s to figure out what they’re doing so I can be one of them. It’s not to argue that their performance is fine “if that’s what you want.” It’s to learn how I can do that, too. I don’t have any problem viewing my performance for the first seven months of doing this as failing. I was failing. I was keenly aware I was failing. I understood the odds said I’d likely continue to fail. What I didn’t do was find a way to be happy with failure. It was to find a way to stop failing.

            Is that so odd? I guess so. I hated failing to the point where I decided that if I needed to put out a hundred books to stop that pain, I’d do so. That drove me not only to reexamine my approach almost daily until I found what worked for me, but also made it intolerable for me to be complacent. I figured out how to make myself a cornered rat, and used that to motivate me to do the impossible.

            It’s funny that one poster posted that bit from Glengarry. That’s what my inner dialogue sounds like. Perhaps that’s what people dislike. I suppose it matters to someone, but honestly, not so much to me, because it’s their careers, not mine, and if they decide not to heed my advice, I’m in no way diminished or the poorer for it.

  9. Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Amen. It’s always funny to me the people who say they have no time to write yet they are the ones that spend hours on Facebook posting 2 1/2 page long comments on everyone’s updates.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 5:20 pm

      I’m guilty of that, but then again, I don’t let it stop my 7K a day word count. I’ll be up till midnight if necessary to hit it.

      But I do note that a lot of folks who have endless time for social media are less prolific than those who put their ass in the chair working on their WIP most of the day.

  10. Jana DeLeon
    Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Love it, Russell!

    Some people will always get angry when you tell them that success requires hard work. That’s just how they roll. Some will also argue that they do things completely different and are successful.

    But the problem with the argument is what is successful? I have a feeling some consider success selling very little. I consider success being able to live off my work. And I live so much better now than when I was a CFO. I didn’t accomplish that by wasting time.

    (But I do have time for this blog) πŸ™‚

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 5:32 pm

      Yes, that’s not a popular sentiment, I can see.

      I think I’ll just stick with blogs about puppies. Everyone likes puppies.

      • Jana DeLeon  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 5:45 pm

        I love puppies. I also love money. Money may not make you happy but it gives you options.

        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 6:01 pm

          It certainly makes being unhappy more fun.

          And enables you to support your puppies.

  11. Lucy Carol
    Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 8:15 pm

    I took some fantastic advice from you regarding a treadmill desk. I use one now and I love it!

    So I’d like some more advice. πŸ™‚

    How detailed do you think a production schedule should be? Assuming you don’t go crazy and schedule things like bathroom breaks, or going to the store to buy more tequila (or maybe you do!) how detailed do you like to make your production schedule? Do you plan specific amounts of hours for each task, or you do just pick a date and say that’s when you’ll finish the 1st draft?

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 8:23 pm

      I sit down at the beginning of the year and determine what I want to release, and when. That drives the writing schedule. I leave enough in there to do projects that come up that excite me in the interim, but I have a schedule I share with my team, so they can also schedule their time.

      I’ll use a calendar for first draft. Maybe decide it should take 21 days to do a first draft project, and then I’ll do daily word count goals to get to that point, assuming X number of words. That keeps me on track each day.

      Glad you went for the treadmill desk. It’s a winner, and your cardiovascular system will thank you.

  12. Dan DeWitt
    Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Okay, here goes.

    My issue with you boils down to this, Russell. Someone repeated a completely innocuous quote that I said a long time ago, and most likely about someone who wrote a “My way or the highway” advice blog, which seem to be everywhere nowadays. My first post was in complete support of you, even though I disagree with the content itself. And the next thing I know, I see you taking a run at me, and calling me out by name.

    Let me ask you: Do you think you’d react well to that? Because I doubt it. And I certainly won’t take too kindly to it, either. At that point, I didn’t care if you were Russell Blake, Wilson, or Stover … you were just another troll to me, because while I have no problem being held accountable for shit I actually do, I *FEELINGS ALERT* felt unfairly criticized, which sucks.

    Once that started, we were clearly antagonizing each other. I’m not proud of my part in it, either, so don’t think that I’m bragging.

    We’re clearly two guys with, to put this charitably, strong personalities. It won’t be the last time that a miscommunication will lead to something unpleasant between guys like us, but I’ll gladly chalk it up to that, and I don’t have any issues with you.

    You’re clearly doing a lot right, and you do have a lot to offer in the way of advice. I still believe that posts that attempt to paint a picture of The Way … which this is … are something akin to useless. However, I’m open to the possibility that they may help some people get over that hump, and that’s all that really matters in the end.

    So that’s that. Cool runnings.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 12th Jun 2014 at 11:32 pm

      I got all that. I admit I unfairly criticized you once I went back and reread my post and yours, which took a few minutes, at which point I removed the offending verbiage, thinking I still had 25 minutes or whatever. Turns out that was a flawed assumption. Having said that, if five people saw it I’d be surprised. Five more than I’d hoped, but still. I’m quite sure you’ve also misread, or posted something grumpy, and gone back to correct it. God knows I have.

      As to whether I have the way, I’ve got a pretty damned good way, but not the only way. I get testy when the KB crowd chimes in because it’s always the same ten people who try to change the discussion, and frankly, it gets more than old. So that gets my back up. That said, today I had one person remove themselves from my mailing list (one of the folks in the discussion, go figure) and forty sign up, so overall, the message seemed to be greeted with interest.

      My style is no bullshit, and can be abrasive. I tell everyone that if they don’t like it, don’t read it. It’s simple. Nobody’s strapped anyone into a chair with a head brace on forcing them to read my blog. I take the attitude that if someone’s happy with the way their deal’s working out, super duper, have a nice life, go read someone else. I’d hope that’s what they do, but there’s a small but vocal cadre that finds me to be just to the right of Satan, keeping Pol Pot and Stalin company. If I said it was raining, there would be twenty rebuttals, all off-point, going after me. “Don’t be so judgmental.” “Some people like the rain.” And so on. You saw many of them on that thread. I don’t shine when dealing with those folks, nor do I try. I avoid them like the plague. I never really go read other blogs, but I was alerted that mine had been repeated, and I foolishly went and read the comments, and lo, in the first few were one dismissing it without reading it, another saying it was just more rule-mongering (which of course is to be rejected), etc. So my conditioned reaction of going for the throat engaged, and the rest is history. But I pulled back from the five finger death punch within a few minutes, and tried to abridge my responses so they weren’t as abrasive, by which point you’d already read it, so damage done.

      No hard feelings. I’m pretty sure neither of our lives will be much changed by any of it.

      • David Alastair Hayden  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 6:01 pm

        You guys are being way too civilized and reasonable sorting your differences out. Have you forgotten you’re on the internet?

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 6:50 pm

          You must have missed the exchange at PV. Plenty of eye digs and mud rolling there, but it will take way more than your half hour…

  13. Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 12:07 am

    So, all of this sounds like fantastic, sold anti-advice to me. My one question is about #5. Do you recommend always writing in a series? I can see the advantage, but is it necessary? Can you be successful writing standalone novels?

    And to be clear on definitions: By successful, I mean successful. I’m more interested in paying the rent and feeding my cat (and myself, I guess) than in this artistic integrity thing people keep talking about. I know that word gets a lot of abuse when writers start talking about their dreams…

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 12:57 am

      I fought the idea of writing a series for the first six months. During that time I published…I want to say, two non-fiction and four fiction. My sales were terrible. I wrote and released the first two books in my first series (the Assassin series) in December. My sales tripled that month, to a whopping $1400 or so. In January I released another Assassin book and went Select with a few of my books, and that was the glory days of Select, and in January I made 10 times what I made in December. Since then I’ve released three or four stand-alones, none of which have come close to the sales of my series books. So can you? Sure. But my experience is that if you want to improve your odds in today’s market, write a series.

  14. Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 12:22 am

    Well, this has turned into a tempest in a teapot, but I do think a LOT of people would feel differently about what entails success. Maybe they’re not willing to or interested in working that many hours–it’s not worth the money they get and the time from life that it costs them to be chained to the keyboard. I told someone my initial goal was to make $36,000 a year and she said she wouldn’t know what to do with that much money! The folks who are selling thousands or tens of thousands of books a month are either incredibly lucky (very rare) or do put in the kind of work that you do, Russell…but a lot of writers would feel quite poor if they did that. Poor in terms of quality of life. I understand that you don’t agree with that.

    I think this is a great blog post, and I learned from it. Most of us won’t live up to those standards, because we don’t want to or simply can’t make ourselves.

    The folks on PV are mostly wonderful, and many of them very successful. In the selling books sense. But maybe not successful enough to qualify on your terms.

    As to arguing, I don’t find it fun at all!

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 1:19 am

      Ed Robertson suggested that I simply say, “Make tons of money and sell shitloads of books,” instead of using the term success. I agree that’s clearer. My blog counsels how I make tons of money and sell shitloads of books, and I obviously think my approach, which works well for me, and for many of my peers, is a sound one.

      I don’t want to argue the meaning of success. Again, for someone dying, one more day of breath is success. For others, running a company and flying everywhere by private jet. Still others enjoying a sunset. I’m completely uninterested in what people think is success, and only define the term here so that people clearly understand what I’m getting at when I use the term, not defining some absolute that everyone should agree in for every application in their life. Because I use it in a very narrow and defined sense, I don’t understand why people try to convert the discussion into a defense of their interpretation of the word, as opposed to saying, oh, that’s what he means, fine, for this discussion, we’ll agree that’s what the term means. Frankly, that whole parsing of terms thing comes of as defending THEIR interpretation of success, not engaging the discussion in an on-point manner. That’s what drives me batty, because it’s disingenuous, is intellectually sloppy, and most of all, hijacks the topic to their success definition discussion, not the original discussion. It feels kind of troll behaviory, frankly.

      I’ve been both poor in financial terms, and poor in terms of quality of life, and being poor in financial terms sucks far worse, trust me on that. I don’t know many careers where you can do really well without putting in massive amounts of time. That leaves the ones where you don’t have to put in massive amounts of time, and they pay crap. For a reason.

      Nothing in life’s free. The more something pays, generally speaking, the harder it is to get the gig. In every business I’ve ever been in, anyway.

      I think that a lot of people rationalize their unwillingness to do what it takes to be successful in any field as being for their own good – the good of their quality of life, their mental health, yadda yadda. I have no problem with that. But I don’t want to be the person who has to worry about paying medical bills, or not taking a vacation I want, or not having the place I want to live or not living where I want. So I’m willing to make short term sacrifices to achieve long term results.

      Again, I’m not suggesting my way is right for everyone. The plain fact is that most people aren’t willing to do the work to get outstanding results. That doesn’t make them bad people, but I think that they’re kidding themselves if they think they can still hope for the outstanding results, but only do the work that brings marginal results.

      Highly successful (as I define it) people tend to be highly effective people, in that they use their time wisely, and are laser focused on what they want, and in getting it. That’s the point of my blog. They don’t waste their time, they don’t kid themselves, they don’t do a bunch of stuff that isn’t useful, and most of all, they understand that their time is precious, and thus they must use it to the best of their abilities.

      Most don’t do that.

      Most also aren’t successful.

      By my material standards (the same ones I had three years ago, BTW) as expressed in units sold.

      I hope that forever ends the debate about what success means to me, or you, or everyone and else. For a discussion to have meaning, everyone has to agree on the meaning of the terms used, so for my purposes, I’ll go with Ed’s suggestion, which is selling shitloads of books and making big money. If anyone disagrees with it, write a blog about how success isn’t about that. Because this blog is about how to do that, or at least improve your chances of doing that.

      Obviously, I don’t mind arguing. Coming from a business background, and my family background, argument is like sorbet between courses.

    • Frankie Robertson  –  Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Thank you, Patrice. Well said.

  15. Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Great post. I do most of those things but have struggled with a couple and it’s really harmed my sales which were growing very well. I’ve been struggling with internet addiction, and I don’t mean that in the half joking sense most people do. So I’ve switched to 30 minutes a day of internet, and I’m getting things back in line. (You’re getting most of my time today.)

    I’m trying to learn to keep a production schedule. When I’m on target I write fast. It’s staying on target that proved difficult.

    I pay attention to what every successful author says. Why wouldn’t I? Find the common themes from those who are successful and imitate. The rest is for experimenting and find your comfort spots.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Jun 2014 at 6:48 pm

      I’m the same way – when I have daily word goals that tie into a monthly, that in turn ensures I meet my annual, I perform far better.

      The internet is a wonderful thing, but a productivity enhancer it isn’t. I view my writer self as the employee of my book selling business, and like most oppressed employees, I am forced to put in long hours to meet the requirements of the slave driving book selling biz, which only cares what it needs to do to continue to grow readership. I could slow down or stop for a while, but then the book selling business wouldn’t continue growing, and I’m not to a point where I feel that’s wise.

      I too listen to the successes, and I’m still waiting for one to tell me that I can work at my own pace, write what I like whenever I like, and retire to the French Riviera.


  16. Amber Dane
    Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 12:59 am

    Thank you, Russell. I enjoy your posts. I have cut back on my social media to work on what’s next for me. I like the comment about stop revising and push through. So many works I hold back because I need to break the cycle of excessive revisions. Thanks again!

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 12:36 pm

      I’m not saying not to do multiple drafts. I am counseling just getting it down on paper, maintaining momentum, and once it’s done, then going through the revision cycle. It’s easier to modify than to write, but once you’ve lost momentum, it’s extremely hard to regain it.

  17. Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 4:13 am

    Very good points. A must read for every Indie.

  18. Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks, Russell, for this no nonsense reminder to get back to basics. Today’s (6/14/14) Dilbert strip seems apropos: http://dilbert.com/strips/

    I do have a question with regard to #2. I haven’t done a lot of promotion because so much of what is recommended is (as you have written in other posts) ineffective or scammy. I mention books on sale on FB only occasionally. I send out newsletters only when I have a new release. I have good blurbs, professional covers and editing. (I have been paying attention.) My biggest shortcoming is that this last year I haven’t been writing nearly enough. Free days on KS are no longer very effective except to jumpstart reviews. What SPECIFIC advice can you suggest for promotion/marketing for those of us not naturally talented in that area? “Promote outside the box” is a bit too vague for me, I’m afraid.

    And thanks again for your blunt advice.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 5:44 pm

      KS free days haven’t worked for a year and a half. I raised the issue in April/May of 2012, and charted their decline through the beginning of 2013, when I pronounced them DOA.

      I recommend several things: Write at least 4-5 books in a series in a popular genre. Run Bookbub ads. Put the first book permafree. Stick with a single genre that’s large enough and popular enough to support you. Blog about things that interest you. Participate in online forums, but not on author forums – in forums where the topic genuinely interests you (say, crocheting with cat hair, or best male strippers at Jalapeno Heat, or whatever), which your interests will eventually have you a popular regular, and you can slip in your author page in your signature. In other words, be yourself, don’t obviously hawk your wares, and be interesting. Beyond that, I have no secret sauce. I had to write a dozen books before I took off, and it took me every waking hour of seven months to do it. Which is still no guarantee it would ever work again, but the more books, the more likelihood someone sees one and finds it interesting.

      Bluntly, the marketing and promotion you can do short of having a million bucks is minimally effective, so do the stuff that requires the least time and will give you the biggest bang for your buck. But permafree combined with a good series is the best.

      I don’t give marketing advice for the following reasons: it varies from genre to genre. What works well in romance and NA (street teams, giveaways) fails miserably in thrillers, sci fi, etc. So there’s no one thing. That, and I don’t claim to be a marketing expert – and frankly, having paid several and gotten zero bang for my buck, many who do claim to be can’t support the claim. Beware snake oil salesmen.

      • Frankie Robertson  –  Sat 14th Jun 2014 at 6:21 pm

        Thanks, Russell. I’m already working on the series angle. I’m waiting until the release of the third book in series to make the first .99. Now to improve my productivity… πŸ™‚

  19. Sun 15th Jun 2014 at 11:04 am

    ! noticed you left drinking tequila while writing off the list…
    Please advise if this was an intentional oversight.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 15th Jun 2014 at 11:17 am

      I left it off for a reason. Hic.

  20. Sun 15th Jun 2014 at 11:37 am

    Blake, saw your post on TPV and followed a lot of the comments.
    You spend too much time arguing with idiots. πŸ™‚ (But you’ve already admitted that.)

    Coming from a sales & marketing career I was always amazed that the primary marketing method for writers was “just write the next novel.” Yes, I understand the need for new stuff and a growing backlist, but where was the “selling” part in all those blog posts?

    Now, I love writing. Always have. However, I DO NOT write for the love of it. I write for the money of it.

    So now I’ve got another time sucking blog to peruse…yours.


    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 15th Jun 2014 at 11:41 am

      I had some time on my hands and was bored (code for will do anything to avoid editing), so felt the need to correct people who were wrong on the internet. Thank god that worked. They’re always appreciative.

      Books have never, ever, sold themselves. That’s why big publishers spend millions marketing them. I mean, it’s theoretically possible that a book will sell itself, but it’s also theoretically possible I’ll get sucked through a wormhole and wind up doing tequila shots with Shakespeare. I don’t advise hoping to be the one in a million as a marketing strategy.

      Sorry about the time suck. It helps if you drink.

      • Frankie Robertson  –  Sun 15th Jun 2014 at 1:57 pm

        There are (as you are, no doubt, aware) some high profile proponents of the “just write the next book” strategy. To be fair, most of them are REALLY saying, “Don’t write one book and then stop writing to promote the hell out of it.” Even if your one little book takes off, what are readers going to find when they come back for more? Nothing. So they say, “write the next book,” and that’s all the writers who are clueless and afraid of marketing hear. At least it’s something productive to do while flailing about trying to figure out how to promote effectively. (I can say this because I’ve been guilty of flailing a bit myself and clinging to less than effective methods because they’re familiar and easy. :-P.)

        • Russell Blake  –  Sun 15th Jun 2014 at 2:16 pm

          That’s why I counsel writing 75% of your time, promoting and marketing (including all non-writing related tasks, like blogging, interviews, forums, tweets, Facebook, yadda yadda) 25% of your time. Marketing is like going to the gym – you don’t just go for a few weeks or months, and then never have to go back again. It’s consistency that wins the day.

          I also counsel paying attention to the results your getting so you don’t continue doing things that don’t work.

  21. cinisajoy
    Wed 18th Jun 2014 at 3:39 pm

    On #4.
    Don’t bother seeing how far apart gas stations are either.
    I am sure someone will be along shortly with some gas because you thought there would be another gas station in about 10 miles.

  22. Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 12:51 am

    Nice article! You made a great point of people who won’t spend a dime to produce cheap low quality work. I would like to add another point. Some people will needlessly spend money on simple skills like e-book formatting and advertising and will think that they are making a loss. I believe there is a fine difference between being stupidly miser and stupidly throwing away money.

  23. Tue 15th Jul 2014 at 1:23 pm

    I like your no nonsense blogs. Agree with your points and your suggestions. Thanks for taking the time to try and help me achieve what you have already achieved.

    However, I have a problem: I don’t know what my GENRE is. The best I can come up with is a marketing term: Commercial Mainstream. In my terms, it’s a soap opera (love story/marriage, family problems with revenge motive) mystery (possible attempted murder), corporate intrigue and skullduggery. A movie lookalike, Arbitrage. TV lookalike (altho’ not as florid), Revenge.

    I’m a former reporter attempting fiction for the first time. Realize it’s a crossover, but where? Your expertise is sincerely appreciated.

    Again, thanks for your wisdom.

  24. Tue 14th Oct 2014 at 10:54 am

    I absolutely love this article. It was mentioned in a recent “sell more books show” podcast and it really puts things in perspective πŸ™‚


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