One of the intentions of my blog is to help other authors with navigating the craft. My focus is usually on independent publishing (I prefer this term to self-publishing, but more on that later).
In an effort to help out with the goal of helping others, I wrote a non-fiction book on independent publishing about a year-and-a-half ago.
The book is something that I first published in 2015 after a year of getting ready to publish my first book. I navigated my way through the world of independent publishing and a lot of this voyage was guided by trial and error. I spent a great deal of time and a minimal amount of money determining what works and what doesn’t. Have I mastered everything involved in the independent publishing platform? Not at all. I still have a lot to learn.
I’m now updating this book in anticipation of publishing my seventh book of fiction. I’ve learned quite a bit more and I’m going back and updating the original chapters and adding a number of new ones based upon what I’ve learned about writing, editing, promoting and selling books. Am I a best-selling author? In some sub-categories where my books fit, I’m nearing that category. Overall, of the over 7 million books available on Amazon, I’m in the top 200,000 regularly with each of my fiction works and I see a regular income each month.
I put together this book to help others who are either beginners or seasoned in the area of independent publishing. I have compiled my own experiences and ask that you use this book as a set of guidelines gathered from one person’s experience. I welcome a productive discussion around the topics in this book and view it as a dynamic tool that I will adjust as I learn more on my own and from you as readers and fellow independently published authors.
Now here is the surprising message of this post DON’T BUY THE BOOK!!!
Instead, you can help me fine tune it. This post will have my latest draft of the first of several chapters. What I’m looking for is your input in the form of comments or emails so that I can make the book as all-encompassing and useful as possible. When I’m done, I’m likely going to give it away or sell it for $.99. It’s not intended to be a money-maker. It’s intended to be a reference from my perspective that you can combine with all of your other favorite references.
Remember, you can provide feedback in the form of comments or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I apologize in advance for the long post, but I felt like the introduction was warranted. Just remember this again, DON’T BUY THIS BOOK. It will be posted in it’s entirety on this blog with two chapters posted per week (that’s my goal, anyway). Just comment and feel free to copy and paste for your own use. Once I collect comments and refine it, I will re-publish it and offer it for free.
So, here is the revised Chapter 1 from the ambitiously named book The Ultimate Guide For Independently Published Authors. You may have seen a condensed version of this chapter on my blog, but this is the expanded and revised version.
By the way, if you did buy it as an e-book, I will make sure that I upload the revision as an update so that you can download the new version free of charge.
Someday I would love to be a full-time writer, but for right now, I have a 50-60 hour a week day job that requires my attention so that annoyances like bills, mortgage payments, and insurance can be provided for. I’ve written and published five novels and a collection short stories in the past two and a half years while satisfying the requirements of my day job.
People always ask me how I do this. I wasn’t quite sure myself until I sat down and looked at the life changes I’ve made to allow me to pursue my passion while I pursue a paycheck. Here are some tips to help others that might be in this same predicament. I will expand on each tip within this chapter:
- Think about your writing during every minute that you have available
- Maximize your idle time
- Travel and free time
- Use your daily experiences to help you
- Claim your non-work time
- Sleep less
- Work on multiple writing projects simultaneously
- Consider outsourcing portions of your marketing/advertising
- Automate portions of your social media campaign and blogging
- Don’t give up
I hope this list is helpful. There may be other tips that I haven’t listed and I believe that each of them could be expanded into their own top ten list. As I expand on each one of them, I hope you will find some nuggets of useful information.
Think About Your Writing During Every Spare Moment
You may not be able to write as much as you like, but you can certainly work out plot elements and character profiles in your mind during your work day. Your plots and characters come from things that you are familiar with. Be observant as you go through your work day. You’ll be surprised at how much this will help when you do have time to write.
We all (hopefully) take showers every day. Some of my greatest ideas have come to me in the shower. The key is to remember your thoughts and write them down or record them as soon as possible. I carry a little notebook with me for this purpose (not in the shower). I split the notebook up into observations about people, places, and things. In the back, starting on the last page, I record ideas for stories and books. There is a great book by Ralph Fletcher on this topic called The Writer’s Notebook where he describes techniques for doing this. I have no affiliation with Mr. Fletcher, but I do recommend this book.
Maximize Your Idle Time
It may not be safe to open your laptop or tablet in the car while you are commuting. You can, however, use your smart phone to record your work and then type it up later. If you travel in a car pool, this might be awkward unless you use earbuds with a microphone. If you travel solo, you might have people at traffic lights staring at you as you talk to an invisible passenger in your car. If you are truly a writer, however, you probably are a bit on the eccentric side anyway. This just goes with the image.
If you’re lucky like I am and you travel via public transportation, your idle time may be substantial. I have worked on my books and short stories on planes and trains, in airports and hotel lobbies, all while waiting to get somewhere. When you add up your commute time over a period of weeks or months, there is a lot of unused time that can be spent researching, creating, and refining your work. You just have to be good at balancing the ability to block out distractions with getting so enthralled in your work that you miss your flight or train.
I can type while I’m on the plane, at the gate in the airport, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or any other place where I have idle time. The trick is to become adept at blocking out outside distraction and focusing on your work. If you have children, you may have already developed this ability.
My dream is to someday live in a house by the ocean with a writing room on the top floor where I can peacefully gaze out at the ocean while I write masterpieces. Until I have a best seller that makes this a reality, however, I write whenever and wherever I can. I have a Windows-based tablet that I use to write that has a blue-tooth keyboard and can be pulled out anywhere.
Now that airlines allow the use of these small devices before and during takeoff, I use this time to get a jump on my writing. I used to write in a notebook during this time and then type it up later. The benefit of handwriting is that the typing process was a first edit. The problem, for me anyway, is that my handwriting is horrible and I often had trouble deciphering what I had written.
One of the benefits of using this time in transit is that time will pass quickly. I used to commute to California from Florida every week. It was amazing how a five-hour flight would literally fly by quickly and when I landed, I discovered that I had written a chapter or two of the book. I always felt more refreshed than if I had slept, read, or watched a video.
This has also indirectly led to sales. Because of my frequent travel, I am often upgraded to first class. I recall one long flight where I was using the time to write and the passenger next to me noticed what I was doing. We struck up a conversation about books and I discovered that he was a professional golfer who used his downtime to read. He looked me up on Amazon and bought a few of my books while on the plane. I often carry extra copies of my book with me and have given away signed copies on planes as well.
Use Your Daily Experiences
We all spend our day in the working world with interesting characters. Use those traits, good and bad, that make these real-life figures interesting in your writing Of course, you need to be careful that you don’t make someone obviously identifiable in your books unless you have their permission. This will avoid awkwardness, especially if you put them in embarrassing situations that either happened or that you’ve invented for your story.
We all experience things that are unusual from time to time. I travel to various U.S. cities very frequently and like to observe the people and culture while I’m there. In the past five years, I have spent time in Kentucky, California, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Massachusetts, Arizona, Iowa and New York. In fact, I have now traveled to 40 of the 50 United States. Along with my home state of Florida, I’ve seen a lot of colorful characters. Blends of these characters, along with people I’ve known in the past, appear in my books.
I also like to look at local and national news stories. Very often a secondary news story can be the spark for a story. My very first published short story, Heal Thyself, came from a news story that I embellished to give it a more supernatural feel. The result turned out being very different from the original news item, but the underlying idea was still there. Use your experiences. Write what you know and what you observe.
We all like to get our eight hours of sleep. I’ve found that, during the work week, I can get by on six to seven hours of sleep and use the extra time in the morning or evening to write and maintain my blog. I’m not advocating being unhealthy with regard to reducing your sleep time. You need to do what works for your body and your schedule. This strategy works for me, however, and it’s amazing how many pages you can get done in a dedicated hour or two.
When I’m not traveling, getting up early in the morning provides time that I can write, but not interfere with my family life. By the time my eight-year-old daughter gets out of bed wanting to color, I’ve already spent an hour or two writing.
I’ve found that it also helps to exercise in the morning before you write. I’ve found that 30 minutes on the treadmill is an excellent way to clear the sleep cobwebs out of your head. It’s also a great time to think through some of the writing challenges that I’m facing such as plot holes and story line resolutions.
I know this sounds crazy. I’m sure you’ve heard of writer’s block. I’ve found that if I have a short story and a book going at the same time, I can switch between them if I get stuck in one or the other. If I have a plot element that is difficult to work out, switching to my other project usually results in resolving the issue with the first once my mind is focused on something else.
I’ve also tried writing a serial in weekly installments on my blog. This is a great way to exercise your writing muscle and introduce others to your work. It hearkens back to the days of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who published some of their famous works as weekly installments in the newspaper. In modern times, Andy Weir, author of The Martian, first published this work as a weekly entry on his blog and later as a $.99 book on Amazon. That worked out well for him.
I will focus on other benefits of completing multiple works later in this book. For independently published authors that are not constrained by traditional publishing schedules, there are some definitive benefits.
Consider Outsourcing Portions of Your Marketing and Advertising
I have changed my opinion on Marketing and Advertising greatly since I began writing. One of my first instincts was to join every Facebook group that remotely related to books and writing and bombard the members with ads about my books. I found that this was time-consuming and yielded very little in terms of results.
I even had software that could post to the thousands of groups to which I belonged in an automated manner. After a few stints in what I call ‘Facebook Jail’ I abandoned this practice and followed other paths.
I had somewhat better results by using an outside book promotion person for a short time. This resulted in blog and podcast interviews and social media posting. The results were only slightly better, however, and I found that I was spending more than I wanted and not getting what I paid for.
If you take this route, you have to spend this money wisely. There are many things that you can easily do on your own. Beware of any independent publishing services that seek a portion of your royalties in return. Find providers that have cafeteria-style offerings so that you can pick and choose what you need. Don’t be upsold into services that you can do yourself own.
Remember, whatever services you purchase, make sure that the results are measurable so that you can assess their effectiveness. If your selected publicity outlet is not giving you the results that you desire, adjust what you are doing. Don’t spend unnecessarily for services that aren’t helping you.
Carefully Manage Your Social Media Campaign
There are many social media outlets. They include Facebook and Twitter as the leaders. Google+, and Pintrest are gaining ground. The key is to find the social media outlets that you are most comfortable with and maximize the benefit you can get from them.
Social media is not the best place, however, to pick up new readers. It is a great place to connect with your existing readers and other authors. Your existing readers are key to helping you improve your writing through their feedback and comments. Other authors are especially important through the sharing of information and promotion sharing via blogs and other social media outlets. I’ll have more on the topic of the blogging community later in this book.
The most useful aspect of social media that I have utilized to gain new users is through paid advertising. Done correctly, you can spend a minimal amount of money and reach a large potential audience. I’ve found these ads to be especially helpful during coordinated promotions such as giveaways and free or $.99 book days.
There were times when I had project deadlines at work and I would go for days without writing. On the whole, I have been able to balance this out. For every extra hour of work, I try to find an extra hour of writing time during the lulls that naturally occur. You have to work at this and make it happen.
Strive to write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two. Like every other learned behavior, this will become a habit and you will soon find yourself needing to write just as you need to eat and sleep.