Also known as “The writing advice I wish I’d had in 2011.”
I ran into someone on a Facebook group today, asking for help. This person had a bunch of books out, and none of them were selling. I went and analyzed the writer’s work, and recognized a familiar set of problems. The writer was doing a bunch of things wrong – most of them, the same things *I* messed up, early on. Hey, these are easy mistakes to make. There’s no guidebook. (Well, there are, but the advice is often conflicting and confusing.)
After assessing the writer’s work, I wrote a reply. It was a public group, and a lot of people wrote nice replies offering counsel. I wrote a veritable essay. Not shocking for those who know me! I’m a writer – I saw someone in trouble, facing a lot of the problems I had to overcome the hard way. I wanted to help. The writer turned down my advice, which is sad, but some people have to go their own path and learn in their own way. That’s certainly how I managed it.
But a number of other writers suggested I save the essay anyway, as it had a lot of value for other people as well. Here’s the essay, for posterity. If you’re a struggling newer writer in this crazy modern era of publishing, give it a read. You might be facing none of these issues, or all of them. But if there’s even one bit in there which might help you, I’ll be happy. Not ALL of the advice below is going to be correct for EVERY writer, mind you! Read it through the lens of your own experience and situation.
I’ll pitch in a little here. This is going to sound harsh, some of it.
You’re making all of the classic blunders. Welcome to my world. I did the same thing – made most of the SAME mistakes that you are making. As a result, I made virtually nothing from my writing for five straight years of publishing.
I have cleared four figures a month every month since last August. I did so by turning things around. By not making the same mistakes. You can too.
1. Classic Blunder One
You’re ALL OVER THE PLACE in genres. You have mysteries, urban fantasy, and science fiction. Stop that shit now. PICK A GENRE. ANY GENRE. Now write your next 10-12 books in that genre alone. No hopping around. Just do the work.
2. Classic Blunder Two
Your covers suck. With the exception of the mystery covers, which more or less meet the minimum standards for the genre, your covers range from badly targeted (the UF cover looks like a middle-grade novel) to horrible (the SF covers just need to go) to no cover at all (why do half your books have a blank white page?). Study the genre you pick, and make your cover look as close to the bestsellers in that genre AND sub-genre as possible.
3. Classic Blunder Three
Too many series. Stop. Write ONE series until the series is done. Make that series at least three books long. Ideally, make it 6+ books long. Again, you’re all over the place and this is killing any hope of building momentum.
4. Classic Blunder Four
You are overpricing your books. Drop your prices to $2.99. Yes, there is a difference between $2.99 and $3.99. You are a new writer. You want people to take a chance on you. Dropping price early on will help. Raise them later when you’re better known. Once you have the third or fourth book out in a series, drop book one to 99c as a loss leader.
Less Obvious and Less Classic Issues:
– You’re misusing Instafreebie. There are two ways to drive traffic to your IF books. You need to either run Facebook ads targeting your target market which send people to the IF book – OR – you need to join group promotions *which target your genre*. You should be getting about 500-1000 new subscribers a month just from joint promos. If you’re not doing that, join more joint promos until you are. These leads are not the best; you will need to offer them samples of your writing to hook them. But they can be hooked. Again, part of maximizing IF use and even mailing list use in general is STICKING TO ONE GENRE. If your reader signed up for police mysteries, and you send them a SF book, they’re going to unsubscribe.
– Your blurbs need help. Your blurbs are too short. Well written, but not enough meat there. THIS IS WHERE YOU CONVINCE THEM TO BUY. You need to sell the book with the blurb. Really key.
– Edit to add: You’re also not publishing fast enough. Two books a year will result in a VERY slow build even if you follow the guidelines above. Bump up your speed to four+. Write the next book. Nothing matters more than the next book. Write in one genre, in a series, and get the next book done and out to readers. THIS IS A MOMENTUM GAME. You’re either BUILDING momentum, or you are losing it. ALWAYS. Write in a new genre? You’re building momentum there, but not where you were building it, so you’re likely LOSING momentum there unless you’re writing a book a month.
Every December for a few years now I’ve done a post looking back at last year’s goals, and how well I did in achieving them. Then I set out a new set of goals for the coming year.
Over the years I’ve done this, those goals have changed some. They’ve been shaped by my experiences, and by the things I’ve done. Sometimes I’ve succeeded. Sometimes I’ve failed. Sometimes I’ve “failed to success”, which means I set goals which were high enough that I could not quite make them but still feel good about the overall progress.
When I set my goals for 2015, I was planning to write a TON of serial stories all year long. The problem is, the serials never really took off well. In fact, readers seemed to like the combined versions (where I took four or five episodes and combined them to make a novel) far more than the individual episodes. And then Amazon changed the way Kindle Unlimited worked to make shorter episodes much more difficult to manage. Partway through the year, I could see the writing on the wall. My readers preferred long stories. Novels. It was up to me to tell stories that people want to read.
So the 2015 goals were to see a 20% increase in productivity from the year before. I’d written 150,000 words and published 10 titles in 2014, so I wanted to hit 180,000 words and 12 titles in 2015.
This is where that whole “failed to success” thing comes in. 😉
Because I was mostly writing longer works, I didn’t get 12 titles published. I only got 9. I also set a goal to write at least 500 words every day, and I only managed that for about 2/3 of the days in the year.
But I did manage to write 300,000 original words. I completely blew my word count goal out of the water. And I have three completed novels in various stages of editing and publishing, all coming out in early 2016.
It was a great learning experience. The words are what really matters. By trying to set a number of titles as a goal, I was limiting myself to a specific sort of fiction: short serials. The market changed, and my understanding of what readers wanted improved, and I changed my focus to match. If I’d stuck with that goal of twelve titles I wouldn’t have been able to adapt my plan as I needed to.
Publishing today is a fast paced business. Adaptability is key. So this year, only one goal:
Write lots. I have stories I am burning to tell. I’ve learned so much this year, and can’t wait to apply it to everything I will be writing in the year ahead.
Write 600,000 words. That’s the new goal for 2016.
Hey, I might fall short. Who knows? Maybe I will “fail to success” again, and “only” get 500,000… But I’ll be pretty happy with trying my best to get all 600,000 out.
It’s going to be another awesome year. See you out there!
For me, 2014 was a banner writing year. I managed about 150,000 words over the course of the year. Most of that was in my King of the Dead serial – which has been releasing steadily over the last couple of months. Episodes 5-7 are ready to go, and Episode 8 is almost there too, so plenty more coming for that story. I also wrote a new novella set in the Blackwell Magic universe (with a new character) that still has to be released later this year, and some short stories. I was pretty pleased with the work, overall. It was my best writing year ever, in terms of word count. And about 80,000 words of that was in the last two months – 50k for NaNoWriMo in November, and another 30k in December.
This year, I set about some new goals, to improve my consistency and push for more productivity. I have more stories than I can write spilling out of my imagination, and I need to set aside the time to put them down in writing. So my goal? To write at least 500 words *minimum* every single day. That would be 180k or so for the year, which would make 2015 my best year ever.
I’ve managed to make the 500 a day minimum every day this year, which is awesome. But the even better news is that I’ve managed to exceed that goal more often than not. So at the end of the day yesterday (a work day, so only managed 900 words), my count for the year was 150,025 words. (more…)
January was a good month.
I set the goal at the beginning of the year to produce 500 words of fiction – minimum – every day this year. The idea is to not miss even a single day. I can go over, but not under. At the end of the year, I’d have a minimum of 182,000 new words, which would be more than I’ve ever produced in a year before. It seemed like a solid central goal (I named some other goals, too, but this was the core one), because my main obstacle to success has always been consistency. I’d skip a few days, then a few more, then suddenly two months would go by without accomplishing anything toward my writing career.
So how’s that working for me?
I managed a complete success in January. I never missed even a single day. A few days I did just the goal – there were six days with 500-600 words, and about the same number where I did 601-750. But I never missed. And I think the focus on writing every day was HUGE for me.
January was my most productive writing month. Ever. I finished 75,250 new words.
Other stuff I did: (more…)
Managed to fall a bit behind, so consider this a “catch up” post. I’ll try to stay more on top of the blog moving forward.
When you saw me last, it was hanging with the kids on Monday. As I write this, it’s Saturday! So what has happened since?
Tuesday was a stressful day, with a major meeting in the afternoon. I didn’t get a lot of work done. Managed a thousand words in the evening. Wednesday was better, with 3k words completed. Felt very accomplished and back on track. I also did some editing work on the King of the Dead serial.
Thursday was the long 16 hour work day, which was ALL that I did that day. Friday, I got in 1000 words before heading out to work. And I’ve managed 1000 words today, as well – heading off to work soon, but I’ll update if I sneak in any more words later.
Sorry I fell a few days behind there. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to sit down and get the blog updated. I’ll try to make sure that I keep it going, though!
Fiction words today: 1000 Fiction words this month: 10,000
Blog words today: 185 Blog words this month: 3091
Today was “day with kids” day. We went out to the Lego Discovery Center and spent the morning there. We built race cars and ran them down the track – I made one with a cool angular body. If you’ve ever used Legos, you probably know that angles aren’t the easiest thing in the world to make! I set it up with a pair of wheels close together in the front, and two wide set single wheels in the back. Something like a cross between a drag racer and a big wheels tricycle.
Meanwhile, D (child #2) was making…DRAGONS! (more…)