There is a lot of advice out there for writers. Finding good advice however is an issue. The problem isn’t that the advice itself isn’t good, but rather that the advice just doesn’t fit the level that I am at in my writing career.
For example, the other day I read an article off of Bookbub.com that outlined how the writer of the article was able to sell 20,000 copies of his book in a month and the steps he took to do so. Now while the post angered me at the time (details of which is in a post I will probably leave unposted, but suffice to say it was some Bookbub salesmanship going on in the article), it brought me a realization that it isn’t the advice that’s the problem, it’s me. I am not there yet. I don’t have the skills or resources needed for most of the advice out there. At least not yet.
What I need is the advice that takes me from an average of 1 book sold a month to 100. See what I mean? The writer of the article was already a midlister. He was already successful at a level that allowed the steps he outlined to work well to boost his sales. For example, he talked about using an email mailing list… where he already had 15,000 subscribers. Using an email mailing list is good advice, but I am at the level that I need the steps on how to build a mailing list from scratch and get to 1000 subscribers. What good is the advice on how to use the mailing list to reach 15,000 people when realistically I have 0 people to email? Somewhere between none and very little.
Then there is accounting for dumb luck.
What do I mean by that? There are plenty of books that sell out and the circumstances that contributed to it were weird and involved little effort from anyone involved. A shining example of that was Fifty Shades of Gray. It took off seemingly out of nowhere taking EL James from a part-time fan-fiction writer to a multi-millionaire. While every writer dreams of that happening to them, it is far more likely that I’d be attacked by a shark while at my typewriter in Illinois. To gain success, I have to build on the skills to do so.
And I need the skills to get me off of my current plateau and onto the next level. So here is a rough set of advice that I’ve gathered from a myriad of places that at least appear to fit my level, the novice novelist, and will get me to the next phase in my quest to make writing a career (remember this is a list assembled by a novice and written really for me and anyone else who it will help):
- Write! – Writing is a craft that needs to be practiced. Good, bad, or indifferent, more writing equals more practice. More practice equals (at least in principle) improved writing. Just keep writing. This is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT RULE I’VE FOUND!
- Review your work – Given that many of us don’t have the funds for pro editors much less the time to find one who is going to fit our personality or writing style, it is useful to review your stories. I am not a fan of editors, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t see value in editing.
What one should try to catch are the glaring errors. Catch where you switched a character’s trait, such as eye color, without warning or reason. See where a character maybe doesn’t fit, or where there is a lacking of activity from other characters. Or look for the timing that is wrong in the plot. (Characteristics I found in a review of my book I recently finished.) Read the book as a reader! Don’t look for the mistakes, they will look for you. Read aloud. Even though you know what is going on, push that all out of your mind and just read your damn book. You will find things wrong. Trust me. Then try to make them better, even if only by a small amount.
- Learn GIMP – Gimp is Photoshop. The difference is that Gimp is a fully functioning, freeware version of Photoshop. You can use that to build covers.
There is a plethora of YouTube tutorials on how to use Gimp to do any number of things. Play around. Save multiple versions of the same file to experiment with filters and other tricks. I build my own covers right now. It takes time and effort, but it is better than spending money one doesn’t have. (Also learn about photo rights too. Can’t just grab any picture to use on your cover.)
And research other covers in your genre. I would want a cover that jumps out, but at this point, I need to learn what blends in first before I can learn what will jump out.
While I might change this practice to hiring a pro later on if I find some success, it’s just helped me learn more about the process. And it is a little fun.
There’s also Canva. But either way, learn to build your cover on your own to begin.
- Figure out how to build an email subscriber list – I’ve read a number of articles on how email lists are growing again whereas the blog is dying. I am sure that as technology is still growing, people are still adjusting to how they are going to consume their information. I worry about that all of the time. That worry has led me to commit to non-action as my avenue to pursue. And I am realizing how wrong I am to worry about it to begin with.
The point is that an email list is something. And while it is working for numerous people and not for others, finding out whether or not it will work for me is only answered if I try.
- Blog more often (really: blog consistently) – I am so flaky with this one. I promised earlier in the year that I was going to attempt to blog daily. Didn’t last long. Then I told myself to blog once a week. Didn’t keep up with that. Then I go back to a daily streak. Then off again.
Like the email list above, there are arguments to a blog having positive impact and also to how it is dying. It shouldn’t matter. If nothing else, it is about building up the skills for consistent writing.
Sometimes I let worry about committing an opinion down to a blog post drive my abandonment of the process as well. Then I read a post from Hugh Howey (a writer I highly respect) where he mentioned how his posts from years ago are often embarrassing and way different than how he feels today. And I realized that the same is true for many of us. It’s called growth.
So write. Pick a schedule. Stick to the schedule. Post.
- Social Networking – I have a rule about social networking: any post reaches on average 1% of followers. That means that my twitter, where I have just under 300 followers, will only reach maybe 3 people per post. I am sure the percentage in reality is higher, but lowballing it helps to keep the expectations low.
And therein lies my problem again. I don’t feel the effort is worth it… again.
When I am consistent with social networking, my followers grow. As followers grow, the chances of others seeing posts grow. So be consistent with posting on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc. Don’t count the effort necessarily as a direct translation to books sales, but rather building the potential.
Interested in my social networks? Here’s the links:
- Learn to talk about your books – this is a huge problem I have. It was not until this past July that I really learned about this too. I always just called it “being uncomfortable selling my books.” Then I realized as I was at an author’s event that I just don’t know how to talk about my books! Selling be damned! What I called discomfort was my foolish misbelief. It was lack of skill, a lack of know-how.
If you don’t know how to talk about your book, how can you write a good blurb? How can you sell your book? Anything on the back end of the process becomes virtually impossible if you don’t know how to talk about your book. Learn it.
- Publish as often as you can!! – This is a huge advantage that I will mention again in other posts I am sure. As indie writers, we can publish as often as we choose without any restrictions other than what we provide to ourselves. Can you publish a book every day? Sure! If you can write that much. It is HUGE! We aren’t restricted. With every book I’ve put out, I learn a little more about the process. Not in the 6 times I’ve done it so far has it gotten any easier, but I’ve kept building up that skill. Your books will get better the more often you do it. It’s akin to practice.
And you always have the option to revise the book, to update it to a new version. I recently did that with my novel “The Good Teacher” in order to upgrade the cover.
Don’t be afraid of it not being perfect. It’ll never be perfect. Let it be perfect as it is. Just get it out there!
A side benefit of this is that you WILL start getting people that will give you honest opinions on the story. Then you can take them to improve what you do for the next one, and the next one, and the next one. And when readers find mistakes, you can even decide to publish a revision. I’ve already done that on two of my books, and I am not against doing it again.
If you wait, then you lose. Getting that book to “perfect” in the eyes of traditionalists is a fool’s errand at best. There are plenty of examples out there as to how imperfect their choices have been and how there are books they’ve turned away that end up enormous successes. Quick Google searches yield plenty of those cases.
There are also growing arguments to stop editing, stop revising, to push your shitty work out there and just make something off of it. Of course that is the extreme on the other end. I vote for somewhere in the middle, but a little-tiny-bit closer to the extreme just now mentioned.
- Be persistent – this is one rule I’ve kept up with. Despite nothing materializing in my writing career, I’ve continued to try. I will continue to try. Giving up shouldn’t be an option. Eventually something should happen. And if not, it wouldn’t be for not trying then.
I cannot say that any of this will work at all, but from all of the advice out there for higher level writers, this stuff looks like it fits for the newbie like me. We’ll see. If I keep up with all of it and nothing works, I’ll be back to say how this was all horseshit and telling everyone not to listen to me.