Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Go Forth and Prosper

Today's post is geared toward writers who want to earn a living by writing. If you are a writer who writes only for the love of it, a writer for whom financial return is unimportant, a writer who writes with no thought of recognition or reward, God bless you. This might not interest you.

I'm not like that.

I write because I really enjoy writing but I also write because it's the only plan I have after a life spent ignoring things like "wise retirement planning" and "a well-balanced portfolio". I never bought into the standard options. I frequently burned the candle at both ends (yes, a cliché!), which was almost always interesting, created an eclectic and varied life experience and took me all over the world. It provided me with material for my writing, since I've been in a lot of situations most people wouldn't experience. It also left me without any late life backup except Social Security, and not a lot of that. Writing is my retirement plan, my 401K, my Golden Parachute, my "portfolio".

What does it take to make a living as a writer? If you are an independent writer, you have to shoulder the entire process yourself. You don't have to DO it all. In fact, it's a better idea if you don't "do it all". But you do have to oversee the process, from the creation of the manuscript all the way to the marketplace and beyond.

Five years ago, I began White Jade, the first book in the Project series. Prior to writing fiction I'd had modest success with non-fiction in the traditional publishing world. Nothing earth shaking, just some money up front, some hard-bound editions and satisfaction. But it wasn't a living, not by a long shot.

With the Project series I have reached a point where I can honestly say I'm "making a living". Not a Stephen King/NFL kind of living (think of King as the Peyton Manning of popular literature), but enough to start paying bills. What does it take to do that? I've put together a list of things that worked for me and could work for you as well. For what it's worth, here it is:

  1. Write a minimum of five days a week. Write at least 1000 words a day.
  2. Believe in yourself.
  3. Either hire a good editor or REALLY learn how to edit: this is critical.
  4. Revise until you want to throw things at the computer. Go away for awhile. Revise some more. I usually go through 8 or 10 revisions or more. Plus I revise as I write the draft.
  5. Believe in yourself.
  6. Get a professional cover. Yeah, it costs a few hundred bucks. It's worth it. See Joel Friedman's excellent blog, The Book Designer (
  7. Use Amazon's KDP Select. I won't go into all the arguments about this program. It works for me. In my opinion, putting your unknown book on all those other platforms is a waste of time and energy and is counter-productive. I tried it; it didn't work. KDP Select gives you the benefit of Amazon's expertise and it gives you powerful promotional opportunities. It gives you real time figures. It pays royalties with consistency and provides statements that are accurate and timely. If you want the best shot at exposure, KDP Select is the only way to go. Without exposure, your book will die. Later, if you do well, you can move books off the program and onto other platforms, if you think it is worth the effort.
  9. Don't let critics, writing group members, others, tell you your stuff is no good. Assume it always needs work. Find someone who can give you honest feedback. There's room for improvement, but: Believe in yourself.
  10. Develop the virtue of PATIENCE. There is no overnight success. I'm fond of Lee Childs' comment about becoming an "overnight success" after ten years.
  11. Writing is a business. It is essential to understand this, if you want to make money at it. I admit, it took me a while to get past my resistance to the reality.
  12. Believe in yourself.

Advertising is a big stumbling block for a lot of people, because ads cost money. The big sites can get very expensive. Which site, which ad option, that is something each of us has to determine for him/herself. There are too many variables for a simple answer, except the basic one: you MUST advertise. You can start with simple $5.00 fees on sites that list freebies or discounted books. Take a look at, which is free and features a convenient page that lets you submit your book to a number of sites when it's time to run a promotion. As sales improve, dedicate a significant part of the revenue to better ad venues. Let the book(s) pay for themselves.

I could put more info in here, more advice, but it's all out there if you look for it. For example, understand who your market is and write for them. Understand what keywords are. Don't try to be all things to all people. Study Amazon's category system. I highly recommend a book by David Gaugrahn called Let's Get Visible. Every self-published author should have this book, along with Stephen King's memoir On Writing.

You can do it. Go forth and prosper!

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