The number one question most authors will be asked, at some point, is “where do you get your ideas?”
The second most frequent question we get is, “how do I get published?”
Me, thinking about how to answer this question
Invariably, when I’m asked this question, my heart starts to race. My brain whirs into overdrive, in desperate aim to find the right words to summarize such a monumental question. This isn’t an answer for casual discussion. It’s a topic significant enough that you’ll find hundreds, maybe thousands, of books about it, twice as many blog articles, and that’s to say nothing of everything you can find on YouTube or TikTok these days.
But my love language is solving problems (perhaps also my toxic trait, but that’s a cookie for my therapist), so when a budding author comes to me, my first instinct is to do everything I can do help them. I love watching a new author join the game. I love watching them find their groove and thrive.
My second instinct is a flash of fresh panic as I think about my mountain of to do’s, my looming deadline, and the family I should probably spend time with.
And so, this post was born.
Becasue there are already so many people out there who have answered it better.
And I can personally recommend several of them.
Special Note: this is geared toward indie authors only. If you’re taking a traditionally published route, there’s a ton of resources out there for that, too (The Writer’s Market is still a big one).
Now, then, let’s get into it.
Alessandra Torre’s Inkers Resources
Alessandra is one of the original greats in the indie world. She’s also an incredible person who gives a lot of her time to helping other authors thrive.
Most of her resources are free. Like her New Authors Section on her website, filled with videos that answer the “where do I start?” question.
Or her Facebook group, Alessandra Torre Inkers, where new authors and tenured authors alike can go to find help for what they need. My advice is to use the search function at the top of the group first. There’s years of good info in there to start with.
Lastly, she runs a great conference every year called Inker’s Con. There’s usually a Mini Inker’s Con as well. The price is good for what you get, and I’ve attended myself and can personally recommend it.
Book Series on Self-Publishing
If you’ve been searching your favorite book retailer for books on “how to self-publish,” you are no doubt overwhelmed at the sheer quantity of content available. Where do you start? Well, here’s several I will always recommend:
Joanna Penn is a goddess in this industry. She’s not only a wealth of information, but she’s often on the bleeding edge of new ideas and tech, and puts that knowledge back into the community. She’s one of the few people whose advice I’d take almost universally. Lucky for you, she has an entire book series for new authors.
David Gaughran is another one of the greats, and he’s smart as heck. His website has a lot of great resources as well (and he updates it often), but I highly recommend this book series, as it helps you understand pieces that will become critical to your journey, like knowing your market, creating superfans and (gasp!), mastering advertising.
Robert Ryan is another ads wizard, and I learned so much from these books (things I wish I’d known sooner, to save myself some pain). Inside his books is a Facebook link to a group where you can continue getting support from other authors after you finish reading.
Monica Leonelle has a fantastic series on how to sell your books wide. All authors must decide if they want to partake in Amazon’s KU program (which requires full exclusivity to Amazon), or sell their books on all platforms. It’s a very personal decision, and can be a charged topic, but if you decide you want to diversify, these books are chockful of info on how to maximize sales and exposure on each of the other retailers.
Zoe York is a master of brand, and, lucky for all of us, she’s written a fabulous series about how she does that so you can skip the long line of trial and error and nail it the first time.
Theodora Taylorwrote a book that authors of all tenures are clutching to their chests for dear life. I revisit this book often as I work to craft storylines, characters, and moments that make readers feel things, and Theodora has managed to turn that skill into a repeatable, replicatable science. I recommend this to everyone, but for new authors specifically, it will help you nail those memorable moments from the very first book you publish.
The only organization dedicated solely to independent authors. Membership is affordable, and the resources you unlock with it are too numerous to name here. From guides to discounts, and more. You can learn more here.
Is there a resource you’d like me to add?
Drop them in the comments! I can personally vouch for the above resources, and I’d need to do the same with any new suggestions, to add them to the list. As I think of anything I’ve missed, I will add to this as well.
There is a lot to learn, but, unlike when I started, there’s now an absolute wealth of information out there to help steer you in the right direction.
In the meantime… best of luck as you take the first step toward becoming an author!
September 26th, 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of my career in publishing. On that date in 2011, my first book, St. Charles at Dusk, was released to the masses, realizing a lifelong goal and simultaneously changing my life, forever. I was only aware of one of these things on that day, though. The second piece I didn’t understand until much later.
It’s a piece I’m still understanding, ten years later, and will understand differently ten years from now.
Times were different in 2011. When I released my first book, I didn’t know a single other author, nor did I know feck-all about publishing. My husband was the one who did the initial research that got the wheels turning. I have him to thank for lighting the fire under me that led to the eventual acceptance that perfection is the enemy of progress. I could spend another ten years working on the same book (and it would still never be perfect), or I could move forward and give my creativity and imagination space to grow and stretch.
It was another two years before I released my second book, The Storm and the Darkness, but it was that story that spawned an entire literary universe, and would take me down the path that led me here.
Throughout those years, I had highs and lows. An equal share of both, I’d say.
In 2020, the pandemic just getting started, I finally felt as if I’d earned my stripes, and I started work on my first epic fantasy world, Kingdom of the White Sea. I was nervous, perhaps for the first time, about whether what I could produce would be good enough to earn me a place in a genre I had a profound respect for.
But it was also where I discovered my identity as a writer. Where I finally saw the path I wanted the rest of my career to take.
On September 14th, I released my 41st story. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) this is also the summer I turned forty-one.
Ten years in, I’ve had more learnings than I could ever articulate in a blog post. But there are some that stand out more than others. Many I wish someone had helped me to understand when I was a fledgling author.
If you’re reading this, and are a writer, perhaps even one of these can save you some heartache and bring you closer to your goal(s).
Which leads me to…
1. Set Meaningful Goals
This seems obvious, but I suspect it’s also the part of running your own author business that gets neglected. And this is a business. It’s not enough to say “I want to be famous,” or “I want to live independently off my royalties.” It’s perfectly fine to want those things, but you better have a plan if you intend to make it there. If your goal is to make a million dollars, first you have to make a thousand. Build on your successes with goals that make you stretch further. Measure everything you can. When I didn’t know what was working for me, I couldn’t replicate that success. When I didn’t know what wasn’t working, I got stalled in the wrong places.
Whenever I’ve set generic goals like “do better than last year,” all I did was exactly that. When I’ve set specific goals, such as “increase top-line revenue by 30%,” and plotted actions that would support that, I’ve achieved that goal. In 2022 I’ll set my loftiest goals yet, but I’ll do so having a solid understanding of what worked to get me where I am now, and how to build on that (and yet, I’ll still cross my fingers that the results continue to be replicable).
2. Write, Write, Write, Write, WRITE
So, look. You’ll hear a lot of authors say this when they’re asked what the key is to building their business and selling books. I heard it when I was new. I’ve said it dozens of times to people newer than me. I’ve said it just this week. But you won’t really believe it until you see the power of backlist go to work for you.
Readers who love something you wrote, and have nothing more of yours to read when they finish, will move on. They might even forget how much they loved your book. If, on the other hand, they’ve worked through ten of your books, now you have a superfan.
Backlist funds my future projects until they are self-funding. It’s allowed me to work with the best designers in the business, and to take advertising to the next level. But it wasn’t any of that until I had enough books written and published.
So, write. Write until you have more books to show for the effort, and then keep writing. The sooner you can tap into your backlist (and convert more casual readers to superfans), the easier everything else will become.
3. Embrace Time Optimization Early
Protect your writing time like it’s Aztec gold.
Let’s face it—we ALL have competing priorities. As I type this, I have three demanding pugs waiting to be entertained. That’s to say nothing of my corporate career (which I lovingly refer to as my Clark Kent job), husband, family, and other household responsibilities. The only time I’m not working is when I’m sleeping (and I dream about work, so…)
This is even more true within the time spent managing your writing business. Because you will have to spend time marketing, brand building, connecting with readers, and all those boring business details (bank accounts, taxes) that are, yes, boring, but necessary. It’s VERY easy for social media, especially, to suck up all your time. Once that time is gone, it’s gone. And the less productive you are at the end of the day, the more you feel defeat. That defeat, for me, is a creativity killer.
The more I get done? The more I want to get done. A 2k word morning is more likely to turn into a 5k day for me. A 1k morning often stays that way.
I’ve started scheduling my social media time. I don’t even look at my accounts until I’ve finished my morning writing (or editing, or world-building, depending on where I’m at in the process), and then, unless I’m in the middle of a release cycle, I will ignore them again until later in the day. I also schedule my advertising time, marketing time, etc.
4. Hold Tight to Your Writer Friends & Groups
I can’t tell you how much I wish some of the awesome author groups that are around today were around when I started. Wide For the Win, Alessandra Torre’s Inkers, 20Booksto50K, etc. This is where I’ve met a lot of my author friends, who are really the only people in the world who understand what it’s like to live with a thousand voices in your head. They know the pain of losses and the thrill of victories. Authors speak a different language. I wouldn’t be where I am without my author friends. I guess this one is less of a learning and more of a reminder to hold tight to these relationships. They make an otherwise solitary business less so.
5. Understand the Difference Between Learning and Comparison
Writer groups and network are invaluable, but the sooner I learned that not everyone finds success doing the same things, the easier my life became. Authors are generous people and many of us are happy to share what worked. Understanding where your variables intersect with someone else, and where they vary, will help determine what may be worth trying, and what will just spin your wheels (and probably cost you money). There was a lot of trial and error involved in this for me. Knowing your audience is a huge part of winning at this, and can’t be overstated. I’ll say it again, anyway, because there’s a difference between knowing what genre you write in, and knowing who your audience is and what their expectations are: this is research worth doing, and it’s research that never stops.
6. Pay it Forward But Also Know How to Say No
One of my favorite parts of being part of the author community is being able to use my experiences and knowledge to help newer authors find their footing. I myself learned a ton from other authors, and paying it forward is the best way I know to appreciate that. Problem solving is my love language. When one of us wins, we all win.
And yet, our time is limited. Those competing priorities are still there, and our writing time remains invaluable. It’s the one thing above all else that keeps our business moving forward. There are times when something has to give, and you’ll have to say no, and often time that will mean saying “no” to your author friends. And that’s okay. I can’t always join my friends’ release parties, because sometimes I’m underwater, and overwhelmed, and I have to take my to-do list back to basics. I’ll still share their releases and cheer them on from the background. And when my head returns to the surface, I’ll be able to do more for them.
You cannot drink from an empty cup. Nor can you serve from it.
7. Celebrate the Big Victories, But Don’t Neglect the Milestones
Authors are notorious for releasing a book and then immediately jumping into the next one without stopping to reflect. Finishing a book is a big deal, whether you write one a year or twenty a year. Take that deep breath and (quickly, if you must) celebrate. This is advice I’ve given myself for years, and have rarely followed. I really am trying to get better at it.
The smaller milestones matter, too. The journey is a big part of the destination in what we do. The days where I double my average wordcount leave me almost euphoric. Any time I’m able to focus without diversion for more than an hour at a time is like winning the lottery. The positive reinforcement you get from yourself for moving through your challenges is more fuel for success. Always be working for yourself, not against.
8. Advertising is Painful, But Don’t Put it Off
I told myself for years that Facebook ads, and AMS ads, were too complex, and I’d never get it. All the while I knew what I was telling myself was a lie, and that this lie was holding me back from where I wanted to go.
I finally invested in a not-cheap-but-incredible Facebook Ads course (Skye Warren’s, if you’re curious; worth every penny) that changed everything for me. Suddenly, it “clicked.” And when it clicked, the rest fell into place.
One of my goals for 2021 was to achieve the same mastery with AMS ads. I’m not there yet, but I’m working at it.
I’m still learning. I’ll always be learning. But I’ll be getting my work in front of more readers while I do it.
9. Brand is Queen
Entire books have been written about identifying and building brands. Knowing who you are, how your work fits seamlessly into that, how everything you post and say and do is a reflection of both. Brand is you. Who you are in a public setting (and social media/internet is our main public setting) is a reflection of that brand, for better or worse. Once I really learned this, social media actually got easier for me, as I knew what my priorities were (and weren’t).
This is not me saying “shut up and write.” I find few things more insulting than insinuating that people in the public eye should give up their right to an opinion on things that matter. We all have a voice, a right to that voice, and should use it, if we feel called to do so.
10. Drama: Abort, Abort!
I won’t lie and say that some fresh tea won’t make me stop scrolling. Nothing will steal my attention faster than some juicy beef. But I don’t engage. I don’t comment on it, throw my hat into the ring by picking sides, post about it, or even vaguebook about it. Nothing positive can come from it, and the resulting heartache only makes it harder to find the words, the time, and the inspiration. Anything that hurts my brand is counterintuitive to the goals I’ve set for myself, and it overshadows the work I’ve put in. Drama is anathema to creativity for me, and creativity is what powers me.
It’s hard to believe ten years have passed and yet, at the same time, I can hardly remember a time in my life where the publishing world wasn’t at the center. I can’t wait to see where the next ten years leads me.
If you’re an author new to publishing, and wondering where the heck to get started, I understand that this can be a daunting period. But there really is a wealth of resources that didn’t exist when I started. Alessandra Torre has some great “getting started” advice on her website (and her Inkers group on Facebook is fantastic). Joanna Penn is a legend, and has books, podcasts, and a website with years and years of invaluable info. I often recommend David Gaughran’s non-fiction craft and marketing books, and if you want to save yourself some early heartache, check out Becca Syme’s “Dear Author” series, to develop the right habits and mentalities before the bad ones take over. These recommendations only scratch the surface of what’s out there to take advantage of, but it’s a good start.
If you’ve read to the end, thank you. It’s a heck of a lot easier to write about fictional characters than real ones.
TLDR: I talk about what I like/don’t like in the fantasy genre, and how that’s motivated me to finally invest in writing my own fantasy cycle.
If nothing else, the ending to the decade-long epic television masterpiece, Game of Thrones,certainly stirred a lot of discussion. And feelings. And more discussion.
I said my piece on it. Mostly positive (Seasons 1-6), with some criticism over the rushed execution of the final two. Problems that could’ve been solved with more time. But once I released my thoughts into the universe, I realized I’d already moved on. Whatever I loved and didn’t love about the show, it was merely an interpretation of a world I loved long before there was a first season script. A world I’ll return to on the page, again and again and, one day, hopefully, read the ending delivered by the man who created it to begin with. A true fantasy cycle, complete.
More than that, it got me thinking. Anyone who knows me, or has followed this blog since the beginning, knows my love of Tolkien. When I had more time to do it, I wrote a number of essays on the Tolkienverse (posted here on this blog for those so inclined). But, almost equally, although very differently, I love the world of The Song of Ice and Fire. I love it in a similar way I love the Warcraft universe. And while I’ve tried to find other fantasy that fits me the way ASoIaF does, it’s a tough fit.
Much of fantasy deals with the idea of a central hero, and any number of things he must do/not do, discover/not discover. Parallel to that is the of a battle between idea of light and dark, and the underlying conflict that runs through many fantasy worlds. I’ve read a number of really solid fantasy series—well written, exceptional character development and worldbuilding—that nonetheless didn’t leave me satisfied.
What I realized, as I pondered the new void left by the departure of Thrones from television, was that what I love about ASoIaF are those things that cross over into my favorite genre to read: historical fiction (and non-fiction).
What caused me to pick up the series years ago was reading that Martin used the Plantagenets, and more specifically, the Wars of the Roses, as inspiration. Hello! England 1066-1603 is my entire aesthetic! So, of course I picked it up, and of course I loved it. Although a parallel world, it had all the intrigue and web-weaving of the real-life history that, to this day, is better than any fiction (don’t @ me).
What I love about the series is that it’s less about a quest, or a single goal, and more about an event that sends an entire kingdom into turmoil. It’s about all the things each of the characters do as a result of that inciting event, who they were, who they become, how they become what they become together, or apart. It’s about family and lineage; a rich, interconnected history. And yes, it has dragons, but those dragons are more interesting to me in light of their link to the family who purportedly shares their blood and history.
I know, I know, Tolkien did the hero/quest thing, and his work is, bar-none, my favorite to ever be written. But Tolkien set the stage, while others iterated and interpreted. That isn’t to say some didn’t do it as well, or better, only that for me that gold only struck once.
For me, a fantasy series that ticks the boxes has an event that, however small, changes everything; that has all the richness of historical fiction; that draws on the complexity of family and lineage in a way that drives the central plot(s).
All that to say, once this realization hit me, the ideas started flowing. I spent the past few days worldbuilding an entirely new parallel world, writing tens of thousands of notes and biographies and histories. Drawing from what fascinates me about the Middle Ages of our own world, mixing it with my favorite fantasy elements. I’ve already built rich genealogies and am starting now on their stories and histories. I have a map! It’s rudimentary, but one day I’ll have one designed professionally; it’s far too early to commit anything to precision. And although I’m not ready to start writing in this world, the very first line of the series popped into my head, practically screaming at me. No, I’m not sharing it… not just yet, anyway.
Of course, worldbuilding was always my favorite part of the creative process. Anyone who has read my House of Crimson & Clover series, love or hate it, knows how much time was spent on genealogy and history. The writing part is decidedly more complicated, but it’s the coloring in that makes the world really real.
What I know for sure is this: I’ve never been so energized by a project.
What does this mean for my other projects? It doesn’t change much. A Storm of Revelations (Midnight Dynasty Book 2) releases June 18th, and 1976 (The Seven Book 6) comes out on my birthday, July 31st. I haven’t set a date for 1980, the final Seven book, but my plan was to finish the series this year. I hadn’t planned another Midnight Dynasty release until 2020 at the earliest, and my Vampires of the Merovingi series (historical fantasy) takes considerable time for proper historical research. I’ll continue to work with Becket on our co-writing projects, which we do in the spaces in between.
With The Seven almost finished, that frees up a lot more of my creative time, and with a vision this clear, and this real, expect to hear a lot more about this in the coming months.
Yesterday was my 5 Year Publishing Anniversary (or “Pubiversary” as some of us call it. Authors are allowed to make up words, right?). The day was a busy one for unrelated reasons, so I didn’t get to celebrate as I should have. But five years is a long time, and my celebration will come in the form of reflection.
The last five years might as well have been fifty for how much has changed for me as a direct result of publishing my work.
Let’s back up further, to 2000. I was watching TV with my husband (we weren’t married yet, though; not until the following year). A single line popped into my head: “It was raining the day I buried my wife.” Depressing, right? But if you’re a creative type, like me, depressing ideas often become opportunities. I was struck with the overwhelming certainty I was meant to write this line down, and more, that this line would become the beginning of a novel. Now, I had been writing since I was in the second grade. I’d won awards for my stories, and was known for being the girl who’s “imagination would get her in trouble one day.” (For the record, it got me in trouble more than a few times). But I was notorious for never finishing anything I wrote, except short pieces. No matter how much world building or planning I’d do, I was great at starting, okay at the middle, but a complete failure at tying it together into an ending. Endings were scary. Endings required commitment in a very final way.
Worse, like most writers, I was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. And I had no one to tell me nothing ever would be. I had to learn that on my own.
I’ve written before about how St. Charles at Dusk, which started with the line above, took me over a decade to write. If you’ve read the book, you’re probably asking: How?? The answer requires an essay of its own, but the short explanation is perfectionism and crippling self-doubt. Two things authors are intimately familiar with.
Then one day my husband came across some articles on Amanda Hockett and her success in self-publishing and encouraged me to give it a shot. Up to that point, when I thought of self-publishing I envisioned the middle aged man with boxes of his magnum opus sitting in the garage, waiting for him to drive around and peddle them to random strangers. Obviously, things had changed if a young girl could sell over a million books without anyone in the industry guiding her. This was a chance to get my work out there, without the stress of finding an agent or a publisher. A toe in the water. What did I have to lose?
Nothing, as it turned out. Instead, I had everything to gain.
Outside of a few Google searches, I knew absolutely nothing about self-publishing. I had no idea where to even start, and, at the time, I didn’t know any other authors (nor did I have a clue where to find them). I met a designer (referred to me by a friend) for coffee and tried to articulate the book and my vision for it, and failed miserably. He ended up designing a stunning cover, but it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I blame myself. Learning to articulate my work clearly and concisely was a skill that would come later. But it was a professional cover, and I published St. Charles at Dusk with it.
Formatting took me weeks to get right. I must have ordered ten proof copies before getting it passably correct. Figuring out where my books should be published (outside of the obvious choice of Amazon) was another mountain. My sanity was tested.
And then, on September 26th, 2011, I released St. Charles at Dusk to the wide world. No fanfare beyond a few excited friends and family members (I remember who supported me in those early days, and I love you all so much for it). Holding my own book in my hands for the first time is a feeling I cannot begin to describe, so won’t even try. If I got tagged in a “5 Best Moments of Your Life” post, that would be on there for sure.
Then… nothing. I had no clue how to market my work to anyone beyond my contacts, and my built-in humility made it hard to do even that. In 2011, I made exactly $53.24 (while I couldn’t sell books, I’m an ace at financial tracking). I’m fairly certain I could attach names to every one of those sales, too.
The first half of 2012 was no different. In fact, I made less. $49.50. I marketed the book exactly zero times, and the excitement I had in late 2011 from this accomplishment died from “I’m an author,” to “I published a book once.” I would daydream about the next book, but the ideas never made it to the page. I was The Queen of Concepts.
Then, as always, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I had a trip to Turkey and Morocco planned for late November, so I knocked out the entire required 50,000 words in twenty days. And I loved the story! It wasn’t exactly a sequel to St. Charles at Dusk (which was meant to be a standalone, but I found I couldn’t bear to leave that world). In fact, it felt like a beginning to something more. The Storm and the Darkness was, in my own way, a love letter to introverts. Ana Deschanel and Jonathan St. Andrews were my best attempt to show the world what it is to feel isolated and awkward, and to search for your place in the world. It was also the true start to what became The House of Crimson & Clover Series.
I didn’t touch the manuscript again until early 2013. I’d been laid off at work, and I needed something to keep me busy. I started blogging, mostly about travel and Tolkien topics, and met some amazing people, many of whom I’ve continued friendships with into today. I met other writers. I started to get a broader view of the industry beyond the small piece I occupied by myself. Inspired by being around other artists and rediscovering a sense of purpose, I dusted off The Storm and the Darkness and published it in June of 2013, a month after starting my new job.
Before, I’d told myself it was too difficult to balance a full time career in the outside world with a career in the writing world. Now, I was determined to ride this newfound excitement and momentum and prove myself wrong.
Flourish came in August of 2013. The Illusions of Eventide followed in December. Shattered in February of 2014, and then another four titles that same year. In 2013 I made hundreds of dollars. In 2014, thousands. Somewhere between Darkness and Flourish, I started learning Photoshop and began to design my own covers, which was an evolution in itself. Inspired by my good friend Becket, who had learned to design his own as well, I decided I could do anything I put my mind to, and if I practiced enough, I could do it well.
In 2014 I was invited to be a featured author at Anne Rice’s Undead Con in New Orleans. I was invited back in 2015. I had a chance to speak with Anne personally and tell her what her work had meant to me, and how she had inspired my work almost more than any other author.
Somewhere between those two events, Christopher Rice (another one of my favorite authors) picked up The Storm and the Darkness and declared it one of his favorite books, much to my incredible shock. He featured it as a Favorite Read on his Dinner Party Show. I still don’t know how this happened. It still takes my breath away.
I busted my ass and by the start of 2015 I had nine titles. But what I did not have was a solid marketing strategy.
Around this time, I finally envisioned the design that would define my brand. I spent endless hours redesigning my series, my website, my marketing materials. I began to understand that the reason I struggled to market before was that I was inconsistent in how I saw my work, and that included picking a genre and sticking with it. By focusing my brand into something others could see and recognize as mine, I was able to target the readers who should be reading my work.
In 2015, I published seven more titles. I became an Amazon Bestselling Author for the first time on my own (several times), and hit the USA Today list twice in anthologies. My sales went from four to five figures. I started to get emails daily from readers instead of monthly. I began to see the impact my work could have on others. My income moved from the four digits into the five. I was able to re-invest back in my business and grow it further.
Now, in 2016, five years after I hit publish with shaking hands, I have 22 titles under my name. I’m beginning to branch outside of The House of Crimson & Clover, and I now have a system that works- for writing, getting a book to market, and getting it before readers. And despite all that, I know I still have so much more to learn.
The accomplishments I’m most proud of in 5 years:
Hitting publish for the first time. This required more bravery than anything I’ve ever done.
Learning to design my own graphics work and creating a brand design that I’m absolutely in love with, still, almost two years later.
Being a featured author at the Anne Rice Undead Con in New Orleans twice.
Hitting #18 in the overall Amazon store on my own. Also hitting the Top 100 four times on my own.
Hitting #3 in the Barnes & Noble store on my own.
Hitting the USA Today Bestseller’s list three times in anthologies.
Having Christopher Rice feature my work and continue to call me one of his favorite authors.
Charles at Dusk made it to the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.
I both met and exceeded the business goals I set for myself in 2014 and 2015 (and the goals were aggressive). I’m on track for the same in 2016.
22 titles. Twenty-two. How are there even that many words in my head?
If some of this feels less than modest, that’s because there’s something else I’ve learned to do in five years: Not be afraid of success. In any other career, we are encouraged to go after promotions and opportunities, and we are equally encouraged to find pride when we get them. There’s a certain level of shame in admitting when you’ve done well as an author, as if the career choice is not viable in comparison to others. So this is me saying, I am thrilled with where my career as an author has taken me. And I’ve even more excited to see where it goes.
Most of all, though, I want to say thank you. To my readers who keep reading. To my author friends who keep me going. To my family and friends who believe in me. Writing is a very solitary profession, but having a support system makes it just a little bit less lonely.
I am often asked some variant of the question: “I’ve written a book. How do I self-publish it?” The question, as well as the answer, can feel overwhelming. Certainly whenever I’m asked, I often think, where do I start? What level of detail do I share? How much of my time can I give to assisting?
Time is unfortunately a commodity I have very little of nowadays, but I also love to help others, especially those serious about pursuing their creative endeavors. This article attempts to achieve that balance.
What This Is: The basics to get someone started in publishing, to get their feet wet. To literally get a book for sale and ready to market. Things you need to know before you publish, and the places you can go to do so.
What This Is Not: An all-inclusive guide to self-publishing. There’s no way I could cram 5+ years of learning into a single post, nor does my brain cooperate in that way. This is also not a guide for how to find an agent or a publisher.
This article assumes you have already written a book. This also assumes that you are aiming to publish your work with the intention of getting it into reader’s hands (as opposed to just printing copies for yourself). I have other guides that cover tips for the writing process. This guide picks up at the point you have a completed book and need to know what to do next.
10 Things That Have to Happen Before You Publish
If you are serious about getting your work into the world, these are all things you have to consider. They all require considerable time, and in certain cases, money. If you expect to see any success in this business, they’re also not optional (with the exception of author groups). Proceed with a deep breath, and decide if you’re ready for this level of commitment.
Editing: You must have the book edited. Sometimes new authors believe this is an optional step, but I can assure you, no matter how proficient you are in your language (even if you yourself have edited books), you need an objective set of eyes. You cannot be objective. We just are not wired that way. The best way to find an editor is by recommendations from other authors, and most credible editors will do a small sample for free for you so you can get a feel for their process and style. Be sure to find one who is experienced and has good relationships with their clients. Your friend Sally who got an A in English is not a substitute for an editor. The type and degree of editing you need will depend on your experience level. I started off needing a content editor, but now have a copy editor.
Beta Reading: Beta reading differs from editing in that with beta reading you are looking for pure reader reaction. What works? What doesn’t work? Where are there inconsistencies in story or character behavior? What was unclear? Unlike an editor, your beta readers do not need to have any formal experience, they only need to feel comfortable and safe giving you very honest feedback. You can find beta readers within author groups, or even from friends. The most important thing is that your beta reader is not telling you what you want to hear, but what you need to. I recommend 2-3 beta readers. Beta readers should be willing to work for free, although sending them a paperback of the finished book is a nice gesture.
Formatting: Your book needs to be formatted to properly work on the various types of e-readers, as well as for paperback. Some authors (myself included) do their own formatting, but for your first time, I recommend leaving this in the hands of an expert. You’ll need an .epub file, a .mobi file, and a PDF of your paperback. Some editors also offer formatting, but if not, there are a lot of places to go to find a formatter.
Blurb: Yep, those things on the back of the book telling readers what it’s about? You need one. They can be painful for authors to write, as it’s often hard to paraphrase our own work, but your editor can help you get it cleaned up. Couple of tips: strong statements, avoid repetitive words, and keep it in present tense.
Cover Design: You need a cover. Not just any cover, but a good cover. Unless you are already a skilled and proficient graphic designer, no you cannot create the cover yourself. Fair or not, many readers can and do judge a book by the cover, and a cover that is either poorly done or does not fit with your genre/theme/brand is not only not doing you favors, it will actually work against you. You can find a cover designer the same way as an editor. You might even reach out to authors whose covers you loved and ask who they used.
Brand: You need to decide what your brand is. What keywords should be associated with you, what you want readers to think of when they see your name and read your books. This is not a black and white exercise, but as you begin to wrap your mind around this, everything you do (from your covers, to your marketing, to your social media presence, etc.) should represent your brand. I may speak more on this in another article, as this is a huge topic that deserves its own space.
Marketing: You can write the best book in the world, have it edited to perfection, commission the best cover, and have a consistent brand message, but if you don’t market your work, you will not sell any books. Sadly, books do not sell on their own. I know marketing is typically an ‘after the fact’ activity, but I bring it up in the ‘before you publish’ category because you need to know and decide upfront how much money and time you are going to invest in marketing. This includes time you spend on social media promoting your own work as well as paying third party advertisers to help you spread the word. Realistically, I spent 5-10 hours marketing (sometimes more) each week. Many authors are caught off guard by the cost and necessity, so it’s better to go in armed.
Social Media & Newsletter: Create your social media presence EARLY. It’s so much easier to build from day one than to go back after a year and attempt it. You’ll want Facebook (an author page, not a personal profile), Twitter, and a Newsletter for sure. You might also want Google +, Instagram, and Pinterest, but your mileage may vary with these. And, most important of all, get your newsletter started. This will be the single biggest marketing tool you have as an author. I cannot stress this enough. You can get a free account with Mailchimp or Mailerlite, and it only becomes a cost service once you reach a higher number of subscribers. Include links to all of these places (FB, Twitter, Newsletter, etc.) in the back of every single one of your books.
Author Groups: Look for author groups on Facebook and join them. Observe the discussions. Befriend authors, and where you take help, also offer it (perhaps by offering to beta for them, as an example). Over time, your author friends will become your tribe, but they will also help you navigate the often unfair, often confusing waters of publishing. They are also the only ones who know what it is to suffer from crippling self-doubt, but, on the flip side, the absolute high from nailing a passage.
Financials: This one is as simple, or as complicated, as it needs to be. Essentially, you need to decide where you’re going to get your checks. It’s usually easier and cleaner to open a separate account for any book revenue. Also, be sure to track any expenses related to your books for tax time. Covers, editing, marketing, materials- items directly related to expenses to keep your writing business moving forward can probably be written off at tax time. I am not a tax attorney, though, so take that advice with this fact in mind, and consult one if needed.
That may seem like a lot; it is. But if you’ve come this far, and you’re serious about the work you’ve created, then your work deserves your continued focus to make it a success. Every single topic above deserves its own article, and I may one day expand on those, but there are also a ton of resources on the internet. Just be wary of anything that feels like a shortcut to success. As with fad diets and get rich quick schemes, they often fall way short of reality.
So by now you should have a fully edited and beta read book, with a fabulous cover that fits your brand, a marketing plan (or at least an idea of the time you plan to spend marketing), your social sites created and running, and some author support groups on your Facebook. Phew!
You’re ready to publish!
For self-publishing, there are a number of sites where you can load your book. Each site asks for a different file type, and has certain requirements. Most are fairly easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. Below I’ve listed out the main sites where you can distribute your work. They all have FAQs and Tutorials should you need help.
For eBooks, you can publish directly or through a third party. For paperbacks, there are several places you create and distribute your work, and I’ve listed them below separately.
Bear in mind that eBook royalties vary by how you price your work. Most retailers will only offer max royalty if you price your book $2.99 or higher.
Direct Distributors for eBooks
A direct distributor simply means you are selling your books directly through the retailers. With Amazon, you have to go direct, as they no longer allow third party uploading. For all others, you can choose to use one of the third party options, or you can upload directly with them for quicker reporting and tighter control.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing:http://kdp.amazon.com. Distributes to all Amazon markets that sell ebooks. Kindle sales are a top earner for most authors, so I recommend starting here. KDP also offers a program called Kindle Unlimited that has some perks, but requires exclusivity (can’t publish anywhere else). They offer 70% royalties on books priced $2.99-$9.99 and 35% to anything under $2.99 or over $9.99. On top of that, they remove a small amount for delivery fees, which is based on the size of your .mobi file. For uploading, for best results, use a .mobi.
Barnes & Noble Nook:http://nookpress.com/. Distributes to Barnes & Noble US. For royalties, they pay 40% up to $2.99 (or over $10) and 65% for $2.99-$9.99. When uploading, for best results use an .epub.
Kobo:https://www.kobo.com/writinglife. Kobo is a Canadian company that distributes to a number of markets. They’ve seen a lot of recent growth, including the ability to book promotions directly with them. They offer 70% for books over $2.99 (no cap), and 40% for anything under.
Apple iBooks:https://itunesconnect.apple.com. Apple is the only one of the retailers listed here that requires you to have very specific hardware: a Mac, in this case. You have to download an app called iTunes Producer to distribute content to iTunes. If you do not have a Mac, you can use one of the third party aggregators listed below to get your work on iBooks. Apple does not have a firm royalty table published, but royalties come out between 60-70% usually.
Google Play:https://play.google.com/books/publish/. I’ve never been able to find a straight answer about Google’s royalty payments. I always estimated between 50-60%, and the end result comes out around there.
Third Party Distributors for eBooks
A third party distributor basically acts as a middle-man between you and the direct distributor (Nook, Amazon, etc.), and handles all the publishing and sending of files to those retailers. The benefit of this is being able to manage it easily in one place. The downfall is that the reporting is often delayed, and you have less direct control over how your content is sent and displayed. There are also different royalties using third party than going direct. Note: Neither will distribute to Amazon, so even if you go this route, you will still need to distribute directly with Amazon.
Draft 2 Digital:https://www.draft2digital.com/ They distribute to iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and several other niche retailers. D2D, of the two, is easier as they do not have rigorous controls over the content you upload. It also appears on the retailers quicker, in my experience.
Smashwords:https://www.smashwords.com/ They distribute to most of the big retailers (iBooks, Nook, Kobo), as well as many of the smaller, up-and-coming, or niche retailers (see site for full list). Smashwords, in addition to distributing to other retailers for you, has their own storefront where consumers can buy your books as well. Their content requirements can be more tedious if your formatting isn’t perfect, and they take longer to send books to retailers. However, Mark Coker, CEO, is very active in the indie community and loves feedback.
Note: for both third party distributors, you can choose which retailers you want to distribute to, or opt out of. Also, some of the smaller/niche retailers listed for these third party uploaders can ONLY be uploaded to via their site, and not direct.
Third Party or Direct?
There are pros and cons of both and it comes down to personal preference.
For third party, on the pro side, you have convenience, and also some of the retailers don’t have direct selling options, so you get your book in more places. On the con side of third party, your reporting is often delayed and less sophisticated, and you’re trusting a third party to translate your content.
On the direct side, the pro is the control and reporting. On the con side is, for iBooks specifically, you can only upload directly if you own a Mac.
Personally, I distribute direct everywhere.
There are several third party companies who will do print-on-demand for your paperbacks. Some cost you nothing upfront, others have an expense. They all have different distribution options, as well. Personally, I use CreateSpace due to their ease of use and broad distribution, and my books can be purchased online at Amazon, Nook, Powell’s, and other retailers. Lightning Source and Lulu are other companies you could check out for comparison (I have not personally used them). Ingram Spark is also popular, but has setup fees. And Barnes & Noble is also offering a paperback creation service now.
Your Books Are Uploaded: Now What?
First, check the retailers to find your titles. Depending on the retailer, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but once you have your links, I recommend keeping them in a note somewhere so you can find them easily.
Start executing on your marketing plan. This is another topic that deserves a separate post (if not an actual course). However, the absolute best marketing for your book is another book. If a reader loves it, but has nothing else from you to buy, they will move on.
Keep your social media active. DO market your work there, but DON’T only post about your books. Find interesting content, images, etc. that relate to your brand. For example, my books are set in New Orleans so I often post articles and pictures of the area.
Engage with people who engage with you. If you start selling like Stephen King, this might prove more challenging for you, but in the beginning you have more time for interacting with readers, and you should use it wisely.
Don’t ask for favors from other authors unless you have already established the kind of relationship where that is appropriate. They are your friends, and maybe your fans, but mostly your friends. On the flip side, do join cross-promo groups or author co-ops designed for helping one another with promo. Learn from other authors, take what advice works, and adapt it to work for you.
Learn early that everyone’s experiences are different, and what works for one may not work for another. Everyone I know who has seen success in writing has done it in different ways. Master your brand, keep it consistent, write good content, and most importantly, begin writing the next book.
Start tracking your sales. Put your spreadsheets together early, and update them periodically so you don’t have to go back months later and reconcile. There’s a lot of ways to look at data, and I may tackle this is another post, another time.
Don’t expect overnight sales. Or even any sales. You might get no sales at all for a while, and 10 books in your first month might be ambitious. It takes a long time, a lot of work, and a significant amount of patience to build a brand and a fan base. But, don’t despair. One reader will lead to another, and another. View this as a business that deserves (and requires) your time and commitment to thrive.
If you’ve made it to the end, you’re likely thinking that was ridiculously long. I don’t mean to scare you, but this barely scratches the surface. This gets you through the door and into the big, scary, but immensely rewarding world of publishing. I could talk about marketing, brand, pre-orders, optimizing call-to-actions, networks, loss leaders, how and when to put your book on sale, and a million other things but they will mean little to you at this stage. For now, you did it! Now, take a deep breath, and get to learning.
It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on the writing goals I set for myself in 2013, and form new ones for 2014. To be perfectly transparent, I never did go back and check myself for progress. So this exercise is either going to be very fulfilling, or utterly humiliating.
First, let’s see how I did for 2013 (here’s the link to the original post):
1. Publish The Storm and the Darkness (Book 2 in the House of Crimson & Clover series)– SUCCESS! Published in July.
2. Publish to this blog often (weekly at a minimum), including finishing my Travel Series for all travels thus far– PARTIAL SUCCESS! Even at my least active points, I still managed to post at least once a week. Unfortunately, I did not finish my travel series, but at least it was for a good reason (I was writing!)
3. Participate in and complete Camp NaNoWriMo in April & July– SUCCESS! Participated in, and completed, both.
4. Participate in and complete NaNoWriMo in November– SUCCESS! Participated in and completed.
5. Start editing the as yet untitled Book 3 in the House of Crimson & Clover series- UBER SUCCESS! Not only did I start editing The Illusions of Eventide, but I actually published it in December.
6. Start speccing out my fantasy world for the fantasy series I want to write– SUCCESS! Well, I should add a caveat: this went an entirely different direction than I originally intended. I was going to write an independent fantasy series, but instead, a Crimson and Clover fantasy offshoot emerged.
7. Launch the House of Crimson & Closer Newsletter and keep it alive– SUCCESS! Launched in November.
8. Publish St. Charles at Dusk in more places, and make it more accessible– SUCCESS! Dusk is now available on all major channels.
9. Learn more about marketing my work, and apply several new techniques– SUCCESS! I still don’t have the magic bullet, but I’ve been a marketing machine this year.
10. Come out of my shell a bit and become a more active member of the indie writing community– UBER SUCCESS! I can’t be more happy with all the amazing people I’ve met, and all the channels I’ve opened.
I have to say- I never expected to hit all of these goals. I truly didn’t. The fact that I did is not only some kind of miracle, but also reminds me just how freaking hard I worked this year. And that’s nothing to say of the additional things I did (i.e. writing a novelette, Beyond Dusk: Anne).
So, without further ceremony, here are my plans for 2014:
2014 Writing Goals
1. Re-release St. Charles at Dusk in first quarter, with additional continuity and content edits.
2. Release Beyond Darkness: Shattered in February.
3. Release Beyond Eventide: Bound in April.
4. Release my Midnight Dynasty novellas sometime before end of the year (total of three).
5. Release Empire of Shadows (book 4) before end of the year (ideally October).
6. Finish the novella for Jon, Beyond Darkness: Shame.
7. Deploy a professional website.
8. Stay active and focused on select social media channels. Learn to focus on several and not spread myself thin.
9. Complete at least one of the spring NaNoWriMo sessions, and the November one.
10. Find a healthy balance between my two careers, home, and all other craziness life throws at me.
Will I succeed? Well, I have a whole bunch of people now holding me accountable (thanks to hitting #10 on last year’s list). I’ve learned a lot about my limits, as well as just how far I can stretch my creativity and flexibility, when needed. In sum, I know a lot more about myself than I did last December. I know what I want.
I’m a shameless fan of writing in multiple POVs. My series has a large, diverse cast of characters and I’m all about giving each of them a voice, where possible. I also believe that telling the story through the eyes of varied characters gives a well-rounded perspective on the tale that you would not get otherwise.
Of course, this is not always a popular narrative choice. Some readers are very vocal about their dislike of this style. Does that deter me? Not even a little. But it does evoke a stubborn desire to want to do it right.
The lovely Danielle Taylor tagged me in this WIP Update post. Check out Danielle’s blog, because, well, she is awesome and you should surround yourself with awesome people at all times 🙂
1. What is the name of your current WIP?
The Illusions of Eventide (Book 3 of The House of Crimson and Clover series)
2. Ready to do a cover reveal?
Hah! No, I’m just wrapping up the cover for my current novel, and I probably won’t be ready with this one until December.
3. How many words are you into it?
Just over 50,000. It was a NaNoWriMo assignment so it’s been sitting at 50k for over a year, patiently waiting for its turn to be edited.
4. Goal word count by the end of the week?
Oh boy…does it sound terrible if I say that I’m not doing any writing this week on it? Or next week? I’m wrapping up my last novel for publishing through June, and then July is another NaNo session (where I will be working on book 6)…so it might be August before I really buckle down and start writing full time on it again.
5. Goal word count for the entire manuscript?
No official goal, but 80k on the low end, and 100k on the high end.
6. What genre does your work in progress fall within?
I officially market it as Southern Fiction, but it could also be Literary Fiction with a touch of Mystery, Suspense, Paranormal, and Romance.
7. When would you *like* to publish this project?
I am aiming for December 2013, but I won’t consider myself a failure if it gets pushed to January.
8. Go to page 5 of your manuscript and pick a sentence at random to share with us!
“Nicolas was surrounded by relatives, friends, and even strangers who were devastated for him- whose hearts ached for him- and his heart ached far more for what he should have lost than what he actually had.”
9. Will this WIP turn into a series book?
It’s the third book in my House of Crimson and Clover series (which, so far, is planned at 7 or more novels)
10. What has been the hardest challenge in working on this WIP?
NaNo drafts are often a pain to come back to, as it requires some extra scrutiny on what/where you need to add and take away to move forward. I’m not looking forward to outlining it, but its going to be the first step toward organizing it.
11. What has been your favorite part of working on this WIP?
Nicolas is, hands down, the most fun character I’ve ever written. His voice has always come so natural to me. He was a secondary character in the first two books, and I’m happy to be able to give him a starring role in this one. He’s usually a fan favorite as well, so I’m hoping they like this one.
12. Any special treat planned for when you finish the final draft of your WIP?
I haven’t thought that far ahead! But I’m always looking for an excuse to buy something, so I’m sure I will have no trouble figuring it out when the time comes 🙂