So you want to write a book…

They say everyone has a book in them, and I think that’s probably true–at least based on how many people have asked me how to publish one! It’s flattering that anyone thinks I’m a solid enough source to approach for advice, and I’m happy to give a condensed version of what’s worked for me so far. I only published my first book in June of 2015, so I’m not exactly a seasoned vet here, but I’m seven books in, and I’ve essentially turned writing and the pursuit of information about this world into my full-time hobby and part-time job, so I’ve got a few things to share.

First of all, there is a ton of information out there. Books, websites, blogs, vlogs, web boards, Facebook groups, courses you can take for free, courses you can pay for…anything you can imagine that has to do with how to become a successful indie author is out there, so you just have to start researching. However (and this is a big “however”), none of it is guaranteed to make you a success, but much of it will give you insights that you can weave together to forge your own path through the jungle of this creative pursuit.

Here is my personal roadmap to the joy and moderate success that I’ve seen so far:

  1. Join Kboards. It’s the web board for Amazon authors and it’s like a rambling antique store full of valuable treasures just waiting to be unearthed. Any question you can think of has probably been asked and answered there, and if you use the search function, you can dig up threads upon threads of other authors sharing their wisdom. There are some rather successful and helpful indie authors on there (as in people pulling in a 7-figure annual income from their books alone), and you can easily fall down the rabbit hole and spend an afternoon reading about other people’s journeys. I check it every day.
  2. Buy some books. There are a gazillion out there, but I prefer the ones that include both technical how-to advice (how to run promotions, how to find visibility in the slushpile of self-pubbed books) and real stories of other indie authors who’ve hit the jackpot, so to speak. A little knowledge plus a little inspiration equals a book that makes me want to grab my laptop and start writing! My favorites:
    1. Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox
    2. Blue Collar to No Collar: From Trucker to Bestselling Novelist in Two Years by Wayne Stinnet
    3. Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should by David Gaughran
    4. On Writing by Stephen King
    5. Write. Publish. Repeat by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt
    6. Let’s Get Visible: How to Get Noticed and Sell More Books by David Gaughran
  3. Start reading blogs. Some of the authors who forged the initial paths through the Wild West of self-publishing have been kind enough to share the details on their blogs. Some of my favorites to follow:
    1. The Creative Penn
    2. Goins Writer
    3. JA Konrath
    4. David Gaughran
    5. Hugh Howie
  4. Write. A lot. You can use Word. You can use Pages. You can use a pen and paper. You can also use Scrivener to compile your chapters and then export to a Word doc if you prefer something fancy with a lot of bells and whistles. You can block distractions by buying an app to keep you from using the internet. I like Freedom because I occasionally end up distracting myself with nonsense instead of writing, and it works for me.
  5. Join some groups and form a support network with other writers. There’s always Kboards, which I mentioned above, but I’ve been a part of the Curiouser Author Network on Facebook for a long time, and you can share info, commiserate, find friends, and chat about writing in a group like this. Very handy.
  6. Research self-publishing versus traditional publishing to make sure you really, really want to do it. I’ve tried the trad pub route (which still entails sending out long, painful queries to agents who either send you a form rejection, ask to see more work and then sit on it for up to six months before rejecting you, or ignore you altogether–and this has only improved moderately with the advent of email. I spent a small fortune in the 90s mailing out 50 pages of my work to various agents who probably rolled their eyes and immediately recycled the whole thing…if it ever even got past their assistants.) After fully digesting what was going on in the publishing world in 2014, I realized that the freedoms and opportunities of self-publishing made it a much more exciting option for me. But you can decide that for yourself!
  7. Figure out how you’re going to make an amazing cover. Honestly–this is important. Some people create their own, but the sharpest-looking books are usually commissioned from someone professional. I use Natasha Snow and she’s amazing–nice, fun to work with, and talented. But there are lots of options, so look around, find out who other people use (Kboards is a good place for this), and if you have any graphic design talents, you can definitely give it a go yourself. Just keep in mind that your cover is the first thing people will see, and if it sucks, then you might lose them on the spot.
  8. Find a formatter if you don’t know how to format yourself (I found it cumbersome and annoying, and quickly decided it was something I’d rather pay for than waste time on). I’ve used Jesse Gordon from A Darned Good Book for all of my books, but I recently found Vellum, which is the most amazing thing I’ve discovered in a while. You can easily drop your Word doc into Vellum and get a file ready for any of the distributors, and it’s really simple to manipulate and make changes to your ebooks. I still use Jesse to format my print versions (something Vellum doesn’t do), but I did the ebook version of my latest and am really happy with the results.
  9. Decide whether you want to publish exclusively on Amazon (including signing up for Kindle Unlimited) or whether you want to go wide through the other distributors. Also, are you going to only publish an ebook, or will you offer print copies as well? I went exclusive with Amazon and I publish my print copies through Createspace, and then both options are available to customers for purchase in the same place on Amazon.
  10. Research the keywords and categories that you should use on Amazon (or other vendors) to make your book visible, create the best book blurb you possibly can (this is hard–almost everyone will tell you that writing a blurb is harder than writing a whole novel–and it’s as important as a good cover. Grab your readers. Make them want to buy your book. And do it quick.) Get it all uploaded to your chosen vendor(s), review it, approve it, set your prices, and then PUBLISH!
  11. Okay, your book is out there. If you do nothing, it’ll disappear fast. I’m no master of algorithms, but I know you’ve got a 30-60 day window before your book starts to sink to the bottom of the pond like a boulder. If you just tell family and friends about your book then you’ll sell a few copies, but if you want to make a bigger impact, you need to push that tome up the charts. This is where advertising kicks in. I’ve done sporadic ads here and there and had some success, but a series of stacked ads is better–set your book to free or .99 and run a ton of ads for a week or so to get some visibility on the charts. If you’re going to go with a freebie, then it’s better if you have more books in the series so that your customers will have something to buy after they’re done reading your free book. A free book with nothing to follow it up is a bit of a dead end (although I’ve done that, too). Some of the sites I’ve used for advertising:
    1. Robin Reads
    2. The Fussy Librarian
    3. Ereader News Today
    4. Buck Books
    5. Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy
    6. OHFB
    7. Book Hippo UK
  12. Write your next book immediately. Or, better yet, write two or three before you even release the first one so that you can capitalize on momentum–if I had it to do over, I’d definitely do that. Keep advertising, keep posting to your blog, your Facebook page, your author Instagram, your Pinterest or Twitter…whatever you use to keep interacting with fans and other authors. It’s a hobby, it’s a job, and for the lucky few, it’s a full-time career. But keep treating it like a business. Take it seriously and set up a separate bank account for your book royalties. Keep all your receipts and plan on paying taxes. I can’t stress this enough: this is a business.
  13. Have fun–keep having fun, no matter what. This has been one of the best things I’ve done in my life, and I plan on doing it for a long, long time.

 

 

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Writing a Solid Query Letter is (fill in the blank) _______.

Oh, fill in the blank? Okay. Writing a solid query letter is frustrating. It makes me sweat bullets. I think it’s a task akin to a dog chasing its tail until it gets dizzy and throws up. Writing a query letter is about as much fun as the extreme waxing I subjected myself to before a spring break trip to Mexico a couple of years ago. Which is all to say that writing a query that is snappy, concise, and eloquent is painful. 

Because I save all of my queries and responses in a file for my own reference, I’ve been able to go back and see what’s worked and what hasn’t. Some attempts were so horrid that I’ve read slushpilehell.tumblr.com through the web of my fingers in fear that I’d see my own words being mocked and shredded for giggles. (If you’re a fan of snark and haven’t read slushpilehell, please do.) Others weren’t as cringe-worthy, and some even netted me a request for a partial or a full. One of my more solid queries was one I wrote for a book where the protagonist was a 15-year-old boy. I had this crazy idea that maybe it would sound more authoritative if the author wasn’t immediately identified as a woman in her 30s (AKA, someone who has never been a teenage boy), so I wrote a short, clipped, funny query that I signed off with my first and middle initials followed by my last name. Within a few days I had a request for a full manuscript from an agent. Ultimately she passed on it, but it was my first experience writing a query that truly felt spot-on. (I probably ruined the initial effect by following up her request for a partial with an email that spewed verbal butterflies at her, like: “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited! Thank you!” instead of a cooler, more manly, “Great. Here’s my manuscript. Thanks for the interest; looking forward to hearing back from you.” But…one can only cover up one’s true identity for so long.)

Last weekend I toiled and fretted over a query for our new manuscript, and I tried in vain to whittle it down to something that didn’t immediately elicit an eye-roll and a “TL;DR” from the recipient. But as I skim it again today, I’m feeling a little deflated. What I want it to say to a prospective agent is that we’re funny and creative and hard-working, that we dream big, laugh hard, and have caring spirits. We want to write about girls who matter; we want to create characters with strong ties to their native cultures who have interesting adventures when they move to America. I want it to be clear that we’re open to suggestion and criticism and editing, and that it’s not just this one book that they’d be representing, but these two wild, dreaming girls.

But that’s really, really hard to do without sounding hokey. So I’m back to square one, wondering if I’ve just mistakenly sent our dream agent a sub-par query that will hit the slush pile at warp speed, but secretly hoping that she’ll see through the formality of the greeting, and the slightly bloated book description, to realize that on the other side of that query letter are two chicks who have stories in their souls.