Listening to advice from people who’ve done things I want to emulate is often both reassuring and overwhelming. Reassuring in the sense I can see I’m taking steps in the right direction. Overwhelming because there’s still a lot to do to get from here to there.
I recently attended The London Book Fair, a massive annual publishing industry event, to hear about and meet people who’ve built successful businesses around writing and sold a shedload of books. Authors like Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Rachel Abbott, LJ Ross and Adam Croft were there.
Leaving the Kensington Olympia Conference Centre, the spring sun emerging from hibernation to shine brightly on my face, I felt a renewed sense of optimism regarding my plans for The Writing Struggle, my soon-to-end 100 Day Diet Challenge and my book projects.
This is what I learned.
As Adam Croft put it, there’s no secret formula to success; just lots of 16 hour days.
But working hard doesn’t always get results. That’s why focus is key. I’m always reading about ways to get things done and improve, whether that’s in books or online. But continual learning can become an excuse for inaction.
We must therefore be selective, remembering not all advice is useful (including, dare I say it, my own).
Consider the bigger picture
Joanna Penn emphasised that breaking out on our own affords us the luxury of doing what we want, whether that means releasing short books, long books, series of books and anything in between.
Independent publishing doesn’t have to simply mean releasing a Kindle book; there’s print books, audiobooks, workbooks, courses, speaking gigs and many other ways to create value. Just keep writing and publishing! And if a product isn’t selling, don’t be afraid to rebrand and relaunch.
On saying that, working in a vacuum on a book project for several years with no attempts to test whether the end product is something anybody wants to read is no good, if selling books is the ultimate intention. Work hard, by all means, but work hard in the right way.
Treat writing like a business
Rachel Abbott wanted to reach 1,000 sales with her first book. She emailed everybody she knew and asked them to buy it. But, after a point, her sales didn’t pick up. So, she created a marketing plan. She realised increasing the visibility and awareness of her book was crucial. Small steps, like changing her email signature to include an image of her book and building her social media profiles, meant more people knew about her product. Eventually, sales increased and she repeated the process with her next book, and the next one, and so on.
LJ Ross published snippets of her book online prior to release, to create a buzz. Readers got hooked and, wanting to find out what happened next, went on to purchase the book after it was released.
These stories reminded me that a writing business does not involve just writing; aside from being creative, a significant amount of time must be spent working on marketing and admin. For example, Rachel Abbott spends two mornings per week working on marketing tasks and two mornings per week working on admin.
Outsourcing is an option, one which I’m currently considering for my business so I can spend more time focusing on being creative.
It’s a tough call. On the one hand, I want to crack as much as I can on my own before hiring help so I understand the process. On the other, the final product should do justice to all the hard work that’s gone into it.
For example, book cover design is something I’ll outsource to the experts because branding is crucial.
Running a business built around writing means paying attention to lots of different spinning plates, so I need to ensure every element of my business is conducted to a professional standard.
Be professional every step of the way. We should be aiming to ensure our books, articles and other products are indistinguishable from the top authors in our genres.
Look at what others are doing. Think outside of the box. Take control. Get the fact we have books, or articles, or whatever else, in front of as many people as possible. What are our competitors doing?
One way to support this is by starting to build an email list as early as possible, for numerous reasons. It’s important to develop a relationship with readers, and emailing is a good way to speak with them directly so they are the first to know about new material.
Mark Dawson mentioned he sends advance copies of his books to readers who have signed up via his email list, and they fact-check and give him feedback prior to launch. I’ve noticed others doing this, including Colin Wright. If anyone reading this is keen to become one of my alpha readers, send me an email.
And, once our products are out there, there will be feedback. Lots of it will hopefully be positive. Some of it will be negative. Take criticism, learn from it, improve.
The guys I listened to at The London Book Fair are the professionals. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from them.
It seems to me that, like with many things in life, writing and independent publishing throw the proverbial plethora of options at us and it can become more-than-slightly intimidating.
There is a lot to do. But that doesn’t mean becoming a successful writer is an unobtainable dream.
Work hard. Focus. Take it one step at a time.
Imagining getting from zero to lots of books and podcasts and courses and everything in between is a bit scary and feels a long way off, but it’ll all be doable eventually with the right kind of application.
The talks I attended at The London Book Fair were:
There Has Never Been a Better Time to Self-Publish: The Opportunities
Fiona Marsh (Midas PR)
Jeremy Thompson (Troubador)
Jon Watt (Type and Tell)
Independent Publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing
Chaired by Darren Hardy, the UK Manager of Kindle Direct Publishing
The Creative Writing Process
Chaired by Jonathan Teller, Editor of Writing Magazine
How to Reach More Readers and Make More Money From Your Books (Alliance of Independent Authors)
Many of the authors referred to writing their novels in scenes, which they then turn into chapters. I’ve not tried this before. One recommendation from more than one author to develop this technique was Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff.
Joanna Penn recommended Six Figure Author by Chris Fox.
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