Writing & Marketing Tips – What I Wish I Knew About Making a Living Writing Novels

Jeff RiveraHindsight is 20/20. I’ve been self-publishing since I sold the rights to my first indie published novel to Grand Central Publishing about 10 years ago. This was long before KDP or Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey or Bella Forrest were known.

The following is the advice I would give myself if I were starting over again. Maybe it will help you too.

On Writing and Publishing

* Write a series in a genre that has a lot of demand but not much competition.
* Google the tropes, make sure your book has them. It doesn’t hurt to read books in that genre too.
* Pick a high concept that you’re excited about writing.
* Make sure your description, price, page count, cover looks like other books in your genre that sell well, but put your own spin on it.
* Outline or not, rewrite or not; work with co-writer or ghostwriter or write it yourself; doesn’t matter, just finish the book.
* Focus on telling a story your audience will enjoy. Forget about grammar or spelling or making your sentences sound pretty unless you’re writing literary fiction. Consider using Heinlein’s Rules or don’t. Readers don’t care. They only care about the end product.
* Ask yourself, will the decisions you’re making help you sell more novels? (writing pretty sentences, removing passive voice, tweeting until the cows come home, listening to authors who’s books aren’t selling or re-reading troll reviews of your books) If not, don’t waste your time.
* Get 3-5 honest beta readers to read it, self-edit or get an editor. Doesn’t matter as long as your readers enjoy your book. No one’s checking your long division, this is not grade school. Yes, put out the best product you can, but focus on what readers buy not what they say they want. There’s a difference.
* Fix the mistakes, but don’t obsess over them. People may complain about the editing, but they’ll still buy the next book in the series. Just like they complain about cliff-hangers in the reviews, but they keep buying the next ones. Sales speak louder than words.
* Publish it (draft2digital.com or KDP directly exclusively and use KU; your choice)

* Move on to the next book.

On Speed Writing (writing faster):
* Have at least a vague idea of where the story is going.
* Read books and watch movies in your genre, Google Syd Field for basic plot structure. Otherwise, just go with your feelings. If it feels right, do it.
* Outline as you go along. A sentence or two is fine. Don’t obsess over the outline. The story will change as you write it.
* Write in 10-15 minute sprints. And 5-minute breaks.
* Turn off all distractions, even if that means writing with pen and pad instead of computer and writing during your baby’s nap time.
* Write a skeleton scene, even if it’s only the dialogue, first (typos and all).  The first draft is going to suck, it’s supposed to. Then, go back and fill in the details and self-edit if you want.
* Even if you know it sucks, finish the book.


On Marketing:

Out of all things I’ve experimented with, besides writing what the readers (not fellow authors or grammar Nazis) deem as a great book, the following actually sell books:
* Build a mailing list (it’s free) and with their permission, email them whenever a new book comes out.
* Build your own Facebook group (but be active about keeping it alive)
* With their permission, direct message people in your group via Facebook when your book comes out, one at a time.
* With their permission, directly tweet (not private message) your followers when your book comes out, one at a time.
* Other than that, just move on to the next book.

* Be willing to experiment, but focus on things that sell books, not “awareness”. So far, depending on the genre Bookbub, BKnights from Fiverr, Amazon Sponsored Ads have worked well for me, but not for all books. It depends on the genre.

*Depending on the genre, audio books, multi-author (rather than single author) bundles can sell, and getting an agent or IP attorney for film rights, etc can help.



* Google the 80/20 rule and don’t waste your time on anything that does not feel right or will not sell more books.

* You can learn something from everybody experienced and non-experienced authors, as well as what readers say, but don’t obsess over what they say. You can learn a lot from seasoned editors and veteran literary agents too, but there’s a reason why there’s a decline in legacy book sales that goes beyond split attention. There might be a disconnect between what real readers want to read (which is evident by where sales are) and what traditional gatekeepers are publishing.  Why else are typo riddled plot-less stories on Wattpad succeeding beyond Pulitzer Prize-winning novels? Write what people buy, not what they say they want.  Learn what you can from everybody from all walks of life and toss out the rest.

* Don’t pay attention to trolls or negative authors or other forms of cyber-bullies who work under the guise of “helping” people. If when you think of them, it makes you feel bad, that’s your bodies way of telling you to stay away. No need to consciously analyze why, listen to your body. It knows.

* Turn off the Internet and put away your cell phone. Don’t waste your time reading author boards, or blogs, or Netflix, etc if you’re serious about making a living.

* There’s never a perfect time to write. Don’t wait until Mercury Retrograde is over, your kids graduate from high school, after you answer your Facebook messages, or worse yet, when you’re inspired. It will never be the perfect time. It’s amazing how much writing you can get done in 5 or 10 minutes.

* Don’t obsess over whether or not people like you. You don’t need to be best friends with other authors, nor do you have to write a book that everyone loves. Google 1000 True Fans. Even with 100  or 1000 True Fans, you can make a living with writing.

* Be nice to everybody!!! There are good and bad people in every industry. There are genuine and there are mean fellow authors. Pay attention to their actions, people show you who they are. Stay away from the bad ones no matter how “successful” they are. Fame and money only amplifies who you truly are. The sand is sliding, the market is constantly shifting and the foundation that authors who were successful even 6 months ago had is crumbling. This is when you can tell who a person really is,  when they get fearful they might lose everything. This is when you can tell real character. If they’re spreading rumors about other authors, or other forms of cyber bullying then, you might want to stay away, because if you stay in their path, you’re next.

*There’s nothing wrong with having a mutually beneficial business relationship. A good relationship should be win-win, even if the only thing you’re gaining is a genuine loyal true friendship.

* Don’t let people make you feel bad for asking for help when you need it, cyberbullies have no right to do that. Even if someone says “no” when you need help it’s worth the risk. Take note of who helps you. Life is about give and take, not just give, and not just take. If they don’t have the time to return your messages, but they’re constantly Facebooking about their pet gerbil, or if they’ve donned themselves an “important” author, take note. They may not be the type of people you want to be around. Toxic people – stay away from them. You can tell who they are become they huddle together like a dark cloud and attack people online. They’re like a hornets nest moving from one victim to the next, spreading their negativity, digging up things you’ve done in the past and trying paint you as a horrible person, or posting screenshots of private correspondence you’ve had with them, blogging about you to justify their unhappiness. Unhappy people do unhappy things.  Misery loves company. Stay away, don’t read or participate in their drama. They should be writing their next novel, but instead they’re online being mean under the guise of “helping people”.

* Take what other authors say with a grain of salt. You can always tell how well an author is selling when they’re focused on how much another author needs more editing or when they obsess about what another author is or is not doing correctly. Truly successful authors don’t have the time to do that.

* Don’t announce your success publicly. Keep that private. You’ll only open yourself up to jealous authors and cyber bullies.  If you want to announce it on social media, do it in your private Facebook group or to your email mailing list. It’s better to quietly rack up sales over the course of a few months than shoot up the charts and become a target for jealous mean authors.

*There’s nothing gained from helping people who aren’t grateful. “Do not throw pearls to swine,” the Bible says. Give tips to your true friends, but don’t overwhelm them with your advice. Make sure you’re helping each other and that it’s not just one-sided.