I've been doing a LOT of reading lately, but not fiction. This year (2015), I've been spending a lot of time honing my craft and doing my best to be a more efficient writer. In addition to that, I've been focusing on how to best market myself as an author.
Self-published authors – and actually most authors these days regardless of who publishes their books – have to devote a portion of their time to marketing. More and more publishers DON'T do marketing for their authors or the marketing is very broad (e.g., specials on a genre versus pushing a certain author).
So how does an author find the time to write AND market? THAT'S the big conundrum I've been putting nose-to-the-grindstone effort to find out. And guess what…you all will get to benefit from my efforts! UPDATED 2/9/16: I've just updated this post. See changes noted below. Also, though I've changed some pricing and removed other, please check pricing before you buy. They change all the time.
Summary of My Findings
- Writing: You can't sell a product that isn't there. Never, never, never stop writing. Period. Don't be the author who puts out one book and says, “I'll see how the sales go on this one, and if it pays off, I'll write more.” Stop writing right now if that's your philosophy because you will never make the sales to justify your writing. Readers won't invest in someone who's only written one book. They want to know you'll be around. AND if you write well, they'll want more and you need to be ready for that.
- Mailing List: Bottom line – THE most important marketing effort you as an author can do is build your mailing list. Hands down, this should be the primary concern of anyone who owns a business…and we, as authors, own a business.
Also, social media is not the best use of your time to generate sales. Use social media, and even ads, to direct people to your mailing list! THAT'S the best use of your money and time.
Arial's Author Toolbox
Sounds easier said than done? Not really! Not with the list of books I'm going to provide here. I HIGHLY recommend you get these books ASAP and read them all completely. Most of them are very quick reads while also being entertaining and they're VERY effective. Disclaimer: All the links below are affiliates, but if you don't want to use the links, just go to your favorite online book retailer and type in the titles yourself to search and buy them. The Scrivener link, though affiliate, will take you to the Literature & Latte site, the original distributors of the software, but you can get it at Amazon. (UPDATE 2/9/16 – Scrivener links removed. See update below.)
Without further adieu, here's Arial's Author Toolbox:
by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant with David Wright
by Tim Grahl – $5.99 as of 2/9/16 (Free to KU subscribers)
I bought the audiobook for this…but don't recommend it. If you're a strict audiobook listener and don't have time to read, then get the audiobook, but it's read by the author and there are several little production mistakes (e.g., the sound of pages turning, smacking of the lips, hesitations while reading a word, etc.). I muddled through it because I don't have a lot of time to sit and focus on reading a book. It was well worth the listen, though.
Why I recommend this book: This book primarily focuses on how to build a mailing list and has several ideas about creating incentives for your readers and engaging with them regularly to keep their interest. There are a lot of books out there on this subject and I've read many of them, but Tim Grahl does a GREAT job of making it simple and straightforward. the information here is organized very well! AND I LOVE the way he keeps the book current by telling you to visit his website for his latest recommendations for mailing list services and other such resources. As he says, technology changes and vendors come and go. One service may do it better than another or be gone tomorrow. GREAT read.
UPDATE 2/9/16: Be sure to check out Tim's new book – Book Launch Blueprint. $9.99 as of this update – free to KU subscribers. The above book shows you how to build a mailing list. This book shows you how to leverage that list to make your book launches successful. Another great read! Just so you know, he DOES specialize in launching a book and making it a success, but has not yet written a book that shows you how to sustain that level of success. There are a lot of factors involved with that, and these other books on this list can help. So just because your book might reach bestseller status, it takes a LOT to get it to stay there. Focus on building your mailing list and doing drip campaigns (or reader clubs as I discuss in my Mailing List Series) and that will help with maintaining a livable income. So will Write. Publish. Repeat. mentioned above.
by Rachel Aaron – 99¢ as of update 2/9/16
I swear to GAWD, when I finished reading this book, I felt like Young Frankenstein when he finished reading his grandfather's book about how to do it. Movie Clip Here. This book totally changed my writing!
Why I recommend this book: If we, as authors, must keep writing and writing and writing, then putting out content is the key to our success. If it takes a long time from start to finish to complete a novel, then this tends to slow down the process. Ms. Aaron shows you how to organize your thoughts AND writing time to help increase not only your word count in a short amount of time, but how to plot your novel quickly and efficiently. She has a ton of tips to help maximize the time you spend on writing and, therefore, be more productive. I cannot recommend this book enough! And you Pantsters out there…don't you turn your nose up at this. She has tips for you, too! And if you ARE a Pantster, you definitely need to read the next book in the toolbox.
by Libbie Hawker
Okay, you Pantsters…this is the book for you! In short, the more you know about your book ahead of time when writing, the faster you can write it. I can hear you Pansters from here: “But I can't write when I know what's going to happen! My characters fall flat and I get bored!” I hear ya! But what Ms. Hawker presents here doesn't mean you have to know every single facet or detail of the story before you write it. You can still enjoy the freedom of your characters as they develop. They can still surprise you and take on a life of their own. What this book does (as well as the outlining tips Ms. Aaron gives in her book above) is give you the tools to create the structure of your story and plotline. Basically, the skeleton of your book. Once you know the direction of your story, your characters do the rest…and you write faster!
Why I recommend this book: The best part about this book is she helps you build a WINNING and possible BESTSELLING story because she gives you the ingredients for creating stories that readers have already proven to devour! There are indeed classic storytelling structures that readers crave time and time again. One blockbuster movie after another proves it: Good vs. Evil, the Hero's Journey, etc. Every story is unique with the characters and actions that happen, but at the core of every good novel or movie is that classic plot. Ms. Hawker helps you find that for YOUR novel and explore the journey of your characters to create spectacular stories! This is a MUST read for Plotters and Pantsters alike!
by David Gaughran
I have not listened to the audiobook version of this, but it certainly is available. I chose to have this one in print because of the many different references and information I have at my fingertips.
For those of you who don't know about David Gaughran, I highly recommend you check out his blog. He has his finger on the pulse of the self-publishing industry and provides a ton of great tips and information all self-published authors need to know to be successful. In fact, he was the one who recommended most of the books on this list. Check out this blog post and enjoy!
Why I recommend this book: If you've never self-published OR even if you already have, Mr. Gaughran not only shows you how to self-publish your books…he helps you navigate the uncertain waters of the self-publishing industry! His book has been endorsed by some of the biggest and most successful names in self-publishing, like JA Konrath, Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. LOVE this guy and his books!
by David Gaughran
Unfortunately, this one is not in audiobook yet, but I will certainly post it when it becomes available. Another bestselling book by Mr. Gaughran, Let's Get Visible covers the marketing side of self-publishing. For those of you floundering around, trying to figure out how to generate more sales and still have time to write, this is a MUST READ!!!
Why I recommend this book: Publishing your book isn't enough. You have to get it noticed! Mr. Gaughran shows you how to leverage the Amazon system as well as give you tips and advice on how to utilize the other distribution venues. Where Write. Publish. Repeat. tells you what venues on which to focus your efforts, Let's Get Visible gives the details on how to use those venues.
Scrivener – I No Longer Recommend
by Literature & Latte – $40 for Windows/$45 for Mac as of this post.
Rachel Aaron and the authors of Write. Publish. Repeat. all highly recommend this software. Literature & Latte have a free trial, so I explored this software…and now I'M highly recommending it. I LOVE Scrivener!!!
Why I recommend this writing software: For many of the same reasons the above authors recommend this program, so do I. In short, it's not only a GREAT way to organize your thoughts, but it makes the final steps of formatting your book easier and cleaner. MS Word tends to put a lot of proprietary goobly-gunk in the background/coding of your files. Scrivener strips all that crap and gives you a clean digital copy AND you can choose the various formats without having to use other software to do the conversion. Nice one-stop shop for publishing your eBook AND it even has formatting options for publishing the print version into PDF for upload to CreateSpace (or whatever other venue you use to publish your books to print).
What I love BEST about this program is the ability to organize. Before I started using Scrivener, I had all my outlines and notes in various places – OneNote, Google Drive, MS Word files, etc. Scrivener allows you to easily keep notes and files in a single location on a project. AND it's easy to transition from your old system to this one. For example, all the notes I had in those various places could either be cut and copied into a page in Scrivener OR I could simply drag the file (as with MS Word) into Scrivener and it would convert it for me. You can even drag web pages into Scrivener for research notes. LOVE IT!!!! I won't write with anything else. *sigh*
UPDATE 2/9/16: Okay, I never thought I would say this, but I'm afraid I completely rescind my recommendation for this program. I know a lot of authors still love it and use it. Unfortunately, I had a rather bad experience recently and I thank the GODS I had a back-up plan or my latest novel would have been TOAST.
What Happened: Scrivener did an update on their software and when I opened my old files, it gave me a message that it needed to convert the old file format to the new. It DID create a backup, but I discovered the backup was useless. I said OK to the conversion and when the file reopened…75% of my novel was GONE. Notes were blank. Pages were blank. 14 out of my 18 chapters were GONE. And I mean not even blank pages. Just gone. IF I had not created a backup on my cloud drive and IF I did not have a computer with the older version of Scrivener, I would have been in the corner, rocking back and forth and sucking my thumb. NOTE: The computer that had the problems was my new Windows 10 operating system. The old computer with the older version of the software was Windows 7 Ultimate. This might have had something to do with it, but I did ask if Windows 10 was going to be a problem before I made the migration. I was assured by Literature Latte that they had tested it and there were no issues.
I have since tried to use it again and had ANOTHER hiccup when they updated again. I just do not feel safe enough to dare putting all my hard work into a program to risk losing it all. I imagined what John Steinbeck may have felt like when his dog at his first copy of Of Mice and Men.
Another thing I learned was Scrivener isn't very good at exporting a clean manuscript for eBook publication. I tried to do the direct-to-ePub option, but didn't like the results and was having problems with the myriad functions and features of the program, so I just exported it into MS Word to format it there. What a MESS. I was not happy with the export process. IF I have to export it and fix it in MS Word anyway, I was resigned to go back to that, but very upset about my favorite feature…
What I loved most about Scrivener was the ability to move scenes around with ease. But guess what! I learned you could do this in MS Word! *Arial does the Snoopy dance* CLICK HERE to read the article by my author pal Leah Braemel, which saved my butt and why I'm back to using MS Word. I hope this is helpful to others. (END 2/9/16 update)