21 March 2013

The Fast-Track to Making a Million Dollars From Writing Books

Okay, so I stole the title of this post from this article in Forbes--sounds like a Forbes title when you think about it, doesn't it?

There's been a lot of buzz about Jennifer L. Armentrout lately and the success she's had with her self-published best-seller Wait for You. The Forbes article lays out the details and strategy of how Armentrout and her agent built her career and then positioned her for best-seller success with her self-published e-book (or is it "indie published" now? It's like the trekkie/trekker debate...). Their very successful strategy has resulted in HarperCollins acquiring the project for a "high six-figure" advance.

All of this is well and good and the article is an interesting and informative read. But what I really want to highlight from it was the Five Tips on How to Make a Million Dollars Writing that are included at the end of the article.

I love reading these success stories: let's face it, I hope to replicate them someday soon. But it always seems to me that these stories are in more than one way just stories about lightning striking, and we all know what they say about lightning striking in the same place twice.

When e-book self-pub/indie-pub first became a thing it seemed like the only barrier to success was having a product. Any product. There was so little competition initially that whatever was on offer was going to get some notice, no matter how bad the cover design was. But with the flood of e-books available now it's harder and harder to get noticed. So people have to be creative about how they promote and market their books. The days when all you needed was a blog, or a Facebook account, or a Twitter handle to promote your book are well and truly over. Those things are fine, and maybe even necessary these days, but when EVERYONE has them you can't authentically claim you're standing out, can you? You're really just part of the background noise of how-things-are (he says while writing on his blog...)

Like any system, as e-book indie publishing gets more and more complex there are fewer and fewer new and unanticipated ways to do things: the playing field keeps getting leveled (especially in this online realm) by everyone knowing and doing the same things that helped propel someone else before them (Amanda Hocking, say, or John Locke) to fame and fortune (though I personally would settle just for the fortune).

That's why I especially like the Five Tips on How to Make a Million Dollars Writing that are included at the end of the article. They are solid advice but they also take into account much of how publishing has changed and continues to change in the e-book era, check them out in the article or below with my comments:

Five Tips on How to Make a Million Dollars Writing From Armentrout’s Story

1. Write what you want to write. In Armentrout’s case, she wrote the new adult contemporary novel that she wanted to write even though she knew it would be hard to sell.
["Write what you want to write" is the first piece of advice that every writer has ever given me--there's no mistaking the passion that goes into something you want to write rather than trying to chase a trend. Write something you care about, Tim Powers told me, and then find and agent and an editor who you can make care about it, too. - S]

2. Build a platform. If you want to have commercial success as an author, it almost goes without saying these days that you need to build a dedicated following using social media and other Web tools.
[This, I think, is the trickiest one of these tips--as in the trick is how to do this. Like I said, everyone has an author blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter, etc. Generating a fanbase and community is where the real marketing and networking creativity has to happen, I think, and where you need to do something unique to make that lightning strike. I have my own idea--or, rather, my wife who is much smarter than me came up with my idea for me--and I hope to roll that out for you sometime this year. - S]

3. Write a lot. One thing that helped Armentrout build her platform was writing many, many books. She has more than a dozen out already with more on the way — and that’s just two years after her first book came out.
["Be prolific," was Kevin J. Anderson's advice to us at Writers of the Future and it's more true than ever in the e-book age. If people like one thing you wrote they are likely to click and buy everything else you've written if its all right there on Amazon anyway... Prolificness (is that a word?) is what I, and most writers, continue to struggle with. - S]

4. Consider all your options. Armentrout first tried the traditional route. When that didn’t work, she tried other things. When publishers wouldn’t buy her latest book, she self-published. Authors have more options than ever today and they shouldn’t be ignoring any of them.
[Not closing off options is, I think, key in the new publishing world. I want a 'traditional' publishing contract with one of the big New York houses--who doesn't? But if they don't bite then I plan to explore small press options--I already have a couple of publishers in mind who I think would like my stuff--and if that's a wash, too, then there's always indie pub. Or maybe I'll jump right to indie pub if New York doesn't want it. Or skip New York and go small press right away. Who knows? There are just so many more options for writers these days, and any (or all!) of them can bring you success. I remember even just four or five years ago how panelists at Ad Astra or World Fantasy poo-pooed the notion of digital self-publishing. This year at World Fantasy there was a whole programming track on digital self/indie pub and the rooms were PACKED. How quickly things change these days! - S]

5. Learn the tricks of the industry. The price drop that Armentrout executed for her book was not easy to do. By knowing what’s happening in the publishing industry and how publishers are finding success, Armentrout was able to leverage that to propel her own sales.
[This seems to have been a key to her success, and it was carefully coordinated with help from her agent. This is something that sometimes only professionals know how to do. I'm hopeful my nearly 10-years working in publishing will help me to have a leg-up on this aspect when it comes time to publish my book, but I'm not above hiring some outside help if I can to help me succeed! - S]

- S.

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