A Beginning Fiction Writing Plan – for New and Old Authors
- What You Should Know to Get Started Writing Fiction
- How a New Author Starts From Nothing in Writing Fiction
This is a half-year analysis of what I’ve accomplished so far, and how I’ve revised my game plan that I recommend.
Overall, highly productive, and not as many missteps as I thought there might be.
Here’s the statistics:
- Fiction pen-names: four
- Total books published: 63
- Total words published (includes anthologies): 1,081,358
- Total words – just anthologies: 396,209
- Total pages – just anthologies: 1,743
- Total word count all pen-names: 685,149 (includes co-authored books)
- Total pages – all pen-names: 2414
(I’m not collecting up the word count of non-fiction posts, as it’s too arduous.)
- Sales right now: (wait for it…): 39 units.
Still, over a million words published as individual books in six months is nothing to sneeze at. The average number of books published is just under two per week.
(And you can say to yourself whatever you want to about the sales. After you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, I may listen. Otherwise, my approach below lays out why that result.)
First off, all this is simply a pure test of what I’ve researched, what resources are out there, and my own personal production. This is the Great Fiction Writing Challenge.
Goals were originally to publish at least 50 books. That goal passed, it’s now to publish a hundred books – preferably short stories. These are to paid and free outlets.
What I’ve found so far:
- “90% bunk” holds true.
- Build your backlist and only then expand into marketing.
- Build your audience by giving everything away for free – linked to pre-order and to your own site.
- That said, give away your book to buying readers, not freebie-seekers. That is how you are going to build a real list.
- Work for the long haul, not GRQ mentality.
The model I started out, which has worked, is to write and publish short stories every week. Then bi-monthly build these into collections. Publish wide and always soft-release (no actual marketing.)
The point of this has been to build a backlist of titles, and also to build anthologies. The mass of work can then be collected and marketed into the various sub-genres which are more profitable. Once you have these in place, you can then work on marketing.
Reason? Sales with no marketing depend mostly on your title, cover and description. That’s your real acid test. When a book passes these – and sells – then you’ll have a real idea of what your building audience wants.
And your audience is actively looking for you. You can sense this by how much you like your own stories compared to other authors. I’ve become quite picky about what I read now. If it drags, or doesn’t start off with a great hook, I’ll put it down. But take a time first to figure out why I quit the book. Your audience is your own alter-ego – what you like to write is what people who like to read that genre/style will also like. (There’s just an ever-increasing demand on eyeballs, so the reason marketing is vital – after you get a backlist people can find.)
I separated out my approaches with pen names. These were both the areas I wanted to write in and those genres I wanted to learn. Satire, Mystery, Paranormal Fantasy, Memoir-Fantasy. And occasionally, these crossed over, as one pen-name would “borrow” the world of another pen-name.
I didn’t force myself to write in any particular style or pen-name. I sat down and wrote, and then published. The most popular stories showed me what type of stories were wanted.
At six months of writing, I’ve assembled the books I’ve published and laid them out on a spreadsheet. Now I can see which are the most popular, and then compare the titles, covers, descriptions, and content of these. There is no going back at this point and fixing or tweaking. There is only flat-out writing and publishing. The comparing I am doing is to improve what I am doing now, in my current books, and from this point forward.
I’ve found almost all the advice on writing and marketing I’ve researched to be flawed or omitting vital data. Especially marketing. This is the Sturgeon “90% bunk” Law. It’s probably closer to 95% (Pareto principle, doubled – 20% of 20%.) What I’ve recommended previously was based on reports of wide applicability and high commonality. What I’m recommending based on my testing has narrowed that down considerably.
That’s just the way it is.
Look, the authors who are “big successes” all made their huge sales figures after about 5 years (or more) and about 5 full-size novels. (The Martian and 50 Shades of Gray were no real exception, if you look up their back trail.) So a one-year test of prolific writing does what? Sets me up with well more than 5 novel-sized anthologies of short stories. Meanwhile, I have 50-100 “sample” books they can also buy.
Mark Dawson has shown with FB advertising that only your $3.99 books are profitable. Meanwhile, k-lytics.com has incidentally showed that the top-sellers in most genres are being encouraged to “race to the bottom” by Amazon and almost give their novels away at 99-cents each – and still make (a paltry) 35% of five-figure sales weekly.
K-lytics also shows the genres where the higher dollar books are being sold out of the top 100 sellers in that market. Not too surprisingly, these are the larger books. (Go figure – spend a few months writing a 300 page novel and then sell it for 99 cents. Small wonder only .4 percent of all authors on Amazon make $50K anually – enough to live on as a single adult in a small Midwestern town.)
But again, if you have a hundred books out there, then probably 50% will sell at all, 20% of those will sell OK, with 4% routinely selling very well. (This I’ve learned from non-fiction and public domain publishing.)
It is far too early to apply this to my fiction. At the end of a year (better – two years) then I’ll be able to tell you decent sales results. I started writing in Jan, but my first sales started in March. While I have six months of sales figures, the only real trend I see is in pen-names. Satires and Memoirs aren’t as popular as mystery-paranormal, and SF-Fantasy-Adventure.
(Interestingly, it’s about the same as my non-fiction. 50% of my sales are coming from non-amazon, while these sales show up first on non-amazon sites by two months. That 50% datum matches up with anecdotal data of other authors who publish wide.)
Instafreebie and Paid List Building
Pushing for subscribers and building a list hasn’t worked very well by using Instafreebie. I’ve built a nice list of over 3000 subscribers, but I haven’t seen any increase in sales. Essentially because they are freebie seekers. This action did get me a very responsive list (particularly as I simply delete people who never open emails.) But the cost of this has only risen meanwhile.
It argues for simply list-building from actual reader opt-ins – where the opt-in link is at the back of the book. (Maybe a hint that they can get onto it at the beginning, but have to get to the end to sign up.) This then says that you should build your list from Instafreebie giveaways without paying anything, so you can’t add to your subscriber list directly. Radical. Extreme. Maybe even fool-hardy. But look at how you list-build from Amazon. They buy/download the book and opt-in if they like it. Instafreebie says they claim the book and opt-in at the same time. Would you rather have buyers or freebie-seekers? So, the test I’ll be doing soon is to simply start running giveaways with a free account, setting these to show up in a different reader list. Apply the same approach – entering all relevant giveaways and organizing a giveaway each month for the relevant genres for those pen names. Too bad I didn’t see this coming, as I won’t have a real comparative for months.
I did burn considerable time (and monthly fees) working out how Instafreebie worked – and even wrote a book on it – because there wasn’t anything else out there. And there still isn’t anything about converting freebie-seekers to real fans. My conclusion is that you want to make it possible for them to raise their hand, but needing to have some skin in the game first.
The other approach to “converting” freebie-seekers to true fans is to set up an exclusive “free membership” for advance reader copies. That offer only goes to “clickers” – ones who not only open emails, but actually click on links. (That test should start shortly – a new membership is a b*tch to set up on my current backend, and why I’ve put it off.)
Publishing wide means including Medium paid postings and Wattpad free. I used to think that Goodreads and LibraryThing were worth something. Reportedly, they are. But they are mostly social media, which makes them next to worthless. I’ve had it proved to me over and over – posting to social media doesn’t sell books – it doesn’t even move claims for free books.
Medium and Wattpad have a social aspect (which is bothersome -but not as annoying as Facebook and Amazon pitches) but they are mainly for readers. And allow you to include polite links to the book you are posting on their sites. Readers, not downloaders. (Wattpad has the right-click disabled, in fact. No copy/paste possible.) Medium allows copy/paste and even downloading – but you can put your books behind their paid firewall, which then filters it into paying members. That then includes them into your publishing sequence. Every single book. (After it’s been approved on Amazon.)
The other main activity, again the long-haul approach, is to set every single book on pre-order at least 90 days out. (Because Amazon – only – has that 90-day limit.) Then you post it on Wattpad and Medium with links to the pre-order sales page (via books2read.com links – or better yet, through your own site, where they have an additional option to buy it now and not have to wait. And then you get their email…)
The reason for this is a Smashwords study that for the last two years points out almost all of their bestsellers start with pre-sales. (So this is another test…) Also, Amazon then gives you another 90-days of exposure and recommendations before their 30-day cliff countdown starts. In other words, why not?
The way to do this is to use Draft2Digital to set this up (both StreetLib and PublishDrive also support pre-scheduled books) and then publish directly to KDP. I also then sell it directly from my own site without that schedule. I plan to publish directly to SL and PubD on an “available now” basis – as the non-duplicative book outlets they then push through are usually smaller local markets, although do include library outlets and “wholesalers”. (Give them all the advantage I can.)
Then you put your book on Medium and Wattpad, linking through books2read to the pre-scheduled book. Actually, you link to your own site, and the top buy button goes to the pre-scheduled books – but they can buy from me directly if they don’t want to wait (3rd button – the 2nd buy button is for the paperback at 50% off – and also not on pre-order.)
A New Work Flow
Let’s back this up and summarize the work-flow:
You read for inspiration and write every day, publishing every week. The idea is to publish at least one short story weekly of 2500 words or more. (Amazon sets that limit.)
Set this as a pre-order 90-days out as routine.
Once approved on Amazon, then publish to Wattpad and Medium as a serial (spread over several days – an 8K book might last for four days, depending on your content structure. Also publish to your own site, PublishDrive, and Streetlib. This gets your book out internationally.
Shorten that to a publishing sequence:
2. Amazon KDP (non-Select)
3. Lulu for paperback
4. Own site (need these links above. Gumroad for local sales.)
a) Lulu doesn’t do pre-orders. So the paperback is out early. I also don’t pre-order books on PublishDrive or StreetLib. Stories are published to Medium and Wattpad with the books2read.com links, which should build pre-orders. Also link to my own site where they can buy it direct (if they really can’t wait.)
b) Gumroad has 90% royalty on books over 99-cents. I also give a 50% discount on my paperbacks if you buy from my link.
c) Wattpad is a pain, as there is no pre-scheduling posts. So you publish once a week, end of the week. When I start this, I’ll probably have four serials going at once, one for each author.
Earlier versions included audiobooks and recording as a proof – this is very time consuming. And to my notes, the sales on audio books are matching ebooks in volume, so cost-effectiveness is questionable. Much like paperback sales. (See notes on K-lytics about Amazon’s “print bestsellers.”)
Current Model For Writing and Revisions:
- Very similar to WD Smith, in that you write straight ahead, trusting your muse to give you the plot and words you need. Go up and revise something if you need to add it. By the time you are done writing, you are ready for proofing.
- I proof at least three times by porting it via Calibre to my smartphone. This is less text and so I can read every single word without the temptation to scan. Highlight the text and then fix just the highlights each time. Then re-port, re-download, re-proof.
- Read the final version (from Draft2Digital) on your smartphone and update those tweaks.
- No drafts. No rewriting. See Heinlein’s Rules.
Keep this up and simply write the best you can in every single story, learning your own preferences for genre, and mastering the reader expectations for each story structure as well.
Also create your anthology at three months, before the first one hits the virtual book outlet shelves. When you publish through D2D, you can have an updated list of other books also by this author.
Then keep this going. By the end of 6 months, you have at least 12 short stories published on their own, and available for purchase, as well as an anthology. You also have another 12 short stories available for pre-order and another anthology. Total: 26 books.
Each book as a reader magnet opt-in inside it, and hot links to all your other 26 books. You are now an established author, even if you write under pen names. Another feature is to occasionally have the pen-names “co-author” with each other, which gives complete lists of both authors in the back of that book. An anthology of works will have not just the stories in that anthology, but all books by that author. (Note: every time you publish new works by that author, D2D automatically updates all the books you’ve previously published – to every book outlet. Very, very nice.)
The first year is really just building backlist. For those writing full novels (200-300 page length) then figure you’re going to churn out about 2-3 novels per year if you can keep at it. (King’s 2K words, 6 pages per day gives you over 40 pages per week. So 5 weeks to 200 pages of raw text. Editing and revising, cover and description, then publishing would then take another week. Theoretically possible to have eight 200-page novels (about 50K words.) Or five 300-page novels. (Also, boxed sets.) If you put all books on pre-order as you publish them, then you’ll be publishing a 200-page novel every 6 weeks. When you have five 50K novels at $3.99 ready for running ads, you’ll still have another two on preorder. And that’s about 80% of one year (a little over 10 months.) Depending on when you start, you’d probably be ready to hit the January release for your eighth book, while you clean up the categories, keywords, and description for each of the other seven. (January being one of two times where its easiest to get onto bestseller lists, the other being August.)
If you are doing 2 short stories every week, then you’re set for over a hundred short stories in that first year, and if you can fit in the editing and publishing, probably 6 bi-monthly collections and 2 bi-annual collections by pen-name. Same wordage per day – if you can tweak it up to 8K books, you’ll be able to publish thin paperbacks of each one as well. Total: 118 books.
Its all how intensely you can focus on writing, and how much you only write what you love. (But don’t feel you have to do what I do. I once told a couple of guys they could have their first book published in 30 minutes, and they insisted it would take them at least 24 hours. But they had never written or published a book and didn’t intend to…)
Main Takeaways After 6 Months of Acid-Testing
1. Read and write what you love.
2. Write daily and publish weekly. Set goals.
3. Write short and narrow, publish long and wide. (Short stories, narrow to the genres you like to write in, publish everything to pre-order, and publish to all outlets)
4. Periodically assemble anthologies – these are the books you can later profitably advertise.
5. Get subscribers from reader magnets inside the books they buy. Skip paying to give away free books.
5. Start your intensive marketing (running ads) when you have at least 5 novel-length books as a backlist (anthologies.) Rebuild anthologies to match the current market trends (equivalent of writing to market, but finding what you love to write first, then assemble for marketing and sales – you’ll have your best work and your heart in it.)
6. Meaning, concentrate on your streamlining your craft and building your writing habits in your first year. Market for massive profits toward the end of it – but marketing isn’t as much fun as writing, so keep writing daily. (If marketing is more fun than writing – fine. Why are you still writing fiction instead of sales copy?)
7. Sure, you should be building your list from day one – but not though paid giveaways (you pay, then get freebie-seekers sucking down your books.) Put your new subscribers onto a free membership and write them bi-weekly or so. Unsubscribe or cancel the ones that never open – routinely.
8. The sales you get with no real promotion (soft-launch) will tell you what direction you should be heading. (One great use of Instafreebie is to perfect your descriptions and covers.)
If you’ve got feedback on the above, leave it in a comment.
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