Updated: Feb 14
About once a day, I receive a question that reads something like this:
I’ve been thinking about publishing a book. I’ve had this cool idea for a story since high school, and I think I should write it. Do you have any tips or advice on where to start? Thanks.
Normally, I copy and paste some pre-written information and answer a question of two. However, in light of the above question’s growing frequency, I have decided to post the information on this post in the hopes that it might serve even more people. I have revised this entry several times as new content has become relevant and will continue to do so as long as people keep stopping by.
Things Have Changed
The publishing world has changed considerably in the last ten years, and, in my opinion, for the better. It’s all thanks to Amazon (and Audible, by extension). Sure, there are several other avenues for getting your work out there (what we call "going wide"), but Amazon was the first to make the digital book market what it is today, and they remain the biggest player in town. There’s no longer any need to court an agent who then courts a publisher to try and land a deal. You can put a book out yourself.
My first six novels were traditionally published (or "trad pub" for short), beginning in 2006. Today, however, the only reason I talk to my former agent is to see how he’s doing. Unless I have a specific book that needs to hit a specific audience (most likely academic), I won’t use trad pub ever again. There is simply no way to beat the audience reach, artist freedom, and earning potential.
If you want to win awards and make 8% or less on your royalties, write literature for a traditional press. But if you want to own your work, maintain complete artistic control, reach a vast and voracious audience, and make a considerable amount of money in the process, then go indie and don't look back.
Publishing Is The Easy Part
Amazon has made it too easy to publish a book through their free Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP), which reaches a wide audience, and allows aggressive writers the chance to build a career. Likewise, Audible has created their ACX platform to make it easy for indie authors to produce and upload their own audio books.
To put it in perspective, I currently make in one month as a self-published author through KDP what I made in two years with my "big six" traditional publisher. Other than the top 0.5% of signed legacy writers, the traditional press model simply can’t compete with indie publishing via Amazon.
For example, I wrote seven 100,000 word novels in 2019, and nine in 2020. None of my former publishers would know how to handle that. They’d panic. They don’t have the infrastructure or the bandwidth. They could handle one, maybe two books a year. But Amazon and Audible have created a beast that wants to be fed—hundreds of millions of ravenous readers.
No matter what your aspirations are, there is no reason to put off writing. There are loads of great cover designers, editors, copy writers, and more content and resources for indie writers than ever. It’s truly the best time to be a writer. Especially if you have a solid work ethic, can write fast, and maintain quality.
So, depending on your natural skill set, your capacity to learn, your goals, and your innate creative drive as a person, publishing is very attainable.
Writing A Book That Sells Is The Hard Part
While publishing a book has never been easier as an indie author, the biggest hurdle to writing still remains the same: disciplining one’s self to “keep thy butt in the seat.” Tradecraft is built through consistency, feedback, and producing a large volume of work. It requires dedication to write every day, and to take notes on everything you read and everything people say about your writing. For reference, I read at least one book a month on tradecraft, and I write a minimum of 2,000 words every day except Christmas and vacation days.
The next challenge is to define what publishing looks like for you. Being as specific as possible about what mountain you’re trying to climb will help inform which route you take up it. In other words, do you have a one-time passion project that you don’t care about making money on? Or is this a full-time career in which you are publishing four to eight novels on a yearly basis? Those are extremely different goals and require very different approaches.
Additionally, knowing precisely who your audience is will be imperative. Not only is knowing your readers a good writing goal, but it is essential to good marketing. It’s not enough to say, “I’m just writing for readers in general.” That book, no matter how wonderful it may be, will perform very poorly for two reasons: 1.) Because my youngest son is a reader, and my mother is a reader, and neither of them read the same books or have the same needs, and 2.) because Amazon/Audible won’t know what to do with a book that has not been crafted specifically for a targeted audience (this, too, is a topic for another day).
Sure, if you’re just throwing your book up in the air and fine with it reaching a dozen random people, defining your audience is unimportant. But most writers write because they actually want people to read their work. If you don’t want people to read your work, skip writing—it’s far too laborious.
My Free Advice
If you’d like a some advice and direction, here are some valuable resources that you can mine from help to your heart's content. When people ask me what I can give away for free that will help them, here's the list:
1.) Keystroke Medium, which has several different podcasts under their umbrella, is chock-full of resources and interviews. My favorite segment of theirs is a podcast called The Writer's Journey in which they interview full- and part-time authors.
2.) A legend in the indie writing scene is a guy named Jeff Goins out of Nashville. He has a number of different podcasts and classes, ranging from free to paid content. All of it is geared toward helping writers write, and is predominantly (though not exclusively) non-fiction oriented. A good podcast to start on is one entitled The Portfolio Life.
3.) Another interesting resource is a large FB group called 20BooksTo50k (lovely translated means, Write 20 Books and Earn $50,000). It can be a pain to wade through all the posts at times, but there are some very useful and inspiring contributors. Join the group here.
4.) Lastly, my favorite go-to podcasts is called Six Figure Authors. The hosts, Lindsay Buroker, Joseph R. Lallo, and Andrea Pearson, present a wealth of wisdom from their own writing careers and interview top-notch writing superstars. I can't recommend this podcast enough.
If you're looking to spend a little money:
5.) Best-selling author Chris Fox has penned his eight-book Write Faster, Write Smarter series, beginning with 5,000 Words Per Hour. Chris is the real deal, and this series is a must-by for anyone looking to make a serious attempt at becoming a full-time writer.
6.) My friend Mike Kim has a #1 NYT best-seller entitled You Are The Brand: The 8-Step Blueprint to Showcase Your Unique Expertise and Build a Highly Profitable, Personally Fulfilling Business. Buy it and listen to the guy.
Even More Free Advice
Right now, given the market, the only person holding anyone back from writing and publishing a good book is you. If you have a book in you (and better yet, if you have multiple good books in you), then start writing them. You can only steer a moving boat. I built my career by writing three books over six months while working a 9–5 day job. Those 100 work weeks kicked my butt. But I had done my homework and knew what was possible if I applied myself. If you want it bad enough, it's there for the taking.
Additionally, become a voracious learner. Watch what the pros are doing. Find out what books they've read, and then read them. Pay attention to what people are talking about on writer's groups and forums. Ask one question at a time. Always be kind, and labor at being concise. And if you're lucky enough to get a published author's ear, don't ask them to read your book and critique it—they're too busy doing that with their own work. Instead, ask if they'd be willing to read your first page and see what they think. Who knows where it will go from there.
For those looking for über summaries, creating a solid product comes down to efficient writing, listening carefully to your paid editor, purchasing top notch covers, and learning how to copy-write your back matter descriptions. For publishing, you'll need to diligently grow your email list, cross-pollinate and purchase access to other people's mailing lists, and develop online groups via social media.
If you’re interested in this as a career move, many of the resources above will help coach you on how to structure your books in the “rapid release” approach. That is, to publish four to eight books a year, depending on genre. But if I had to sum up the essence of the content in one sentence, if would be from the legendary J.A. Konrath (who nets something like $300,000/mos on Amazon). He said (and I'm paraphrasing):
If you work to build a focused audience and provide them five solid books each year, you have yourself a career.
There's certainly a lot more to unpack in that statement, but it’s essentially quite true, and it’s how I make my living today.
If you would like to hire me to consult on your next project, review your strategy, or take a look at your manuscript, you’re welcome to leave me a message on my contact page to check my availability. For $129 USD, you will have my undivided attention, advice, and access to my experience for sixty minutes, rounded to the next hour. Yes, I do read people's work for free, but those spaces are already taken by young people who I'm mentoring.
I wish you the best as you pursue your dream of becoming a published writer.