Updated: Dec 14, 2020
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.
The publishing world has changed considerably in the last ten years, and, in my opinion, for the better. It’s all thanks to Amazon. They were 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 2005. 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. (Oh, you also can't be white or male, but that's for another day).
But if you want to own your work, maintain complete 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.
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.
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 Thomas Nelson Inc. 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 I have eight slated for 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 has 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.
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 one book a month on tradecraft, and I write a minimum of 4,000 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 five 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 eight year old 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 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.
If you’d like a little free advice and direction, here are some valuable resources that you can mine from help to your heart's content.
For starters, I would recommend subscribing to a few different podcasts for writers.
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.
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.
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, you’re welcome to email me or leave me a message on my contact page. For $100, you will have my undivided attention, advice, and access to my experience for sixty minutes.
I wish you the best as you pursue your dream of becoming a published writer.