Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Business

Making the move from hobby to business requires treating your writing like a business.

Disclaimer: I am not an accountant or business advisor. I’m simply sharing a few things I’ve learned over the past decade. Always consult industry professionals before making business decisions.

How to make Writing a Business

Schedule/consistency

Set a doable schedule and plan as far in advance as possible.

Write and market on a consistent schedule to keep readers interested. This is important to your success as a writer, and to being able to claim your writing as a business for tax purposes. U.S. Fderal tax laws have specific rules for claiming a business vs. a hobby. Talk to an accountant for more details.

Planning

Set up a doable schedule and plan releases, marketing events, newsletter schedules, and blog schedules according to the time, energy, and ability you have at this point in your life. Plan as far ahead as possible so you’re not always scrambling last minute to find content or submit deals or newsletter spots.

Expert Advice/Help

Ask for expert or professional help when you need to learn more about a topic.

Ask other writers or writing professionals about things you are unfamiliar with or don’t understand in order to avoid mistakes that could hurt your career or slow you down. Most writers are very willing to help. The indie writing community is wonderfully supportive in most cases. Research as much as possible (The Write Life, ALLi, Jane Friedman, Udemy, etc.), but then ask question about things you aren’t sure about or need help with.

Laws/Taxes

Find a professional familiar with self-employed creative arts businesses or LLCs. Royalties have specific rules that not all accountants are familiar with. If you know local authors or artists, ask for recommendations.

Learn about options for business setup and associated laws/taxes/liability. If your town has a local Small Business Center, set up an appointment and start learning. They have a lot of knowledge and a wide variety of contacts to help you.

Profit

The IRS has specific definitions of a business (purpose is to make a profit, it is engaged with continuity and regularity, etc.). You need to meet these requirements in order to claim your writing as a business for tax purposes. Again, consult a professional for advice on this!

If your business is reclassified as a “hobby” you will lose deductions, among other repercussions. Don’t begin claiming writing as a business until you can show at least some profit. You will be required to show a profit on a regular, yearly basis to keep from having your writing being reclassified as a hobby.

The goal of a business is to make a profit, which should be kept in mind when it comes to tax classifications.
Posted in book reviews, books, cover design, editing, giveaway, marketing, publishing, self publishing, social media, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Marketing

Whether an author hires out marketing duties or takes them on personally, it’s important to understand the basics.

Word of Mouth

Achieving good word of mouth requires having a professional, high quality product.

Word of mouth is still the best way to sell anything because the recommendation is coming from someone the person likes and trusts.

To get good word or mouth for your books, you need a professional, high quality product. Make sure your editing is clean and the book cover does not look homemade.

You should also actively encourage readers to share your book and talk about it publicly. This can be accomplished through street teams, contests that require sharing a post or writing a review, or putting a reminder the back matter of the book.

Social Media

Post on your social media platforms regularly to keep people engaged. Utilize a mix of informational, funny, promotional, or talking point types of posts.

Utilize social media ads to sell directly to interested readers who already like/follow you. You can also target lookalike audiences of similar authors and unique to reach new customers.

Free/Paid advertising

Free advertising options including posting to book-related Facebook groups (there are tons of these), newsletter swaps, blogging, creating Pinterest boards for your books or characters, and adding books to book sites like My Book Cave and Goodreads.

Paid advertising options include social media ads (pretty much all platforms are willing to take your money in the form of ads hosting), Amazon ads, book-related paid newsletters like FreeBooksy or BookBub, print ads in literary magazines or your local newspaper or circular, sponsorships, and paid online takeovers and parties.

DON’T pay for reviews, ever! It’s against retailers’ terms of service and you can be penalized. Paying a fee to have your book listed in a review catalogue is okay because you are not paying for individual reviews, just the listing.

Networking/Collaborating

Collaborate with other authors to expand your reach.
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Get involved with group promos and events with other authors. You can usually find out about these by joining online authors groups like Alessandra Torre Inkers. These types of collaborations expands your reach and allows you to share fans with and of other authors.

Copywriting

Learn to write engaging ad copy and book cover copy in order to catch the interest of readers. Blurb writing is challenging, and can be hired out if you don’t feel comfortable writing in short form.

Test different ads through A/B testing and determine what type of wording and what styles work best with your audience. Update your ads often because tastes change frequently. Study blurbs for books in your genre to learn more about the style and conventions readers will look for.

Use professional graphics (Pixabay, Canva, Deposit Photos) in all promotional material. DO NOT pull images from a Google search, because the may be copyrighted and you could end up with legal action and fines. There are plenty of free options out there, like Pixabay, if you’re on a tight budget. The same rules apply to music if you post videos.

Planning

Plan according to the amount of time you can realistically put toward marketing.

Determine how much time you REALISTICALLY have each week to put toward marketing, and build your marketing plan around that. Set daily, weekly, monthly tasks AND stick to them. Good things to include are social media posts, submitting books to newsletters, reviewing and updating ads, and engaging with readers.

Plan major campaigns (new releases, holidays, etc.) at least a month in advance, more if possible. Holidays need advanced planning more than almost anything else because newsletter slots will fill up quickly and ad costs may be higher than usual. Bloggers are also much busier and so are readers.

Ideas for major campaigns include hosting virtual parties, running giveaways, participating in takeovers or having other authors takeover your pages (especially popular on Instagram lately), running sales on your books, or hosting a live or online event to celebrate new releases or writing milestones.

Host an online or in-person event to celebrate new releases or writing milestones.
Posted in books, creative writing, marketing, publishing, self publishing, social media, writing, writing advice

Indie Author Basics: Author Platform

What is an author platform, and what is it used for?

Learn more about what an author platform is, why you need one, and how to make use of it.
Use your platform to build and engage your community and to boost your reach and visibility.

An author’s platform is their ability to market their work using their overall visibility to reach reader. This includes:

  • Reach of social media accounts
  • Connections with other authors, publishers, agents, literary people
  • Relationship with media
  • Measured by their ability to use their influence and reach to sell books and boost their career

What do you need to start building an author platform?

Setting up a website is an important step in building an author platform. It provides basic information about you and your books, and is an easy way for readers and industry professionals to make contact with you.

Email list are key in developing a platform that can be used to sell books. An email list is a direct route for sharing news, sales, and updates with readers who are already interested in what you’re doing. You’ll have much better return on your time an investment than cold advertising.

Social media is necessary in today’s publishing and marketing world. Social media allows you to share updates and expand your visibility easily. Regular posts and accounts are free to setup and use. Social media also helps you start cultivating a community and building trust with your readers. It also help readers to forms bonds with other readers as well as with you.

How do you make use of your author platform?

Make the best use of your website by listing all of your books (in order if you have series!), contact info, official bio, other platforms readers can find you on, and your blog if you decide to have one.

Start building your email list as early as possible. Don’t wait until you have a book published. Send regular updates about you, your writing, and what sales or releases you have coming up in the next month.

When getting started with social media, start with one account and expand in accordance with the amount of time you have to put toward social media. Don’t go overboard and overwhelm yourself! Share regularly, and keep in mind that pictures and videos often get most engagement.

Share updates, personal info you’re comfortable sharing, news releases, sales, funny posts, informational posts, whatever else you think your readers will find interesting. Limit advertising posts to 25% of total posts. Use social media to build a community more than to push sales. Engage the community with questions, polls, giveaways, and ask for input when you need it or when you think your readers will enjoy participating in the process.

Posted in creative writing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Collaborating with other Authors

Collaborating with other authors helps to increase your marketing opportunities and exposure to new a wider reader audience.

There are several popular options for authors collaborations.

Box Sets

Example of a multi-author box set I participated in a few years ago

Collaborative box sets are often themed, with each author contributing a novella or full novel that fits the theme. The books are then published together as one product.

Holiday themes are popular around holidays, but trope themes (bad boy, billionaire, sweet romance, paranormal, etc.) are also popular year-round.

Box sets can be list-making runs (selling a high number of books at a low price in an effort to make the USA Today Bestseller list), reader magnets that are usually low cost or free, or profit-centered sets focused on collaborative marketing with the box set at full price.

Joining a box set may be free or require a buy-in. Free-to-join sets usually require authors to invest their own time and money into marketing. Box sets with a buy-in usually have one person assigned to handle the finances and schedule promos, with individual authors promoting through their social media and newsletters.

“Worlds”

Collaborative “worlds” feature multiple books in same world, each one written by a different author. The world rules are set by the organizer or agreed upon by the authors involved. Instead of publishing the books together as a set, each book is published separately by the individual authors with the “world” or series name tying them all together.

The same general rules for free-to-join and buy-ins apply to “worlds” sets.

Group promos

Themed group promo for free books with a gift card giveaway

Teaming up with other authors to promote multiple books at once is a great way to expand your reach and attract new readers.

Many group promos are themed or holiday related. Authors often volunteer for certain tasks such as submitting to promotion sights, contacting bloggers, creating graphics, etc. Each authors then also promotes on their websites, social media, newsletters, and anywhere else they can reach authors.

Promoting the books in a group introduces readers to new authors, and because the recommendation is coming from an author they trust, they are more likely to branch out and try a new book. This works best when their are several authors with big followings involved in the group.

My Book Cave is a great place to get involved with newsletter-building group promos using their reader magnet system. Make sure to sign up for their author newsletter to get updates on what magnet groups and accepting members.

Newsletter swaps

Participating in newsletter swaps help you share fans and find new readers. These are most beneficial when authors have a large amount of subscribers, but any extra eyes on your books is always helpful.

Newsletter swaps tend to work best when the books involved are similar genres and styles. Good times to participate in swaps include sales, new releases, holidays, etc.

The writing community is generally very supportive and helpful. Don’t take everything on yourself if you don’t have to!

Posted in book covers, books, creative writing, editing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Responsibilities of an Indie Author

Without a traditional publisher, what do indie authors need to handle on their own?

The list may be long, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Breaking everything down can help you decide which tasks to learn to do yourself and which to hire out.

I’ll break these down in the coming weeks, but here’s a broad list of what indie authors devote their time to when not writing:

Production costs

These costs include editing (developmental, copy editing, proofreading), cover design, formatting, setup, distribution fees. Next week, I’ll break down costs for each of these as well as options for reducing the overall cost of book production.

Marketing

Marketing includes building a plan and carrying it out, learning about paid advertising and booking ads, setting up and managing social media accounts, participating in online and in-person events, writing and sending out press releases, and much more.

Networking

When it comes to networking, it’s important to engage with the author community, join groups and lists, make friends for support, find beta readers or critique partners, and learn from others in the industry.

Collaborate

Collaborations that are popular right now include box sets, worlds, promo groups, etc. These collaborations help authors expand their audience and reach, as well as learn more about marketing and promotion.

Reaching Out

Reaching out to media, stores, businesses, etc. is part of marketing, but for many people it’s a different skill than interacting on social media or booking ads. Different types of stores have different requirements for booking an author signing, and bookstores aren’t the only option for signings. Learning how to approach a business, radio station, newspaper, etc. the right way can make a difference in being accepted.

Events

Without an agent or publisher, indie authors are often responsible for organizing their own signings, publicity events, participation in books fairs, speaking engagements, conferences, etc. Learning about what types of events are worth while, how to get involved, or what type of classes to submit to a conference can help you make solid plan.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be discussing each of these topics in more detail. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a topic!

Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Indie Author Basics: What is an indie author and is it right for you?

What is an indie author?

An indie author is a writer who self-publishes to sell their work, who approaches publishing as a business, who retains all or most rights to their work, and who retains creative control over their work.

Authors today have many more publishing options than they have in the past. The three most common are traditional, indie, and hybrid. What are the differences between being a traditional, hybrid, and independent author?

Traditional: Contract with a publisher to have a book published. Sign over some or all rights to the work for a specific period of time. Most production decisions are made by the publisher. Publishers bear the cost of production and some marketing. Royalties are shared between the publisher, agent (if there is one), and the author.

Indie: Self-publishes all their books. Retains all rights to their work. Earns higher royalties. Author bears productions costs and marketing costs. Retains full creative control. Approaches writing as a business/career.

Hybrid: Publishes through a publisher and self-publishing. At least one book is self-published. Has a non-exclusive contract with a publisher, or self-publishes books that have been passed on/release by the publisher using a right of first refusal clause. Indie titles may be backlist books released from contracts.

When considering which option is right for you, consider some of the following questions:

What aspects of publishing can you learn to do yourself?

What aspects will you need help with?

How much of your royalties are you willing to give up in exchange for help?

How much time to do you have to commit to publishing?

How much creative/production control do you want?

What rights are you willing to give up and for how long?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to publishing and deciding on a publishing route should be well thought out.

Next week, we’ll talk about some of the responsibilities indie author take on to build their career.

Posted in audiobook, books, classic literature, dystopian, lessons learned, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Lessons Learned: Brave New World

I just finished listening to Brave New World by Aldus Huxley and there were three main lessons I took away from the book.

Those who aren’t familiar with the novel should know a few things. It was published in 1932 and is a dystopian fiction novel set in largely London and, for a brief period, in a Native American reservation in New Mexico. The story explores themes of society vs. the individual, passion vs. stability, and the price of happiness.

Lesson 1: Use unique structure purposefully

In the early chapters, Huxley has a section where the Controller is explaining the dystopian world to the reader through a tour he’s giving to research students visiting a fertilization factory.

During this explanation, there are insertions of other character’s points of view, sometimes breaking in after only a few lines or mid-sentence. At first, the style was very distracting, especially since I was listening to the book and didn’t have visual cues of the shifts. The patched together structure was interesting, though, because as the Controller is explaining the process of creating humans ideal for their society, the reader is given examples of how these methods control the behavior of individuals.

If you choose to use a unique structure in your writing, make sure there is a good reason for it, or it may only serve to confuse or distract readers.

Lesson 2: Don’t preach to readers to get a point across

I have a personal dislike for preachy books, probably because I grew up in a very religious household and had more than enough of that growing up.

If you have a particular point or philosophy you want to share with readers, do so through the characters and story and NOT by directly telling them what the right way or answer is. Let them discover the idea or answer by experiencing the story.

Huxley does this very well in this book. The Controllers and other characters do, at times, directly state the theories and philosophies of the society, however there is always a skeptical character to give the reader another point of view or at least make them question the legitimacy of the concept.

Each of the four main characters have viewpoints that differ from the main society in different ways as well, so the reader isn’t inundated with only one character’s arguments or ideas. Each character is also given a strong reason for seeing things differently, so their struggle with society feels genuine and unforced.

As the reader, there were times it was hard to decide which idea or concept was “right” or “better” because Huxley did such a good job of showing both sides of an argument. Instead of telling the reader how to think, the story asks reader to thoughtfully consider the philosophies presented and decide for themselves.

Lesson 3: An unsatisfying ending can work when the story calls for it

Just as there were times while reading that I couldn’t fully commit to one side or another of an argument or philosophy, I couldn’t really think of a way the story could end in a satisfying way because the issues were too big to be wrapped up simply and easily.

Maybe Huxley felt the same, or maybe his purpose wasn’t to provide answers (which I think is very likely), because the book doesn’t have a satisfying end in the sense that any of the issues are solved. A few of the characters find relatively acceptable ends but, for the most part, story aspects are left either unhappy or up to the reader to puzzle out.

It didn’t bother me to have the book end like this, though, because a neatly wrapped up ending where everything was solved would have felt manufactured and trite. The purpose of the novel seemed to be to get readers to think more deeply about how individuals and society have to reach a balance, what it means to be happy, whether passion and stability can coexist, and who or what should set moral and ethical boundaries.

A story doesn’t need a satisfying ending if the purpose is to leave readers unsatisfied enough to keep thinking about the problem and the possible solutions.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Why worldbuilding is important in all genres

Fictional settings, whether modern in the real world, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

The world your character lives in should have an impact on the story

Setting should transport the reader to that location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding, and keep a setting from feeling generic. Highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

When worldbuilding, consider which of these will be relevant to the story:

Layout and geography, what lies beyond the immediate setting, politics, laws, and governing systems, culture and traditions, weather, local plants and animals, jobs, economy, imports/exports, history, enemies, and allies, folklore and urban legends, details only locals would know, and the hero’s feelings and opinions about the place.

All of these will affect the character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle.

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. However, the level of detail depends on the genre.

Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out. Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

What characters eat can indicate location (coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches in the south), income (another Ramen noodle dinner!), personality quirks (all food must be yellow), and more. Irrelevant details confuse readers and cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Once you have the foundation and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Real world example:

Choose the city relevant to the story line -> choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character -> choose a neighborhood with access to or amenities that will help progress the story -> choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict -> develop hobbies that allow for character growth, etc.

Paranormal example:

Choose a mythology base -> tweak the base to suit major plot points -> develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups -> develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy -> develop goals for each opposing group -> develop individuals goals that clash with others/the group -> develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop, etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way.

Incorporate details like region, weather, local plants and animals, etc. into a story to make it feel more real to the reader.
Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Going beyond familiar story structures

Most of us are familiar with the 3-act structure, the hero’s journey, and the classic structure. They work well for many stories, but occasionally another structure is better suited.

When choosing the structure of your story, don’t immediately go to the ones you’re familiar with

Classic: Consists of 4 main sections.

1) Begin with conflict, or throw the character into a bad situation as soon as possible. This might include a life or death situation, the protagonist meeting two love interests back to back, discovering dangerous secret powers, etc.

2) Nearly all actions or choices make matters worse. Don’t give your character a break through this section. Pile on complications and conflict.

3) The hopeless, dark moment. Convince the reader the story might not end well with deep, emotional conflict that doesn’t have an easy solution.

4) Let the hero succeed. Once you’ve put your character through the ringer, give him the spark of inspiration or light at the end of the tunnel that leads them toward a satisfying ending.

In Media Res: Start in the middle of something.

It doesn’t have to be a gun fight, but it does have to have conflict and grab the reader’s attention. The HOOK is extremely important in this structure. It then follows a pattern of rising action, explanation/backstory, climax, falling action, and resolution.

The Hero’s Journey: Begins with a call to adventure/action.

The MC then meets a threshold where their transformation begins. The MC then faces challenges and tribulations, meeting a mentor and one or more helpers along the way. The MC then faces an abyss/dark moment that symbolizes death and rebirth. They should have some kind of revelation at this point that spurs real transformation and leads to atonement. The character then returns to regular life.

Seven-Point: The seven-point structure is similar to the 3-Act structure

It has added structural elements the writers is expected to follow more closely. It consists of: The hook, plot turn 1 (and introduction of conflict), pinch point 1 (apply pressure to protagonist via antagonist usually), midpoint (MC responds to conflict with action), pinch point 2 (more pressure that makes achieving the goal less likely or harder), plot turn 2 (story turns toward resolution), and the resolution (the climax).

Snowflake: Start with one central idea and add to it.

Once you have your central idea, keep adding more ideas until you have a full plot arc. This structure is based on expansion of a central theme or idea. It starts very generally and becomes more specific as the details are developed. This can be very structured (start with one sentence, expand to a paragraph, summarize each character, etc.) or be approached more fluidly.

Three-Act: Based on Greek storytelling/theater.

Specific plot elements happen in each act. Act 1: Introduce characters and setting, present the inciting incident. Act 2: Introduce a problem that grows more complex as the story progresses. Act 3: Raise the stakes, characters face challenges and growth, protagonist finds a solution.

Disturbance/Doorway: Something disturbs the character’s regular life early in the story.

Doorway 1 pushes the MC further into the story. There is no turning back once it happens. Doorway 2 brings the MC to the final battle. Again, there it no return, and it often leads to disaster before a resolution is reached.

Five Milestones: Focuses on five main plot points and leaves the detail to be more flexible.

1) The setup introduces characters and the world.

2) The inciting incident introduces the main plot concept.

3) The 1st Slap sets the stakes and introduces the larger plot. The conflict is usually external at this point.

4) The 2nd Slap makes everything worse by adding more layers of conflict and barrier to the MC reaching their goal.

5) The climax should be tied to the inciting incident and wrap up the plot arc in an exciting and memorable way. It should then naturally flow into a resolution.

Narrative: Focuses mainly on story and plot.

It is less restrictive on when and where story/plot elements occur. It also uses the Fitchean Curve of crises driving the rising action to the climax, then falling action leading to the resolution. Exposition is limited and the story focuses more on the action and crises.

For some film examples of unorthodox story structures, check out this list!

Posted in books, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

The problems with second person narration and directly addressing the reader

I’ve been reviewing a lot of writing samples lately for the ghostwriting company I train writers for, and I’ve noticed a trend of using sections of second person narration and directly addressing the reader quite frequently.

While second person narration can be used effectively, it’s generally not ideal for commercial adult fiction. Directly addressing the reader can be used sparingly, but it is often jarring and pulls the reader out of the story by reminding them that they’re reading a book.

Second person narration is when the story is told in the voice of an onlooker (the reader). “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.” Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City

Directly addressing the reader is when the narrator “breaks the fourth wall” and speaks to the reader directly using YOU. “Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.” Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of this Book Is Secret

Why these are rarely used in fiction:

Directly addressing the reader is NOT a replacement for an omniscient POV. This is often used to remind the reader of something (Now, I told you this wouldn’t have a happy ending) or tell the reader what will happen next (If only she had known the cable was lose, she wouldn’t have climbed out onto it.) If a story is not being written from an omniscient POV, this is incorrectly breaking out of the POV and is jarring to the reader. Choose a POV and stick to it.

They break suspension of disbelief. It’s very difficult for a reader to suspend disbelief and feel they are immersed in the story when they are being asked questions, told direct information, or reminded that they are being told a story.

Both are extremely difficult to use correctly. To make these techniques work, they have to be done consistently throughout the story, to avoid startling the reader every time they are addressed. Few stories are suited to constant commentary from the narrator and can frustrate and tire the reader.

The use of YOU reminds readers of children’s fiction, blog posts, and self-help books. The Tale of Despereaux has a wonderful narrator voice that explains difficult words and concepts to young readers and helps them understand the story. When adult readers are directly addressed, many feel they are being condescended to or instructed on how to read or enjoy the story. Both can be major turnoffs for readers.

It is difficult to develop characters and a story that suits second person narration. The narrator is limiting to watching from a distance with second person narration. Even when omniscient, the reader never truly gets inside the characters’ heads and feels less involved in the story.

Second person narration is difficult to maintain in pieces longer than a few pages. Second person narration is tiring for readers to read. It feels like they are being asked to answer questions or be actively involved in a story rather than enjoying it as an observer.

For a list of more things readers don’t like, check out the link below!