Starting Out as a Writer (A Post for New Writers)

My friend, Stephannie Beman, sent me a link to look at for running an Etsy Shop. Since looking over a few of these videos, I was surprised to find that a lot of the advice they tell craftspeople in order to boost sales is similar to the kind of advice you could give authors. The video is under 7 minutes, so it’s not going to take a lot of time to watch it if you want. This video is the inspiration for today’s post.

Have Books Ready To Go (But Don’t Publish Them All At Once)

In the video, she mentions having “items” ready to go, but you can insert “books” here. A mistake I think a lot of new writers make is that they don’t take time to write several books before they start publishing. Instead, they publish that one book and neglect to write more.

If someone reads your book and loves it, it won’t do you much good if you don’t have other books out. The best time to attract a reader to other books is when they’ve just discovered you. Yes, discovery can happen at any time, but retailers tend to offer a little more “love” to a new book than an old one. So if you can merge a retailer’s extra push (because the book is new) with other books that are available, you have a better chance of leveraging your promotional efforts.

My advice is to have at least one series completed before you start publishing anything. Then when you do publish the series, plan the releases out, and remember to promote the other books you will have coming out.

So let’s say you have Book 1 just published. Let people know about Books 2, 3, etc in that back matter of Book 1. Have Books 2, 3, etc on pre-order so people can reserve their copies while the book is fresh in their minds. Not everyone remembers to go back and check on your books or website. Pre-orders offer the advantage of getting a reader’s attention as soon as possible. By having your entire series done first, you can maximize the effectiveness of pre-orders. (If you have a long series spanning more than five books, my advice is to have at least four of those books done before you publish Book 1. Put the books up on pre-order that are done and make sure to mention those pre-order books at the end of Book 1.)

If you write standalones, you can use the same strategy, but be aware that series do tend to sell better overall than standalone books do. It’s just the nature of the publishing business.

Now, the question is this: how much time should you give between book releases? The answer to this depends on your writing speed and how much time you have to write WHILE promoting your books.

The faster you can write, the shorter time you can go between releases. Some authors write a book a month. In that case, they’re able to publish books closer together than someone who takes 3-4 months to write a book. Also, can you write more than one book at a time, or do you need to write only one book at a time? The more books you can write at a time, the faster you’ll be able to get books out. The length of books also play a role in how fast you can publish the next book. If you write 30,000-word stories, you can get more out than someone who writes 60,000-word stories.

Also, the more free time you have, the better you can balance writing and marketing. If you have a day job and a husband and kids, you’re not going to have much time to write and promote your books. In that case, you’ll need to have longer times between book releases so you have more time to market and write the next book. Let’s say you have a job and a family and you can write one 60,000-word book every four months at a comfortable pace. If you have a four-book series ready to go when you publish Book 1, you can publish a book each book a quarter. This frees you up for an entire year to work on the next four books (which you’ll publish in the next year) while marketing the books you currently have done. On the other hand, if you have a spouse that works or if you’re a single person who doesn’t have a family to take care of, you will have more time to write and market, so you can get books out faster while promoting your books.

The main advantage of having an entire series (or 4-5 books done) before you start publishing anything is that you’ll be set to pace yourself so you can avoid burnout. If you publish just one book, frantically work to promote it while working on Book 2, and you publish Book 2 then frantically work to promote it (and Book 1) while working on Book 3, it’s going to end up taking a toll on you. Or, in some cases, some authors never write Book 2 because they focus on Book 1 all the time. The best thing is to find a balance that works best for you and your situation.

The More Books You Have, The Better Your Chances Are Of Being Found

This is why backlist is so important. Authors rarely make it on one book. Sure, there are the few who do this, but most of us need a lot of books in order to get noticed. Every new book you have is another tentacle you have out in the world. There’s probably a better word than “tentacle”, but I couldn’t think of one. Just think of the books as your reach out into the internet. People might not find the 20 books you have, or even care if they do. But if you have the 21st book that suddenly catches their attention and their interest, that’s an “in” you have that you didn’t have before. The wider your net, the better your chances are of being discovered.

That’s why this is a long-term game. That’s why you need to pace yourself so you can survive the long haul. It’s easy to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the beginning when this is brand new. Over time, the process of writing, editing, getting a cover, formatting, publishing, and promoting can lose it’s “brand new” vibe. This is why writing sometimes feels like you’re pulling teeth. It’s not always exciting and fun. If you don’t rush the process but take the time to establish a pace that works best for you, you’ll be more likely to stick it out and end up with a lot of books, which will lead you to a better chance of finding new readers and establishing a career as a writer. Income doesn’t always remain consistent, but if you can build up your backlist, you have a better chance of weathering the low periods.

Figure Out What Kind of Books You’ll Write

To me, this is branding. Branding does entail your social media persona to a point, but I think branding is really about the kind of books we write. If you are writing a variety of genres, it’s going to be harder for someone to know what they’re going to get when they pick up your book. There’s nothing wrong with writing a variety of books. But when they see your name, it’s going to be harder for them to pinpoint exactly what your brand is if you’re in multiple genres. The brand doesn’t mean you write the same book over and over with different characters and tweak the plot. Branding is an overall scope of the books you are known for.

For example, my brand is historical romance with a male and female couple who only have sex after marriage. This isn’t a mission statement. It’s just the “kind” of books I’m mostly known for. I have dabbled in other genres, like thrillers, fantasies, and even nonfiction. But my brand is the historical romance category, and people know when they pick up my book, they are going to get a male and female couple who wait until marriage to have sex. Under that brand, I have plenty of room for different types of characters and different plots.

That is why the advice is often given to use pen names if you write different brands. Varying too much with your stories under the same name will dilute your brand. I ended up marking my thrillers with R.A. Nordin and the pen name Barbara Joan Russell. I kept the four fantasies under my real name since I don’t plan to write any more and it doesn’t hurt to leave them as they are. But any more thrillers I write will be under the pen name for the sake of my Ruth Ann Nordin brand.

If your genres naturally connect together (science fiction and fantasy are good matches, as are the general umbrella of historical romances), then I think you’re fine under the same name. But let’s say you write erotica and Christian romance. I would separate out those two genres because your Christian romance readers will be pissed if they stumble upon an erotica book. This will hurt your brand. If you were to write children’s fantasy cute stories and adult horror violent stories, this is another situation where I believe pen names will do you a favor. No mom wants to search for a cute children’s story by a certain author and stumble upon a story about a sadistic killer who chops his victim up into bits and eats them. So the bottom line is if you’re going to do extremes, separate out your brands with a pen name. If you want to let people know about your pen name, just do it on your website and blog. As long as your different brands aren’t in the “Also Boughts” on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc, you’re okay. You want your brands to be separated out in the retailers.

Consistency in Publishing

Pacing is important in indie publishing. Your next book is going to be your most effective promotional tool. You can’t just publish a couple of books, walk away, and expect to keep making money. Sooner or later, the interest in your last book is going to fade. You need another book to get attention again. And this never ends. You have to keep getting another book out. Between book releases, you can run ads and do things to promote your books, but there’s nothing like that next book to get the most attention. You need to give your readers something new.

Since 2009 when I got into ebook publishing, it’s always been a “what do you have next?” kind of game. I used to think there would be a time when I could have a certain number of books out and be able to take half a year or more off while still making decent income. That never happened. In fact, since indie publishing became a huge thing, I’ve had to make sure to keep up a consistent publishing schedule. The longer the time between releases, the less money I make overall. I know there are authors who do fine with releasing 1-2 books a year, but they tend to have very strong marketing skills and have other ways to earn money, such as their You Tube channel where they make money off of the ads on their videos or a Patreon account or a course they sell to authors. In other words, it’s not just their books they are making money from. They have other sources of income.

With that said, pick a publishing schedule that is the best fit for you so you can have a new release out on a consistent basis. Just note, the chances of you making money go up with the more releases you have in a year. That’s not to say there are guarantees of making money if you publish all the time. There are never any guarantees in this business. I’m just saying that your chances of success go up when you have a consistent plan that you follow.

Fall In Love With The Process of Book Promotion

In my opinion, it’s best to pick the stuff you love when doing book promotion.

Some authors love to run ads, tinker with keywords in those ads, and track the effectiveness of these ads. Not me. To me, spending hours messing with ads sounds like a punishment. I’d rather sit in the dentist’s chair while they pick at my teeth and gums. So if you feel like that about a certain marketing strategy that someone tells you to do, just pass it up. Focus on the stuff you like. I know authors who love to take their paperbacks to book signing events and mingle with readers. I know authors who love doing Facebook live events. Both of these also don’t appeal to me, either. So I don’t do them.

The reason this blog is still going strong after I started in 2011 is because I love to ramble in blog posts. This is fun for me. I’m playing when I’m here. It doesn’t feel like work. I also love pre-orders because they help me get everything organized before the book is due out. That way I’m not rushing to get everything together on the day of its release. Then I pass along the information about the pre-order on my blog and other places. I like social media, but I found I prefer to stick with what I’m working on rather than going into personal stuff. So I stick with the writing stuff I’m doing. I leave my personal stuff to private conversations. Some authors, on the other hand, tells stories from their personal lives and sharing pictures. So whatever you like to spend your time on, focus on that. You don’t have to be on every social media platform that’s out there.

In addition to what I mentioned above, there are websites, videos, podcasts, newsletter swaps, email lists, and other things you can do to be out into there in the world. Just be yourself and have a good time. This doesn’t have to feel like work. It can be relaxing and enjoyable. And if you’re having a good time, that will come across in what you do. Plus, you’ll stick with it. That’s another thing with consistency. Not only do you want to be consistent in your book publishing schedule, but you want to be consistent in your promotion, too. Pace yourself in all areas so you don’t burn out.

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Good luck on your future plans, and if I come up with more stuff to pass along, I will. 🙂

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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