Monday 19 November 2012

How to Make a Living as an Author

Let me start this post by saying that this will not happen overnight. If you’re someone who wants a ‘get rich quick scheme’ then find something else. Being an author is a long, hard struggle where you’ll receive the sort of feedback and plain derogatory put downs that would have the unions up in arms had they been received in any other workplace.

If you’re serious about working as a full time author, you need to grow a thick skin, be a total workaholic, forego any other hobbies, and be happy to live in a total pigsty for a large portion of the time (unless you make it seriously big – in which case, hire a cleaner!).

Are you still here? Okay, good.

My story, like many, began a long time ago. I decided I wanted to be an author just out of university, when I realised I’d spent my whole time studying (Zoology) trying to find time to write. However, it wasn’t until seven years and several novels and numerous short stories later that I eventually got published.

I loved what I was writing (Paranormal Fiction) but when a fellow author approached me to see if I’d be interested in writing some erotica for a paid for blog page – Everything Erotic – I jumped at the chance. My royalties from my vampire novel, Alone, were pretty miserable (read non-existent), and after having my second daughter, I was starting to line up job interviews to get back into a job I hated.

It was now early 2010 and I was starting to get some decent erotic short stories together. Under the umbrella of Red Hot Publishing, I put my short stories together and released them as my first erotic ebook under my maiden name, M.K. Elliott. This collection was called Rescued and this was also when my life changed. Within two weeks, Rescued began to climb the chart of Barnes & Noble. At its peak, it hit the #1 spot for erotica and was selling over 400 copies a night.

Needless to say, my hunt for a new day job ended right there.

In the months that followed, I put more erotic titles out with Red Hot Publishing, several of which sat on the Amazon best seller list for Erotica for months. In this time, I also got the rights for two of my paranormal novels back from the original small publisher and decided to put them out myself. I now self-publish the majority of my work in both name (M.K. Elliott and Marissa Farrar) under the umbrella of my own publishing house, Warwick House Press.

While I’m certainly not rich or hitting the big time, I do earn enough money to support my family and put any thoughts of a day job far behind me.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. I used to think that when a book started selling, it would continue to sell, but that’s not the case. Even mainstream authors will see a peak in sales for their new releases and then the sales will start to drop again. Occasionally you’ll get a stroke of luck (or you’ve done some smart marketing) and your book will climb again, but chances are it won’t stay at the top. This is why you’ve got to keep writing to keep ‘filling the funnel’ to keep those average book sales up.

So what I expect you’ll all want to know is how you can actually earn a decent income from writing, so here are my tips:

  •             Do you only have one book? Are you spending several hours a day blogging, facebooking, tweeting, just trying to get people to read it. Well don’t. Stop it right now. Any time you’re spending on the internet, you’re not writing. Wait until you’ve got more titles out before you spend any time promoting. You need people to read one book and then move onto the next. If you’re still six months away from the next title, people will read your one book and then forget all about you.
  •       Mix things up. If you write horror, fantastic, but why not try writing a thriller or a paranormal romance, or dare I say it, some erotica! You never know, you might even be good at it. Why not create a pen name and try something completely different?
  •            Keep mixing it up! The great thing about ebooks is we’re now free to write whatever length story we want and get it out there. The more title you have out, the more visible you’ll be – even if those titles are only .99 short stories. So write your novels, because they’ll always be the best-sellers, but also try your hand at some short stories or novellas.
  •        Be clever with pricing. Yes, low priced books are easier to sell because people will take a chance on them, but getting smaller numbers of sales at a higher royalty makes a big difference as far as keep a decent base rate in your earnings. I love it when my $0.99 erotic titles take off, but its the steady sales of my $4.99 novels that bring in my regular income.
  •       Try out KDP Select. This has its good and bad points, which I won’t go into now. If you do decide to go into KDP Select, do it properly! Make sure you’ve hit all the big free book sites before hand (Pixel of Ink and E-Reader News Today). Getting one of the big guys to feature your book will make the difference between a couple of hundred downloads and a double-digits of thousands!
  •        Write a series. The big earners in ebook publishing are generally educated women who write a series of romance novels! Now if you’re not a romance writer (or a woman!), that doesn’t mean you can’t write a series! I have one series almost finished now, one in progress, and another in planning. My stand alone books sell, but nothing like my series books.
  •        Figure out what word count will work for you and stick to it. When I'm writing a first draft, I try to write at least 2K a day. However, I do tend to hop between projects, so often that 2K ends up split over a couple of books. As long as each of those books gets finished and published  then that's fine, but don't start what you're not going to finish or have too many going at once or you'll never get anything out there!
  •       Make sure you have a good editor and book cover. This is basic, but so true. If you don’t have these basics then there’s no point in bothering to do anything else.
  •       Run a sale! And advertise it! There are plenty of sites now which will allow you to advertise a sale for as little as $50. Make sure you put in your product description that the book is on sale for a limited time only (fear of loss, so people purchase right away).
  •       Above all, be hard on yourself. You’re tired? Tough luck. This is your business now and you’re the boss. Imagine if you went into work complaining you were tired and you couldn’t do what you were paid to do. Would your boss pat you on the head and tell you to go home and take a nap? No, he’d tell you to shut the hell up and get on with what you were paid to do. If you want to earn money from this gig, you’ve got to do the same thing to yourself.

I hope this helps and you’ve picked up some tips or ideas. I know I live in fear of my sales drying up and finding myself down the local supermarket looking for work. So in the meantime, I’ll keep working my butt off and pray that people keep buying my books!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

NaNoWrMo 2013 - Some (hopefully) Helpful Tips!

This is my third year taking part in NaNoWriMo. The first year was hard, with lots of complaining on my part and vows never to do this thing again. The result was a woman's fiction novel with a difference, which is still sitting unedited and untouched on my laptop. Year two was much better. I wrote the vast majority of the third book in my Serenity series, Captured. That book was finished, edited and published by March the following year and has now sold several thousand copies! Happy days!

This year, I've been looking forward to getting started since the summer! I've had my novel planned (at least the first few chapters - I don't plan out whole storylines as I don't like the ruin the surprise). It's the start of what I hope will be another five book series and is coming along great. I have to be honest though, if I didn't have the writing experience I have, I would probably still be in the swearing, cursing, vows to never do this again, early days.

So here are some of my tips to keep that word count going:

  • Set aside time each day. If you normally watch tv in the evening, switch off the box and spend that hour writing instead. Working a day job? Take a notepad to work and scribble in your lunch hour.
  • Plan at least a chapter ahead so you know where you need to go when you sit down for your writing time.
  • Don't think too far ahead or you will get overwhelmed. Break the challenge down into measurable chunks. Remember this is not a race. The people who have written 20K in the first three days may end up blocked and struggling by the end. Slow and steady will get you to the end!
  • Break down the words you need to get. 500 words during the day, and just over a 1000 in the evening will mean you'll hit your goal.
  • Get involved in some word wars. Focus, uninterrupted, for twenty minutes at a time.and see how many words you can write. I can generally manage around 500 in that twenty minute period which means I can pretty much get my word count in an hour.
  • If you start to get stuck, jump ahead and write a scene which is playing in your head, or that you really want to write -- a great conversation between your characters, a revelation in your plot, or a seriously spicy sex scene!
  • Again, if you're blocked, switch mediums or locations. If I loose track of where I'm going with a story, a piece of paper and a pen will often see me through. I create spider charts with all the different characters and elements and try to see where the story is heading.
  • And if you're REALLY stuck, kill off a character. That will always give you something to write about, even if it doesn't happen until later in the book!
I hope that helps somewhat. And remember that it doesn't matter if you fall behind early on. There is plenty of time to catch up!

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