Writing is far from the glamour most people connect to the profession. Most people have this idea that you expand upon a unique idea to build a story. After a person hits a specific length, they can simply post online and get sales forever. The truth is far away from that ideal. The truth is also much better than that ideal. More people are making a living off of writing than ever before. That unique and amazing truth is due to the increased ease of distribution the internet has provided. A book no longer has to pay for itself in a month. Instead a book can slowly pay for itself over years. However, there are more books available, so simply posting up a book does not work. Here is the method many authors use to build their books online.
- Step 1: Research before writing
- Step 2: Write
- Step 3: Production Costs
- Step 4: Reviews and other venues
- Step 5: Social Media and promotions
- Step 6: “Regular” Period
- Step 7: Go back to step 5
Before we start, two pieces of advice: Your path is unique, no one can tell you how it goes. Do your best to avoid writer’s guilt, as there will always be more to do than what you can do.
Step 1: Research before writing
You do not own Amazon. Sorry to break the bad news. That means you don’t get to say what is sold and how. Instead you need to figure out what “need” or niche needs to be filled. Not only do you need to find a niche, but you need to verify the market is there. A tiny niche with few people is not what you need. After you establish a location to write, then you can start writing your book. It might be worth brainstorming on how to write several books in this niche. It might also be worth it to have other authors review your idea. After all, once you have one success, Amazon will recommend your other books. Do not worry about your idea being stolen! Ideas are cheap, good input is not. It is better to have your solid idea stolen than to hoard a bad idea to yourself.
Step 2: Write
Writing is not a sprint. Writing is often a marathon. An author needs to continually write and then be proud of their daily word count. Even if all the words they write that day will be deleted, they still count. Many authors prefer to write in Word, but I would recommend Scrivener. I won NaNoWriMo just to get the discount on Scrivener. Why? Because instead of using Windows to store a bunch of folders, I can just use the tree menu in Scrivener. Beyond that, I can also categorize and tag information. Once this tag is complete, I can then run searches and other compiles against it. That means my research and writing can live side by side. I can even split the screen so research is on the right, writing is on the left. Finally, Scrivener has the capability to compile into a variety of formats, including .MOBI, which is needed for Amazon Kindle. In other words, you want to be writing in a product that will make it easy to publish. I highly recommend this program.
Step 3: Productions Costs [$55]
Now that the writing is complete, it is time to start packaging it up. Copyediting (looking for grammar/spelling errors) and editing (looking at story structure) is a first step. At this time you’ll also want to request the cover be created. If you are planning on releasing print, Kindle, and Audiobook, you may need three different covers. I would recommend getting the print cover and then splitting that up to work on all three platforms. Beyond the cover, you may want to request getting some custom art done. Readers appreciate the little graphic touches inside a book, so these are great to have. These graphics may be as simple as a little flourish at the beginning of each chapter or as complex as a map of the fantasy realm. I normally don’t need a lot of complex illustrations, so I get most of my work through Fiverr. The trick is making things as fair as possible. Fiverr will only pay your artist $4, while you pay $5.5. I try to choose some job “upgrades” to make it fair to the artist. These upgrades also inspire better work to be completed. I copy edit myself (using Grammarly), and use writer groups to help edit, so Fiverr is my only production costs. Normally, I am spending around $35 for book cover and $20-$30 for illustrations.
Step 4: Reviews and other venues [$150 ish for Novella audiobook]
People buy books based off of reviews and what they see. Getting enough sales on Amazon will help your book’s visibility, as Amazon will put it in front of more people. The reviews are a different story. I can not stress this next part enough: Never pay for a good review. Beyond being against Amazon’s policy, Amazon hunts these down and removes them. Often times paid reviews will have broken English and mention content not even in the book. Nothing makes your book look like a pile of junk than a broken English review stating that a non-existent chapter was their favorite. So how does an author get their first reviews? I would recommend giving your book away for review. So long as the book reviewer is not being compensated beyond getting the book, your fine in Amazon’s eyes. The best route I’ve found is to give my book away to other authors. Beyond getting insight, their reviews are naturally more compelling and well written. This giveaway also presents another opportunity. You can give them your book and they can give you their book. If the book is junk on either side, let the author know that. If the book is great, let the world know. I would recommend drumming up 5 reviews, though if you can get to 10, that is even better. Many promotions will not advertise books without 5 reviews, and a few will not advertise with 10 reviews.
Beyond getting reviews, you may want to submit the book to become a print and audiobook. Amazon has you covered under both these options. Createspace is a print on demand option that is free to authors (though getting physical proofs of the books cost a little). A non-free option is the audiobook, which is done through Audible/Apple. More specifically, you’ll be working with ACX which is the branch that releases to Audible/Apple. A professional narrator will cost money. ACX has an option to produce the recording yourself and an option to pay nothing up front and split the royalties. Both of those options are junk. Recording without professional training and equipment will sink your audiobook. Furthermore, many narrators will not want to split royalties, because they don’t know how your book will be marketed. Most profesional narrators will request $50 – $100 per narrated hour. That is a fantastic bargain, considering one narrated hour will often take them 2 hours. Narrating requires extra time to setup equipment, get a section right, and to build the correct format ACX needs. Plus there may be some requirement to make changes from the author. Expect about 8500 words to equal one hour.
Step 5: Social Media and other promotions [$20]
Now that everything is ready, you are about to start the most important part. Marketing! You’ll want to use the 80/20 rule when advertising through social media. That means that 1 in every 5 messages is about selling something. The other four are for the benefit of your followers. Social media will help, but do not expect to pour all your money into Facebook ads and have them work. Facebook will get you exposure, but it is not always the best at converting. (Having that exposure result in a sale) It is better to use social media to interact with potential fans then to expect to use social media as a sales channel. So what other promotions should an author do? That is where everyone has a unique path. Many authors discover one thing works, while it doesn’t work for another author. I would recommend trying out a number of cheap small “sampler” promotions and watch how each converts. Invest in options that you know will sell books, because you’ve seen it. Do not invest heavily in an option that only promises book sales. Know in advance! My advice is to invest in promotions that earn out the promotion. In other words: if you spend $5 in promotions, you gain $5 in royalty sales. While it may seem silly to not make any money, you should not be after money in promotions. Instead, you are after exposure. The more book sales you have, the better you rank. The better your Amazon rank, the more free advertising they do for you. That is where you make your money. I would also recommend you time your promotions to be at or near the same time. You want to rank as high as possible, so getting a lot of sales in a short period of time is the way to do this. I normally spend about $20 in promotions.
Step 6: “Regular” Period
Many people make their book extra cheap during the promotion phase. Once all the promotions are done, they raise the book to the normal price. The idea behind this is to gain decent royalties. I would recommend $2.99 or above on Kindle books. Most people who want to pay for your book don’t care about the difference between $0.99 and $2.99. However, for an author the royalty is dramatically different. A $0.99 sale results in $0.34 royalty. A $2.99 sale results in a $2 royalty. One sale at the higher price equals 5 – 6 sales at the lower price. Furthermore, people associate price with quality. Cheap books are often not bought because people are worried they will not get their TIME’s worth. People’s time is more valuable than their wallet.
- Total Cost to get to Step 6:
- $225. Requirement to earn that out on a $2.99 book? 113 book sales.
Step 7: Go back to step 5
You know that whole “passive income” thing? Nope. Not true. There is little effort income, but not completely passive. You will have to re-visit and re-advertise your book. The best way to do this revisiting is to streamline as much as possible. After all, the way to become a full time author is not to write one book, but many. Handling all these promotions can get tedious, so building a streamline is the way to get this requirement done.
Bonus: Build a system to write once – use multiple times. Write a blog on a subject, work towards building fans, then you can use material from the blog to write a book. However, make sure to add in plenty of new content and better organization. Your blog fans are the mostly likely to buy your book, so you want to provide plenty of incentive.