Michael J. Sullivan and I want to thank Susan for inviting me here for a little guest blogging. To set some context, I’d like to give a very brief background about my history. My first The Crown Conspiracy) was published through a very small press. While well-meaning, it didn’t do much to move the needle, and after selling out a very small press run (about 2,200 copies) the rights reverted to me. I then self-published five novels (including that first one), and just before releasing the sixth and final novel of that series, my wife thought it might be a good idea to see if we could get the series picked up by a major publisher. Hence, The Riyria Revelations was re-released through Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). Since then, I’ve been walking the hybrid road, I’ve self-published Hollow World and The Death ofDulgath and signed a four book series with Del Rey and another two-book series with Orbit. At this point I live a pretty comfortable life as a full-time author.
Why am I telling you all that? Well it sets the stage for what I’m going to blog about today and that relates to where we all start out and how to get to where most would consider “the promised land (full-time authorship). So here goes.
I talk to a lot of writers about marketing, and many point out that promotion for me (as someone with eleven books out, 9 of which are with major publishers) is a lot different than for them who are self-published or with a small press. To that I say….BUZZZZZZZZ. Wrong, try again. With few exceptions, all fiction writers start from the same place. A book with absolutely no following. When I put out The Crown Conspiracy in 2008 I had no blog, no following, and twitter, Facebook, and ebooks didn’t even exist. So what’s my advice? Well, first of all let’s talk about my three keys to success.
1. Write a really good book (and yes I know what a subjective statement that is, so let me mention how I’m defining “good” for the purposes of this conversation). A “good book” is one that people enjoy so much that they’ll tell others about it. Every book that has “blown big” has this aspect. Yes, people may bemoan some of the writing skill in Fifty Shades of Gray, The Da Vinci Code, or Twilight. But the fact is each of those books captured readers and they spread the word.
2. You need more than one book. Most authors that “make it” do so because they keep putting out more titles: Stephen King, James Patterson, Nora Roberts – they write and keep writing. If you need $3,000 a month to pay your bills, it’s a lot easier to do that with six books earning $500 each than one book bringing in $3,000.
3. You need to prime the pump. What I mean by that is #1 doesn’t work if your books are “trees falling in the forest with no one to hear.” So you have to get them in front of readers and keep working at it until you see momentum by finding people you’ve not talked to who are reading your books.
That’s it. The whole recipe for success. Of course the execution is the hard part, so let me give some further tips.
· Tip #1 – Until you have three books on the market, don’t spend a great deal of time marketing. Your time is better spent writing book #2 and #3…then you can start pounding the sidewalk. You should spend 90% - 95% of your time writing and only 5% to 10% of your time on “marketing.”
· Tip #2 – So what do you do with that 5% - 10% that you are spending on marketing. Well, the most important thing is to get reviews of your book. The second requirement to marketing (beyond the 3 book thing) is you must have at least 25 reviews on Goodreads and 10 reviews on Amazon before you start any substantial marketing efforts. Here’s my suggestion. Get a Goodreads account and find other books that are similar to yours. Then filter reviews of that book to those who have rated it with a 4 or 5 and sort with “latest.” Then send some nicely worded messages to those people. Explain that you are a new author who has written a book that you think they’ll enjoy based on what they said in their review. Explain that you’d like to offer them a free copy of the book in hopes that they’ll review it. The key here is “hope” not in “exchange for.” Keep rinsing and repeating this until you have your 25 Goodreads reviews. When people do review your book, write to them and thank them. Then ask nicely if they wouldn’t mind cutting/pasting the review onto Amazon as it will help others who are considering the book.
· Tip #3 – Keep writing. Maybe your first book doesn’t go well. Chances are you released before it was ready for primetime. Fix it. Work on constant improvement. Find beta readers and critique partners. Re-release it under another title if you need to. Or realize that it wasn’t such a good book after all and put that behind you and do better with the next one. This is definitely a business that rewards persistence, and the only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying.
· Tip #4 – Be flexible. The market is always changing and you need to adapt with it. I’ve had 2 books with small-presses, 9 books released (and three more under contract) with the big five, and 8 books self-published. Make sure any contract you sign has adequate protection if things go wrong. If you think you can make more money by self-publishing a particular title, do so. If you think it will help your brand to sign with a big-five (even if the money will be less), than do that. You don’t have to publish all your books that way…as long as you make sure the contract doesn’t limit you. Agility is a key to my success and I want others to keep it in mind because where we start and where we end up are hopefully not the same thing.
Well, I hope this will help some of the people here, and I’m always available to answer questions. In fact, I have an AMA (Ask Me Anything) that will be running on reddit/r/fantasy on Tuesday June 28th and Goodreads has an “Ask the Author” feature and you can post questions there. Or, just drop me an email at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org. It would help if you put “Question from an IWSG member” in the subject, as it will make it stand out. In the meantime, keep writing!!
Find all Michael's books here. And visit his blog. His newest book, Age of Myth, is being released June 28th. Come on. IWSGers, and hit him with some questions. He is a model of interacting with readers and other writers, including sharing his email. What do you all think of Michael's tips?