I'm an established full-time author - willing to answer questions if you have them

question

#462

For years we lived off my wife’s income (while I wrote) and now it’s reversed and we both live off my income (since 20110). I’ve made several million dollars, and pay cash for everything (houses, cars, an in-ground pool, massive landscaping, vacations, etc). We also have a lot of money in the bank as “liquid assets” as you are correct writing income can be very unpredictable. I’ve earned six-figures every year since 2011 so the unpredictable aspect isn’t such a big problem these days.

Now, all that said…I’m a best-selling author (more than 1.4million copies sold), and I’ve been on the New York Times Bestseller List, and the Washington Post hardcover bestseller list), so I’m no longer “struggling” or even in the “mid-list” though I’ve been well acquainted with both :wink:


#463

I have been working with a creative writing professor on some of my stories and he mentioned that perhaps my work could make money someday (obviously after a lot of hard work/practice/editing). However, he recommended adding 2-3 more subplots in to enrich the story. I worry about that advice, because I don’t want to weave a web too tangled for the reader to enjoy.

As a professional, would you say that more subplots make a manuscript more enticing or interesting? Do more simple stories get overlooked by publishers? Even if the subplots were well-written, I fear that they would bog down the plot.

I’m sorry if there’s an obvious answer to this question and you’re rolling your eyes right now. I’m just getting back into serious writing after a very long break.


#464

Depends on the story – and how you define subplot. Thrillers don’t have a lot of subplots. Game of Thrones has a ton.

A subplot isn’t necessarily (and probably shouldn’t be?) a completely unrelated plot line. It’s just… a deeper exploration of the story.

For example, at the simplest level, my WIP is about a man and his nephew training a retriever for a field trial. But the story is really about a family coming together after a tragedy. So in addition to the plot line about training the dog, there are plot lines about

–Saving the farm from foreclosure
–Resolving issues from the past
–Making peace between the family members
–Each person coming to terms with a death in the family
–Figuring out a “new normal”

And so forth. These are all woven together, and every scene moves multiple threads forward. There is no scene that does just one thing – THAT would lead to a bloated book!


#465

I can’t even dream of being that financially stable, that’s amazing. Did you ever feel bad when it was just your wife? My partner pays for most things and I feel really bad about it. Do you have any advice to get past that? Also did you ever imagine you’d be that successful?

I struggle a lot financially and I have a hard time imagining that it will get better which is ridiculous because I’m 19, but I always feel like if I don’t succeed now I never will.


#466

Well, I am finding out that it may not make much of a difference in the long run. Yes, I got published finally after decades of struggle and personal sacrifice, but like I told someone the other day: “I came into this game way too late.”

If I started out 20-25 years ago and had better connections and resources, people would be reading my stuff then rather than now.

Secondly, there’s too many authors out there and not enough readers. This isn’t something that just happened overnight. It’s a trend that’s as old as digital publishing.

Now you have over 780 million books published by Amazon since 2005 and the market is over saturated past the breaking point. I don’t think adding my collection of novels is going to make things any better–for me or anyone else.

And since I work full time at my job on overnights, I don’t have as much time or energy to get the word out or advertise. In fact, I don’t think I’ll be spending any money on ads anywhere. Because…you got over 750M+ million books on Amazon and 5 million published every month (me being 5M and 1) and so I would have to fight and spend more money just to get sales.

Not less. And the ad windows for such book placements is too damned short for my tastes. This is like a three second exposure and you’re pretty much done. Nobody will know what the fuck you just published or what the cover looked like unless you spend more money getting more exposure.

And I just don’t have that kind of money. I mean, I just burned through $800 tonight and this morning paying my rent, some overdue bills, clothes, a couple calendars, the Exploding Kittens card game, and a few other things.

I have about $106 left to my name. And I still need to get things for the house. And this is working full time. This isn’t a part time jaunt. If it were, I wouldn’t be able to afford jack squat and I can forget getting any more books out.

But full time hours–40 hours a week–gives me a chance to get some stuff done and more books out.

This is why I’m not going to make it as a self-published author. I simply do not have enough money to spend or even spare.

And advertising by itself is like gambling your money away on the hopes of a big payout (much like winning the Power Ball or scratch cards) and getting more sales. You can’t control what people click on or don’t. You can’t force people to buy your books either.

So there’s no reason I’ll be any more successful there than I had been anywhere else online for the past 16 years.

Plus, when I’m not writing my tomes, I’m watching everyone else online to see how they do it as a published author too and taking notes. But in the end, I’m finding that I’m screwed no matter what I do.

I just can’t go broke trying to match everyone on Amazon dollar for dollar or anywhere’s else for maximum exposure. Working minimum wage, I have to budget like every other normal person does working full time.

There’s just no other way I can do this. But at least I finally got a book out. That’s more than I can say for most people who only dream of publishing or wanting to write but can’t find the time or are unable to.

Right now, I’ve decided to modify my current plans by offering US residents a chance at a gifted book from me–one or two at a time depending on how much money I have in my account. Today, it was two books. That was $13.22. It’s the only thing I can afford at this juncture. Yeah, it sucks that I have to buy copies of my own book to give to complete strangers, but I have no other realistic option here.

I just can’t afford anything you guys do on a daily basis with such ease and no worries.

So I can only do what I can in the interim. Like I said in other posts, I have no allusions that I will be making any money off my books. I’m probably going to end up poor (still) or hopefully retired on my Social Security in 21 years. (If I can hold this job for that long. I don’t know. But I’ve been busting my butt hard for these last three months doing everything my overnight managers ask of me and then some. I’m not slacking off. But then again, my past jobs were no different than this one. But this one isn’t driving me to drink either.)

Oh, and you know what? I have to bump up my Kindle price to $6.99 because I came across a book on Christmas Day that was priced at $5.99 but only had 275 pages. My novel is 535. So I screwed up on that one a little bit.


#467

Ah, awesome! Thank you! :grin:


#468

I didn’t make my money writing, but I won’t outlive my money. Here’s some advice to become financially secure.

  1. Spend less than you earn. Of course when you’re young you don’t earn a lot so that’s hard. Especially if you’re raising a family. But make your buying decisions wisely. Do you need every bell and whistle? Do you even need the product?

  2. Don’t carry credit card debt. If I were to charge you what the banks do I’d go to jail for loan sharking. (I used to be an executive at American Express). If you have the discipline to pay off your credit card bill each month, find a card that pays you back. I get 2% cash back on my Visa card. So if I spend $5,000/month on my card, I get $1,200 back a year. That’s free money. But if you don’t pay your bill each month, you end up losing.

  3. This last one is critical for your age. Invest. Someone who invests $1,000 at 20 years old will end up with so much more at 60 than someone who invested that same $1,000 at 40. It’s called compounding. If your company has a 401K, contribute to the maximum matched. That’s free money.

Now, to bring it back to writing, don’t count on being the next Stephen King or Michael J. Sullivan. Earn money the way 99.99% of the people do. Learn a skill, get a good job, and work hard. And if you love writing, write in your spare time. If you’re good and lucky, someday writing could be your full time job.


#469

There are about 6 million ebooks on Amazon, best I can tell.

Well, what was the sales rank of the 6.99 book? I see very, very few self-published books pricing at that level, unless it’s the continuation of a successful series. If you want visibility and sales the strategy is to charge less, not more. If you don’t get any traction wide on the other sites I would highly recommend putting your book in KU because 1. it gives your book visibility 2. readers in KU are willing to try new authors because it cost them nothing and 3. you can do Kindle countdown deals that will move copies of your book.

Look, there are ways to get visibility and market without spending money. If you’re serious about giving your book the best possible chance you need to listen, take advice, and implement some of the best practices that are often discussed around here. Throwing up your hands after a week and saying it’s hopeless because the deck is stacked against you makes failure a self-fulfilled (and inflicted) prophecy.


#470

Hello Michael,

I absolutely loved the Riyria Revelations. It’s really exciting to see you taking the time to answer questions on here!

I’ve been wondering, what was your initial inspiration for the Riyria stories?

And, since the subject of a writer’s maturity came up. Looking back, do you think there were weaknesses in those earlier books that hindered their success? Or was it more that their content didn’t align with what the publishers were looking for at the time?


#471

Gifting books is kind of pointless if you want the book read as they don’t have to redeem it for your book, you are effectively giving people a gift voucher and hoping they will spend it on your book. Also gifting can be considered rank manipulation by Amazon and you risk your KDP account being banned.

You keep complaining about how you can’t do anything else - but $13 would have bought you nearly 2 weeks of either FB or AMS ads at $1/day which could have resulted in sales, earning back the money.


#472

I’m turning 25 next month, now I’m not saying that I’m self publishing tomorrow or anytime soon but once I get a job (something that’ll help.) then I’ll be working towards getting my book(s) published.


#473

It’s a question that is difficult to answer because it’s all about “execution” and without reading the work, I’d be guessing in the dark. I can say that for my own books, I tend to have several story arcs going at once. I write fantasy and I do so in series so there are times when I have overarching plots that will start in one book and end in another. There is always a Main plot for each book that has its own beginning, middle, and end. But I do like to keep some things back to discover at a later time.

As for what publisher’s prefer, I’ve seen both simple and multi-faceted stories picked up, so both can work…and again it comes down to execution.

So, no, it’s not an obvious question, and no eye-rolling was induced. It’s just not one I can say definitively unless I read the story.


#474

What’s the best approach for finding an agent, and also (if applicable), whats the best way to get a treatment to media companies like… I don’t know… Netflix, maybe?


#475

Sure I felt guilty, but my wife was really good about doing all she could to alleviate those fears. At the time, we’d been together for over 20+ years, so it’s not like we hadn’t both shown commitment over the years

As for “imagining” I’d be that successful, no, not in a million years. I knew how hard publishing was, but even more than that, I’d already tried for more than a decade and got no where. If it hadn’t been for my wife picking up the “business side” I’d still not be published…but I would have been writing because that brings me joy, and it’s that joy that you should concentrate on.

19 is REALLY young to be putting as much pressure on you as you are. I was published in my late 40’s. There is plenty of time. For now, concentrate on the writing…keep learning…you can’t find any success until you get your skills up, and that takes an ENORMOUS amount of time.


#476

Not at all, our trajectory is pretty much the same…I spent decades getting no where and published my first book at 47, and I’m very successful and I’ve met authors who published even later than I did and have done well for themselves. So no worries on that end.

Publishing isn’t an easy “gig” but there are thousands of authors who are finding an audience and doing well. Readership is down, but there is still plenty of opportunity.

But between 2014 and 2018, the total grew from 3 million to 6 million. This means that 750,000 books were published each year between the two dates. This equates to one new book every one minute and forty-two seconds.

780 million? Not even close. There are about 6 million ebooks available for sale on Amazon. Here’s some data I pulled off of online:

From a post updated December 18, 2018:
But between 2014 and 2018, the total grew from 3 million to 6 million. This means that 750,000 books were published each year between the two dates. This equates to one new book every one minute and forty-two seconds.

The vast majority (maybe 80%) of authors have day jobs, so you are not unique in this respect. As for paying for advertising, there are many authors who do this, but there are even more that do not. Even when I was starting out and self-published I didn’t spend money on advertising, and I still don’t to this day. As far as the new number published each month, it’s about 62,500 not 5 million.

Again, you don’t need to pay for advertising, but as someone who knows a lot of authors who do…I can tell you it is definitely an effective strategy and serves them well.

There are plenty of “sweat equity” ways to get people to read your books that don’t cost a single dime.

Again, your situation is not unique. I know a lot of authors who are in the same situation as you.
But full time hours–40 hours a week–gives me a chance to get some stuff done and more books out.

You’ve been published for what, a week? and you’ve already determined it’s impossible to succeed? Wow, didn’t see that coming. ;-). Just a few days before publishing you were convinced you’d prove everyone wrong and now you are defeated? It’s not money that makes a book succeed, it’s the strength of the writing. And, yes, you do have to get it in front of a core group of people (to prime the pump as it were) but once you do that, it’s the strength of the writing which will make it or break it.

Again, I’m not saying you should advertise, but for those that do it’s not a gamble, it’s a business strategy which is carefully considered, tracked, and adjusted to produce positive ROI’s.

You are correct. If you do nothing…and just wallow in self-pity you’ll reap what you have been for 16 years. Nothing. Success comes from effort and talent.

I’m “who” you are watching or “what” you are gleaning from what they do, but why not do some REAL research. There are hundreds of books on how to successfully self-publish - many written by people in situations exactly the same as you. Why not see what they did?

And again, I didn’t spend money on marketing, and many authors don’t either.

There are MANY ways to go from “one book published to a successful career.” You just aren’t interested in hearing about them beause you already know it’s impossible. Which if that was true, why did you even bother to spend all the time and expense that you did? Why not just write and get enjoyment out of it WITHOUT publishing?

Giveaways are, indeed, an inexpensive way to promote your books. But if you are doing it via your own site, you are advertising to your echo chamber. Best to save up some money and do a Goodread’s Giveaway. Yes, that will cost a bit more $119 + $30 or so for printing and shipping. But if you put $10 a week away you can have that money soon.

[quote=“SchuylerThorpe, post:466, topic:2557, full:true”]
I just can’t afford anything you guys do on a daily basis with such ease and no worries.
[/quote

Again, some authors here advertise, but most don’t. Saying you have to pay for advertising is like putting your head in the sand.

Every book has its sweet spot. By all means experiment, but length of the book is only one factor so don’t use ONLY it to dictate price.


#477

Wise words - there are plenty of ways to succeed if that’s what you want to do. But throwing up your hands and saying it is impossible is so much easier.


#478

[quote=“wedgetail_blue, post:470, topic:2557”]
I absolutely loved the Riyria Revelations. It’s really exciting to see you taking the time to answer questions on here!
[/quote

Hey, thanks for reading. I’m glad you are enjoying the books.

Many moons ago, when I was living in Vermont (pre-Internet) a few of my high school friends decided to start a ‘chain story’ where each one wrote a few paragraphs (or chapters) and then send it to the next person to add on. That story started with, “Two guys walk into a tavern.” And that was how it started. They had no names, no personalities, but slowly Royce and Hadrian emerged. My friend abandoned the chain story idea (probably because I kept re-writing their parts), but those two stayed with me for decades…at a time I had taken a hiatus from writing. Years later, I saw an old re-run of I Spy (a 60’s television drama about two spys who posed as a tennis player and his coach. And I noticed Royce and Hadrian in those two. When writing I didn’t draw inspiration from that (didn’t even remember them), but after seeing them again, I do think my subconscious saw something there.

Oh, without a doubt those early works WERE NOT good enough to publish. One of the reasons authors need others to review their work (critique partners, beta readers, alpha readers) is that you can’t see what you are blind to. I thought they were the best thing since slice bread, but they were horrific. I don’t know who said it, (maybe Neal Gaiman?) but they mentioned that before they got a book published they had no idea what was “good” and what was “trash” but once that line was crossed they could see ALL the reasons the other books fell short. I think that was true for me as well. It’s embarrassing how bad they were.


#479

Personally, I don’t think spending money advertising when just one book is released makes a lot of sense. I think 3 is the magic number. I don’t buy ads myself but I think before 3 books you should concentrate on more content. Once you have 3 books out, then you can shift your time/resources from 90/10 (90% writing 10% on marketing) to 50/50.


#480

It’s great to see so many people starting out young. I did as well, and as I mentioned elsewhere I was first published at 47. But I took more than a decade off…and that was a mistake. Don’t get too wrapped up with what age you are. Just concentrate on your craft and learning what it takes to write well. It may take 3 years, or 10 years, but that’s not important. The important thing is to keep at it and enjoy the ride. Writing is the true reward, any financial gain is just the gravy.


#481

Best way to get an agent is.

  1. Research to find the agents that represent the books you write
  2. Write a really killer query letter
  3. Make sure your work (especially the first five pages) really shines and is compelling.

Here is a post that will help:
Writing Query Letters & Where to send them

As for getting the attention of a media company (like Netflix etc). That’s WAY down the line. It generally starts with a book that either (a) has great sales or (b) or is read by someone who falls in love with it – think Lin Manuel Miranda reading the Hamilton biography. The chances of getting published are really small. Maybe 1%? The chances of selling well are even smaller maybe .05%, but the chances of getting a television or movie deal are nearly astronomical - maybe .00001%