Being an author is hard. Life, the universe, and everything can make it harder. This post is my attempt to give new writers a glimpse into the publishing world, all in one space. You’re going to find some information on the different types of publishing, the various paths available to you… and why NONE of the paths are the “right” one. It’s a personal decision.
Readers, if you’re interested about the ‘behind the curtain’ stuff writers/authors deal with, grab yourself a cuppa, make yourself comfortable, and buckle in for a long ride!
(Happy holidays, everybody.)
Authors, if you’re experienced, none of this is going to be new or interesting to you, but you’re welcome to stay! This post (and the resources linked/referenced within) are for those who are starting to dip their toes into the water. But, who knows? Maybe you’ll pick up something new, too.
For the sake of this post, when I use ‘writer’, I am discussing anyone who writes. No publication required. I’m using author in the frou-frou fashion: you are published or in progress of publishing. Why am I making this distinction? It makes it simpler on me to write this guide.
Writers look at the world in a much different light than authors, especially the experienced ones. We all write books, and in general everyday life, I don’t particularly care if somebody goes by writer or author. We all do the same job.
Except… in this case, we really do not.
Writing the book is only the first part of the process.
Normally, I would skip by the craft stuff, but setting up for success truly begins before you write a single word of your book. It’s critical you understand what you’re getting into. Writing for passion is wonderful, and I do it all of the time.
Writing for passion often does not pay the bills.
You need to decide for yourself what you want to accomplish as an author, so we’re going to start there.
In my opinion, there are two primary types of projects: marketable books and non-marketable books. I usually call them ‘passion’ and ‘mainstream’ books–or money makers–or market books. Whatever name you want, there are generally two categories of novels in my world. One makes money… the other does not.
When I work on those passion projects, I go in understanding that the book may not make money. It may not have an audience.
Writers, however lovely passion is, however fun those heart books are to write… if you want to succeed at an author, you need to balance your passions with making money. This is hard. Sometimes, something you think should make money… simply does not. This has happened to me more times than I can count.
And then every now and then, a passion project just decides to strap rockets to its ass and take off.
Books are expensive as hell to write, so… stack the cards in the deck. Stack them as much as you can in your favor. That is truly what separates the fabulous writers who never get anywhere and the good authors who make mint and you just don’t understand why. The good authors making mint have a strategy and have been stacking every deck they can in their favor–and they got lucky, so it paid off.
Yes, luck is a huge factor in the publication game.
You either get lucky… or you do not. I’m not all that lucky, but I am persistent. And that’s why I am where I’m at. I am persistent. When the going got tough, I kept going, and I kept trying to do better each and every time.
I make up for my lack of luck through hard work, trying to write better books, and spending money on advertising. I do have a huge advantage: I worked in corporate advertising before entering the book world. This helped me a lot.
Your first decision as a writer wishing to be an author is this: what do you want to accomplish as an author?
Do you want to chase after passion, understanding that you may never make your money back on your cover design, editorial, and other production fees?
Do you want to chase after the money?
Or… do you want to chase after the money sufficiently to allow you to also chase after the passion? (If this is the category you want to fall into, you need to focus on chasing the money first. Without the money, you can’t chase after the passion well.)
Do some soul searching on what you wish to accomplish. But, I will tell you this much: if your passion doesn’t have an audience, you may end up writing stories without having hardly anyone reading them. Advertising might be able to match you with the right readers, but this is as much of an art as it is a science… and it’s a very expensive art.
If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change much: I needed to learn, and what I thought might be marketable was not. But the most important thing I would change is simple: I would have written the final two books of that one series before becoming tempted to change the type from third to first. (Oh, well.)
Yes, I wrote two books in a quartet in third person… and I’m going to rewrite the entire thing in first.
There are good reasons for this, but the thought of rewriting books makes me want to cry. (Shit happens. This is often a theme in the writing world… you’ll get used to it.)
Once you have decided if you’re writing a market book or a passion book, you can move to the next stage of preparation. Honestly, I do the same exact process for both types of books. Why?
If you half-ass your passion project, why are people going to invest in you? Even if you’re giving the book away for free, they are investing their time on you and your books. Time is the most valuable resource a person has.
Yes, writing a book is hard.
But no author is entitled to someone’s precious time.
This is where I’m going to address the white elephant in the room. There is a whole lot of general entitlement in this industry. In reality, the only thing anyone is entitled to is as follows:
The author providing a book at the price they set… and the readers providing the money for the book. (Don’t steal books, y’all. Nobody likes a thief. If you don’t have money for books, look into your public library system. If the author you wanted isn’t in the library system… read someone else rather than stealing books.)
That is just scratching the surface at what readers feel they’re entitled to, and you have to get used to it–and you must establish your boundaries, or readers will absolutely violate them. And they’ll try to even with you establishing your boundaries.
Enforce your boundaries.
Things I have boundaries for, that works very well for me:
1: Readers can absolutely slide into my messages to send a friendly, happy message. Readers may not slide into my messages to complain.
I will block/eject said reader from my personal space in a hurry if they violate this rule. I don’t care what their negativity is… my private/personal space is not the place for it.
I have a contact form which I have my personal assistant check. She sends the valid issues to me. The rest are sent to the ether. People who want to report typos because they’re awesome can use this form.
This is a very simple example of setting boundaries. My life has hugely improved upon closing the door to my personal life for anything negative… And I mean ANYTHING negative.
If they didn’t like a book, they can go leave a review. But they will not be coming into my personal space to share their criticisms. (NO unrequested criticism is constructive, ever. Constructive critique is a consented affair.)
So, readers… pay close attention to that one. Unless the author invites you to submit such things, leave your reviews with the understanding many authors will not be reading them. They’re for other readers.
Every now and then, I ask my personal assistant to go through my reviews on books and cherry pick only the super kind and positive notes and send them to me.
But that’s it.
I’m not going to change the books I write because some person on the internet didn’t like it…
Authors, here are the things readers are not entitled to. You will face some consequences for not doing these things, but that’s life.
- Finishing an unprofitable series. Consequence: plenty of readers will drop authors who do not finish series. You have broken trust with them.
- Releasing frequently. No, you do NOT have to release a book often. The readers who demand more, more, more… just ignore them unless you happen to like doing it. Release at what frequency makes YOU happy. (Yes, you make more money releasing more often, but balance in your sanity.) Consequence: The selfish prats will go find someone else to bother. This is not a bad consequence, and really… it will make your life a lot better.
- Accepting or even listening to their “criticism” — if you didn’t ask for it, it’s not constructive. It’s just criticism. “No” is a complete sentence, and you don’t have to listen, especially if you didn’t request it. (Now, all that said, learning how to accept criticism is a good thing, but in reality, you may have a thousand readers wanting to share their opinion with you. Reminder: “No” is a complete sentence. Use it, and use it often. Consequence: the toxic people leave. Hooray!
- Don’t short sell yourself because some readers do not have a big budget. Push libraries–and push yourself being available to the libraries. (This means going wide/staying out of Kindle Unlimited.) If your book cost you $5,000 to produce, and you put together a quality product, go ahead and charge that $4.99+ for the book. $2.99 for a full-length novel nowadays is waving a banner around saying “I didn’t write a solid product.” Consequence: You might make enough money to write books and put food on the table.
Oh, and for fuck’s sake, don’t listen to the scammers of the world and release your book at $0.99. It doesn’t work. All you do is lose money. Stop it. Just stop. Hitting USA Today is a wonderful pat on the back… but only if it is also paying your bills.
Seriously… stop chasing after USA Today unless you’re chasing after it with a full-priced title that will put bread on your table for months. And don’t do it at a loss unless you’re doing it for fun on an old book. I do it for fun, to revitalize my backlist, every rare now and then. (An ancient book at $0.99 to see if I’m badass enough at advertising to make it happen. Sometimes… I am. Sometimes… I am not.)
The list goes on and on and on and on, but these are the ones I find come up the most often.
Oh, except for this gem:
Readers are not entitled to your personal life. I share a lot because I want to.
So with those mines scattered into the field of publication… let’s move on and talk about the rest of the pre-publication process.
1: Write the book, targeting market or passion as you see fit. (I write using Scrivener for Mac.)
1A: Understanding if a book is marketable is really important if you want people to actually see the book and read the book. Passion projects tend to gain traction if and only if the book also has marketable elements.
1B: Most authors will not gain any traction without paying for advertising. I do well at this writing thing because I ALSO do well at advertising. Understanding how and why people buy things really helps in this industry.
2: Edit the book. (I use Microsoft Word for later editorial phases.)
Note: I do not use pro writing aid, grammarly, or any AI tools to edit my books. My readers want books I wrote. Those programs are often very good at changing an author’s voice. Sure, they have some good sides, but most have buried clauses allowing them to train AI… and the ones that do not state that their third party may use your stuff to train AI. Neither are acceptable to me.
I do not allow my editors to use any of these tools. I expect my editor to use their own skills to edit. Generally, they use Microsoft Office/Word to do their editing. (Some may even just highlight in a kindle or use a tablet to mark up the file and then use word to implement their edits.)
Know where your lines are when it comes to AI touching your manuscript… and make sure your editor knows where your lines are.
3: Edit the book with professional guidance and help. (AKA: hire an editor.)
4: Implement the edits with the professional guidance provided. I do this in Word or in Vellum.
5: Proofread the book. I proofread in Vellum, in Word, and on my various ebook reading devices. (I do numerous proofreading passes.)
6: Hire proofreaders. (I hire two, and I currently have a team of ten people helping me.)
7: Format the book. (I use vellum because it helps create a professional product easily.)
8: Add cover art. (I hire a professional for this because it is the FIRST thing a reader sees when browsing vendors. Leave a good impression. Covers SELL books. If you buy a cheap or half-assed cover… you will get few sales. The better the cover, the better your sales.)
My primary cover designer is Rebecca Frank, and I highly recommend her for paranormal, urban, and epic fantasy. My contemporary romance designer is the team at the Book Brander (Sylvia Frost, Ali, and others.)
8A: Covers account for 75+% of my general sales. The cover draws a reader in… and the readers who like my books keep buying them. But for new readers? At LEAST 75% of my sales.
The rest is word of mouth. One day, I really wish the word of mouth would sell more of my books, but 25% is fairly generous as it is. The reality is this: in order to get the word of mouth, you need to attract readers to your books. That means your cover must be top of the market.
I pay roughly a thousand a pop for my covers from Rebecca Frank. This is more than a fair price for them.
Without her covers, I would not have a career.
Don’t go cheap. Yes, this is EXPENSIVE. But she gets paid once and only once, and she has to also pay for licenses to use elements in the art. (Did you think making cover art was free? It is not… well, if you’re doing it fairly (to the photographers and artists) and legally.
My ethics are such that I will not short change the people helping me have a career.
Here’s the hard, cold, and possibly rude truth of the matter: if you make DIY covers… you will get DIY sales.
Pay a professional who understands how the market works. And for fuck’s sake, please stop worrying about “your vision for the book cover.”
Your vision probably won’t sell books. The cover is a marketing tool. Treat it as such.
Your favorite scene isn’t going to sell the book. Give the designer the tone, the audience, and who you want reading that book. A good designer evaluates the current market and works at predicting the market when your book releases.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of “Oh, I LIKE that cover.” You need to remember that your cover plays a critical role in selling your book.
Now, if you’re doing it as a hobby and don’t care if you’re only selling to your parents, your friends, and maybe the poor co-worker you ambush over your lunch break…. well, do what you want.
Yes, I realize this is harsh, but this is one of the most common failings I see in the industry.
And yes, sometimes that beautiful cover you think should work simply does not. And honestly, I sometimes choose to die on that mountain, especially if it is a passion project.
9: Write a compelling description. (I often do this before I start writing.) I write my own descriptions.
10: Cry. (What? If this job was easy, everyone would be a bestseller.) These are self-generated.
Once you have done steps 1-10, you can start the next part of your adventure, which involves publication.
Wide or Exclusive?
I’m skipping the whole Traditional or Self-Published debate. Under the surface, they work in very much the same way. (Yeeeeah, that’s going to upset people. But, here’s some more cold truths: I got where I’m at using Traditional methodology in a self-publishing world.) Traditional publishers want marketable books, and if your book doesn’t play to the market the publisher has a slot for, it doesn’t matter how good your book is… you’re not getting the slot.
Self-Publishing seems to mean “do what you want, it’ll work out!” to a lot of people. In reality? That is not how this works.
I do a lot of work to present myself as a traditionally published author when I am not. My personal benchmarks are the reviews that state “This book was better edited than $big_name_traditional_author’s was.” This is, alas, rather unhealthy, because unlike those traditional authors, I have to coordinate, pay for, and do a great deal of the work myself.
But the rewards are present for me. It manifests in the form of reader trust. Reader trust is invaluable in a world where people are discarded and cancelled over the littlest of things.
I’m a self-publisher, so I’ll focus on that.
Wide means you are open to being published everywhere. You can run Patreons or REAMs without interference from Amazon (or elsewhere.) You can do direct sales. You can do a LOT that exclusivity bars you from doing.
Exclusivity (Kindle Unlimited and similar platforms) is useful in some circumstances. For example, I recommend reverse harem authors stick with kindle unlimited because that is where the readers are at. Hardcore erotica? Kindle unlimited for the same reason.
For the most part? I support going wide because you have so many more opportunities.
Here are the revenue streams I currently use for ebooks. (There are more, I’m just not using them right now. I have only so much energy and time.) If applicable, I am linking to my personal pages OR one of my books on the platform if they don’t have a specific page. Otherwise, I’m linking to the platform.
- Amazon | Access via kdp.amazon.com
- Barnes and Noble | Access via press.barnesandnoble.com
- Kobo | access via writinglife.kobo.com
- Google Play | access via play.google.com
- Draft2Digital (Apple Books, Smashwords, Tolino, Libraries, a bunch of other stuffs)
- Patreon | access via patreon.com
- REAM | access via Ream Stories Author Dashboard
Please note that ebook retailers are 95% of my earnings.
For 2023, Amazon is bringing down 53% of my earnings while Patreon is bringing in 20% of my earnings. The rest of the vendors nickel and dime everything else. I would very much like to get Amazon down to 20% of my earnings while everything else is also brought up to a similar range. (Preferably through expansion rather than just moving where people are in my earnings baskets.)
This is why I can’t just walk away from Amazon at this point in time. (Some days, like Thanksgiving, when I had to work because I got a nasty gram over some reader reporting errors, I would rather just not deal with Amazon.)
Amazon is, by far, the most hostile of the platforms. User Beware definitely applies.
Here are the revenue streams (listed by vendor) I currently use for audiobooks.
Note: I do not recommend Tantor Media for authors wanting to break into audiobooks. My relationship with Tantor was a hot disaster. They were responsible for everything… didn’t notice or care the one character was a male, and while Reba did a stellar job, it was just a huge mess. Getting covers updated? Forget it. Just an absolutely horrible experience.
The only thing I’m grateful for was that they allowed me to buy back my rights for the three projects they had, and that they gave up their first rights of refusal out of the gate.
However, I know some people who have had good luck with them… but I’m making a LOT more money with a lot less heartache doing it myself.
Here are the top six revenue streams that make up most of my audiobook sales, listed by retailer and how I access them (vendor):
- ACX (Amazon’s ACX system)
- Kobo (Findaway Voices, Kobo)
- Chirp Books (Findaway Voices)
- Libraries (Findaway Voices)
- Spotify (Findaway Voices)
- iTunes (Findaway Voices, ACX (you can’t opt out when doing ACX, and I prefer price controlling, so I have two copies…))
My audiobook producer is Bookmarketing Pro (Formerly Archieboy Production Studios.) This is the studio with the fabulous Keira Grace. Ivan is also going to be working with me on some projects under a few new pen names coming up along with some male-led R.J. Blain titles. I’ve been hugely pleased with my experience with them.
Cameron Hill is the lovely voice behind the males used in my Susan Copperfield and G.P. Robbins books. He is also voicing the males in the Witch & Wolf series by R.J. Blain. (I found Cameron on ACX years ago, and as far as I know, he doesn’t have a website, else I would be linking to him.) Cameron is fantastic, and I love him!
Here are the revenue streams for my print editions by vendor:
- Ingram (Everywhere not Amazon, including libraries) (Mass Market edition)
- Amazon (via KDP) (Trade edition)
Ingram’s recent changes to their distribution systems means the cost to distribute have skyrocketed, so if you want my books affordably… you’ll have to use Amazon. Ugh. (Hiss, grr, grr.)
As the combined audiobook and print make up a mere 7% of my earnings… I do not prioritize these all that much. Yes, I do them for accessibility, but I also will not sacrifice the ebooks for them. These are a ‘as I have time and money’ venture.
And they typically have a different audience than the ebook readers. Sure, some ebook readers buy their favorite books in print, but this is not my gig.
“Never again” are the two words I’m putting on this. I’m a one-stop shop, and I have to do everything. My last kickstarter exploded, and I’m STILL trying to pack, sign, and send books (not in that order). I’m going to end up working over the holidays so I can ship more out after the holiday rush.
The taxes are a nightmare, and so is fulfillment. Now, all that said, I know people who have made mint doing kickstarters… but I won’t be doing them again.
Do whatever works for YOU. Crowdfunding is a solid no for me. The stress, the time, etc… all stop me from doing what I want to be doing, which is write books.
Direct sales is the act of cutting out as many of the middle men as possible. My variant of direct sales is using the Patreon store to sell things outside of retailers. Instead of a 30% cut to the vendors, I give Patreon 8% without having to handle a lot of the background stuff that makes direct sales a pain in the ass.
A lot of authors, especially those with sex in their books, are moving towards direct sales platforms. The problem with direct sales is the lack of ‘established audiences’ shopping on the vendors. Organic sales (where people find the book without you directing them to the book) can be a huge money maker… and you can’t do that with direct sales.
You must drive traffic to it in some fashion or another.
Patreon is for those looking for new material. $10+ tiers get new books as they are released.
REAM is for those who want to be able to access my old ebook content in a subscription model. Currently, $5 a month will give access to a large collection of my R.J. Blain books, and $10 a month gives access to my pen names as well.
REAM is a new venture for me, and as soon as I go through the massive collection of books and get them uploaded / finalized into their system, I will be promoting it as a good way for those on a budget to get access to my library.
Patreon isn’t a great service for old works, and while I like REAM, I prefer Patreon for read alongs.
So, this gives me the best of both worlds.
I am not going into things like graphic audio, comic strips, and other ways authors might make money on their brands. These are all valid choices… but I do not do them, have no experience with them, and as such, I’m not someone to speak about it.
The same applies to translations. I write in English, and I do not have the time, resources, or energy to add translations at this point in time. Here’s the primary reason for this:
I believe in paying people fairly, and a translation is literally rewriting my novel in a different language.
This is expensive. I know how long it takes to do work like this because I’ve done similar in the past. (I’ve written non-fiction books for clients that were taking their base material they had (from websites they operated, etc) and making it sensible/a product they can use as an ebook.
That is far less intensive than a translation.
(Sorry, people of the world who do not speak English. I care about paying people fairly, and I don’t have the 15-20k a book to translate when paying people fairly.)
Maybe if I were able to afford a house in Silicon Valley… then I might be able to afford a fair translation rate.
Taxes are the bane of existence for all. I use Quickbooks Self-Employed to track my spend and earnings every month. I use the “Keep it Simple, Stupid” method, which works really well for me.
I don’t keep stock of anything, so that’s a major complication removed. I also simplify as much as possible, which ultimately means I don’t need a tax accountant to navigate my taxes.
Why do I do this?
I have been audited every fucking time I’ve used an accountant. When have I NOT been audited?
When I did it myself.
Accountants are great for some people… but sorry accountants out there, I have been burned with audits a few too many times from trying to make my taxes someone else’s problem.
Yes, yes, people are going to chirp in with how accountants don’t raise your chance of auditing. My personal experience informs me that “if I use an accountant, I am going to pay for this with an audit.” And frankly spoken… my personal experience trumps everything else on this score right now.
Use accountant? Get audited.
Do it myself? Don’t get audited.
I choose “Don’t get audited.”
Here’s the deal, though: this only works because I don’t feel like paying California $5k a year to incorporate. (It scales based on earnings.) I don’t get a lot of low earning benefits. The instant I take a penny home, I’m taxed. My averaged tax rate is 46% right now. (That’s if I check how much I’m taxed versus all the other numbers… after everything is said and done.)
I use that number to help make sure I pay the right amount of taxes because I hate owing.
So, I round up a percentage or two and get a refund nowadays. This appeals to me, because a refund equals trips and fun things. Owing equals sadness in my savings accounts.
I also hate paying penalties.
Have I made mistakes on my taxes? Absolutely. The IRS sends a letter, I send a letter back, I pay the tiny oops amount, and we go about our business. I am learning to not mind the IRS. Their nasty grams usually involve a “write to us if you’re confused, we’ll help” sort of note, and I have learned if I write to them and ask for help… they will help. Stress mystically disappears.
I don’t make mistakes often, and when I do make them, I just pay the piper without complaint.
Beats an audit any day of the week.
If you do not like your taxes, I absolutely recommend an accountant. I just happen to do the tax work every month to pay my estimated taxes, and because I’ve already done everything except my husband’s simple-as-fuck taxes, well… why NOT?
Plus that whole “I always get audited when an accountant does it” thing. I’m SO done with that.
Your mileage will vary.
But since we are here, here is my methodology on keeping myself sane come tax time.
Spoiler alert: I have 3-5 hours of work, total, to do my taxes once I start up turbo tax, which is my tax software of choice. Why turbotax? If I’m audited, they’ll deal with the audit for me, I just supply all of the proof of earnings, etc, etc, etc. That’s a good reason for me to dish out the money for it.
Note: Turbotax does not do corrections, so make sure everything is up to date. I’m still stink-eyeing Tantor Media for not correcting their 1099-MISC documents until fucking April. I did my taxes in March…
Fortunately, the IRS stepped up to the bat, took the updated 1099-Misc and helped me with the correction. Apparently, when you’re clueless, you can submit the form to them (by post) and a letter basically saying “Please help, this is what happened” and they will actually help you.”
I may have drawn a picture of a unicorn on the letter while begging.
Begging works, I am unashamed of this.
(P.S.: Thank you, IRS. You were very helpful, and I appreciate that you made the process fairly painless.)
You know it’s bad when the IRS is much nicer to work with than Amazon…
Okay, so, back to the process of handling my taxes.
Every month, I do the following tasks:
- I go to all vendors and confirm how much I was paid.
- I go to my banking account and input all earnings into Quickbooks.
- I go to Paypal, my credit cards, and bank account and register all expenses.
- I pay my Federal Taxes (estimated for the month.)
- I pay my State Taxes (done quarterly, as appropriate.)
- I verify all earnings, expenses, etc have been input through a checklist.
- Register any professional memberships (like Authors Guild, Alliance of Independent Authors, SFWA, etc)
- December Only: Issue holiday bonuses to everyone who has worked with me on multiple projects, etc.
- Pay staff/any open invoices
In January of every year, I do the following:
- I pay all owed taxes to State and Federal entities.
- I go through all vendors and verify I input my earnings correctly.
- I go through my paypal, credit card, and bank account and confirm expenses
- Verify everything x3.
The January process takes me usually 5-8 hours, and I rarely find anything, which is good.
Taxes takes me 3-5 hours to do because I triple check everything and that takes longer.
Common Pitfalls and Problems in Publishing (General List)
This is a list of things I view as common problems in the industry, by vendor or subject.
- Preorder Cancellations (See below for quick guide on how to prevent some cancellations)
- Random Disciplinary Action
- Strict Rules
- Error reporting tool (Overstepping of vendor bounds.)
Preorder Cancellation Prevention Guide:
- Step 1: Upload Book into Amazon.
- Step 2: Open Previewer.
- Step 3: Go to pricing page, submit for review.
- Step 4: Observe. If book instantly processes, it’s probably bugged. If it has a longer ‘review and publishing’ time, it MIGHT be okay. Not guaranteed.
- Step 5: Wait for Amazon to email you that the book has been processed and is available for preorder.
- Step 6: Create a new book file (duplicate old or save as new with minor alterations. I recommend saving a new copy/generating new files with small changes.)
- Step 7: Change name of book file. I use V# and Vendor (Amazon, Non-Amazon) to differentiate the files.
- Step 8: Repeat Steps 1-7.
- Step 9: Repeat Steps 1-7.
- Step 10: Repeat Steps 1-7.
- Step 11: Repeat Steps 1-7 approximately ten more times.
- Step 12: Check your book’s landing page on Amazon. It should have a reasonable page count and file size. if you see a page count and file size, you are probably okay.
- Step 13: Wait and hope your preorder isn’t cancelled. (Cry as needed. Tears are self-generated and free, just try to hydrate between sessions.)
I know some people are going to bitch and moan about this. Go ahead and bitch and moan to yourself.
I have not lost a preorder yet to Amazon, and this is my method. And when friends come to me in a panic worried about this… this is what I have them do.
The friends who have done this have not lost their preorders yet.
My friends who are doing the steps 1 to 2 times? More than a few of them have lost their preorders.
I choose to spend the time and not lose my preorders.
Barnes and Noble
- Change your Address with Caution
Barnes and Noble is notorious for locking accounts and refusing to pay out when an address is changed. When you change your address, plan to do so the day after you are paid. Your account will be locked from receiving payments. You must send updated tax information to their special email account.
This process can take two to three months, and it’s very annoying.
Ah, scammers. I fucking hate them. They suck. I’ve been scammed. And the person who scammed me continues to scam others. I won’t name names here, but it says a lot about the industry that people usually know who I’m talking about just from making a comment.
Here’s the deal: please step away from the people who are charging you a fortune to learn how to earn six, seven… or whatever figures.
It’s great for authors to help other authors, but here’s the reality of the situation:
It boils down to the following:
- Have a great cover.
- Have a great description.
- Write books people want to read. (Market vs passion)
- Don’t be a dick online
- Spend money on advertising so the book is seen by the right readers.
There. I just saved you $5,000+ dollars. That’s literally all there is to it.
You can buy really good books explaining how to spend money on advertising for as little as a dollar each.
Note: any book that tells you to give your books away for free or $0.99 all the time are to be avoided.
Yes, yes, this will piss people off. But let’s face it: there is a reason the big traditional authors make more than most self-publishers.
They do not undercut their sales with gimmicks.
If you write a fabulous book that can sell for $6.99, all you’re doing by offering that same book for $0.99 (especially at release) is losing money.
Yes, it’s harder to sell a book for $6.99.
But here’s the reality of the situation: if your book is actually that good, it will sell at a similar rate to the $0.99 bargain bin books.
That’s the rub, though… the book has to be actually that good.
(Insert a shrug here.)
Signing up for courses isn’t going to make you a millionaire. It’s not going to even help you reach four figures a month. The reality is… you need the core elements of your book to be fabulous before you even worry about advertising.
That is your cover, your description, and your writing. That is what sells books, period.
Reviews? They just turn a non-convinced reader potentially into a convinced one. They aren’t trusted by most nowadays, so they’re empty promises. HOWEVER, the ratings are useful, because readers DO look at books with mass ratings.
“Ten thousand people liked this… maybe I will, too.”
Ratings are very important. Reviews are less important than the ratings, but they are still important enough.
But ratings are your “street cred” nowadays.
Now, there is something to be said for some courses out there. If I had to recommend one, Bryan Cohen offers a free course every now and then for learning Amazon’s ad platform. I highly recommend that you do this session.
It’s free, and it’s hugely helpful. Bryan has paid courses, but if you need to learn the basics and are on a budget? He has free coursework you can participate in.
Please note that this has been, historically, run on facebook, so you may need a facebook account to access the course material. (The times I’ve participated, it has been on facebook. I do not know if this has changed.)
While there are legitimate courses out there, please do check into the author or group behind the course.
A lot of people move into coursework because they could not make writing work for them. Some move into it because they just prefer it over writing, but they were at one point genuinely successful. Some… well, are scammers.
If the person behind the coursework could not make their niche work, approach with caution.
You might be learning from someone who couldn’t make the cut.
This is a real risk.
For marketing, you don’t want a failed author leading the marketing charge. You need someone who is naturally a good marketer or succeeded and wanted less stress/other methods of earning income.
Scammers want the money, and they’re willing to pass on any old shit advice they can.
If the course work requires $0.99 or kindle unlimited… it probably isn’t good advice.
Yes, kindle unlimited can be legitimate, but if the entire strategy involves being underpaid and exclusive, it’s probably just not a good strategy.
Learning to identify scammers and opportunists in this industry is hard.
But if someone says they were scammed… believe them.
Scammers are usually very skilled at convincing people the victims are wrong. That’s why they’re called con artists. Learn to identify them so you spend your money in the right way.
Scammers tend to do the following:
- They rely on small successes to convince you to spend more money.
- They require monthly payments for access to advice, etc.
- They offer “white glove” services… but they don’t have a lot of big name authors actively backing them.
- Always ask the author in question if they have used the service–and believe the author.
- If the scammer or scammer’s close friends go on lynching runs at authors… ask the author. Legitimate vendors do not attack authors. This goes both ways, however… read the room. What is the author complaining about? If they paid and didn’t receive a service? RED FLAG! Scammer is probably scamming. If they paid and are told ‘we did the thing’ but there’s no proof or sales… red flag.
- Any time someone promises sales… that’s not how this works. Your cover, description, and writing are the core requirements for sales. If the scammer isn’t able to make recommendations on making all three more marketable, you probably have a problem on your hands.
Things that are NOT scams but may be a waste of your money
Cue incoming shit storm due to people disliking my opinion in five, four, three…
Yep. I’m saying it. Anthologies are not going to make or break your career. What typically happens is this:
1: Group puts together an anthology.
2: Anchors are selected. (Anchors are those who are holding the whole thing up; they’re your big name headliners.)
3: Readers buy the anthology because of the anchors.
4: Anchors get the lion’s share of the attention, and everyone else might get some readers.
The reality is… very few people read all the offerings in an anthology, and they stop reading the instant they encounter a bad book.
They will go read their anchors, take joy in having a new read by a favorite author, and move on.
Titles (USA Today, etc) mean literally nothing when earned in this fashion.
There are exceptions to this, and that’s when a small group of anchors get together and do an anthology together. These usually have 3-5 authors in them, most everyone has their letters already, and they’re doing it for fun and money.
The books are not priced at $0.99. There are not a bazillion titles in it. Every author has equal screen space. (A set word count authors are supposed to write within.)
In this case, readers may end up reading everything from everyone. The size of the book is not oppressive. Everyone is somebody they can verify is good at writing books. The books are also usually better edited.
But the authors aren’t doing them for USA Today letters or other accolades. They are doing it for fun and money.
I participate in Pets in Space for a few reasons. First, I love animals, and Hero-Dogs gets a chunk of royalties. Second, I am really enjoying the world I’m writing in for the anthology. Finally, I’m having fun.
I will likely continue contributing in Pets in Space for however long the group wants me there… because I’m loving it. It’s a wonderful experience for me from top to bottom.
Does it earn me good money? No. But that’s not why I’m participating.
For the most part, anthologies are a big no from me.
Note: this excludes single-author anthologies. Those are not the same as what is being discussed here.
Marketing Experts/Account Operators
If advertising is not your thing, there are legitimate services that will run your facebook, bookbub, and amazon ad accounts for you. These are expensive and ultimately cut your return on investment way down. But this is not necessarily a scam. It’s a service.
If the service provider is doing the following, it is NOT a scam:
1: uses your account (with permissions set, etc) to operate your ads. In facebook, you can assign staff to work on campaigns, so you can monitor and observe what the marketer is doing.
2: providing the service promised. (In bookbub, this involves providing the target, the CPM/CPC, the settings, and the graphics to be used in the ads. In Amazon, this might be having access to the account to run the ads for you.)
These services are not free, and a good marketer may charge up to $100+ an hour to run your ads for you.
A good marketer can automate most of it, but the reality is… running ads takes time, and this is expensive.
Someone isn’t necessarily a scammer for asking to be paid fairly for their work.
As mentioned earlier, coursework is plagued with scammers. But the reality? Not all coursework is a scam.
A few signs for finding a good course are as follows (in my opinion):
- The mentor is experienced and has had success with their own books
- There is a reasonable one-time charge for lifetime access to all coursework
- They are not trying to sell you add-ons after add-ons.
- They aren’t promoting gimmicks (Perma free, $0.99, obscure categories)
The biggest one, to me, is this:
- They have an active client list of bestsellers who vocally praise their work.
I’ve seen a LOT of people claiming bestseller status… on a category you can get #1 in with a sales rank of 100,000 in the paid kindle store.
I’m sorry, but no. You’re looking for USA Today, NY Times, and WSJ (Wall Street Journal) bestsellers for this entry. USA Today is the friendliest for indies to hit, and it’s literally just “a list of the top 150 best selling books for the week.”
Hitting any one of these lists is hard.
And yes, even when you have 20 people teamed together to make an anthology hit… this is hard. Good job for making it happen. It isn’t going to accomplish what you hope for in your career, but you did a very difficult thing as a team, and that IS worthy of praise. It isn’t going to make or break your career, however.
But it is an accomplishment. (Good job.)
But seriously. I learned this the hard way: USA Today will not magically open doors for you. It does let you put a really pretty banner on your books that says you’re a strong-selling author. But that is a purely aesthetics thing.
Where the list entry might help you is being bought by libraries for their catalogues. This is where I have put my USA Today letters to good use. But ultimately? The readers requesting my books with their public library is why I’m growing in popularity with libraries.
Readers: absolutely DO request your favorite authors’ books in the library system… and then check the book out/read it before returning it! This tells the libraries the author is someone worth buying.
If the author is read often enough, libraries will auto-buy them.
So yes, please support your libraries–and indies, do make your books available to libraries! Libraries are hugely important.
Now, for the sad part of this post… the reality checks.
Most books never sell more than 500 copies ever. If you have sold 500 copies… and it wasn’t to family, friends, and co-workers, you have accomplished something real.
Authors Guild did an income report for 2023, and here are the pertinent results:
- Median earnings from books: $10,000.
- Median earnings from books and other services: $20,000.
- Median earnings (Self-Published) from books: $12,500.
- Median earnings (Self-Published) from books and other services: $15,000.
Takeaway: Self-Published authors are more likely to earn more money on books, but they are weaker on the services side. (And let’s face it: that’s for good reason.)
- Median for Experienced Self-Publishers (5+ years): $24,000.
Read the overview of the report. It’s really interesting. But, this is also the reality authors are facing, and it’s a very good thing to learn and understand.
Being an author is hard.
Success is not guaranteed.
Good luck venturing into the world of publication, and please let me leave you with this piece of advice:
It’s okay to remain “just” a writer. Publishing is hard, the odds of you making your money back are slim, and while the dream of publishing a book is a nice one… you need to be ready for sweat, blood, tears, and sacrifice.
If publishing makes you lose the joy of writing… just please stop publishing. We only live once, and this industry is lethal. Literally.
Take care of yourself and your mental health… and if things don’t go as you might wish, it’s okay to step away, even if it means you leave an unfinished series in your wake.
You matter, author.
Without you, there aren’t any books.
And if your mental health does improve, come back and work on that series you left behind… if you want.
While I personally plan to finish every series I start, I will never judge you for walking away. You are important, and you matter.
And sometimes, that means turning around and going in a new direction.
Stay safe out there, and have a happy holidays. I hope there was something in this mess that helps you on your journey. Even if the answer is “I think I’ll pass.”
Happy reading, and happy writing, y’all.