WRITING FOR A LIVING

Yes, You Can Make a Living Writing Fiction! 10 Tips from Elizabeth S. Craig

 Make a Living Writing Fiction: Follow these Ten Steps

By Elizabeth S. Craig 

I’ve been asked by everyone from writers with day jobs to high school students if it’s possible to make a living as a writer.  The answer is easy—it’s definitely possible.  The next question is trickier to answer—how does one go about making a living as a writer?

Although some writers hit it big with a blockbuster book, the rest of us need to work harder and smarter. We need multiple books with multiple income streams to make it.

Here are my tips and best practices for making a living writing fiction.

I’m doing it, myself (if I weren’t I’d definitely be looking for a day job):

1) Write a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.

If you’re looking for commercial success, it’s best to choose a genre that’s popular with readers. There are readers who avidly follow new releases in their favorite genre, reading as many as they can get their hands on. Writing for those readers makes discoverability much easier than writing ‘a book that’s so unique, it’s impossible to categorize’ (something I’ve heard a writer say before).

But the second part of that tip is equally important—it’s vital that you choose a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.  If you’re branding yourself to a genre, make sure it’s one you know inside and out. This will be much easier if you like reading those types of books.

2) Know what readers expect from the genre.

There are always specific conventions to follow.

Most genres have a particular pattern to them…readers expect to see the stories constructed a certain way. These conventions are helpful because they give us guidelines to follow.

It’s fine to ‘think outside the box,’ but probably better not to start out that way if we’re looking for success. It’s better to experiment after we have a more loyal readership and even then it can be tricky.

I’ve known well-established writers who flouted cozy mystery conventions and suffered poor reviews and angry readers because of it.

If you’re not sure what the conventions for your chosen genre are, step up your critical reading and note similarities in the books. Read customer reviews of these novels on retail sites to see what’s worked and what hasn’t for readers.

3) Write in series.

Readers enjoy reading series and writing in series definitely makes the process easier for authors. With series, we have a set story world, characters with developed traits, and a structure to work from. It’s a terrific time-saver and a way to quickly create more stories without having to reinvent the wheel each time we start a new book.

4) Write quickly.

If you can release at least one book a year, you’ll soon find yourself in a position to make more income.

Having several published books makes it easier to run promotions. You could lower the price of the first book or even make it free. You can give a book away to readers as an inducement to join your email newsletter list.  Aside from the promotional aspect, having several published books gives us more ‘real estate’ and visibility on retail sites.

You can also write faster and more accurately by keeping a story bible for your series, noting any facts that you’ll need to know for future stories (character eye color, style of dressing, lisp, the street the protagonist lives on).

That way you won’t have to take time to reread your own books to research basic facts about your series.

Another way to make the most of your valuable writing time is by giving yourself a short prompt at the end of each writing session to remind yourself where you left off and what you plan on covering next.

5) Self publish.

I write three series, all of which started out with a trade publisher.  I’m continuing two of them independently.

That’s because I realized that I was making more money by self-publishing than I was by publishing at Penguin-Random House…with fewer self-published books.

6) Publish well-edited, well-designed books.

Happy readers make for repeat readers. Make quality part of your brand.

Self-publishing, it’s said, is a misnomer. It takes a team to create really solid products.

7) Make your published books work harder for you.

  • Have your books available in print as well as digital. Use both CreateSpace and IngramSpark to maximize your international reach.
  • Expand into audiobooks.
  • Make your books available in foreign markets and subscription services through distributors like PublishDrive, StreetLib, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords.
  • Get your books in libraries through OverDrive, Baker and Taylor Axis 360, and Bibliotheca CloudLibrary through the previously mentioned aggregators.
  • Accept paid public speaking gigs to talk about your books and your writing process.

8) Continue learning about changes in the publishing industry, better promotional methods, and emerging markets.

Invest time reading blogs that inform self-published authors, such as:

9) Be responsive to criticism.

Read your reviews, especially the critical ones.  If enough readers comment or complain about a particular aspect of a character or your stories, consider making a change to strengthen your books and make them more appealing to readers.

10) Work smarter instead of harder with marketing to open up more time to write.

Promo can eat up time better spent writing. Make a focused list of promo areas you want to pursue and then mark the time to research, create, and implement on your calendar (Facebook ads, BookBub, etc.)

But also consider working smarter and setting up strategies that will help you in the long run without the continuous investment of time.

  • Tweak keywords and keeping book metadata consistent for better discoverability.
  • Link to your other books in your back matter.
  • Make sure to have your newsletter signup link in a variety of places, including your email tagline, website sidebar, back matter of your books, and Facebook page.
  • Inform your newsletter subscribers whenever you have a new release.

This approach won’t appeal to all writers and isn’t right for all writers. This type of production schedule is intense and multiple releases each year can create pressure for the writer. It can take a while to see significant returns…it’s usually a slow build. But for those of us who’d rather write instead of pursuing a day job—it’s worth it in the end.

***

What other tips have I missed for writers interested in writing fiction for a living? And thanks to Anne for hosting me today.

By Elizabeth S. Craig (@elizabethscraig) February 19, 2017.

Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently.

She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog  and curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine WritersKB.com. Elizabeth makes her home in Matthews, North Carolina, with her husband and two teenage children.

(Note from Anne: Follow Elizabeth on Twitter! Her “Twitteriffic” links are the best way to keep up with the publishing industry that I know! )

 

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Fall to Pieces: A Southern Quilting Mystery

When a quilting event falls to pieces, Beatrice works to patch things up.

Dappled Hills quilters are eagerly anticipating new events at the Patchwork Cottage quilt shop. The shop’s owner, Posy, has announced ‘Sew and Tell’ socials and a mystery quilt group project.

But one day, instead of emailed quilt instructions, the quilters receive a disturbing message about a fellow quilter. When that quilter mysteriously meets her maker, Beatrice decides to use her sleuthing skills to find the killer before more lives are cut short.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

Creative Nonfiction magazine seeks TRUE personal stories or profiles about people starting over after a failure or setback. Up to 4000 words. Paying market. $3  submission fee. Deadline June 19, 2017

C.G. JUNG SOCIETY OF ST. LOUIS ESSAY CONTEST $10 ENTRY FEE. Theme: Memories, Dreams, and Sensualities. They are looking for personal essays that add something unique to the conversation about Jungian ideas. Winners will have the opportunity to read their essays at our conference, Jung in the Heartland: Memories, Dreams Sensualities, October 2017. Winning essays published on the website. 1st Prize: $1,000. 2nd Prize: $500. 3rd Prize: $250. 3,500 words. Deadline: May 1, 2017.

LitMag pays up to $1000 for short stories! $250 for poetry and short-shorts. No reprints. They don’t consider work that’s previously been published either in print or online (including personal blogs.)

Write non-fiction? Impakter Magazine is looking for non-fiction articles and interviews (1000-3000 words max) in 4 verticals: Culture, Society, Style, Philanthropy. Articles about politics are also welcome but need to meet the magazine’s standard of high-quality content.  The magazine publishes daily (except week-end) and each piece attracts 10-40,000 viewers (in majority college-educated millennials). No submission fee.

Publish with the Big 5 without an agent! Forever Yours, Digital-first Romance imprint of Hachette is now taking unagented submissions, from novellas to sagas (12K words t0 100K words.) No advance. 25% royalty. Professional editing, design, publicist. Print books over 50K words.

ROMANCE AUTHORS! Here’s a list of 31 small presses that specialize in romance and do not require an agent for submissions. Also compiled by the Authors Publish Newsletter.

25 PUBLISHERS YOU CAN SUBMIT TO WITHOUT AN AGENT. These are respected, mostly independent publishing houses–vetted by the great people at Authors Publish. Do check out their newsletter

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CONTRIVORTIONIST

Contrived is a Four-Letter Word

Few things irritate fiction readers more than a story peopled by characters who act and react without any apparent reason for what they’re doing and saying. No reason, that is, except to illustrate the author’s message. Or prove the author’s point.

Well, you say, don’t we all have a message or point in what we write? Isn’t fiction about letting our characters take the readers on a journey of discovery and even realization? Yes…and no. Writers of powerful fiction keep in mind that the story trumps all. The story, and the characters who people it, should be crafted such that it all presents ideas, challenges understanding, and encourages discourse. It should feel authentic. If a character faces a struggle, we need to understand why he is struggling. If a character experiences joy, we need to know why that even brought her joy. When a fiction writer just has characters do and say what will prove their point or “teach” their message, without showing the why behind it all, without laying a sound foundation for the character to do and say what he is doing and saying, that writer is no longer writing fiction, but delivering a sermon. Or even worse, a story that’s…wait for it…contrived.

Dear ol’ Webster defined contrived as: “having an unnatural or false appearance or quality :  artificial, labored.”

When it comes to fiction, I define contrived as “weak writing.”

Think about it. The last thing you want your readers doing as they read your book is constantly stopping, frowning, and asking, “Why did he do that?” or “Why did she say that?” I’m not talking about the good kind of “why,” where readers want to keep reading to discover the answer to the mystery or the story question. No, this kind of why means the characters aren’t doing their jobs. They’re on the page, acting and speaking…but it doesn’t mean anything because you haven’t given reasons for what the characters are doing.

Suppose you have a hero who is constantly second guessing himself. He goes one way, and then another, and then another entirely. If we don’t understand what’s making said hero do such things, we end up thinking he’s weak, wishy-washy, and even irritating. “Make a choice, idiot, and stick with it!”) But if we know WHY he’s acting that way it changes everything. When we know that our hero was abused as a kid, that every time he took a stand he was punished, that every decision he’s ever made has been ridiculed…then we realize that he’s not operating out of being a twit, but out of a deep-rooted fear. When we understand the why, we are far more willing to go along with what, on the surface, is maddening behavior. Understanding the why gives readers a sense of empathy, and even encourages them to root for the character. (“Come on, dude, you can do it! Grow a spine!”)

Remember, though, the reason, the why, has to be sound. It can’t be just, “I’ll have him say this because it’s what I need him to say now.”

Yes, we novelists have created our characters. And yes, we have reasons for writing the stories we’re writing (and that applies to general market writers as much as Christian writers…we all have a message at the core of what we write), but folks, do your characters–and your readers–a favor and make sure your characters aren’t just puppets on the page. Flesh them out, let who they are and why they are, what drives them and what terrifies them, what delights them and what upsets them, unfold with the story. Let your characters come alive on the page, let them be authentic in what they say and do, and let them have solid reasons for it all.

When you lay a solid, credible foundation of why, story, your characters, and your readers all benefit.

 

THE CHANGES WITHOUT AND THE CHANGES WITHIN

How Self-Publishing Has Changed Authors

As a literary agent, not a day goes by when I don’t encounter the changes in thinking from authors caused by the expansion and availability of self-publishing.

It’s understandable, because there are over twice as many books self-published every year in the United States than are published by traditional publishers.

Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone according to RR Bowker.  Two-thirds are self-published.

According to the United Nations cultural arm UNESCO, well over two million new books are published annually by traditional publishers worldwide.

The Federation of European Publishers reports on the status of book publishing across the continent. They show revenues and traditional publisher title output are generally flat over the last five years, but the number of titles available in print has grown from 8.5 million in 2011 to 22 million in 2015. Digital printing and self-publishing bring more titles to market and keep more in print longer.

However, those 22 million titles generated slightly less revenue in 2015 than the 8.5 million titles did in 2011. Not revenue per title, but total industry revenue.

No wonder book publishing is a challenge for everyone.

Self-publishing has become ubiquitous and is here to stay, but has also created the impression traditional publishing has changed far more dramatically than it actually has.

If you are self-publishing and desire someday to be published by a traditional publisher, you need to change your thinking depending on your intention.

And learn a new language.

How has self-publishing altered the thinking and professional language of authors?  There are five primary areas (and probably more if I think about it).

  • Control – traditional publishing has always been more of a collegial collaboration between publisher and author. Give and take. Negotiation. Honestly, some authors simply should never be traditionally published because of this. They view control as a non-negotiable and will not relinquish it.
  • Timing – You get an idea, write it and publish it as a self-published author. When I tell an author it will take 15-18 months or longer to get a book published traditionally, the stunned silence says it all.
  • Quality of Manuscript – there is no such thing as a finished manuscript. Even if it is edited by three Nobel laureates and chiseled on stone tablets, the manuscript isn’t finished until the publisher says it is. And now you know why some authors self-publish!
  • Length of Manuscript – There is an optimum length of a traditionally published commercial product based on the type of book. Self-published authors write the length they want. A 6,000-word memoir is a thirty-two page free pamphlet, not a commercial book. A 375,000-word novel is generally not commercially viable as a 1,200-page book selling for fifty dollars. If an author cannot tell me how many words are in their manuscript, only it is 200 manuscript pages, they have been completely influenced by self-publishing thinking. Self-publishing is by pages because your costs are a function of the number of pages.
  • Cover Design – The dead giveaway you are a self-published author is you have a final cover, approved by friends and family and ready for print. Covers at a traditional publisher involve input from a dozen people or more who develop covers as part of their profession. Leave your cover at home when talking to a traditional publisher.

So, when I get a proposal from an author telling me they have a 275 page, finished manuscript, need it published in less than six months, and the cover is already done, I know I am about to disappoint them significantly with my reply.

Sweeping generalities can be tricky, but compared to most self-publishing models, traditional publishing is still a slow, methodical, careful and deliberate way to publish, involving many moving parts with creative input from a wide variety of professional people accountable for the long-term financial health of the publisher.

So, if you desire to self-publish and also be traditionally published, be very careful about control, timing, manuscript quality, length and cover design to make sure you use appropriate publisher-language. For self-publishing, the author is in control of everything, which some find very comforting.

Then you learn the hard truth of all book publishing, no matter the path you take:

Half of all published books don’t sell particularly well, but you never know which half.

YOUR BOOKS UNIQUE ANGLE

Identify Your Book’s Unique Angle: One Approach

Mary KeeleyBlogger: Mary Keeley

Last Sunday a church friend and I found ourselves in a conversation about the recent presidential election and potential ramifications thereof. They’re hard to avoid lately unless you’re a mole. The service was about to begin and we needed to get to our seats, but the short interlude of sharing diverse vantage points prompted an idea to share with writers who struggle to identify a unique angle for their books. A fresh approach is a must if you want to grab the attention of agents and editors. Unique angle

Here’s why. A unique angle is one of the first things they look for in a proposal. If it isn’t apparent from the beginning, chances are it won’t get read beyond the first two pages. This is especially true for new writers but also for established authors, because there are no entitlements in publishing. Published authors have to maintain the edge if they hope to get the next contract. So treat the search with a positive attitude because the return will be great.

Your special angle is your friend for these important reasons:

  • It makes your story or your nonfiction book stand out from all those other similar books out there. Think like an editor. Why should he publish your book when there are others already available that say essentially the same thing? Or tell a very similar story?
  • It tells you what to include in your book and what to leave out. Knowing your boundaries makes the writing easier.
  • A fresh new approach makes your book more interesting, which in turn will attract more readers.

But finding that new and different angle can be the hardest challenge in the writing process for many writers.

Here is one approach to help you. Begin by recognizing that the most exclusive part of your book is YOU. You are a unique individual with experiences and perceptions as singular as you are. Dig deep to recall people, personal and worldly events, places, and even objects that made a memorable impression on you over the years. No one else will have an identical response to yours. Use them to your advantage. Ask yourself:

  • Why? Be specific.
  • How? In what ways did it affect your future perspectives, likes and dislikes?
  • When? Was the time and place important to the impression it made on you?

Next, think about how you can use your noted particulars to differentiate your book. Perhaps for assigning a quirk to your protagonist that affects her reactions to events in the plot? Can you also use this to add tension and crises in the story? You might be surprised by ideas that pop up about how to skew your Christian living book’s theme. Even a little bit can be enough to produce a unique angle. Or it might take more thought, but at least you have some tools to work with.

Your personal reactions and impressions are unique to you, but you are not alone in them, so don’t hold back because you think you are a strange exception from the majority. Chances are the reader following you’ve been attracting already feels a connection to your personal impressions in subtle ways.

How did you arrive at a unique angle for your WIP? If you are still working on it, what is holding you up? If you have a different method for pinpointing a fresh angle, please share it.

TWEETABLE:

Your book needs a unique angle to get agent and editor attention. Here is one approach to finding it. Click to Tweet.

Here is one approach to help identify a unique angle for your novel or nonfiction book. Click to Tweet.

GOOD SOLID ROMAN PROGRESS

I have recently made good, solid progress on The Roman Way, The Christian Wizard, and a few other non-fiction books I am currently writing. My set of novels, The Kithariune, proceed apace as well. That being especially true for the Basilegate.

(a superb drawing of a Roman soldier on march by I know not who – follow the link)

So I am very pleased with my progress on these fronts.

In addition, and recently, I have turned out two new children’s books, such as the Kuddle King (picture book level) and a couple of poems which please me and that may be inserted into my novels.

Now I must secure good agents and editors for my work.

Today my wife is off on an assignment for her company, my oldest daughter is back in college, my youngest child is visiting museums in NC, and so I am here alone at the house and may work entirely undisturbed and uninterrupted. So I am going to make good use of my time.

I have been listening to old rock music and opera this morning and that has also put me in a mood to songwrite/songwright. So if I have time and some good ideas strike me I will be doing that as well.

And the weather terrifically good for both working and for training out of doors. So I will have a heavy and productive but relaxed day of both.

Have a good day yourself folks.

JK ROWLING GETS REJECTED

Harry Potter writer shares publishers’ brush-offs for first Robert Galbraith novel in attempt to to inspire other authors

Harry Potter author JK Rowling
JK Rowling was the first female novelist to become a billionaire. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

The Harry Potter author JK Rowling has shared some withering rebuffs publishers sent to her alter ego Robert Galbraith, in an effort to comfort aspiring authors.

Rowling posted the rejection letters on Twitter after a request from a fan. They related to The Cuckoo’s Calling, her first novel as Galbraith. But Rowling also saw Harry Potter turned down several times before the boy wizard became one of the greatest phenomena in children’s literature, with sales of more than 400m copies worldwide.

Asked how she kept motivated, she tweeted: “I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.”

When she pitched under the name Galbraith without revealing her true identity, she faced many more snubs. Since then, Galbraith has published three successful novels but the first was rejected by several publishers, and Rowling was even advised to take a writing course.

Rowling erased the signatures when she posted the letters online, saying her motive was “inspiration not revenge”. She did not reveal the full text of the most brutal brush-off, which came by email from one of the publishers who had also rejected Harry Potter.

Rowling said she could not share the Potter rejections because they “are now in a box in my attic” before offering the Galbraith letters. The kindest and most detailed rejection came from Constable & Robinson, who – despite the advice about a writing course – included helpful tips on how to pitch to a publisher (“as on book jackets – don’t give away the ending!”). The publisher added: “I regret that we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success.”

The short note from publishers Crème de la Crime said the firm had become part of another publishing group and was not accepting new submissions.

When The Cuckoo’s Calling eventually found a publisher in 2013, it was achieving respectable sales before the secret of its authorship broke, and it then shot to the top of the bestseller lists.

Joanne Harris, author of a string of hit novels, joined the Twitter discussion to say she had so many rejections for her 1999 book Chocolat, later adapted as a Hollywood movie, that she had piled them up and “made a sculpture”.

Rowling, Harris and their literary disciples are in excellent company. Eimear McBride, the 2014 Bailey’s prizewinner for her first novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, accumulated a drawer full of rejection letters before a chance conversation led to her book being published by Galley Beggar, a tiny independent publisher in Norwich.

James Joyce’s epic masterpiece Ulysses, regarded as one of the greatest Irish novels, was repeatedly rejected by baffled publishers before finally being published in a tiny edition in Paris in 1922 by his friend Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co bookshop: a copy of the first edition sold a few years ago for £275,000.

Pinterest
‘What keeps you awake at night?’: JK Rowling answers Decca Aitkenhead’s questions back in 2012

TS Eliot, in his role as an editor at Faber and Faber, turned down George Orwell’s Animal Farm as “unconvincing”. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was rejected as “not funny on any intellectual level”, and John le Carré‘s first spy novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, was passed from one publisher to another with the withering comment: “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.” Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick attracted the memorable response “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?” It did.