The 7 Secrets of Full-Time Authors: Advanced Author Tactics
Disclaimer: I myself am not a full-time author, at least not as of this writing. This is conjecture based on years of observation and personal fawning over the self-publishing industry.
Some people get rich off of self-publishing. Some people don’t get rich, but still manage to earn a reliable living from writing fiction full time. Many more people sit at home typing on stories they love, dreaming of a day when they too could quit the 9-5 to jump on board as full-time writers.
Most people who want to write full time fail. They realize that publishing quality books is expensive and requires a completely different skill set than simply writing well. They spend years working on a single book and realize that the demands of publishing multiple books per year are beyond what they feel capable of doing.
All the same, some writers do break past the initial barriers. How do they do it?
Fiction is a big world, and so is publishing. That means that no two full-time fiction writers have the exact same method, patterns or secrets. What works for one might not work for another, so it’s important to find a system that works individually for you.
That being said, some patterns rise to the top, and there are a few things that might give you the extra inertia if you want to break into this field for yourself.
Preferably, write a lot every day, at least several thousand words. Some of it won’t be good—some of it will be awful. But you’ll create content you can use and get more experience writing, which will help when you decide to move onto bigger and better projects.
You can set up some exceptions—vacations, weekends, holidays, and sick days; but as a rule, a couple solid sprints a day will help you reach the demanding content threshold that you’ll need to meet.
You might be a fast writer, a slow writer, or have completely different speeds depending on what you’re working on—but you need consistency to keep your readers engaged. Some hardcore writers aim for one book per month, but it’s more important to publish at regular intervals than to drive yourself to burnout by over-committing yourself. Map out an annual or quarterly publishing schedule and stick to it as closely as possible, working out promotions to fill in the gaps between books.
Publishing a book will cost money, but not necessarily a fortune. If you’re just starting out, you’re better off spending your funds on top editing jobs and attractive covers while you build a backlist for readers to discover later. Eventually you can funnel some of that money into advertisements and cross-promotions.
You’ll have to decide at some point whether it’s better to get even better in your strong areas or mitigate your weak spots. When this happens, choose to excel where you’re already good. No reader will remember your books for being all-around “good”--but your fans will rave about what they loved, your strongest areas and the places where your writing naturally shines.
Many authors write books in series, so if one book sells, a pile of others will as well. But this doesn’t mean you need to commit to writing blocks of five or ten books. If the first book in a series doesn't sell, start a new series and try to gain traction again. When something catches on eventually, you can continue building out the series until it naturally peaks and interest level falls.
Writing isn’t as solitary as it sounds. You might sit at your desk or table and look at your story from your perspective, but large crowds of people might find it from the other side and join in as readers. You need to get to know your readers to reach them well. What other books are they reading? Where do they hang out online? By developing a “team” mentality with your readers, you can more easily predict what they want in a story and how you are the ideal writer to deliver it to them.
Writers come in cliques. This is true of high school students trying their first NaNoWriMo challenge and also of six-figure big-league authors who frequent the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Your clique is not necessarily a writing group. You might not read each other’s work at all or offer any advice, but you hang out in the same circles. You write to the same audience and for the same reason. You have a shared drive towards publishing books, and at times you will team up and offer cross-promotions and newsletter swaps. Knowing and finding where you fit in is a key element of success, as you can learn from others and get a leg up on anyone who tries to go it alone.
Nothing I’ve listed above is a hard rule, and there are plenty of successful writers who defy one or more of the standards I’ve listed above. However, if you’re looking to take your writing career to the next level, you might consider implementing some of these tactics if you haven’t already.
As always, please share your own thoughts and tips in the comment section below or join my group for self-publishing fiction writers on Facebook for more discussion!