Author Topic: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income (update p8)  (Read 41326 times)  

Offline Patty Jansen

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Inspired by several posts here in the last few weeks, I had this essay (yeah, truly, the longest post ever) sitting in a Scrivener file for weeks. I had a bit of a will-I-won't-I feeling about it, and was going to post it on my blog. I probably still will do that, but as mentioned elsewhere, the comment function on my blog is broken.

What inspired me to write this? A year or so ago, I started setting up my writing through our business account, and recently my husband was commenting on how the income from my writing would now be enough for us to live off if we didn't have three cars and three children in university.

And I thought: well, but I have have never published a book that sold really well. And I thought about that post Hugh Howey had here, called "The writers I want to hear from". Search for it. And I listened to Lindsay Buroker's interview with Data Guy this morning and I thought, what the hey. Maybe some discouraged new writer will get something from it.

So here is the post.

First, a bit about myself. I started self-publishing in 2011 by putting up some short stories from trade pub where the rights had reverted back to me. For at least the first year and a half, I published a lot of what we shall call random crap, most of which is still online in one way or another, but I knew squat about series and branding and all that stuff. I didnt really understand any of that until late 2013-ish, when I started making a decent effort towards completing and branding series.

I write Science Fiction and Fantasy, everything under one name. I have no pen names to speak of, or at least none that Im doing anything with. That may change, but I find it annoying to have to double up on everything.

On Amazon US, my books usually hang out between 50k and 300k. Ive never had a book in the top 1000 on Amazon US (I have in the UK and other countries. France!). Ive never had anything that you can remotely classify as a bestseller. But I have been #1 in Fantasy at Kobo, does that count? :P

I sell on all platforms and am direct where I can. My Amazon sales have varied from 5-50% of my total sales. Yes, you read that right, 5%. It was in the Kobo heydays when 80% of my income was from Kobo. I have no true dud platforms. I sell at least a few hundred dollars worth on each of: B&N, Apple, Google Play and Kobo. My current income is 3-5k per month and has doubled every year.

Enough about me.

For the purpose of the plan Im going to make some assumptions:

- That you can produce four books a year, or an average of 1000 words of edited fiction per day, averaged over the year. Not write 1000 words of fiction, but add 1000 words of completed manuscript every day, for 365 days a year average.
- That you are willing to work pretty damn hard
- That you have done the nitty-gritty about learning to plot, write and sustain interesting stories.
- That you write in a genre that both holds your passion and that is reasonably popular.
- That you are willing to edit you ebooks properly and give them decent, genre-appropriate covers, and pay for this if necessary.

A small word on the last point. I am not one of the OMG, you must absolutely have this done by someone who charges for it! crowd. It *is* possible to self-edit to an acceptable standard. It is possible that you have the skills to make covers that sell (my overall best-selling books still have covers I made). Its totally possible to format your own books.

But. Big but.

All of it costs time. Is it the best use of your time to force yourself to read your manuscript backwards in order to find those last few typos? At some point, the answer becomes a solid: I dont think so.

You need to write four novels a year after all.

If you have trouble reaching the four novels a year goal even without distractions, you need to write more. I know it sounds like the ol squeaky wheel, but its true. Write more = more skill, both in writing style and in plotting a story. And finishing the book without getting side-tracked, starting over ten times or writing meandering stuff that never goes anywhere (believe me, Ive done all those things).

TL;DR:

Four novels a year.
Editing, good formatting, good, genre-appropriate cover.

OK, here goes the plan.

Part 1: the product.

1. Write a series of three books in a genre you like. Its best if the books are full-length 70-80k at least. There are people who can get away with novellas, but selling well gets harder the shorter your books are. Unless, maybe, your genre is erotica or romance. Maybe. Just make the books full-length, OK? It makes life so much easier (insert whisper that sounds like Bookbub).
2. Make the first book free.
3. Play around a bit with advertising if you feel so inclined (I meanwhy the hell not?), but dont worry about stuff that takes you away from writing too much.
4. Make sure you have the following in all your books: a link to your mailing list signup form, and, at the end, a live link to the next book in the series.
5. When you finish the series, or even while youre writing it, start a next series. Make it a slightly different subgenre, or use a different setting and characters. Make sure that people dont need to have read the other series in order to follow it. Write three books. Make the first book free.
6. Repeat 5. Twice, if you can. Three years @ 4 novels a year = 12 books = 4 trilogies.
7. Advertise your freebies, but dont fall down any rabbit holes that take you away from writing for major chunks of time (insert snort that sounds like Facebook advertising).

Part 2: the marketing.

1. After a while, your mailing list will start to build up a bit (see point 4 above). Get a paid account at Mailchimp or wherever you are. If you are not at a list provider that allows automation and segmentation, and most importantly, automation *based on* automatic segmentation, move your list. Yes. Mailchimp and Aweber & co are not the cheapest. The cheapest providers suck for the purpose Im going to show you here.
2. Set up mailing automation. When people join your list, send them an email with the freebies, even tough theyre already free. Dont email the freebies to them, but include download links in the email. Then booby-trap those links so that you can track who downloads what. Youll be using this later.
3. Next, send your subscribers to an automated program that sends them something at regular intervals (Amazon genre newsletters arrive every two weeks, thats good enough for me). What do you write about? About you, about your fiction, free short stories, you ask them questions, tell them about tidbits of research youve done, or places you travelled for your writing. Tell them about box sets youre in, and even plug your friends with similar books. Anything. Boobytrap any links to your books so your mailchimp/Aweber/whatever account knows who clicked what.
4. Siphon people who clicked all the links to series 1 (and downloaded the freebie!) off to a side list, and say three months later send them an email saying: hey, this is book 2 in the series. Do this will all books 2 in all your series.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4. Create new emails, use the links and who clicks them to segment your list and send them further information based on who clicked what.
5. Presto! You have now created your own marketing machine that crawls like a giant slug over your subscriber list.

Part 3: your tasks.

Its now really clear what you need to do:

A. Keep writing new books that people want to read, continuing your most popular series, starting new series maybe (make book 1 free again). Add new emails about those books to your mailing sequence.
B. Keep feeding people into your giant mailing slug.


Doing A is pretty simple. Stop series that sell the worst and continue the ones that sell the best. Start new series.

Do, however *finish* each series, dont abandon it. Series planning should include having several rest points where most plot threads are resolved and where you can walk away from it for a while or forever. Also, dont unpublish the books. And dont stop advertising book 1 (see below).

How do you do B?

Easy:
You advertise. Any old way will do. Bookbub is pretty good for getting new people on your mailing list. So are cross-promos. The more freebies you fling into the world, the more people will sign up. ENT is pretty good as well.
Put your mailing list signup everywhere on your web page and then drive people there using interesting blog posts, and linking your blog to Facebook and Twitter.
Advertise your list directly. This does not need to remain limited to Facebook. Be creative.

There you go. Thats the plan. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme (thats where the three year bit comes in). In fact, it sounds an awful lot like hard work.

No bestsellers required. I would love it if one day I published something that went into the top 1000 at Amazon and stayed there for months, but the thing is, thats a dream. I can try for it (I will with the planned launch of my next series), but it may fall flat on its face. Ive seen that happen often enough to know that there is no such thing as a guaranteed success.

But even if I never have a bestseller, all these steps outlined here will guarantee me a pretty darn solid and even income.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2017, 07:51:56 PM by Patty Jansen »

Offline Amby

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2016, 10:36:33 PM »
Thank you for this! I've been a lurker for a long time and have followed your posts with great interest. Will be bookmarking this thread for future reference.
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Offline Steven Hardesty

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2016, 10:37:44 PM »
Thanks, Patty!  Your comments on KB have always been so helpful and well-considered that I'd been wondering how I might goad you into writing a grand summary post of your ideas, and here it is.  Great stuff!  8) 


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Offline vaughanwsmith

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2016, 10:39:59 PM »
Really useful post Patty, thanks for sharing it. It's so important to hear from people who are doing well in a sustainable way without requiring a breakaway title that is hard to replicate.


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Offline Sever Bronny

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2016, 10:43:40 PM »
Great post, Patty. Persistence pays off! :)

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2016, 11:12:01 PM »
I love reading things like this. Real motivation, which is basically, "Work Hard, Work Smart." Thanks for sharing, Patty. I really respect your work ethic and general attitude.

Offline Jane Killick

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2016, 11:23:20 PM »
Amazing, Patty! Just so impressed with how you keep plugging away.

Will need to find some time to learn how do a lot of this Mailchimp stuff. It's just finding the time when I have all this writing to do. I will bookmark this thread and come back to it to study further.

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Offline Marilyn Peake

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2016, 11:26:46 PM »
Fantastic post, Patty! I like your attitude. It's much like mine: chill out but work hard.

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Offline EC Sheedy

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2016, 11:28:37 PM »
Fabulous post, Patty. I always listen when you speak on Kboards and this post reminds me why. You work hard and you work smart. You deserve your bestseller!  :D
 

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2016, 11:32:39 PM »
Brilliant post, Patty - thank you! Bookmarked, so I can refer discouraged first-timers to it in future.
   

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Offline K.B.

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2016, 11:38:22 PM »
Great post, Patty!

For the most part, these posts are more inspiring for me than those posted by blockbuster sellers. You've laid out a clear path to an obtainable, and sustainable level of success. You're going to keep rising with each and every release, and this is proof that hard work and dedication will pay off.


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Offline Rinelle Grey

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2016, 11:42:45 PM »
Great info, especially the automation bit. I've been thinking I should set something up, but not sure exactly what or how.

When you say boobytrap links, do you mean record the clicks in mailchimp, or something else?

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Offline Patty Jansen

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2016, 11:48:00 PM »
Great info, especially the automation bit. I've been thinking I should set something up, but not sure exactly what or how.

When you say boobytrap links, do you mean record the clicks in mailchimp, or something else?

Do you have mailchimp paid?

I can go into technical detail (not that what I'm doing is all that high-tech and it's probably a gaffer-tape method, but hey it works) but if you don't have that, you can't do it. Also I'm about to go out, so I'll have to do it later or tomorrow.

Offline LeonardDHilleyII

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2016, 12:02:33 AM »
Great post! Great info! Thanks for sharing!


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Offline PJ_Cherubino

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2016, 12:04:08 AM »
Patty Jansen = awesome

My indie pub hero.

I bookmarked this to study.
Thank you, Patty!
 

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Offline Veronica Sicoe

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #15 on: February 18, 2016, 12:13:46 AM »
Absolutely love this. You ROCK, Patty! Hands down. Hats in the air. Awesome.

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #16 on: February 18, 2016, 12:14:08 AM »
I'm looking forward to reading one of you novels, Patty. I love your writing style :)

I'll never be able to do the self-edit thing on account of all my rogue commas, see? There's, one now!

My goal is to publish three books this year. The thing I find time-consuming is the workshopping and beta-reading process. I don't want to give them up because, well to be frank, I rely on them the way a functional alcoholic relies on coffee. I love the refining process and how I get a better book in the end. Just wondering if you account for workshopping and/or beta reading and you still manage to produce four books a year?

Thanks for the post. I like the 'real' plan you give us, and I'd be interested to see a post on your views of Facebook advertising (given the latest euphoria about it).

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Offline The 13th Doctor

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #17 on: February 18, 2016, 12:23:06 AM »
Oh, this is so bookmarked! Thank you, Patty!

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #18 on: February 18, 2016, 12:44:16 AM »
Brilliant post Patty.

I'm happy to see that this is very similar to my plan! I will be releasing trilogies for the next few years to give multiple entry points and test the market.

The main difference is that although I much prefer the idea of wide, I had planned to go with select for the first few years and then think about leaving once I have a back catalogue. I know you are a proponent of going wide generally, but do you also think it is best to do so from the start in order to ensure the time needed to build an audience?
   

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #19 on: February 18, 2016, 12:45:43 AM »
Do you have mailchimp paid?

I can go into technical detail (not that what I'm doing is all that high-tech and it's probably a gaffer-tape method, but hey it works) but if you don't have that, you can't do it. Also I'm about to go out, so I'll have to do it later or tomorrow.

Yep, I had to upgrade to paid based on my numbers, so I figure I should take advantage of all the features. I haven't really ventured into the automation yet. I looked at it briefly, then backed away slowly. :) I think it has the potential to be very powerful though!

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Offline Jordan Rivet

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #20 on: February 18, 2016, 12:53:02 AM »
Thank you for this post, Patty! This is such a sensible approach to building a writing career.

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Offline Matthew Stott

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #21 on: February 18, 2016, 01:19:34 AM »
Great post! Very inspiring. We'd all love a Wool, or a Martian, but it's this sort of thing that shows you what's possible for all willing to put in the work. The trilogies thing ticks my own current plan. I have 3 trilogies in the works (and a kids one completed), all can then be left as they are after 3 books, or carried on if the demand is there. I think it's a wise strategy.

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #22 on: February 18, 2016, 01:35:37 AM »
From one fellow workhorse to another *high five*

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #23 on: February 18, 2016, 01:54:49 AM »
Really helpful and insightful post, especially for a newbie like me!

Bookmarked for a more in depth study later.   :)
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Offline martyns

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Re: The three-year, no-bestseller plan to a sustainable, liveable income
« Reply #24 on: February 18, 2016, 03:04:10 AM »
Sounds like good, sensible, contemporary advice. The publishing world is changing and the methods you propose sounds bang up to date!


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