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One month ago, on January 20th, I released the first novella in my new series, entitled Raising Hell, a Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Novella. I thought I had a pretty good product on my hands and felt like it would do fairly well. I didn't expect it to revitalize my career and jump off to the extreme success that it has. I wanted to share my path to success here with nuts and bolts information in hopes that it might be helpful, since I too often finding myself playing the role of "Simon" instead of "Paula" to people's dreams lately. I want to encourage people, and to show you that with not very much money, you can create a solid product and find success.

Let's start with the facts - I have a bit of a following. My Bubba stories have found success, and my Black Knight Chronicles books do fairly well for a small press guy. But the tactics that I use can work for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have released 30+ titles or if this is your first.

Step 1 - Pre-orders - I put Raising Hell up for pre-order a month before it was to release, and started planning for release day and promoting release day hard. I added the title and release date into my personal email sig, because if my friends won't buy my stuff, why should a stranger? I have a Facebook author page, and a personal page, and a Twitter account. I posted the cover and release to all of them. Almost daily as the book was preparing for launch, and daily since the book has launched.

Yes, I post a blurb about the book on Twitter and Facebook every single day. I also post about other new releases every day, as well as posting about releases by friends of mine, other stuff I see around the web and I engage and comment on other people's Twitter and Facebook feeds. I stay very active on these particular streams of social media because these are the ones I enjoy and understand. I don't use others because I don't really like Tumblr, Pinterest, G+ or whatever else. I use Hootsuite to plan my posts for the week. It takes about an hour each weekend to schedule close to 100 Twitter and FB posts for the upcoming week. Then when I'm working my day job, I bounce over to FB or Twitter now and then to find things to share, like and comment on. Social media must be a conversation, not just a billboard.

On my Twitter and FB feed, I asked for bloggers or reviewers who were interested in a review copy, and sent them out. If you haven't released much and don't have book bloggers and reviewers who will respond to that kind of request, you'll have to go out and find some folks to review your stuff. Early reviews are very key, as they not only let information about your launch go wider than just your personal channels, it's someone impartial saying your book rocks.

I also asked other writers to post my press release and cover image, or to let me guest post on their blog. I have developed a network of writers who are in my genre and are either my friends or owe me favors. These people are my tribe. We cross-promote each other's stuff and are happy to do it. I've spent several years building this network by going to conventions and meeting people face to face, by editing anthologies for pennies and giving people a chance to be published, by going to local writers' groups and giving advice and lending a hand. If you think you can sit at home and be J.D. Salinger and make money in this business, please stop reading now and go stare out the window waiting for the money truck to pull up to your door. Build your tribe. Help other people. Let them help you. Find a group of writers who are at the same level of success you are and grow together in this business. Create your own Algonquin Round Table. It's worth the effort.

I spent money on my cover. I didn't spend much. Victorian Lieske, who I met virtually on here, is a brilliant cover artist as well as a talented writer. I bought one of her premades the week before Christmas. Because it was Christmas, she gave me a discount. I think the cover looks amazing, and it's gotten compliments from all over.

I spent money on proofreading. I didn't spend money on developmental editing, or story editing. I'm well into my second million words written professionally. I know how to tell a story in novella form. I also know what my shortcomings are, and commas are them. I think commas are like garlic, and should be sprinkled liberally through everything. I also know that not everyone loves garlic as much as I do. So I hired Skald & Raven for my proofreading. They were super-fast, and very affordable.

I read the first chapter on my podcast, and I guested on a couple other podcasts to promote the book. This also came out of Facebook and Twitter friends, which came out of convention appearances and getting out there meeting people. Since the book has launched I mention it on my podcast almost weekly, and I have pushed it in two newsletters to my mailing list.

Oh yeah, some stats -
Newsletter - 266 subscribers
Twitter - 1,393 followers
FB author page - 937 likes
FB personal page - 2,070 friends
Podcast - Averages 200-300 downloads per episode
Blog - Averages 1,100 page views per month

So I'm out there, but nothing crazy. My numbers are decent, and they're all real numbers, no purchased lists or anything like that. So I think my social media presence is decent, but nothing to write home about.

So that's what I did. Here's what happened. Here are the numbers for January 19 - February 20 (AM)

Free Downloads - 0 other than review copies and copies sent to my patrons on Patreon, I didn't give away nothing. Buy it, be a patron, or join KU
KU/KOLL - 370
Sales - 736
Pre-Orders - 163

Total revenue - $1,702.91 - this assumes that February's KU/KOLL rate will be identical to January's. Evidence shows that is unlikely to be true, but that's the number I have, so we'll consider this an estimate.
Total Expense - Approximately $100, including some stock photos I purchased in an aborted attempt to do the cover myself. That covers stock images I bought and didn't use, Vicki's awesome cover, and Proofreading from S&R.

Net (approximate) - $1,600.00 in 30 days. On a novella. In a new series.

I also released several other titles in the last 30 days, short stories in my Bubba the Monster Hunter series, and I included the first chapter of Raising Hell in those releases as well. This certainly didn't hurt, but most of what put eyes on this product was promotion of this product. So that's what I did, and the results I saw. I hope you find this helpful. I'll pop in to answer questions if you have them over the next day or two.
 

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Congrats, that's a great result! You should be well poised to capitalize on its success. In addition to everything you mention, the luck component cannot be discounted. It's not always easy to duplicate, so it's important for me to not get discouraged when it seems like I've done everything right and it still doesn't pan out. There's always the next book/series.

Victorian Lieske
I love this typo, and am now imagining Victorine in a cool steampunk costume as she's working on your cover. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #3
LOLZ. I would normally go correct that, but you're right, the typo's funnier.

You're right about luck, though. If any of us knew what was going to be a best-seller, we'd all be rich!
 

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John Hartness said:
You're right about luck, though. If any of us knew what was going to be a best-seller, we'd all be rich!
I don't mean to discount your great result, so please don't take it that way. I have a 26,000 word WWII novella that I think is one of my more solid efforts, and it has taken 3 years to make that kind of money. You're doing great, and I appreciate the helpful info.
 

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Congrats man! That's really cool. I've had a similar experience with my new book, which is a manifesto all about writing short kindle books. Granted, I'm a non-fiction author, but it's cool to see folks in the fiction world having similar luck with short books, as a lot of the same concepts and strategies apply.

I think, like with anything, there's always some *small* measure of luck involved, but honestly? You make your own "luck" through smart design choices, hard work, careful niche research and targeting, and other things every author should be doing. Your choice of niche and how you angle your books can make a HUGE difference in how well they sell, and things like slick cover design, day-1 positive reviews, and killer descriptions (and having a great book to begin with) are all KEY.

Cheers and keep the words flowing! :)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks! And Michael, I never felt you were trying to discount the hard work. Luck is totally a factor, for good or bad.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks, Michael. I have seen several of these reports recently that said nothing about what they actually did to promote the book, and I wanted to provide sales figures with actual actionable items for people. Hope it's helpful.
 

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John,

Congrats!  Lot's of hard work and effort apparently paying off for you now.  :)

My question:  OK, what did you do when you wrote your first 100k words and not the 2 mil you working on now?  What advice would you give a debut author who is ready to jump into the pool and there is no water there?  Sort of like the chicken and the egg question.  How does a debut author obtain traction in his/her genre starting from scratch?  What did you do when you started from scratch?

Thanks!
SM
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I spent five years writing outside of fiction, working in the online poker industry covering live and internet poker tournaments, plus writing a blog. I was fortunate in that people were willing to pay me to learn, but my first 100-200K words were on a blog that I wrote daily for several years. That's where I developed my voice and my storytelling. The fact of it is that my early work wasn't written to be publishable, salable content, which is good because it wasn't publishable or salable, but it was certainly published on my blog.

It takes time, it takes years, and it takes dedication. I was a debut author in 2009 with The Chosen, but I had five years of writing professionally under my belt before that. There's no shortcut for putting in the time to learn how to write. If you haven't read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I highly recommend it. He examines in-depth the concept of spending 10,000 hours to learn how to be excellent at a craft. If you look at the amount of time pro basketball players spend shooting free throws, it's not because they aren't talented and gifted athletes, it's because anything that you want to be truly great at takes time and repetition, and hard work at the free throw line after the gym is empty.

I'm starting my second decade of trying to become an overnight success, and I'm still trying to get better every day.

But to start from scratch - Here are a few steps I would take.

1) Start a blog and write every day. It doesn't even matter what you're writing about. Spend a minimum of thirty minutes every day writing. At that pace in 20,000 days you'll be an expert. If you want to get good faster, write more. The more you write, the better you'll get. And I don't mean commenting on forum posts, I mean writing with intent. You have to say something. Pick a point and express it.

2) Find a writing group of people that write in a similar genre and have a similar level of experience. I have a group of several friends who all write fantasy and sci-fi, and we're all close to the beginning of our careers. We work together, support each other, critique each other, learn from each other and lift each other up. Share the burden, and don't be afraid of sharing the success. Build your writing Band of Brothers, or Algonquin Round Table, don't try to huddle in your writing hut and do it alone. If you don't have people around you, find them online. But make real connections. Learn their real names, their real-world concerns. Be a real friend, and have their back. Then they'll have yours.

3) Find someone who will tell you when your work sucks. This board is lovely and supportive and that's great, but everybody spends a lot of time talking about covers and blurbs and promos, and nobody is willing to say "You're not ready to publish." Because we're so afraid of sounding like the big bad gatekeepers and having High King Konrath or Howey come down and smite us (no offense to Hugh, who is very nice and won't actually smite anyone) that we're afraid to say "that sucks, you need to take a writing class before you infect the world with your wretched prose." You have to have someone who doesn't like you enough to miss you if you were gone, to quote the late great Johnny Cash. Because your first book probably isn't ready. Unless you've put in the time learning how to write, and being torn down by people who are good writers, and unlearning bad habits.

4) Spend a ton of time reading, and going to conventions, and taking writing classes, and making connections. Spend a year or two doing this before you think about publishing something. I have several friends who I've worked with on projects that did this. They went to local sci-fi and fantasy conventions (Connooga in Chattanooga is next weekend, so is MystiCon in Roanoke) which have good writing tracks and learn from people who have been there and done that. Learn from people who have been writing for years, then write better. Make friends with writers in the bars at conventions, then ask them to critique a sample, or sign up for a critique session. Take every opportunity to get better, THEN publish. Worry about the craft before you worry about the sales. If you write an amazing book, you'll sell books. If you write crap, the business will chew you up and spit you out.

I hope these help. I know it's discouraging to hear that maybe you're not ready to publish, but maybe you're not. I don't know. I don't know if you're amazing or not. But I know that writing is as much a craft as it is an art, and if you put in the work, you can master it. But I also know that the number of people who are "born" writers is very low. Like I've never met one low. So good luck, let me know if I can help.

I mentioned conventions. I'll be at Connooga next weekend in Chattanooga, so come by if you're in the area. Even if you don't write sci-fi/fantasy, the writing track has a lot of good info.
 

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John Hartness said:
I spent five years writing outside of fiction, working in the online poker industry covering live and internet poker tournaments, plus writing a blog. I was fortunate in that people were willing to pay me to learn, but my first 100-200K words were on a blog that I wrote daily for several years. That's where I developed my voice and my storytelling. The fact of it is that my early work wasn't written to be publishable, salable content, which is good because it wasn't publishable or salable, but it was certainly published on my blog.

It takes time, it takes years, and it takes dedication. I was a debut author in 2009 with The Chosen, but I had five years of writing professionally under my belt before that. There's no shortcut for putting in the time to learn how to write. If you haven't read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I highly recommend it. He examines in-depth the concept of spending 10,000 hours to learn how to be excellent at a craft. If you look at the amount of time pro basketball players spend shooting free throws, it's not because they aren't talented and gifted athletes, it's because anything that you want to be truly great at takes time and repetition, and hard work at the free throw line after the gym is empty.

I'm starting my second decade of trying to become an overnight success, and I'm still trying to get better every day.

But to start from scratch - Here are a few steps I would take.

1) Start a blog and write every day. It doesn't even matter what you're writing about. Spend a minimum of thirty minutes every day writing. At that pace in 20,000 days you'll be an expert. If you want to get good faster, write more. The more you write, the better you'll get. And I don't mean commenting on forum posts, I mean writing with intent. You have to say something. Pick a point and express it.

2) Find a writing group of people that write in a similar genre and have a similar level of experience. I have a group of several friends who all write fantasy and sci-fi, and we're all close to the beginning of our careers. We work together, support each other, critique each other, learn from each other and lift each other up. Share the burden, and don't be afraid of sharing the success. Build your writing Band of Brothers, or Algonquin Round Table, don't try to huddle in your writing hut and do it alone. If you don't have people around you, find them online. But make real connections. Learn their real names, their real-world concerns. Be a real friend, and have their back. Then they'll have yours.

3) Find someone who will tell you when your work sucks. This board is lovely and supportive and that's great, but everybody spends a lot of time talking about covers and blurbs and promos, and nobody is willing to say "You're not ready to publish." Because we're so afraid of sounding like the big bad gatekeepers and having High King Konrath or Howey come down and smite us (no offense to Hugh, who is very nice and won't actually smite anyone) that we're afraid to say "that sucks, you need to take a writing class before you infect the world with your wretched prose." You have to have someone who doesn't like you enough to miss you if you were gone, to quote the late great Johnny Cash. Because your first book probably isn't ready. Unless you've put in the time learning how to write, and being torn down by people who are good writers, and unlearning bad habits.

4) Spend a ton of time reading, and going to conventions, and taking writing classes, and making connections. Spend a year or two doing this before you think about publishing something. I have several friends who I've worked with on projects that did this. They went to local sci-fi and fantasy conventions (Connooga in Chattanooga is next weekend, so is MystiCon in Roanoke) which have good writing tracks and learn from people who have been there and done that. Learn from people who have been writing for years, then write better. Make friends with writers in the bars at conventions, then ask them to critique a sample, or sign up for a critique session. Take every opportunity to get better, THEN publish. Worry about the craft before you worry about the sales. If you write an amazing book, you'll sell books. If you write crap, the business will chew you up and spit you out.

I hope these help. I know it's discouraging to hear that maybe you're not ready to publish, but maybe you're not. I don't know. I don't know if you're amazing or not. But I know that writing is as much a craft as it is an art, and if you put in the work, you can master it. But I also know that the number of people who are "born" writers is very low. Like I've never met one low. So good luck, let me know if I can help.

I mentioned conventions. I'll be at Connooga next weekend in Chattanooga, so come by if you're in the area. Even if you don't write sci-fi/fantasy, the writing track has a lot of good info.
I'm quoting this because it's the best advice a newbie is going to get.

I've probably written way more than two million words in my lifetime, and I'm still learning about writing, and trying to figure out this publishing gig. I've been studying writing for most of my life, which as of tomorrow will be 57 years, starting when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Still don't know everything, still trying, still learning, still loving writing (even with a horrid writer's block for the last three or so weeks).

If you want to be a writer, then you have to put in the hours. There are no shortcuts. Some people are born writers -- I think I'm one -- but even so the work has to be done. Don't be discouraged, keep forging on, and put yourself in a position for luck to strike!
 

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Discussion Starter #13
she-la-ti-da said:
I'm quoting this because it's the best advice a newbie is going to get.
Thanks a bunch! You're right, there are no shortcuts, just a lot of hard work. It's worth it, but it's not easy by any stretch.
 

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John,

Great post.  Thanks for taking the time to share.  Wish I could get out of Cleveland and go anywhere but we had yet more snow today (though the writer's in Boston would scoff at this) so I'll have to keep plugging along.

I did find a writer who is in the same area so I'll reach out and connect with him and then look for some fantasy/sci-fi conventions and find out which one's I could attend.

Again I appreciate the time you took to share and post.
Regards,
SM
 

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John Hartness said:
3) Find someone who will tell you when your work sucks.
While your advice is pretty sound, I'd like to change this first line to: Find someone who is widely read, understands fiction well, and can give you concrete criticisms about what is and isn't working, and ways to fix them. A decent editor can do this.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I actually disagree that an editor that you hire will give you the hard truth about your work. It's been my experience that someone who has a vested financial interest in you and your continued custom won't be the person to tell you "Take a writing class, you don't know enough about sentence structure to be published yet." That can only be someone who doesn't love you and isn't financially motivated to keep you working. There was a big scandal a few years ago about "book doctors" that just kept milking clients for revision after revision, eventually getting people to spend thousands of dollars on revisions when it's entirely possible that - A) the books were fine and were totally ready to go or B) the books were so poorly written and constructed that no amount of editing would save them.

So i stand by my statement that you need to find someone who'll tell you when it sucks. Some things just aren't ready, and may never be. I revisited one of mine today that may never make it out of the trunk. It just doesn't have the soul that makes it worth fixing.
 

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Hey John! Awesome to hear. I haven't seen you around the web much since the Twelve World anthology (WAY back!). Glad to see you're still at it, and REALLY glad to see it's going so well for you! :)
 

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Very helpful, Josh!

I love the cover... that premade is damn awesome.

Thank you so much for sharing this invaluable information. I love the idea of a podcast, too, and I have no idea how to do one. I'm going to look into it. Sounds fun. Also loved adding the book into your signature. My website and amazon page are in it, but a link to a book - hyperlinked with a tantalizing logline sentence is now on my to-do-immediately list, to replace those things.

xx,
Faleena  :-*
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Podcasting is remarkably easy nowadays. You need a decent mic (under $100, I use a Blue Yeti), Audacity software (free) and an account at Libsyn.com (anywhere from $5 a month and up) Libsyn has video tutorials to walk you through all the steps and 30 days free.
 

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John Hartness said:
Podcasting is remarkably easy nowadays. You need a decent mic (under $100, I use a Blue Yeti), Audacity software (free) and an account at Libsyn.com (anywhere from $5 a month and up) Libsyn has video tutorials to walk you through all the steps and 30 days free.
Thanks for the post, John. Incredibly great info here, and congrats on rocking it!

One note on this though- podcasting is NOT easy. This is spoken as a newbie podcaster getting ready to post episode 10 today. Acquiring the tools is easy. Learning how to put it all together- lots of time required. Continuing to produce the podcast on schedule- for me, that's still 5 hours per week, and I know what I'm doing and have my processes in place.

There's a reason Joanna Penn started using Patreon saying that is funding her time in producing her podcast. It's work.

I'm just saying this because I started my podcast operating under the same belief. "Oh- this seems pretty easy." Knowing what I do now, I don't know that I would have signed up to do it when I did. I'm enjoying it and my interviewees have been phenomenal. My audience is growing daily. But man- it was rough getting going.

This was by far the best resource I found for learning how to go about it step by step (and includes video resources):

 
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