My 2018 Battle Plan

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I had started this big long post about all I had done right this year and what grand schemes I had planned for when this loathsomely foul year of our Lord 2017 finally limps on out, gut-shot. But it was getting over a thousand words and I still wasn’t done, and I just don’t have the time to write a novel every time I sit down to blog (which isn’t often). So, kids. Here’s something a little different. Something between a listicle with a clickbaity title and something substantive meant for those whose attention spans are much more vast than the usual blog fodder. And besides, I thought my own struggles and difficulties might prove useful to others who are in similar straits, both creatively and financially. So, without further ado, here then is my 2018 battle plan. For, make no mistake. It is a lot like girding one’s loins and walking into battle.

Figure Out What You Want to Focus On. Is there somewhere you fell short this year? Want to improve it next year? Pick out just three or four things to focus on and then go for it full bore in 2018.

Acknowledge Your Accomplishments. What did you do great this year? Whatever it is, celebrate it. 2017 has been a surreal shit show, and if you managed to get anything done with everything that’s happened, you deserve mad props. I wrote and published a novel, scripted a comic book, wrote a short story for a anthology, and wrote a novella for a publisher, and turned in another in the same series a month early. I also picked up a paying editing job and some work for hire audio drama work that won’t bear fruit until 2018. Not great, not what I’d hoped, but also, now that I look back on it, not that bad either. Taking stock of your successes as well as failures is a great way to show you what you did right, so you can do more of it in 2018.

Break It Down. This is related to the first point above, but it bares further explanation. With something as complex as a writing business, you need to break things up into smaller chunks or components. For my writing business in 2018, I’m focusing on these four areas:

Growing and nurturing my list early
Writing good books fast (rapid release strategy)
Copy Success
Take the Long View

Let’s take each of these briefly in turn:

Growing and nurturing my list early. This is important. At first I thought about focusing on this once I had a strong book out that a lot of people seemed to like, but now this feels like a mistake. With a large, tightly focused list, I can announce the book and help it grow right out of the gate. I plan on doing this by creating another freebie–this one ONLY available to those who sign up for my list. I’m also going to cough up the hundred bucks for Bookfunnel to give away the freebie in exchange for email addresses, something I know from past experience Bookfunnel is terrific at getting. My mistake with using them before was not paying the full price for email capture. I mean, they have a weird pricing structure, but whatever. You can’t argue with results. That’s how I know my hundred dollars a year will be well spent. As soon as I come up with it.

Writing Good Books Fast. This is the old rapid release strategy. If you can keep it up without having a psychotic episode from all the writing you’ll be doing, you could have a good scaleable business by next Christmas.

The rapid release strategy works like this:

Write books in a series-same genre, same world, same characters. I recommend at minimum a trilogy.
Publish each book two weeks apart. This keeps your books from falling out of Amazon’s algorithm.

Personal Note: You might be able to do the same thing without writing a series. If anyone tries it, let me know. They just need to be in the same genre, with the same audience. Don’t release a cozy mystery followed by a thriller followed by a sweet romance.

Create a freebie that people can get only if they sign up for your newsletter. This could be a short story set in your world, a prequel novella, an excerpt from Book Two, anything that will get folks to sign up for your list. Put the list announcement in the front and back of each of your books.

Price each book at 99 cents for the first 24 hours only (Kindle Countdown Deal). This will help your book gain a lot of traction without sacrificing your profit margin too much.

Once each book in your trilogy is done, release any subsequent books no more than 28 days from the last one. This will keep your books in Amazon’s Hot New Releases list. I know this is tough to do. I haven’t even done it yet. I have a day job and a family and I need time to brainstorm and outline each book. But if you want success quickly, this is the only surefire way to make it happen.

One other thing. Once your trilogy is out, later on down the line you can release an box set e-book edition containing the entire trilogy, along with a print omnibus. If you do a lot of conventions or book festivals, consider creating a deluxe, convention only version of the print omnibus that is only available at shows. Remember, those three books aren’t just three books.

3 digital + 3 print = 6 books total. Add in print and digital collections of the entire series and that brings the total up to 8. Throw in audio, and you’ve got up to eleven potential books for new readers to discover and, hopefully, fall in love with.

Copy Success

There are those who are farther along than we are, who are doing what we want to do, exactly the way we want to be doing it. Find those people and copy their success. Talk to them if you can. Ask them questions. Become the Luke Skywalker to their Yoda and unravel the secrets of the ages. Just don’t be annoying. And give back to them when and if you can. Be as much a resource for them as you would like them to be for you. Success is a two-way street.

Take the Long View

As Chuck Wendig famously put it, writing is a long game, not a short con. It takes a long time to write enough books that will sell enough copies that you can make a living, unless you have some huge breakout success somewhere around book number two. And that isn’t something you can–or even should–plan for. Slow and steady wins the race. Thanks to indie publishing, you don’t need a huge breakout to make a nice living. There are writers you’ve never heard of, writing in obscure genres you would never pick up and read, who are making bank. If you’ve been writing for any length of time and networking with your fellow word scribes online, no doubt you know some of these writers personally. Maybe you’re even one of them.

I’m not looking or hoping for the big payday. I’m looking for a scaleable business model that will allow me to work up to writing science fiction full time within a couple years’ time. That doesn’t sound so hard, now does it? A lot easier, by far, than writing the next Wool.

Take care of your health.

As I write this, I’m suffering from an ear infection and a nasty head cold. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in days, and next week I’m going to my primary care physician to determine if I have sleep apnea. I’m also about 55 lbs. overweight. So in 2018, I really need to focus on my health if I’m going to be able to pull off any of these shenanigans. But I’m being proactive. I’ve joined a walking challenge at work, and I’ve got to find and stick to a diet plan that doesn’t have cookies anywhere on it.

To that end, here are two books I will be reading in the new year. The Healthy Writer and Lie There and Lose Weight: How I lost 100 Pounds by Doing Next to Nothing. The latter was written by John Ordover, senior editor of Pocket Books’ Star Trek line, so I think he might have some insights unique to my writerly situation. Besides, you can’t pass up a health book with a title like that, can you? Lazy slobs of the world, rejoice! The Answer is here!

My first point here is that writing is a sedentary occupation, and man was not meant to be a sedentary animal. And we need to take that into account if we want to have a long term career as a fiction author, or anyone who sits behind a desk most of the day for that matter. Just food for thought.

My second point is that your books will outlast you. Your copyright on each book you produce is good for your lifetime plus 75 years after your death, and can potentially make money for your children and grandchildren long after you’ve gone down the hole. If you set them up and manage them properly. One book on my digital to be read pile is Estate Planning for Authors by M.L. Buchman, and I urge you to go out and get it and read it too. This knowledge is essential if you plan on having a literary estate that will outlast you and earn an income for your heirs. I know I want my books to still be making money for my wife and daughter while I’m taking a dirt nap.

While I’ve been spinning my wheels and grinding my gears, having a few successes and a great many failures, the indie publishing market is matured. Things are a lot more pay to play now. You’ve gotta pay real money for book covers. You’ve gotta pay for ads and book listing services. It’s a different world now. You gotta have your shit together going into a mature market. So figure out what you need to know and then go do it. Hurry up. We’re burning daylight.

One final, parting thought. None of us know what will happen. I may never have a book that more than three people have heard of. But I know I’ll have a lot of them spread out over the Amazon ecosystem. You can’t predict success. But you can predict failure. All you have to do to fail is to stop trying. You never know what future eyeballs are going to land on one of your books. Case in point: my friend John Hartness, writer and publisher of Falstaff Books, who recently published my novella The Depths of Time, recently had his Quincy Harker book series pimped by Whoopi Goldberg on The View! (You can see that snippet here). Apparently Whoopi had listened to the audiobook some time ago, and even wrote John a blurb. Then she mentioned the book as part of the show’s holiday gift guide segment, and gave free copies of the first book to all the audience members. How cool is that?

I bring this up to demonstrate that we don’t know what will happen. What if John had stopped writing years ago? What if he had decided that he wasn’t doing well enough and it was time to pull up stakes and quit? Then this would have never happened. Now, I don’t know what this meant for his sales, but I have to assume there was at least a small spike (either way, he’s doing just fine, thank you very much).

This also demonstrates how silly it is to wait on some big payday that may never come. It’s like tripping over dollars to collect pennies.

I have a lot of work to do in 2018. It’s going to be tough. 2017 sucked balls and I will be glad to see it limp on out of here to make way for the new. It’s up to every one of us what that new year looks like. Let’s get to it.

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