Earlier this week I was a guest on an author related podcast. This was my third podcast interview over the years, but all the others have been specific to preparedness or writing in the post-apocalyptic genre. This was the first time it was a podcast aimed toward multi-genre readers and fellow authors. I gather it isn’t a huge podcast (yet), but he’s been putting out episodes consistently across a wide range of authors for over a year. I have no doubt that it will grow and succeed, unless he changes focus. (Like the rest of us, he has full-time obligations that chew up most of the usable day.) But the point behind all that gibberish is this—rather than talk about my books, what I really wanted to talk about was my author journey. All of it—the good and the bad.
We had a great conversation (the episode drops the 29th, but go check out the Mighty Books Podcast now!) As I was a first time guest, he was following his plan to just discuss the book of my choice. I went with Tahoma’s Hammer, not just because it’s been out the longest, but because I think it will be most relatable to his listeners that might not read action genres otherwise. But I expect he’ll be okay to have me back some months down the road. When he does, I really want to go over some of the big mistakes I’ve made over the years. And holy cow, there’s so many. Where to start?
I think a lot of them fall in the categories of “you don’t know what you don’t know,” or “the industry shifts and you don’t have the experience to pivot,” or “I’m just copying so-and-so.” And then you figure out so-and-so didn’t really know what they were doing—they just got lucky. The truth is, if you’ve been in the game five years like I have, you figure out every mistake was some of all of that and more. Ten years ago, established and respected authors in the “prepper genre” were able to make it huge off landing interviews on the right big YouTube channels. Something like that gave me a small temporary bump four years ago. Today? It wouldn’t do anything but create a small spike for a few days. Video has evolved to short form content. Tik Tok broke the mold and the rest of social media had to evolve. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter all put big algorithm weight behind Reels and Stories and Shorts—all because of TT.
But all of that ^^^^^ really gets into one specific clump of weeds in a giant field full of them. I’ve thought about some intrinsic reasons for making mistakes that have 1000% affected my ability to succeed in the author game. [Spoiler: this pity party has a happy middle—I’ve made huge strides in growth in both the writing and business pieces of this game in recent months, and next year will be my breakout year.] The rings that spread in otherwise still pond water always start with an epicenter (Yes… an earthquake joke…) and expand out, so my inherent center is where we’ll start. (In case it isn’t obvious, writing about the publishing game will be a major staple of blog posts in the future.)
- I failed to identify and take action about my worst distraction: me. (I.e. I wasn’t being honest with myself about myself.) One of the many reasons that I quit my career was because I had a naive notion that between books and YouTube and affiliate link revenue and selling merchandise, I’d be able to make a living at this nearly from the start. But I wasn’t passionate about making videos. And they require a huge amount of time to edit for anything more complicated than a talking head. And the wants of my particular viewers shifted to stuff I didn’t want to make. And it takes a very large audience to sell tee shirts to a small percentage of them. But all of those reasons aside, I didn’t account for me. I like to binge watch TV shows and movies. I got into a garden project that took all summer. I repeated that with chickens this past summer. And in between all of that, I spent months perfecting a plan to learn about and then execute doing a podcast. A LOT of time and money went into that, for what? Eight or nine episodes? But all of those things are distractions from my one true calling and passion… From the one thing I told my wife I would succeed at if she agreed to let me quit my job: to write an publish books.
- And while I won’t say quitting my job was a mistake, (because on a personal happiness level, I needed to leave that career badly) I will say the next mistake was not fully considering how the publishing game can shift. When I left the DOD in April 2021, I was still completely tethered to Amazon. [Most new authors get about 60% of their income in the Kindle Unlimited program. While enrolled in that, they can’t sell eBooks anywhere else.] I still had a Wordpress website that required hiring people to build and fix—REGULARLY… I was still using a low-tier newsletter service with less efficient deliverability. I was still using an “okay” novella as my email lead magnet. I still had no idea how to use a paid book promotion service. The thought of direct selling my paperbacks and audiobooks seemed light years away. But today, I have to spend a lot of money on Facebook ads and paid promos just to get comparable KU page reads with what I was getting with no ads back in 2020. I’ve “gone wide” (multiple retailers) and sell direct (on my Shopify—not Wordpress—website) on my older ebooks. And obviously the paperbacks and audiobooks are for sale there, too (now). I switched to a top-tier newsletter service, and experimented with switching again. I’ve made TH permanently free. Yes! A full novel, free, just to get people onto my newsletter. Do you realize how difficult it is to give away several months of your work?
- And like distractibility in poor-excuse-1, this last one is a reflection of needing to recognize a behavior and work to discipline myself to not abuse it. Many of us have this. Whether it is studying a new skill, or searching for a new newsletter service, or building a fancy daily planning system, or building an excellent set of spreadsheets for monitoring your business… I think you get where I’m headed with this. We get stuck in either “learning” or “perfectionism” which forces us to delay pulling the trigger on Getting. Stuff. Done. I will invent and reinvent “administrivia” over and over again, because of some deep seated, nearly unacknowledged fear that my books won’t be good enough. The Imposter Syndrome is always there, hunting for another spreadsheet that needs building as a distraction from pounding out words.
So, you’re writing a book…
I could ask you if you’ve started networking in the author Facebook groups geared toward teaching the trade. I could ask if you’ve started hunting for an editor and a Beta reading team. I could ask you if you’ve found a cover designer who specializes in your genre. I could definitely tell you that the days of building your own covers are gone (less the scenario you already happen to be a graphic designer or artist). (At least—those days are gone if you actually want to sell books.) I could ask you if you’re going exclusive, wide, direct, or a combo. And hundreds of other important questions. (Editorial comment: I did delete no kidding about twenty more questions in this paragraph.)
But first I’ll ask you, rhetorically and for your own internal digestion, the most important questions. In the words of Simon Sinek, what is your ‘why’? What is your goal? Is this a bucket list thing? Do you just want to let it set and grab a few bucks per month organically? Do you want to make a car payment with this revenue? Do you want to hit best seller lists? Or earn writing awards? Do you want to make a full time living off this?
In short… WHY are you publishing a book, and what are you willing to give up to make it come true? Writing and publishing a book will become your second full-time job. Even if you never write another book (a mistake, I assure you), marketing that book after it is published will become the next second full-time job. That is, if you want it to sell.
To bring this full circle, you need to know yourself. Because he or she is the a-hole you plan on starting a business with.
Future installments of this series will be much more about best practices of creating and publishing, and less about foo-foo fluffy feelings.