Tag Archives: Aspiring Author

What Does It Take to Make a Living as an Author?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I must admit that reading articles by authors who say something along the lines of, “With 18 books now out and available, I hope to one day make enough money as an author to quit the day job.”

Uh… what?

I just read an article where an author says something like that, and I can’t help but think that the individual in question is doing something wrong. Are the books poorly written? (I don’t know.) Is the author writing in some obscure genre? (No.) Does the author have a simply awful deal with the publisher? (I don’t know, but only half the author’s catalog is with a publisher, and the rest are self-published.) Does the author spend absolutely zero time and money marketing the books he/she has worked so hard to produce? (I don’t know.)

Something just isn’t right here. It could be any number or combination of factors holding this author back, but a little self-analysis is really called for.

To be honest, I could never get to 18 books if my first 17 weren’t selling and making me at least a modest living. What’s my magic number before I would think about hanging it up? That’s a hard one, because the marketplace is a different animal than it was 20 years ago.

Once upon a time, everyone expected authors to hit their sales stride by the time their third book released, or perhaps their fourth. Few authors received a deal for their fifth book if their first four weren’t making money. (Hell, sometimes they wouldn’t get a deal for their second book if their first one wasn’t at least a modest hit.) Now, it’s one thing for a traditional publisher to make money, and another thing altogether for the author to be making a living off the same books, given how crappy some of those traditional publishing contracts are for authors. Still, the third or fourth book seemed an appropriate time to tell the boss, “I quit!”

Nowadays, with the eBook and self-publishing revolutions, in which me, you, your neighbor, your neighbor’s uncle, and your neighbor’s uncle’s dog are all publishing books, the equation seems to have changed for most. It’s much harder to get noticed in the first place, and to go through that brand-building process, now that we’re all competing with 93,274,561 other authors (rounded off to keep it simple).

At Evolved Publishing, for example, we now have authors with four to five books out who are still looking to get over that hump. I believe they’re close, and certainly the genres they write in play a big role, but it looks as if they’ll need those sixth and seventh books to make that leap. In most cases, I believe six books might be the target number, but all six must be in the same genre, and therefore appealing to the same audience. In other words, if you’re writing in multiple genres, you need six books in each of them. Also, it helps if it’s a genre that sells well. If you’re writing literary fiction, as an example, you’ll have a tough row to hoe. Or if you’re writing children’s picture books, the magic number might well be ten to twelve just to get your catalog rolling, as parents tend to gravitate to authors who have a large catalog to offer.

Of course, that’s just an estimate based on empirical evidence I’ve seen and heard in all the discussions out there, and based on actual numbers I have for some twenty-five authors. Every individual experience is different. Some get lucky and hit it big with book number three or four; others are still struggling at six or seven. And when it finally happens for an author, the whole of their catalog will take off all at once–like zero to sixty in a split second… after revving the engine for years.

Additionally, you must build your brand as an author, and that means spending time developing your following–social media, website, advertising, special promotions, perhaps even a free eBook to get folks: A) knowing who you even are, and; B) excited about your work.

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The point I want to make is three-fold:

If you only have one or two or three books out, and they’re not selling, it may just be an indication that you haven’t yet hit that magic number where readers sit up and take notice. Keep going, and keep being careful to produce good work.

If you have eighteen books out and they’re still not earning a living for you, something is amiss. Frankly, your work may not be good. Sorry to say it, but there you have it. A lot of folks are publishing garbage these days, but they can fool readers for only so long. The consumer always catches up in the end.

Writing is the most important thing you do. Keep building that catalog, as it’s essential to your eventual success. However, you can’t ignore completely the marketing of your books and your brand. It’s a long slow grind, building your brand; you must start early and keep at it throughout your career. You needn’t spend hours a day at it, but at least a few hours a week is a good idea.

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If you lack patience, perseverance, and a thick skin, embrace your day job with a new gusto and stop torturing yourself over being an author. If you possess those qualities, however, and you’re producing good, professional-grade work, then just keep on keepin’ on. Your day is coming.

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An Opportunity for Aspiring Writers to be Published Authors

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Over at the Evolved Publishing website today is a post about my services as writing coach. Specifically, I’m looking for that one “special project” to help an author achieve his or her dreams, and to help make Evolved Publishing that much better.

If you’ve created a good novel-length story but your actual “writing” still needs some work, and you think I can help coach you up to “publishable,” then stop by and check out the post linked below.

Would a Writing Coach Make Sense for You?

Butterfly - Mark Twain

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“I have a Kindle Paperwhite, and I love it! It’s so easy on the eyes that I can read on it for hours, just like a paper book, in any light.” – Lane Diamond

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW FOR DETAILS:

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Grab Your Readers Right from the Start, and then Hang On!

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I think it’s safe to say that most folks have a short attention span these days, distracted by a million things going on all at once. Readers are getting harder and harder to find, as the percentage of people who say they read less than one book per year continues to climb. And those readers who are still in the game have approximately 7,629,954,813 books to choose from, and those are just the books self-published in the last 24 hours. :p

Seriously, as writers, our job is to grab hold of the reader quickly – certainly on the first page, hopefully in the first paragraph, and best yet, with the very first line. And yet, too many authors give short shrift to that opening line. These days, they do so at their own peril.

When I set out to write Forgive Me, Alex, my psychological thriller, I recognized the importance of the opening. Indeed, I obsessed over it. I wrote one I thought was quite good… and trashed it. I wrote a new opening that I though was truly excellent… and trashed it. Then I wrote one that was nothing short of brilliant… and trashed it.

I finally figured out that, while it was so critical to come up with a grabber of an opening, I was simply trying too hard. It took me far too long to realize that a literary jab would be the best option, like Mike Tyson throwing a series of lefts – Pop, pop, pop! Furthermore, I liked the idea of not just a quick jab on the first line, but an even quicker jab on the second line, which functioned as something of a punchline (pun intended). Here’s what I settled on:

—–I never expected to be a killer.

—–Who does?

Now, is that stunning, extraordinary prose? Not even close. It’s quick and simple, my version of the Pop, pop!

Reader response has been pretty good, as several have indicated they saw that first line and thought, “Oh, what’s that about?” Perfect.

In my sequel, The Devil’s Bane, (assuming I ever finish the darn thing) this is my planned opening:

—–Not the typical Saturday night out; Maria Molinari would always remember this day, if only she lived through it.

—–Not likely.

Once again, I tried to use the second line as a quick punchline to the first. And once again, I hope it will raise in the reader’s mind a question that he simply must answer. We’ll see.

Quite often, writers make the mistake of starting out with setting, painting a vivid scene for the reader. The problem is that without context – some story that takes place within that setting – the scene becomes irrelevant. Dear writer, please… start with action, drama, intrigue – something that makes the reader sit up straight and yearn to see what comes next. Do it right away, right out of the chute, in the fist paragraph. If you can, give it real punch, that Pop, pop! we talked about.

Of course, you’ll then want to roll right into a scene that keeps the reader engaged, anxious, excited. If you can provide that thrill of anticipation right from the start, all else being equal, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of attracting readers. Remember: many readers nowadays sample a piece online to determine if they might want to buy it. Don’t squander that opportunity.

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Can Writers Make a Living as Authors?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

A recent article by Jeremy Greenfield in Forbes online asks, “How Much Money Do Self-Published Authors Make?” Well, it’s a fairly simple article that touches on the macro end of the issue, but really, there’s so much more to it.

The immediate point of his article seems to be that self-published (I’ll include the whole “Indie” category here, including emerging small press) authors do not make a living at their craft. However, if you read further, you discover that most authors – period – do not make a living at their craft, regardless of which route they’ve taken to publish.

The figure he presents for self-publishing is an annual median income (I’m assuming this is a “net” figure) of “under $5,000.” That would seem to be his Ah-hah! point – self-publishing is bad (After all, why else would he use the title he did?). However, he then goes on to say that traditionally published authors earn an annual median income of $5,000 to $9,999. Anyone “making a living” on that?

So the real point of his article is that few writers actually make a living as authors.

To which I say, “No surprise there.”

It’s actually always been that way in the publishing industry. A few superstars make gazillions of dollars, and the rest make a little on the side while continuing with their day job. Nothing new here.

What’s new is that more authors can actually take a shot at being in that elite group of authors who do make a nice living. In the past, writers were stuck playing the literary agent/traditional publisher lottery. Now, they have options. Furthermore, I would argue that if they really do it “the right way,” they improve their odds significantly.

THE RIGHT WAY

I sometimes get the feeling that writers get sick of me making this point: the reason most self-published authors fail (in the long run) is that they simply do not go about their business as proper professionals. Why do I think some are sick of that point? Emails like this one are a hint: “I’m so sick and tired of you saying that all self-published work is crap!” Okay, I’ve only received one such email, and just to be clear: I have NEVER said that. I’ve said that “most” self-published work is crap. 🙂

One of the nice things about the new market opportunities for authors is that a lot more good work is making it into the marketplace, and into readers’ hands. A lot of talented folks are discovering that they don’t have to wait to win the traditional publishing lottery to become authors. One of the bad things about the new market opportunities for authors is that anyone can now publish last week’s grocery list – it’s cheap and relatively easy.

The result is a flooding of the market – more good stuff (Great!), but an absolute boatload of utter crap to go along with it.

This, of course, tends to drag down those “median” numbers that Mr. Greenfield cited in his Forbes article.

Yet consumers are not dummies. You might fool them for a short time, but in the end, if you publish crap, consumers will bail on you as if you were Typhoid Mary herself.

It’s actually pretty simple: those who write good stories, make a sincere effort to have it professionally edited, and who put up a professional cover as the face of that book – in short, those who invest in their business – can expect to improve their odds of ultimate success many fold. You’ll note I used the word “ultimate” in that last phrase. Why? Because it’s even rarer for an author to take off after just one book. Usually, an author must have three, four, even five books available before consumers really take note of them in a big way.

Shakespeare - Julius Caesar 1

Success in this business is hard as hell; let’s just be honest about that. However, it’s not impossible – not by a long shot. If you’re dreaming the dream, then go about your business, do it the right way, and work toward that day when you can say that you defied the odds.

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What Does a Writing Coach Do?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Every writing coach is the same, and each one is different. Wait… huh? Yep, all writing coaches seek to dig deep into a writer’s needs, to help them reach the point where they’re producing professional-grade material that’s worthy of a broad reading audience. However, each coach may have a unique mix of specialties and focus.

And so, as an author (or one who aspires to be an author), you should always analyze what your coach/editor has to offer, engage in a candid discussion BEFORE committing money, and perhaps get a sample analysis/edit of your writing. If a coach/editor balks at providing one, run. Run fast.

I’ve seen writing coaches advertise that they focus on content: plot, characterization, setting, etc, but that they don’t spend too much time on the “technical” aspects of writing, such as grammnar, strength of prose, structure, and so on. To me, that’s like saying to the new marine recruits at boot camp, “Okay, this is a gun. You use it to kill the enemy. Let’s move on.” …and then not showing them how the gun functions, how to break it down and clean it to keep it in good working order, and how to reassemble it.

My opinion: There are a million decent storytellers out there, but there are precious few “writers.”

Thus, my approach to coaching is to say that it makes no sense to try to separate the trees from the forest. Of course content is important, but if you can’t write professionally, yours will be just another amateur book. (I know… I’m such a hardass!)

Seriously, though, my approach has always been that if I can’t help you become the best writer/author you can be, then there’s really no sense in us working together. It’s not all about the money. If I can’t stand up and shout to the world, when you’re done and your book is available, “Hey, everyone, go buy this book, because it’s awesome!” …then we (meaning you and I together) haven’t done our job.

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However, unlike as in the image above, you’re not a kid. You’re a professional (or soon will be), and you deserve the appropriate respect and consideration.

Want a touchy-feely-please-tell-me-how-wonderful-I-am support system? Yeah… I’m not your guy. Want someone who will tell it like it is, and work tirelessly to address every issue that affects your career? Then maybe I’m your guy. Don’t get me wrong: I try to keep it as upbeat and positive as I can, because I think that’s important, but not if it ever interferes with the end goal. Hey, I know we creative types can be a bit… er… touchy. *smiling* But sometimes, a little tough love is the best kind.

So what is my focus as a writing coach?

CONTENT: Yes, of course I address the essential elements of plot, characterization, setting, a proper climax, etc. However – and this often surprises people – it may not be the first thing we address. Let’s face it: if readers can’t find the forest through the trees, because the trees themselves (your prose) are impossible to navigate, then the forest (your story) becomes irrelevant. Thus, we may need to address at least some of that before we get too far into content.

GRAMMAR: Look, professionals know the rules, so if you’re going to be a pro, we need to address even this mundane stuff. Don’t break into a cold sweat about this. The truth is that if you have a good teacher, one who’s focused on your specific needs, you’ll learn it more easily than you think.

ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE: It’s not just which words you use to tell your story, but how you choose to place those words that will determine how well readers respond. Use structure to ramp-up the tension. It’s often critical to choose just that right place to break a sentence, or a paragraph, or a chapter. I’ve been told by readers that this is a particular strength of mine, and I’d like it to be a strength of yours by the time we’re done.

STYLE: This will be uniquely yours, as it is with every writer, and a Writing Coach’s job is to teach you how to enhance your writing while remaining true to who you are. We all grow, and learn, and progress… but we remain who we are. That’s important, yet you must be ready to grow as a writer, willing to say on occasion, “Well, that’s not the me I want to be. I want to be this me.”

PRIMARY COMMANDMENTS OF EFFECTIVE WRITING: The first two of these you’ve no doubt heard countless times before; the third, maybe not (since it is, I believe, a Lane Diamond construct): 1) Show, Don’t Tell; 2) Make Every Word Count; 3) Keep It Strong and Direct. What do each of those things really mean? Well, we’ll certainly talk about that if we work together.

CONVERT YOUR BAD HABITS INTO GOOD HABITS: All writers bring some mix of bad habits to their work. Those can vary greatly from one writer to the next, yet certain bad habits are more universal than others. Here are just some of those: 1) SOBs (State-of-being Verbs); 2) Passive Voice; 3) Infinite Verb Phrases (An Act without an Actor); 4) Wordiness; 5) Excessive Proper Nouns; 6) Awkward Dialogue Tags; 7) I-Bombs. There’s more, of course, and we’ll tackle each issue as we encounter it.

So what is your next step?

If you think you’ll benefit from working with a coach, and you think, based on what you just read, that I may be able to help you, send me an email at Lane@LaneDiamond.com. Please put “Writing Coach Needed” in the Subject line.

I’ll arrange to to have a one-on-one talk with you (no charge), and I’ll look at your work to give you an idea of where our focus would need to be (no charge), and we’ll talk about the ultimate cost, of course, should we decide to move forward. I’ll be selective, and I typically only work with one student at a time, but even if I can’t help you right this minute, I may be able to get you on the calendar in the near term.

Here’s to your writing dreams becoming a reality!

Writing Coach for Hire: Lane Diamond

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Are you looking for a Writing Coach? Do you need someone to provide highly-customized, one-on-one training? Do you need help with plot development, creating great characters, ramping up the power and efficacy of your prose, where to find resources to help you advance your writing career, formatting and uploading files as a self-published author, building a social media presence? All of the above?

I can help. To learn more, please visit this page: http://lanediamond.com/writing-coach/

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We Must Strike a Balance between Writing and Everything Else

If I may resort to a tired old cliché, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for some time now. As an author, I’m always desperate to find time to write, of course. Most of us, as authors, have one big problem to deal with in that regard: the day job. In my case, the day job is Publisher & Executive Editor at Evolved Publishing.

I have it easier than many, however, not having the added responsibility of a spouse and kids, as many of you do. My disadvantage is the sheer number of hours required each week by my day job, which is getting a wee bit nutso.

I scramble every day and every night to find time to get it all done. Yet despite this constant pressure—actually, because of it—I must break away on occasion to refresh. I do that in a couple different ways. I ride a bicycle to get some exercise, and to enjoy the outdoors. (Man! I really must get out of the cave once in a while.) My 20- to 30-mile rides through hilly terrain are always a physical grind, because I’m not just out cruising around—I push it hard. At other times, I just turn on the TV for an hour or two while I take a meal break, or kick on the stereo, crank up the volume, and sing along. Maybe I’ll just step outside and take a walk downtown, stop in at the local eatery, and enjoy some lunch and a beer (uh… that’s one beer).

The point is that I de-stress. Every time I do, I feel better, more energetic, and that makes me more productive. I get more work done as a result, more than I would if I took no breaks at all. That may seem counterintuitive, but I believe it to be true. Burnout is a dangerous thing in our business. It’s so easy to let the time commitment required to become a successful author overwhelm us. The process takes years, so when we grind away, trying to find a few hours here and a couple hours there to pursue those goals, we often become disheartened.

The first thing to do, I believe, is to accept our career goals for what they are. We can’t take shortcuts, which means compromising on quality of work, because that will kill our career before it even begins. Settle in. Accept that you’ve made a long-term commitment. The future will be bright.

The second thing to do is to treat your self to an occasional “mini-vacation” – two or three hours to refresh yourself. I recommend exercise first, as nothing will boost your energy quite that way. But whatever method you choose, don’t feel so pressured to complete that piece right this minute, that you burn yourself out in a devastating crash. Even if you can only eek out a half hour to exercise, do it! You’ll be a better, more productive writer for it.

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The Proper Use of the Word “Like”

The word “like” is quite possibly the most misused and abused word in the English language. Who amongst us hasn’t heard a teenager toss out a gem like this when speaking?

“Like, have you guys like seen that like totally like amazing movie about like gladiators?”

So what, right? Teenagers have always done their own thing. Where’s the harm?

It’s the old slippery slope argument. When people have heard it used improperly 50 times, 130 times, 42,649 times, they lose track of what’s proper and what’s improper. In the stories that I read online, writers use the word “like” improperly in half or more of the instances. Indeed, I’ve been told by a couple of authors that the like the way “like” sounds better than the proper alternative. Oh boy.

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The following example is not an aberration; it has become the norm: “I stood over him like I was eight feet tall.”

The author uses the word “like” improperly here. The sentence should read: “I stood over him as if I were eight feet tall.”

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Another recent example: “It’s not like I had any choice in the matter.”

The proper version: “It’s not as though I had any choice in the matter.”

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The simple rule is this: “Like” governs nouns and pronouns. When modifying verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc, replace “like” with “as,” “as if,” or “as though.” If you can’t replace the word “like” in your text with “such as” or “similar to,” you’ve probably used it improperly.

I’ve read more than one article in which the author (specifically an editor or agent) said that the improper use of “like” is one of the first tip-offs that she’s dealing with an amateur, and therefore less likely to be interested.

Two Exceptions:

A)     Narrative dialect or colloquialisms

  1. If you’re using a first-person narrative, for example, you may ascribe to the character-narrator certain colloquialisms and speech mannerisms.
  2. Caution: Be consistent. If the character uses “like” instead of “as if,” he must do so always.

B)     Dialogue

  1. Your character’s speech may not be terribly concise and proper. For example, a teenage character may well blurt out the kind of sentence I highlighted at the start of this blog entry. Once again, if you choose to ascribe such mannerisms to a character, be consistent throughout your piece.

So, like search your document for like every instance of that like nasty word, and like make sure you have it right before like submitting your piece for like publication, like it’s your job or something.

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The Power of Teamwork

When I think back to my childhood, some of my fondest memories are of my summer baseball teams, my school baseball and basketball teams, even my golf team (damn knees kept me out of football). When I was with my teammates, competing against another team, I enjoyed a sense of camaraderie and support. We worked together, providing each individual on the team a chance at success that he couldn’t achieve on his own. When we failed, we commiserated together, and supported one another, vowing to work harder and do better next time.

It’s true that when you go it alone, you get to keep all the fruits of your success to yourself. Yep, you can sit at your desk in the corner, put on your party hat, pop the cork on the champagne, and celebrate… all by your lonesome. Fun. Of course, when you fail, you shoulder that burden alone, too.

And why did you fail? Might you have needed some help, a supportive group to lift you over the top? Might a team have been the potential key to your success?

Look, I’ve always enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy. I like to control my own life to the greatest extent possible. I love freedom—in life, in work, in play. Yet a properly constructed team allows a significant amount of that. Indeed, for a team to achieve maximum success, each member of that team must perform at his best.

Now, whether your team is in sports, or at work, or in a charity group, or any other environment, no two individuals will perform exactly alike. We recognize top performers for their unique set of skills, and, yes, we cut loose those who simply can’t do it. Give any ten individuals the exact same opportunity, and you’ll see ten varying levels of success… or failure.

Welcome to life.

Yet those who struggle can become fair, those who are fair can become good, and those who are already good can achieve greatness, when a team is in their corner, fighting on their behalf.

I like to think of myself as a good teammate precisely because I don’t expect everyone to be great; that’s just not realistic. I expect my teammates to be pretty good, of course, but mostly I expect them to give it their best. Period. If you give me your willingness to work at it, your positive attitude, your desire to work with the team in a cohesive manner, I’ll give you a loyal teammate who will do all he can to help you succeed.

So what does all of this have to do with writing, one of the most solitary pursuits on the planet? Simple: writing is only step one. Eventually, if you’re a professional, you need to take your product to market. You need to get your books into the hands of lots and lots of readers.

Of course, before you can do that, you may need one or all of the following: beta readers to help you plug up some gaps in your story; a qualified editor to help you polish your manuscript to a fine sheen; a talented artist to create a professional cover for your book; and a marketing plan and sales strategy to sell your brand.

What is your brand?

If you self-publish, your brand is your name, and perhaps the name of a series (by title or primary character) you’re writing. Period.

If you publish with a team, you enjoy the benefits of an additional brand, a reputable name that provides quality products across a broad spectrum of genres, from a group of authors with varying styles and voices, supported by talented editors and artists.

And that is why my partner, D.T. Conklin, and I formed Evolved Publishing. We didn’t want to self-publish because we didn’t want to go it alone. We thought the power of a dedicated and well-coordinated team would improve our chances of success. Our early teammates—7 more authors and counting, 4 more editors and counting, 4 artists and counting—joined us for those reasons, as well.

Do you like the idea of having a team in your corner? If so, stop by the Evolved Publishing website and browse around. At worst, you’ll lose a few minutes of your life. At best, your life and career will take on a whole new prospect.

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