10 Tips to "Making it" as a Full-Time Author
It was 2006 when I first started daydreaming about what it would be like to be an author instead of having a “day job.”
Mind you, I hadn’t actually written a book. I was 23, and far too lazy and not-yet-motivated-enough to undertake the scary, hard task of writing an entire novel.
But the seed had been planted, and like any proper millennial, I did my online research. Back in 2006 (and for decades before then) the question to ask was:
HOW DO I GET PUBLISHED?
Every aspiring writer’s dream was becoming a published author. Getting your work in front of readers, *period*.
Fast forward a decade. It’s 2016, and getting published is no longer the question. The word “published” doesn’t mean what it used to, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging, snobbish way. Self-publishing and the has done wonders for the book world.I simply mean that the barrier to entry of “publication” has never been lower.Anyone with a finished manuscript and even a tiny bit of tech know-how can upload their book to Amazon, and into the hands of potential readers.
The question aspiring writers are asking is no longer how to get published. It’s how to turn that into a career.
The question I get asked most often from aspiring and newbie writers is rarely how to get an agent, or a publisher.
The new question is:
HOW TO MAKE A LIVING WRITING BOOKS WHEN THE COMPETITION IS FIERCE, AND THE MARKET SATURATED.
Yes, I make a living at this.
Yes, I make a good enough living to live in NYC.
Yes, I am living my dream life.
But. BUT. It’s been hard. It’s still hard. It was absolutely not as simple as “getting published.” While that first step was exiting, and it should absolutely be celebrated, that was merely the prologue.
Want it make a career out of writing?
YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO WANT IT MORE THAN YOU’VE EVER WANTED ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFE.
But it's possible. It is. It'll take hustle and long-term vision and grit, but real-life people are doing it, and you can too.
10 Tips to “Making it” As a Published Author
Warning: for those new to the LL brand, I'm a straight-talker, not opposed to the occasional F-bomb, and I'm not going to give it to you gentle!
(1) Care more about what you’re writing than what you’re releasing.
90% of my focus is always on the book that I’m currently writing, never on the book that I just released, or that I’m about to release.
I know your quest here is to make money from writing—I get it. Mine too. But the number one thing to remember is that writers make money from writing books.
The writing has to come before and above the selling, always.
(2) Beware complacency
One of my least favorite phrases on the planet is, “It is what it is!”
I mean, fine, I guess I can respect the sentiment behind it: be Zen about those things you have no control over.
But don't hide behind the phrase and tell yourself that you can’t do/change a certain thing because someone or something is standing in your way, when really the problem is that making the change or confronting someone/something is simply hard.
The people I look up to are the ones that are tearing up the foundation of what's supposed to be possible, and refusing to take BS from their readers, publishers, friends/family, etc. They're not taking things they don't like lying down, they're not accepting it "as is." They're doing their damn hardest to get what they want even if it means kicking a few tires.
(3) Be an artist first
Being a full-time writer means treating yourself and your career like a business, but it’s important not to lose sight of the main goal: telling stories. And telling stories is an art form, don’t let anyone or any paycheck tell you otherwise. (From here on out, we’ll be referring to your artist-self as the Muse).
The best stories are the ones that ones that come from inside you, not from your agent/publisher telling you that a certain type of story/idea is going to sell.
I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that my biggest career successes have come from listening to the muse and going against “expert” advice.
Similarly my biggest career stumbles have come from taking someone else’s creative direction because it’s what “readers/publishers wanted” rather than because it was what was best for the story or for me as an artist.
(4) Have a Business Plan
Okay yes, so you’re an artist, but you don’t have to be haphazard mess of one.
Take yourself seriously enough to write a business plan.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be as simple as “I will write this many books this year” or “I will release this many books next year” jotted on a sticky note or Evernote. Just the process of writing it down can be wonderfully motivating—it will also help with your financial planning (crucial, if this to be your main source of income).
See, there's a huge income difference in releasing one book a year versus two, an even bigger between two and six releases a year. Writing down your intentions will help you start thinking things like: “I can either step it up and write one more book this year, or I can go back to my day job.”
Next time you sit down to your computer, you'll know you have a choice: start the next book, or ... update your resume.
(5) tap your internal drill sergeant
Let’s face it, the Muse inside all of us can be lazy. Or maybe not lazy so much as, “Let’s stop and smell all the flowers.”
If you want to write-full time, you’ll have to remind the Muse that if she wants the luxury of writing all day, she actually needs to write all day.
The Muse decides what to write, the drill sergeant decides the when/where.
(hint: 5AM wake-up calls are not uncommon in the army, nor among full-time writers)
(6) Set the trend, don’t follow the trend
There’s a lot of talk in publishing about trends, and I try to ignore it as best I can. Can you make a quick buck by jumping on the stepbrother trend/MMA trend/military hero/"hot right now" trend? Sure. Maybe
But write the trending storyline only if it genuinely excites you. Remember, we’re playing the long-game here. You won’t be doing your career any favors by writing something that doesn’t ignite your passion, that doesn’t come from within you.
Think of it this way: even if that trendy book sells a shit-ton, people are now going to expect more of the same from you--so if you haven't been true to yourself ... if you've written a spicy erotica, when you want to build a career on sweet small town, you're going to be starting from scratch building that reader base.
I'm not saying you can't take risks, or try something different. Nora Roberts writes everything from vampires to wedding planners to suspense. You're allowed to write in all sorts of genres.
Just make sure you're doing it for you, not for the bestseller status. Make sure that every book you put out there represents the author you intend to be next year, five years from now, etc.
The people whose careers I want to emulate are the ones who’ve set trends, not followed them.
(7) Ditch the TV
Okay, I don’t mean this literally (although for me, it did mean literally cutting out TV), but I’m frankly sick and tired of those people telling me they can never release as many books as I can, and then five minutes later they’ve rattled off fourteen TV shows that I’ve never even heard of. Um, that’s why you’re not writing as many books as me. I’m writing a book while you were watching yet another singing/talent competition.
If you’re not getting the output you want from your writing, before you start blaming your slow writer’s pace, take a good hard look at where your time is going.
Track what you do every hour from wake-up to bedtime every day for a week, and then get 3 highlighters.
With one color, highlight your writing time. With another color, highlight quality family/leisure time: birthday parties, zoo with the kids, date night, dinner with the family. Then with the last, highlight everything else. Facebook. Television. Chores/Housekeeping. Reading. Those random hours where you’re not quite sure what you did, but somehow time passed.
Write it all down, and then highlight it.
How do you feel about your balance? Is there more time to write in there?
Everyone has the same number of hours in the day—but not everyone uses them equally.
Yes, you’re allowed creative breaks, but be honest with yourself about when you truly need a break versus when you’re procrastinating or watching TV/picking up the Kindle simply it's easier than writing. If you wait for writing to feel easy, you'll never make it.
(8) Trust Your Gut
My biggest regrets in this career are times when I’ve trusted someone else’s advice over my own gut. Times when I’ve listened to solid well-meaning advice from smart, informed people that was utterly, entirely wrong for me.
Trust yourself enough to know what’s best for you.
And because I often get people asking when to know when their gut is talking at them. How do they know what their gut is telling them? For me it feels like this:
It’s when someone makes a suggestion on a title/book idea/promotional strategy, and I feel something inside me INSTANTLY veer away from it. You know like when you were a kid, and they gave you magnets, and you flipped them over so that it was impossible to push them together? Polarity something, something who cares. When I feel that sort of repelling vibe from an idea or suggestion or contract, it means my gut is saying NO.
Alternatively, someone will suggest a title idea, or a story will pop into my mind, and I feel INSTANTLY drawn to it. Excited. I NEED it. Voila! the magnets are facing the right way!
When it comes to your career, start paying attention to your magnets.
(9) Learn how to Model
I’m a huge proponent of modeling. Not in the “strike a pose sense” (although for what it’s worth, there is another Lauren Layne who’s a big-time model, so I’m sure this blog post will muck with Google search results. *evil laughter.*)
Anyway, I’m talking about modeling in the “self-help," Tony Robbins sense.
Modeling is often defined as: Observing and mapping the successful processes which underlie an exceptional performance of some type.
It’s basically a fancy way of saying: have role models whose careers you admire, and then do what they do.
Obviously we’re not going to straight up copy these role models (see above about going your own way, etc), but you should definitely pay attention to their success/publication schedule/process etc. Learn how many hours a day they're writing and then write that many or more. Figure out if they're using some fancy writing tool that might help you. Learn how many books they released each year, for how many years, and try for the same.
Aim high. Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to what my peers are doing, or even what people slightly bigger than me are doing. I keep my eye on JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, Stephanie Meyer. Those are the careers I want. You don’t want to emulate “pretty good,” you want to track to #1.
(10) Write More Books
The single-biggest factor of my success thus far (not that I’m a household name by any means, but I’m very comfortably six figures over here), is that I write a shit-ton of books.
People keep asking me “how I did it,” as though it’s as simple as Facebook ads, or being reviewed by a top blogger, or luck, or a particular cover design, and while all of that may have helped, the reason I’m making as much money as I am is because:
I have a lot of books out in the world in a relatively short amount of time.
I’m creeping up on my 3-year anniversary of being published, and I have 18 books (well, 17 books, 1 novella) out, with 3 more still to go this year.
2013: 3 books (from Aug-Dec)
2014: 4 books
2015: 6 books
2016: 7 books, 1 novella
2017’s schedule is still a work in progress, but I’m targeting 6-7 releases.
Could I have hit six figures with fewer books than that? Honestly, I don't think so. Plenty of people do, especially YA authors with big ol deals.
But for me, a contemporary romance author, I don't think 3, even 4 books a year would have gotten me to HERE.
See, I’m not making huge amounts of money from any one book. I’m not EL James, or Jamie McGuire or Nicholas Sparks. I’m not one of the big-time romance authors who consistently hit NYT with every release, and get a way with releasing one book per year.
I'm mid-list. My bestselling books do merely "pretty well," my worst selling books don't do well at all.
If I want to make any money from this, I have to release more than 1-2 books per year. Honestly, probably more than 4 per year, at least to get momentum going.
Isn't momentum another physics thing? Something in motion stays in motion? That's been me. I published 3 books within 5 months at the end of 2013, and I've been keeping up that same pace ever since.
I've never gone more than 3 months without having a book come out since I was first published.
I've made it as hard as I possibly can for people not to notice me. Not because I'm a prolific Tweeter or a Facebook guru, but because my books are all over the new release pages all the frigging time.
Could you be one of those select few that makes it big on one release? Sure. You probably won't be. Most of us who are doing this as a career haven't done it with a 50 Shades or Gone Girl.
Most of us are making a little money on a lot of books.
And there's an upside--the amount of money I make on each book increases with every one I release. Every book I release means not only that much more income, it also boosts my backlist a bit.
It’s why I’m such a huge proponent of writing over selling. There’s always debate over Twitter or Facebook can “sell books,” and I don’t really care. Because even of social media does sell a few books, can time spent on Twitter/FB trump the sales I get from releasing a new book?
I don’t think so. Each new book I release nets me about 10-20k+ sales in the first month. I’ve yet to encounter a promotional technique that can come even close tog generating 10,000+ sales in one month.
Which really brings us full-circle to Tip #1, doesn't it?
The trick to being a full-time author?
WRITE. A LOT. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS.