Saturday, 5 July 2014

Hugh Howey or BUST!

Alternative Title: How To Be A Full-Time Author Without EVER Penning A SINGLE Bestseller!

From an email a few weeks ago:

WRITER: Hi, could you show me someone on Amazon who is self-published and having success writing serials or series in the detective/mystery genre.

ME: Sure. Here. (attached a link to an author on Amazon)

WRITER: No, I mean someone who is successful. Making money. Her books are mostly ranked in the 20,000s. She has one at 11,000 and one at 15,000 but the rest aren't selling all that well.

ME: She has 11 books in that series, all priced at $2.99-$3.99 and they are all selling copies every day. She also has a second series of 4 books that are selling every day. The highest ranked is at 11,925.

WRITER: Yeah, but she hasn't even got anything in the top 10,000. MY book is in the 20,000s same as hers and I'm not making much money.

ME: She has 15 titles.

WRITER: Is there anyone else? Someone who is successful?


A more recent email:

WRITER #2: Hey, TW, since you won't reveal your pen names can you point me to a successful sci fi series. (self-pubbed) But not an outlier.

ME: Yeah. Here you go. (link to sci fi series on Amazon)

WRITER #2: No, his books aren't what I meant. I mean somebody making money.

ME: He is making money. Six books in the first series and the most recent was published in April but is still at 17,000 way after the "30 day cliff", showing he has a fan base. All the books are priced at $3.99 and the first in his new series is ranked at 11,000.

WRITER #2: I meant someone who has books in the top 2 or 3 hundred ranks.

ME: You said, "Not an outlier."

WRITER #2: Not an outlier but someone successful.

ME: <expletive deleted>


Here is something to think about:


Hugh Howey has said that the real story of indie publishing is the amount of authors quietly making enough money to pay their bills.

There are many, many full-time authors out there making a good living from self-publishing yet their books have never graced the Amazon top 100, and maybe not even the top 1,000. They are known to their fans but are not household names and they MAKE A LIVING as FULL-TIME authors. Isn't that great?

If you go and take a look at one of their books and dismiss it because it is ranked at #35,000, you aren't seeing the full picture. Where are the author's other books ranked? What about books you might not know about written under pen names? How many titles do they have out? How much royalty are they making? How much does this all add up to?

If you get enough titles out, you can make good money even if no single title ever becomes a bestseller.

Think about that for a minute.

If you write enough good stories, you WILL make money. That wouldn't necessarily have happened in the old world of publishing.

So next time you think an author is not a success because their books aren't all at super-high ranks, take a moment to consider how many titles the author has to and how long all those books have been selling. Do some mental math. Maybe that's something for you to aspire to.

…which brings me on to my next topic, which I call the "Hugh Howey Or BUST!" syndrome.

I'm seeing writers on message boards bemoaning their lack of sales and saying things like, "I thought there was money in self-publishing." or "My <insert genre here> books don't sell, therefore the <insert genre> is dead." or "I've been doing this for a year now with not much to show for it."

This ties back to the topic above and the writers quietly making a living at self-publishing. Those "quiet" authors might be inspirational for people moaning about their sales but the moaners are focused on the authors the media mentions whenever a story about self-publishing crops up …the BIG names. Outliers like Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath and Bella Andre.

In the "failed" author's mind, if he/she doesn't become a success as big as Hugh then what's the point?

Isn't the point that you want to write? You DO want to write, correct?

Because if you don't, there are much easier ways to earn a living!

In the old days, before self-publishing, you wouldn't have been able to make ANY sales without first querying agents and publishers, signing contracts that gave you very little royalty and waiting years for your book to come out. If you make even 1 sale of your self-published book, you are doing better than you probably would have with all those gatekeepers.

And in the old days before self-publishing, there was a quality every writer needed: PERSISTENCE

Manuscripts would go out to publishers only to be returned with form rejection letters. The author would simply send it out again to another publishing house. And again. And again. They knew they were going to have to work hard if they wanted to make a living doing something they loved. And while the book was out doing the rounds, they were working on the next one.

Do you have the same persistence as those pre-kindle writers or are you spoiled by the ease of self-publishing? Just because it's easy to put a book online doesn't mean it's easy to make a career out of it.

Not too long ago, before the advent of self-publishing, you would have had drawers full of manuscripts that would NEVER sell yet you would keep writing and keep improving your craft. These days, you can out your work up online and hope it sells but you still need to keep working and improving. Who told you this was easy?


This may be a new world of publishing where you can publish yourself but I put this idea forward to think about.

To make it as an author in today's world, you must possess the same strengths as authors in the old world possessed.

Meaning: Don't do something that would have killed your career in the old model of publishing because it will probably kill it in the new model too.

You need that tenacity and stubbornness to keep going in the face of adversity. In the old days it was rejection, now it's lack of sales. Like the writers who shrugged it off and sent out the manuscript again, do the same and write another book.


Do you moan about your lack of sales? Think it's the genre and not your writing/covers/blurbs that is at fault? Want to do anything (marketing/promotion) other than write more books? Here are some solutions to specific problems…

PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for a year and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 2 years.

PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for 2 years and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 3 years.

…If you really want to be a writer, you will keep at it for however many years it takes. Look up your favorite writer and see how many rejections they had to endure before they "made it".

PROBLEM: "My <genre> books aren't selling. The genre must be dead.
SOLUTION: If you decide that a genre is dead, then it is dead to you. And you are dead to it. You could be making a big mistake turning your back on a genre you love. Opportunities are everywhere. Be a happy writer.

PROBLEM: My first book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your second book.

PROBLEM: My second book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your third book.

…if you REALLY want to be a writer you will KEEP GOING.

PROBLEM: There's an author who doesn't write anywhere near as well as I do but they make way more sales than me. It's disheartening. What's the point?

SOLUTION: You should only ever focus on YOUR OWN career, not anybody else's. You will be MUCH happier.

PROBLEM: Writing is a lot of hard work.
SOLUTION: Who ever said it was going to be easy? If you want to write, you won't mind doing the work.

PROBLEM: Writing is too much hard work.
SOLUTION: Get another job, An easier one. And forget all about that nasty writing.


Don't spend your time focusing on the outliers. Concentrate on your own career and make it the best you can. Aim high but don't try to follow in someone else's footsteps (it's rarely possible to do successfully). Instead, be a trail blazer. If you want to write pearl diver romances (and let's face it, who doesn't?) then do it.

But be honest with yourself and be prepared to work.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Tattooed Writer's Method For Making Sales...

Anyone who knows my history in writing and self-publishing knows I am not an overnight success. It has taken me 3 years of hard work to get to where I am today…and there is still a long road ahead. :)

I like to think that during those 3 years, I have gained some knowledge about how to sell books. Not the only way to sell books, but a way.

A lot of the people who email and message me are writers just starting out on their journey or writers who aren't getting the sales numbers they want and are ready to try something different.

So, for what it's worth, here is Tattooed Writer's Method For Making Sales.

From what I have learned, I believe this method would give a writer the best chance to make sales, gain readers and earn some money. It should also give a good return on investment. But remember, no method can promise overnight success.


-you can write an entertaining story

-you have enough skill to make your own covers or you have a designer who will give you exactly what you want

-you are willing to put in some work

What You Are Going To Do

-write 3 stories of 25k-35k words. Any genre.

Huh? How is That A "Method"? It Sounds Easy

I didn't say it was going to be hard. To be effective, something doesn't have to be difficult. What you are going to do with these 3 stories is attempt to gain as many readers in your chosen genre as possible. You are going to do that by tapping the power of series.

What's Different Between these 3 Stories And any Other 3 Stories I Wrote?

You are going to link these 3 novellas together. Not as a single story chopped into 3 parts. They are going to be 3 complete stories. Each novella will be standalone story with a satisfying conclusion.

But the 3 stories will be connected.

Connections: everyone lives in the same town or everyone works for the same company or the main characters are members of the same family. Or your connector could be the same character appearing in each book. A detective, for example, who takes on 3 different cases.

Whatever you choose as your "connector" will be the name of the series. So if your connector is that everyone lives in a town called "Sleepy Moor" for example, the books will be subtitled "Sleepy Moor, Book 1", "Sleepy Moor, Book 2" and "Sleepy Moor, Book 3".

 If, for example,  each story follows a brother from a family called the Cunninghams, then the books will be subtitled "The Cunningham Brothers, Book 1", "The Cunningham Brothers, Book 2" and "The Cunningham Brothers, Book 3".

If your connector is the main character (like the detective mentioned above), then the character's name will be the series name.  e.g. "Joe Finn, Book 1", "Joe Finn, Book 2", "Joe Finn, Book 3".

I'm sure you'll be able to think up you own names for towns, families or detectives. :)

The Writing

Now, you need to write three stories that are connected by the "series connection".

As well as the main connector, put in events that might be mentioned in each story. So let's say you set your stories in a small town and in the 1st book, one of the local bars is blown up. In the 2nd book you might have the characters drive past the ruins of that bar and mention how it got blown up last summer or whatever. The event doesn't have a direct impact on this story but is mentioned to give your series a cohesive feel.

Or you might have a restaurant where everyone in town goes to eat. So the characters of your first book would go there and so would the characters in the 2nd. Populate that restaurant with a minor character (a waitress, let's say) who appears in both books (and might even be in a later book as a major character). You make sure your description of the place is consistent in every book. Again, it gives readers who read more than one of the books a deeper sense of setting for your series.

These things are fun to think up and connect. You can even have characters from different books at the same event. So there might be a scene in one book where a cop shoots a fleeing criminal on the main street. In a later book, you mention that your MC was going to a job interview one morning when she was pushed over by a criminal who ran past her before being gunned down by a cop. In another book, you might have an MC who is a cop who is traumatised by the one time he had to use his gun and kill a criminal on Main Street. That sort of thing. Just a generic example. You'll be able to think situations up that are unique to your stories.

Your actual plots will be determined by the genre you are writing in. Use your imagination to come up with 3 entertaining stories that readers of the genre will love.


I can't stress this enough. Just as your stories are connected, so must your covers be connected. If a potential reader sees your books on Amazon, there must be no doubt in their mind that the books are in a series. Use a template so the fonts, title placement and author name are identical on every cover. Use a graphic that is identical on each cover.

This subject seems to be misunderstood. I've seen series books on Amazon that look like totally separate books. This isn't about putting 3 separate pieces of pretty, unconnected artwork on your covers just because you like the pictures. This is about making the cover work for you. A cover has a job to do. It must convey the genre and be clearly connected to the other series books.

Whatever your genre, look at the best-selling books in that genre. You want the readers who read these books to see yours and say to themselves, "These are the kind of books I read. I'll try them out."

If you write a series and your covers are not clearly in a series, you are shooting yourself in the foot. 

The goal is to get more readers and build a fan base. Create a mailing list and make sure you put the link in the books so it's easy for readers to join. The idea is to get the "net units sold" number on your report as high as possible.

The higher that number is, the more readers you have reached.

Because you want to attract a large amount of readers to your series, price the books at 99c. This will mean that readers of the genre will be more likely to try out your books. Three books well suited to genre and priced at 99c have a good chance of hitting the hot new releases and/or Top 100 in the genre and therefore attract even more readers. Once the books have been out for a while, price as you see fit. Some people put the first book into permafree. It's up to you.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Don't make any judgements on whether the method worked or not until the 3rd book has been out at least a week. Questions? Leave a comment.

Ready to go for it? Good luck! Let me know your results!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Dean Wesley Smith…Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing #7 - I Have To Sell Books Quickly

Post by Hugh Howey.

I couldn't say it any better than Hugh.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Three Things Writers Needs To Know About...

1) Don't just talk about it, do it.
2) When it gets hard, keep going!
3) You don't need a huge block of time. Three ten minute sessions = 30 minutes. Six = 1 hour.

1) Make it interesting.
2) Don't summarize the entire book.
3) Keep it short.

1) Brand.
2) Brand.
3) Brand.

1) …is not related to the time it took to write the book.
2) Hire an editor or at least a proofreader.
3) …is NOT related to the time it took to write the book!

1) Prefer to have everything about your books (number in series, which series they are in) clearly spelled out.
2) Will email you. Be polite.
3) May annoy you. Be polite.

1) Everyone can have different opinions about your book.
2) Got a one star? Forget about it. Move on and write the next book.
3) Got a five star? Forget about it. Move on and write the next book.

1) Some sell better than others.
2) Writing in a genre that sells is not selling-out.
3) Every book you write should bear your stamp of quality, whether it is a Shifter Romance or Zombie Horror.

1) Be individual while still giving genre readers what they expect.
2) Don't copy anyone else. What worked for them probably won't work for you.
3) Be yourself.

1) You can't control sales but your quality, blurb and cover will affect sales.
2) Your sales do not reflect your worth as a writer. They may reflect the worth of your quality, blurb and cover.
3) Genre also affects sales. Don't expect your book categorized in Romance>Pearl Diving>Pacific Ocean>Ghosts to be a bestseller. Or maybe it will. I want a share of the royalties, remember?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Some News…All of it Good!

So, while I was at the London Book Fair a couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me when I was going to update my blog. Yes, I know the posts aren't coming thick and furious but I've been so busy writing.

I hope you guys still find something of value here, even if the posts are infrequent.

Anyway, here are a couple of "news items" from Tattooed Writer:

Ten Things I Learned at The London Book Fair

1) A lot of people interested in self-publishing know absolutely nothing about it. 

2) Bella Andre created a pen name one night, looked for an underserved niche and wrote to it. She created strongly-branded covers and sold 25,000 books in 30 days. (as an unknown author)

3) Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy make all of their own covers.

4) Hugh Howey is a genuinely nice guy. 

5) A lot of people are still in the 'anti ebook' camp. They look at ebooks with disdain. However, since we were at a Book Fair where most of the booths were run by traditional publishers, that was probably to be expected.

6) Somebody asked Bella, "Is there any money in ebooks? How much do you make?" She replied (after the laughter died down), "The amount of money Barbara and I make a year isn't seven figures, it's eight."

7) Kobo offer some good services to authors they support. (such as foreign translation assistance)

8 ) Bella recommends writing in genres where publishers aren't over-saturating the market. 

9) Author Anthony Horowitz thinks Amazon is "evil"

10) Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Earl's Court is really small but makes nice food.

Yes, I met Hugh Howey. He's a really nice guy and I found out he's a fellow fan of John D. Macdonald's "Travis McGee" series. (Hugh has also been on a Busted Flush they made for a movie…I'm jealous).

Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy rock! They gave a great talk about branding and marketing. They are very savvy.

I also got a chance to go to The British Museum and see the first ever Urban Fantasy cover…

I'll probably be going to the London Book Fair again next year. It was good fun. 

Next on the news…

Amazon's New KDP Report

Now this is good. Amazon have put a new report on the KDP dashboard. It shows a rolling 90-day graph of sales and royalties. It lets you filter the data by marketplace (US, UK, DE, etc.) and by any dates you want within the past 90 days.

No more using a calculator and scraps of paper to try and work out daily sales from the "Month to Date Unit Sales" report. Now you can see each day's sales at a glance. Hover your mouse over the dot for any day and the daily sales are shown. Pretty cool.

Also, the report makes sales dips and spikes easy to see because it's a graph.

This would be useful if you had some kind of marketing campaign going on. You could see the effect of your marketing in a visual, graph-y manner. Again, pretty cool.

So playing around with this new dashboard is going to be great. 

So there you go, a rare blog update. :P 

People are still coming here so I haven't lost all of you yet. Stick around and there may be more news in a week or two. :)

Until then, have fun and may your sales be plentiful.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Indie Advantage…Have We Lost It?

Happy New Year to everyone. Here's hoping there will be continued success in 2014 for indies.

So, as usual, the landscape is changing year to year. A recent change is that a lot of trad publishers are lowering prices to compete in the market place. This is good for readers, not so good for indies. In fact, I've been hearing a lot of doom and gloom about this point. "How will indies compete?" "We've lost our advantage." "This is the END!"

Before we follow in Virginia Woolf's footsteps, let's analyse the situation a little deeper. 

When self-publishing was new, some authors hit the big time and sold a zillion copies by using the 99c price point. Amanda Hocking, John Locke and others sold their books for a low price the trad publishers couldn't duplicate. Readers went mad for low-priced fiction and large numbers of sales followed. John Locke used his 99c price in promotion, saying that Stephen King had to be ten times better than him. (Because his books cost ten times as much). Locke had some other promotional practices, like buying reviews, which we won't go into here.

Then the indie market became flooded with a lot of bad books by people who were trying to catch hold of the mythical "Kindle Gold Rush" and the 99c books lost traction, being regarded by a lot of readers as 'bargain basket crap'. Some writers (myself included) experimented with prices like $1.49 for short stories to make their books stand out.

Putting the 99c debate aside, self-published books have always been good value vs their trad-pubbed counterparts. $2.99 for a well-written novel is damn good value. But now the Big Five are catching on and lowering the prices of their books.

The Indie Advantage is gone. Gone! (insert doom-laden music here)

Or maybe it isn't gone...

Maybe it's time we looked at some other advantages we have over the big dogs.


No, not the movie with Nick Cage. The ability of indies to adapt to change. 

The market has been turned on its head since the recent advent of self-publishing and things have not settled down yet. Everything is still in flux. New trends arise, new superstar authors are made, there are even new genres (I'm looking at you, New Adult). If you were in charge of a company whose main business is selling paper books to distributors, how quickly could you react to these changes? If the next big thing happens to be Pearl Diver Romances, how quickly could you hire writers from your stable to churn out a series of Pearl Diver Romances, get editors to look them over, hire the cover designers to create the covers, then get everything to the printers before selling them to distributors?

Now, what if you're Susan Indie or Alex Selfpub and you notice the Amazon Top 100 being taken over by Pearl Diver Romances? How long does it take you to join the growing list of Pearl Diver Romance authors? How quickly could you catch that wave and reap the benefits of being a hot author in a hot topic? 

And before the 'artistes' leave comments with words like 'mercenary' and 'money-grabbing', they should use their artiste heads a little. You can still write what you want to write and hit a hot topic at the same time. You write thrillers? I can think of dozens of plots for thrillers involving pearl divers. Mystery? Yes. NewAdult Romance? Yes. Science Fiction? Yes. Fantasy? Yes. You just use your ability to write what you want to write while acknowledging market trends. That's not 'selling out' is it? If acknowledging the market means the same as selling out to you, you're reading the wrong blog.

And if Pearl Diving fiction becomes a thing, I want credit dammit!

So there is a huge advantage indies have over the trad publishers….adaptation.

No, Nick Cage…not you.


No, not the movie with Nick Cage. The ability of indies to know their audience.

Trad publishers know squat about the readers of the books they publish. They don't know who they are, where they come from or what their names are. Trad publishers sell to big distributors who then go and sell the books to bookstores. A trad editor might know what certain distributors like to buy but they don't know anything about the reading habits of Amelia Tench who like cozy mysteries, or Jack Force who like's men's adventure.

As indies we can do what the trads can't. We can interact with our readers. Facebook, Twitter, and mailing lists are tools in our arsenal that enable personal interaction with our readers. This communication goes a long way to building up relationships with our customers that the trad publishers don't have. We can put the personal touch on our product.

So in addition to adaptation, let's add knowing.

No, Nick. 


No, not the movie with…

I'm talking about the ability to kick ass with what you write and publish. 

You see, when it comes to deciding what books to put out, trad publishers are limited by release schedules, budgetary constraints and the need to make a profit. So in a lot of ways they have to play it safe. You, however, don't.

Just before Christmas, I decided I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic sci fi story which I would publish in serial format. So that's what I'm doing. Could a trad publisher make the same decision? Not without consulting others, forecasting profit margins, fitting the work into the release schedule, testing the market, etc. How many serials are there out there published by the Big Five? Not many. In fact they are very rare. Beth Kery springs to mind but not many others. Stephen King did it with the Green Mile (I still have the original little books somewhere) but he's Stephen King and publishers do what he says.

So here's an advantage you have over the trads: you can publish what you want, when you want, how often you want.

Publishers limit their authors to one (maybe two) releases a year. But you can get your name out there over and over throughout the year, gaining visibility and an audience. 

You aren't limited by market forecasts . You want to release a book about a romance between two pearl divers? Then go ahead and do it. That's a freedom you have that trad publishers do not have.  Want to release it in weekly instalments? You can do it. 

So next time you feel like the trads are muscling in and shoving you out, remember you can kick ass in ways that they can never dream of. 

No, Nick. Just no.

"Argue For Your Limitations…

…and they're yours,"as Richard Bach said. If you want to make it in this strange world of self-publishing, you need to look at the positive position you are in. You have no limitations. You have the freedom to do what you want. Think about that for a moment. That is a great power.

Next time you feel like your self-publishing opportunities are about to be crushed by outside forces, remind yourself that you have advantages. Reduce the problems to what they are…an irritating piece of grit.

If you work around the grit, you could end up making a pearl