Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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The Single Best Way to Become a Mega-Author

Image via Flickr Creative Commons sourtesy of German Poo-Camano

A lot has changed in the digital age of publishing and, with gatekeepers no longer in sole control over who is published, we’ve seen a rise of the virtual Wild West. Lots of would-be writers striking out in search of publishing gold. And as happens with any kind of “gold rush” there are always those who will capitalize (or even prey) on the dreams of the neophyte.

The goal of this blog has always been to be a guiding light in a dark and uncharted world. Though we’ve come a long way in the past few years, there is still so much left to explore. Yet? Fads abound. The reason these fads continue to rook in writers is they did work for someone somewhere at some time.

It’s sort of like the lottery. If no one ever won the Power Ball, no one would buy tickets and yet lottery tickets are a lousy substitute for financial planning and savings.

Fads and gimmicks and algorithmic voodoo might work for some and might work short term, but the plain fact is that no amount of social media magic, no newsletter, no blog can launch us to mega-author status.

So What Works?

Today, for the sake of brevity, we are going to focus on the single most important factor for author success. We will talk about other things like newsletters and blogs and social media later.

The single best way to be successful is to be prolific. Write a lot of books. And, since we are in a paradigm with no gatekeepers, I will add a qualifier. We need to write a lot of GOOD books.

I get sample pages that are so bad I could weep…only to find out the writer already has three or four or ten books out. They are mystified as to why their social media isn’t working and why they aren’t selling any books. The answer is simple. It’s because the books are terrible.

So YES be prolific, but we must make sure we are writing good books and then better books.

Seriously….

Last week we were hit with a brutal line of storms and were without power most of the week (which was I was absent 😛 ). So I went down to my local library and later my local used bookstore to do some work. I don’t know if one can be fully awe inspired by some authors the same way as experienced in either a library or a used bookstore. When you walk into a romance section and see three shelves filled with nothing but Debbie Macomber?

It just takes your breath away.

Sandra Brown, J.D. Robb, Susan Wiggs and then you go over to mystery and shelves and shelves are Sue Grafton and then thrillers it’s just a wall of James Patterson. Then in speculative, you have a gazillion books by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, etc. etc.

When we look at the mega-authors, one thing they ALL have in common is they are ridiculously prolific.

They write good books and LOTS of them. They aren’t writing one book and praying it makes them a legend. They become legends because you literally cannot turn around without bumping into their books. They have market saturation.

Danielle Steele has over 800 MILLION books in print. I read somewhere that Debbie Macomber after 1988 was putting out 2-3 books per year. If we look to the most successful indies? Go check out how many books (good books) they are putting out. It’s insane. And it is also my goal for this year. I have a novel and a novella coming out in the next three months and trust me, I am upping my game.

This is one of the reasons I hammer on learning how to plot. Learn how to get that log-line, write the synopsis and GO. Get it written. And this stuff works, I am telling you. I don’t feed y’all anything I don’t eat myself 😉 .

When we understand structure, we can write a lot of books. We can write quickly. We can also take advantage of opportunities that come our way.

Case in Point

On March 20th my publisher came to me and asked if I would like to be part of a contemporary romance box set (even though I didn’t write romance). I admire romance authors so much and I’ve never written it simply because I didn’t think I had the skill *bows to the romance authors*. So at first I was hesitant but then I decided to get out of my comfort zone and do something even though it scared me.

My publisher messaged me at lunchtime and an hour later I sent back this proposal for Deadline:

Sian McIntyre wanted to go off to Tyler, TX to get her MFA (only one she can afford), but when her father (Sean McIntyre) has a massive heart attack right before she applies for a fellowship, she has to run his crews lest he lose the entire business. He’s just landed his biggest client yet, Atticus Black, real estate tycoon and famous for his appearance on the reality TV show, “Boss from Hell.” He’s the somber, smoldering “I hate everything” guy.

When Atticus purchases a row of old buildings for conversion in the soon-to-be boomtown of Bisby, TX, he gets more than he bargained for with his tattooed, take-no-sh#! contractor. All he wants is to escape the reputation that made him rich, but when a dead body is found on the job site, and he is the number one suspect? Sian might be his only ally and last hope.

Problem is? She can’t stand him.

Because I understood structure, I was able to accept the invitation even though writing a romance was not in my plans. I was also able to complete this novella (102 pages) in four days. I turned in a final draft eleven days after being given the invitation.

Granted I know this novella, to an extent, was lightning in a bottle and God willing I will be able to recreate it next project. But because I fundamentally understood structure, I was able to take advantage of an opportunity and ended up with a story I’m very proud of.

I didn’t have to spend four months working and reworking because I didn’t have a solid skeleton. I didn’t have to go kill a bunch of little darlings and rein in a nest of plot bunnies. I didn’t have an idea for a novella that suddenly bit back, grew out of control, then morphed unexpectedly into an epic saga. I was able to work quickly because I had solid borders.

Suffice to say…

If we hope to be prolific, we must understand story.

I am not really a plotter or a pantser. I call myself a plotser. I write the synopsis and the main plot points then GO. Sometimes the story will change as I go, but because the major landmarks are there I have a lot of flexibility.

I knew with Deadline that the story was not over until the murderer was found, Atticus cleared, and the job site reopened. The plot? Pretty basic. Creativity came in execution.

If you are a pantser, that is fine but successful pantsers are formed with practice doing one of three things.

First, they start as plotters (I.e. Dean Koontz) and over time, structure becomes so ingrained, they no longer need to plot. Second, they write a crap ton of really bad books and eventually form an intuition for story structure through a tremendous amount of trial and error (most of these folks give up). Or third, they read and have read such an insane amount, that narrative structure is instinctual (I.e. Stephen King).

Regardless, the successful pantser must have a strong understanding of structure (probably stronger than the plotter because it isn’t mapped out ahead of time).

If we don’t understand story, then it will be almost impossible to be prolific. Stories get confusing, we start over thinking, we start layering in BS and glitter because we lack bones.

In short, to be prolific we must do these things:

Read A LOT

The more you read, the more you become attuned to structure. You will get a natural feel for what should happen when and where. I can tell in five pages if the writer doesn’t read. They have limited vocabulary, beat up the same words, default to cliches and the dialogue sounds like kids playing make believe.

Learn Your Craft

Yes, we need to have some amount of talent as I mentioned last time. But talent is worthless without training and practice. Read craft books, keep reading blogs, go to conferences, take classes, invest in one-on-one time with a pro. You would be shocked how much you can up your game just by getting personal time with a professional. And we never outgrow needing this. I hire people better than me to help ME grow.

Yes practice, but make sure you are practicing good habits. If I go hit 1000 golf balls a day but I have a crappy swing, that’s more a formula for back surgery than a pro career at golf.

Same with writing. If we keep writing bad books we just get better at writing bad books. Trust me. I have a desk full of the ones I wrote. Get help. Get training.

I have two classes listed below, Plotting for Dummies, and Pitch Perfect and those classes will teach you how to do what I did with Deadline. How do you take an idea and quickly shape it for execution?

WRITE THE WORDS

Learn to finish then SHIP. Perfect is the enemy of the good. Get skilled at finishing. Too many writers will never be successful because they do everything but write. Every day I am in WANATribe. I’ve been running writing sprints in the Main Room IM field every day for a year and a half. You know how many writers regularly take advantage of this?

Fewer than ten.

I’m there every day Monday to Friday, often ALL day. Forty minutes at a time. How much can you get done? I let writers work with me to experience a professional pace. But I can only pay for the site and show up. I can’t make people get to work.

No half-finished idea ever became a runaway best-seller. FINISH. PRACTICE.

How authors make a good living is off selling multiple titles and getting compounded sales. It’s way easier to make money off ten titles than one. Simple stuff here.

So remember all this the next time you go to a used bookstore. Look at the shelves. Really look at them and I guarantee most of those shelves are dominated by the same names over and over and over.

What are your thoughts? Other than an angel must have opened a seal somewhere because Kristen now a romance author 😛 . Hey it’s FUN! I think I am hooked! Do you struggle with speed? You keep having to work and rework?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce March’s Winner Next Post.

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

44 thoughts on “The Single Best Way to Become a Mega-Author”

  1. Lisa OrchardLisa Orchard

    Great post, Kristen! I needed to read this today! 🙂

  2. Nan SampsonNan Sampson

    As always, brilliant, to the point and not just a little funny. Thanks again, Kristen!

  3. Ivy TobinIvy Tobin

    Very helpful insights. I get so caught up in my ‘drafts’ by making sure each chapter is complete before moving onto the next that it takes me forever to finish a book! I know I should just stick to the outline and go forward but once I get into this OCD mode of making the chapter perfect before moving on, it’s four months later .

  4. Lanette KautenLanette Kauten

    I’m more of an Amor Towles or Marilynne Robinson when it comes to speed of churning out books. Too bad I don’t have their clout… yet

  5. Kim WenzlerKim Wenzler

    Thanks again, Kristen, for a great post. I’m going to need the plotting class because the way I write now is way too slow. I’m tired of being a pantser.

  6. Cameron CountsCameron Counts

    Great article! As a teacher who is trying to get out of the classroom (I can’t teach anymore – it’s all about data and testing), I’ve completed one book (no editing yet) and working on the second. Thanks for your words of advice!

  7. Peggy LampmanPeggy Lampman

    Rein in a nest of plot bunnies! That sums up my issues beautifully. I tend to over accesorize and have learned the hard way that less can often be more. I wish I’d read this blog five years ago. I have learned the hard way how important a synopsis is and you are spot on with this blog. Thank you!

  8. Ana CalinAna Calin

    Kristen, you hit me in the gut! Yes, I DO struggle with speed. I wrote 3 novels so far (that I can show) and two short stories, and now I’m working on my fourth. I have a publisher for my debut novel (the first novel after the sh**load of bad ones on my desk that never saw the light, of course; no, I’m not one of those born talents like my editor, for example, but I do read ALOT; have done so since I was 4). That said, I could use a class or (better yet!) a book on structure! With a full time job, a kid that I see to almost alone outside of daycare and a husband for an hour a night it’s hard to take classes. But I would love to do the sprints in WANATribe and read a good book on plotting if you have one. Love!

  9. Kolin (Koe-lin)Kolin (Koe-lin)

    Good article, Kristen! I consider myself a planster. My critique partner tells me I do plot some when I insist I am a panster. I almost commented about attending WANA and the writing sprints that currently I work during the day. Then I heard a voice in the back of my head that said something about lunch hour and/or nights. I will figure it out! Thanks as always! Kolin Mofield

  10. Raidon T. PhoenixRaidon T. Phoenix

    And now I have a strong urge to go home and get my act together and get to WORK on my own novels. Internet really is a time suck.

  11. Icy SedgwickIcy Sedgwick

    Wahey, plotser! That describes how I do it too!

    I love new words.

  12. Sharon CullenSharon Cullen

    Create a routine. I’m not talking a daily, writing routine. I’m talking a get-the-book-finished routine. I write 3 drafts. The first draft is down and dirty. I don’t look back. I make notes inside the draft. I write until the story is finished. 2nd draft is for incorporating my notes, filling in plot holes, fleshing out characters, etc. The 3rd draft is polishing–choosing better words. Rearranging sentences. Making it pretty. After the 3rd draft it goes to my editor. I can write a book in 3-4 months if I do it this way. And that means I can write 2-3 books a year if I really push myself and don’t give myself a break.

    • Jini EllyneJini Ellyne

      Does this routine also include time for marketing what you have published?

  13. Angela Macala-GuajardoAngela Macala-Guajardo

    I would love to read a blog about authors/writers enjoying the journey as a writer. There’s more to writing than just trying to become the next bestseller. I’ve come across so many desperate and frustrated writers. I’ve been one too but I’ve learned to enjoy life and keep reading and writing. And now I get to bid my teaching career goodbye and start writing full time for a company in June 😀

  14. jorgekafkazarjorgekafkazar

    Hmm. The model I’ve been told is the only way to go is to crank out a genre series. Give away Book I, which (one hopes) hooks the reader, crank the price for Book II all the way up to 99c, sell a jillion, repeat; retire to Hawaii. [Extrapolating, eventually Book II of every series will also be free, and so on, and nobody will actually make any money.]

    But I hate writing the same sort of thing over and over. So far, I have published two novels in different genres. In my 75 to 95% complete pile are six more books, none of them in the same genre. Is there any hope for writers who don’t like doing series?

  15. HR SinclairHR Sinclair

    Oh I struggle with speed alrighty. I try not to beat up the same old words.

  16. Sylvia NickelsSylvia Nickels

    I love your posts, Kristen. Always spot on. I’ve self-pubbed a mystery novel, 1st in series and several anthologies of my stories, mostly mystery. First two in another mystery series were published by a small indy publisher, not breaking any records, and third about half way finished. Now the self-pubbed first one in first series has been picked up by a larger indy publisher and they will most likely publish the second, which was the one I pitched to them. I don’t feel very prolific, but when I look at what I’ve accomplished by just plugging along, and trying to learn more as I go, I’m almost astonished. I have adored reading since I was five and I really think that has a lot to do with it.

  17. Jini EllyneJini Ellyne

    Yes another kudos for another great post. Your posts always make me think and that’s a good thing — brain calisthenics. I can write fast and I have. I can finish without agonizing and I have. My problem about not being prolific is I get distracted and start thinking about things other than the novel on which I’m supposed to be working. My current distraction is worrying about my hourly compensation. Are you laughing at me? You see before I dove into the cold water of self publishing as a career I was a computer programmer making almost $100,000 a year. Now I’m working for pennies per hour spent writing and it’s my only income.
    Okay enough whining. Maybe as you say I am just writing bad books. Reviewers say otherwise but who really knows? I think the problem is my books, being epic fantasies are running over 200,000 words which is far too long for the short attention span of the Twitter People. What I see selling mega thousands of books for self publishing authors is short Erotica genre stories. One of those at 6,000 words will sell like hot cakes for $2.99 per book, takes a tiny fraction of the time my books take to write, and requires absolutely no research time which for my books is half my time. I do ask for your suggestions but you might be like the doctor who when I say, “Doc it hurts when I raise my arm like this,” says, “Don’t do that anymore.”

    • Cathy F.Cathy F.

      The research is killing me, too. I’ve just about decided that this is the first and last book time I will place a story in the past. Every time I come across something I may have wrong, I get little evil voices in my head saying “Oh, the readers are going to harass you about that! Better fix it!” And off I go, trying to make it make more sense, or at least not stick out like a sore thumb.

      After this, soooooo staying in the here and now. I’m going to finish this thing, but jeez. At least I’m not having to do research at the library, with index cards. And thank you Google Maps, for existing.

      I have given myself a mental deadline though. So there’s that. I may run right up to that deadline, like back in college when a paper was due, but I’ll get it done. I really only have about 8 more little gaps to fill, in the story, and I know what goes in each one. And I *think* I have the research for them done! (Knock on wood.)

      • Cathy F.Cathy F.

        Ever post a comment and then go “gah!” because you notice immediately a bad edit? Yeah… Not “book time” above. Pick one. Book or time.

        So much worse, doing it on a writing blog… 😛

  18. Kim CresswellKim Cresswell

    Fantastic post, Kristen. I’m a plotter. I can’t write a word until I’ve plotted out the story. I am also a very slow writer constantly searching for the right words. My internal editor never shuts off.

  19. Jackie LaytonJackie Layton

    This is the first time I’ve visited your blog, and I’m impressed.

    Have you blogged about internal and external conflict? Thanks!

  20. RosannaRosanna

    I pantsed my way through my first novel, a historical romance, and realized when I was done that I had made all the first time author mistakes. Weak structure, scenes that were much ado about nothing, sluggish pacing, shallow POV … you name it. I’ve since joined RWA, taken a couple of online romance writing classes and read loads of books on writing (the ones you recommend on your site). I’ve made great progress on the new draft of my novel but I’m still pulling my hair as I try to apply what I’ve learned. Can you recommend a great book that specifically targets writing a romance novel? At this stage, I think it would be helpful to read examples that specifically address this genre.

  21. Stacy GreenStacy Green

    I love this post, Kristen. I’ve been writing professionally for 5 years now (time goes way too fast!), and I’ve worked my butt off to make great money as an indie and now I am hybrid. I pay a lot of attention to craft and I strive to improve with each new book.

    However … sometimes it’s hard not to get discouraged. So many sales (at least on Amazon) revolve around price point. There are a slew of newer mystery/thriller authors publishing individually or through a specific publisher, and I can’t get past the first page. Part of that is because I can’t turn my inner critic off, but it’s disheartening to see how much low quality work sells. I realize story trumps everything, but attention to grammar and passive voice is also appreciated.

    I do believe this is a marathon, and those who don’t dedicate to their craft and are more interested in churning books and making money won’t be in for the long haul. But the publishing industry continues to surprise me, so who knows?

    Thanks for fighting the good fight! 🙂

  22. Sara GethinSara Gethin

    I so agree about reading, Kristen. It’s amazingly important. I’m always shocked and dismayed when aspiring authors tell me they don’t have time to read and anyway they don’t want to ‘copy what someone else has written’. Aaargh!!!

  23. stellafreemanstellafreeman

    Love it! Thank you fro your input 🙂 Finish and Practice, has to be the best advice I ever got…

  24. Nickie AsherNickie Asher

    Great post. I’ve spent eleven months training to change jobs and my writing has sat with an epic novel half-ass edited…in limbo. I used to have good writing habits but they seem to have died along with work on all of my projects. But I know you are right. I see what others are doing (even if they are cheating and using ghost writers – okay, I consider it cheating while others may not). Clearly, to make money, you need a lot of material on the market.

    I think I will begin showing up for sprints next week. I’ve had just about enough of letting my writing suffer to take care of everyone elses stuff.

  25. Rennie St JamesRennie St James

    I have just started following your posts but have already put into place several of your suggestions! It’s easy to get distracted by how much advice is available to writers. Your blogs are direct and helpful.

    Thank you!

  26. Amy LaurensAmy Laurens

    You have no idea how much I needed to hear this this week. Thank you so much. With precious little time and emotional/creative energy leftover from my dayjob, and with more than a little propensity for procrastinatory organising, AND with that Type A+ need to know how to do something RIGHT *before* doing it, sometimes (okay too often) I end up wasting what little time I have and become overwhelmed by everything I’m *supposed* to be doing. So this reminder was perfect. Fundamentally, what I need to do is Write A Damn Good Book.

    Thanks <3

  27. Stephanie ScottStephanie Scott

    Way to go Kristen! While romance has a “formula” of sorts, I think the mistake some writers make is assuming it’s easy to fill in the dots. Being in Romance Writers and exposed to romance fiction helped me immensely as a new writer to understand story structure. The relationship literally drives the conflict and feeds into the plot. The more I read, the more I write, the better I understand this. But it’s not exactly paint by numbers either.

    I recently wrote 18k words over a 3 day weekend. That 18k was the end section of a romance novel, and since I had that structure set up, the last 10 chapters went fast. (I also disabled Internet on my laptop = biggest productivity boost EVER).

    One last thing, I was just reading on a closed forum how a writer I knew from a different genre is writing under a pen name for a totally different genre/subgenre. She said the same thing as you; now that she knows story structure (and she had several traditional series under her belt before she went indie), she found a niche of readers who love her stuff, and she is writing stories for THEM. She said the challenge is to keep up with their insatiable appetite, to keep the stories and plot fresh, but she is now making an actual living salary. She has a system, a process, and she sits down and does the work. I was so inspired!

  28. Tammy PattonTammy Patton

    I’m at a great place in life. Kids are grown, big house was exchanged for a low maintenance condo, and I work part-time. Lots of time to write. It’s what I love. I spend hours a day writing. And still, I’m slow. Whole scenes come to me, in full detail, when I’m trying to fall asleep. When I’m sitting in front of my computer, it’s a whole lot of staring out the window, thinking. On the positive side, the guy across the street was shadow boxing in his kitchen today. At least I’m not without entertainment!

    Enjoyed the post as always.

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