);

Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to sell a lot of books

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

 

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Memekode.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Memekode.

When I first started teaching social media to writers, I was new thus insecure. Often, I’d give advice like, “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t do it.” Bad advice. Hey, I’m learning and growing, too. There are a lot of writers out there only doing what they enjoy. That is the masses, the average.

“Average” is the top of the bottom, the best of the worst, the bottom of the top, the worst of the best.” ~John C. Maxwell, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

This advice to only do what we enjoy might have flown four years ago (though barely). These days? Discoverability is a nightmare for all authors. If we want to do this “writing thing” long-term and be successful?

Average=DEATH

Chasing Sasquatch Wastes Valuable TIME

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Derek Hatfield
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Derek Hatfield

Thing is, I want that job where I never have to do anything I don’t enjoy, but it doesn’t exist. It’s Sasquatch. I don’t enjoy payroll or calling my accountants. I enjoy doing taxes even less.

In fact, I might take on staying one minute in a vat of man-eating pirañas over doing taxes…but the government isn’t going to give me a pass. I can’t call the IRS and say, “You know, as a self-employed person, taxes are super hard. I just really don’t enjoy doing taxes. So we’re cool, right?”

All Jobs Entail Doing the Un-Fun Stuff

Writing is fabulous. It’s the best job in the world. But those who think writing is simply being an artist? Creating? And drinking copious amounts of coffee? There is a word for that; “amateur” (though “wanna-be” can be used as a synonym).

Granted, there was a time when all writers did was write. They drank whiskey by the gallon, chain-smoked and stayed in their hole until it was time to hand their nicotine-stained manuscript to their agents and editors. Back then, writers never had to worry their pretty little heads about all the business stuff (they also suffered a 93% failure rate as late as 2006, per Book Expo of America statistics).

The climate has changed. The world has changed. In 1980, we didn’t have to know how to use a computer to land a premium corporate job. Now, try finding employment at The Gap without possessing even basic computer skills.

Choosing traditional publishing will not free us from the un-fun stuff. Yet, I will admit that, if we choose to go indie or self-publish, we must accept that more un-fun stuff will go with the territory.

Yet, it’s the price we pay for being paid really well to do what we love.

No Whining

Every time I speak at a conference, I have someone in the audience wail, “But I don’t like social media. It’s so haaaaard. I just wanna wriiiiiiiite.”

Don’t we all?

I used to try to placate these writers and encourage them to embrace the new freedom and power a social media platform gives authors. Now? There are too many writers willing to do the hard stuff. There’s a lot of reasons why this business isn’t for everyone.

Suck it up, Buttercup

And yes, maybe I sound mean, but you have no idea how many times I use that same phrase on myself. When I catch myself whining (and, yes, it happens) I remind myself that there are plenty or people willing to fill any vacuum I leave. The hard truth is there are talented, hard-working authors who will gladly take the readers we leave on the table because we only want to do what we find pleasant.

Education and Focus are Key

Recently, on FB, one of my followers posted a link to an author bellyaching about how much he hated self-promotion. This writer went on and on about how haaaard it was, and detailed how he was on every last social media platform known to humankind. How he didn’t like talking about personal stuff and only wanted to talk about himself and his book (yes, ONE book). He lamented how he spent an HOUR a day on Twitter…

….yet failed to see what he was doing wrong.

***Whining keeps us from honestly evaluating our processes.

First of all, professionals don’t whine. Secondly, social media is only as good as our plan. It was clear to me that this writer was making a LOT of obvious mistakes.

  1. Whining—no one likes a whiner. Though I suppose they do. This guy was sniveling as if no one ever responded to him, yet this dreadful post had over 310 shares when I stopped by. Misery loves company (but misery clearly wasn’t translating into sales).
  2. Lack of Focus—we can’t be everywhere. WANA methods are about selecting the right social platform for our audience, then having laser focus.
  3. More Writing—an HOUR on Twitter a DAY? Seriously? O_o. I’m good to have an hour on Twitter a WEEK. Less can be more. Understanding how to properly use social media can save precious time, which should be reserved for doing the most important aspect of what we do…WRITE MORE BOOKS.

Study all the indie successes and most became successful AFTER BOOK THREE. John Locke didn’t sell a million copies of ONE book in five months. The same is true for traditional authors. Flukes aside, most successful traditional authors gained market traction at or after BOOK THREE.

Time for a Gut Check

We all whine. I do. I do it a lot less and have become better at catching myself early in the process. Whining is negative. Whining sees only problems, not solutions. It drains valuable creative energy. It discourages us and stands in the way of progress.

Winners don’t whine.

If something is hard, look to mentors and resources. Sometimes we don’t like doing something because we’re afraid of it. Why are we afraid? We don’t understand it. Ignorance breeds fear, often irrational fear. 

WANA rests on simplicity and timelessness. Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is designed to make social media fast, effective and fun. It’s designed to harness the creative personality, not change it. Because of this, WANA methods have been responsible for selling hundreds of thousands of books and elevating unknowns into record books.

Right now, I am reading all kinds of business books and books on strategic planning and management. Why? Because I was WHINING! I caught myself mid-whine, then decided to look for solutions instead of spinning the Wheels of Self-Pity.

Whiny Me: “I’m just not naturally good at administration.” 

Hard@$$ Me: “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

Have you caught yourself whining? What did you do? Was your whining birthed from fear? Were you abl
e to find solutions once you faced what scared you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS: I have a class coming up SOON, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.

Also, August 21st, I am running a Your First Five Pages webinar. Bronze is $40 and Gold is $55 (I look at your first five pages) and use WANA15 for 15% off.

The webinars are all recorded in case you can’t make the time and a PDF with notes will be sent to you following the class.

Also, my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.