BEFORE WE BEGIN
I've been experiencing sudden success for less than a month and I already have people asking me how I did it. And because I try to be helpful where I can, I feel compelled to put together at least some kind of coherent post explaining it.
This is going to be LONG. I'll break it up into parts.
Before I get into any of it, I want to just get the primary answer out of the way first. You aren't going to like it, and most people hate it. A lot of people do what they can do deny it, downplay it, or somehow diminish it. (I'm not a fan of it myself.)
But the biggest, most primary thing that led to my being successful was...
Yeah, no one wants to hear that. No one wants to hear that the universe doesn't care about you and that it's all pretty much the luck of the draw. Back in the day, (before my time as a writer), luck was which editor you happened to get the day that your manuscript showed up at whatever gigantic publishing house you sent out to. Luck was whether or not he was having a good day or a bad day, whether or not he looked at your name and it gave him a good feeling or a bad feeling because someone from his life that he loved or hated shared that name. Luck was whether or not he gave a shit about your genre. And then even if he liked your book, loved it even!...well, luck was there again if he could convince marketing to take it. Was your genre in that year? Was your book just a little too hard to categorize? Too hard to market? Too long? Too short?
You can see where I'm going with this. There are so many damned things that had to fall just the right way to get signed. And that was just to get signed. That's not even considering the whole process of actually getting published, then getting your book out to bookshelves. You had to be lucky enough to get a good cover. You had to be lucky enough to get good placement in the right book stores, then get in front of the right people, and you had to get enough purchases to convince your publisher to allow you to write another book.
I avoided all this, mercifully.
And don't get me started on the people who say, "Just write a good book. If it's good, it'll sell." Tell that to all the people who wrote amazing books that never got popular until after they died, or in some cases straight up kill themselves because they never got published. Or all the people who write great works and never get noticed. Or how about all the people writing garbage that get massive success?
Obviously luck plays a part.
And that doesn't upset me or anything! (Clearly.)
But luck isn't all bad. Sometimes it turns in your favor. And if you're smart, you'll be ready to jump on it, and start building on it. Luck can provide a foundation, but you need to build the empire.
So now we need to put this in a bit of perspective. How did I get started?
In late 2014, I decided, "You know what? I want to read stories about regular dudes fucking alien women." I couldn't really find any, so I figured, why not write about that? I had a few ideas. And then I started writing Hellcats. I was not at all confident in my writing abilities, and a little bit of research told me that people were selling pretty short erotica, and that it was normal to do so. So I drew up some basic plans that became the first season of Hellcats. And not much happened at first, partially because I was busy, but also because I kept hesitating on the actual writing. I figured it was a waste of time.
Even then, though, I did try to be professional from the start. I knew that if I actually committed to this, I'd be writing a lot of stories, and I knew that I needed cover art that would be able to be easily reproduceable and wouldn't cost money to make, and would also be recognizable. (Not easy.) It also needed to be something that clearly conveyed the genre, but also wouldn't put me at risk of coming under fire by Amazon. I got lucky in a few ways. Namely: I hit upon the idea to use silhouettes, and that I had a friend who knew a bit about cover design, and was willing to make covers for me in his spare time, since they were so simple to make.
By December of 2014, I had released a grand total of 4 shorts and one Collection. (From the beginning, I figured collections were a good idea.)
And then, in January, my sales started to pick up. I'm guessing this is from the post-Christmas rush, where suddenly everyone has new Kindles and Amazon giftcards and buy stuff in a mad dash. I didn't think too much of it, though, until March. That's when numbers really started to pick up. And that's when I got to writing in earnest. I tried to keep a schedule, and once I had finished up the first season of Hellcats, got to work on writing an idea for a Sci-Fi/Erotica novella I had, which came out to be Exploration, and then I dove into Wanderlust, since I knew that I was going to get tired of writing the same thing, and I like writing fantasy as much as I do Sci-Fi. (Maybe more.)
My success exploded and kept on exploding until July 2015 hit, and then my income was sliced in half.
Basically, I had enrolled a lot of my stuff in the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, the origin of the Kindle Unlimited. Under that program, I earned approximately 1.35$ every time someone borrowed one of my stories and read 10% of it. That's where a lot of the money was coming from. Then, when July hit, Amazon changed the program to what it is now: you get paid half a penny for every page read. And...that sucked. I mean, it is more fair to authors, but suddenly titles I was making 1.35$ on, I was now lucky to make .25¢. And it fucked with my sales, too.
But I was still doing pretty good. It was enough for me to quit my day job, and eventually I did. Still haven't gone back! (Though again, primarily because of luck.)
The second half of 2015 and the first half of 2016 were kind of me frantically trying to do stuff. I wrapped up Hellcats & Wanderlust, pushed out My Undead Lover, the Royal Trilogy, and then blasted through both seasons of Alien Harem. By the time April 2016 rolled around, I decided it was high time to get more serious. So I conceived of three new series that I was going to launch. Lust & Adventure, Valkyries, and Paranormal Passions. And two of them, Lust & Adventure and Valkyries, would each feature lengthier episodes and be priced at 2.99$ instead of the 1.99$ I'd been doing so far. I still wanted to take it to the next level.
At first, it worked. Lust & Adventure was pretty successful.
And then June 2016 happened. I still don't actually know why, but all of a sudden, my sales started dropping off. My income was almost cut in half a second time. I'm convinced that it was at least partially due to the fact that I took it upon myself to release two collections of short stories, called Quickies (which were originally created in a failed attempt to produce Patreon-exclusive content). Each of these took close to a week and a half to complete, and naturally slowed down my writing schedule. And then, on top of that, the next thing slated was another trilogy of novellas called Amazonian's Love. Well, once I got all through that and into July, and saw that my sales weren't really picking back up, I went into overdrive and started busting ass on getting Valkyries and Paranormal Passions out alongside Lust & Adventure.
Well, with the exception of another trilogy of novellas called Adventurous, and a novella called Desire, this was literally all I did until June of 2017. It seemed to help. My sales stabilized and I recovered a bit. On my better months, (few and far between), I managed to match what I was making after the initial income chop. Not great, but decent. When June rolled around, I was ready for a change.
I'd conceived of this book called Demoness that was originally just going to be another novella, and not even a particularly long one. But as I got to work writing Demoness, ideas began coming to me, a lot of them. After deliberating a bit, I finally decided to just take the extra time and write Demoness out fully, instead of cutting scenes to get it out by the release date I'd set for myself. I'm glad I did. It ended up being the longest thing I'd ever written, (although it was still not technically long enough to be called a novel).
So was this the point where it all started to turn around? Where I began my eventual climb to success?
No, not even close.
Demoness was well received, and it sold better than most, but then it pretty much just fell off, and I got right back to work, launching two new series, Desire and Sex & Survival.
It was about this time that I told myself I was going to change.
For a very long time, at around the one year mark, I knew that I wanted to write longer fiction. I wanted to write erotica novels, not shorts, or even episodic shorts. But there was a problem: novels take time. Even written at a brisk pace, they take time. If I stopped producing content at a breakneck pace, (I was producing an episode about once every four days, and had been for years, with a few exceptions), I'd lose money. I might even have another massive income drop. I couldn't risk that. So I decided that I was going to buckle down and focus, and write novels alongside the episodic shorts.
That might have worked, except something new happened. I learned that Amazon had suddenly released the ability to make paperbacks. And so I decided to take on this massive endeavor of creating paperbacks, (manuscripts AND covers!), all on my own. I had about 24 novels worth of content by then. So...yeah. On top of that, because when I commit to something I really fucking try to commit, I decided to re-edit ALL of my written work so far.
I did it. I did all of it.
And it drove me a little crazy. Somehow I managed to do this while continuing to produce regular content for Desire and Sex & Survival. I worked through most of the rest of 2017 getting this done. It gave me anxiety problems, insomnia, and I put on some weight. I seriously was falling apart. But I fucking did it.
Not that it really matters a whole lot now since not a whole lot of people actually purchased the paperbacks. But at least I figured out how to do it. It's a good skill to have, since I intend to continue creating paperback versions of my work.
I also discovered that Amazon had finally, FINALLY given us the ability to request perma-free titles. So I wrote four brand new short stories, one in each of my universes, and put them out in November. It...didn't help as much as I'd like.
Now, another thing I had been working on since early 2017: The Misty Vixen Starter Pack. Here was a collection of four original novellas, each one set in one of my primary universes, all in one convenient pack. It was to act as a gateway for new readers. I spent almost a year writing it. And I finally got it out late December 2017. That's where things get a little uncertain. I'll try to hash it out best I can.
I still had the idea to get back to writing longer novels alongside my episodic shorts. I planned on getting back to this after finishing up my paperback project, and had even managed to get one of those novels written over the course of the second half of 2017. That was Women of the Wild. My goal was to build up a store of novels, so that when I did start releasing them, I could do so in a timely manner, and give myself enough of a buffer to continue producing new content. If I had a two-three month buffer of new novels saved up, then it would solve the problem of not producing enough content to stay afloat.
Well, there was a problem with that. My episodic stories just weren't selling. Even the new stuff. This was a pretty huge morale killer. When I finished The Misty Vixen Starter Pack, I knew I needed a break or I was going to lose my shit. I took my Christmas vacation, and I began to feel a bit better when January of this year rolled around and I saw that the Starter Pack was doing really well. But I was still tired. Like, it took me awhile to realize the massive psychological and emotional toll the second half of 2017 had taken on me. That may sound stupid, and I'll certainly admit that my job is a lot easier than most others, but it still kicked my ass. I began work on Demoness II in January, and I felt pretty good about it. But I still had to finish up the third season of Sex & Survival. Something that was becoming increasingly difficult.
The more I wrote long-form fiction, the less I wanted to write short-form. It became a real pain. You can see this in the release dates of the final season of Sex & Survival. Because winter is traditionally pretty harsh on me psychologically, I was still recovering through February and even March. My numbers, however, were looking good. January and February were both good months, the best I'd had for quite awhile, and I had hope. I was coming out of my depression when March hit.
March 2018 is the worst month I've had since I began to see success. My sales were abysmal. I panicked. I wrapped up Sex & Survival and Demoness II as fast as I could, and got them out as April rolled around, and I planned on diving back into episodic writing with two new series, (Parasexual & Haven, which I'd been promising for several months by then), something I didn't really look forward to. I also decided to finally go ahead with an idea I'd had for quite awhile. It was my theory, (which has since, to my satisfaction, been proven), that I was shooting myself in the foot by writing short stories. I needed to make the jump to long-form fiction. I wanted to re-release my older titles as novels, so I found another artist (I'd already been working with one to produce covers for Demoness & Women of the Wild), and commissioned them to draw the central figure for the cover of Hellcats. I wanted to see how it would do. So I took down the original Hellcats series and then published it.
At first, my sales started to pick up, but it was about what I was expecting, since I'd been talking about Demoness II for quite awhile. And then, around Mid April, my sales pretty much exploded. And they haven't stopped yet.
So that was when I reconfigured my plan again. And it's now my current plan. Re-releasing my older content is a good idea, because clearly there is a market for it and a lot of people who haven't read it, and find it much more appealing in novel form. So, suddenly, I have a way to provide regular content, and it will give me enough time to write novels and release them at a decent pace.
Provided I actually buckle down and stick to my schedule. Which seems like a nice lead in to advice! Or basically just my theories about why I think I might have gotten successful.
First and foremost, I'd like to be clear: I'm no expert. I may have been doing this for a few years now, and I've suddenly starting seeing success, and I have done some research and had to learn a few things, but I am not anywhere close to an expert on writing or publishing or marketing or social media. There are by and large far more people out there smarter than me, and definitely not all of them are more successful than I am.
So, let's start by getting out the specific list of what I think factored into the fact that my books are now selling pretty big. For now. I have no idea how long this is going to last.
#1: Luck & the Almighty Amazon Algorithm. As I said above, luck played, I believe, the biggest part. Right place, right time. But a huge factor of that luck is the Amazon Algorithm. What is it? There's a lot to be said about it and honestly, I don't really fucking know how it works. On the surface, it's basically just a complex piece of software (is that the right terminology?) that runs the Amazon store and determines which books get presented to which people, and get onto 'Also Bought' lists and probably a dozen other things that I am not aware of. For once, the Almighty Algorithm began to work in my favor! I'm guessing that basically, for some reason, the algorithm put a few my most recent titles in front of a lot of people that would be willing to take a shot and buy it and read it. This is my guess.
#2: Novel-length material. I have been writing episodic short stories, with the occasionally stand-alone novella and novella trilogy, for three years now. I also have been collecting these episodic shorts into collections. By far my biggest source of income has been those collections that are The Complete Season or The Complete Trilogy, that collects, you guessed it, entire seasons or trilogies, with some bonus content not available anywhere else. I've wanted to write longer stuff almost from the beginning, just because it's less restrictive and I enjoy it a lot more, but I've had a theory that if I could find the time to do so, I'd enjoy more success. I think I was right. After close to three weeks of unprecedented success, I can safely say that like 90% of all my sales are coming from the novels I've recently published: Demoness I & II, Hellcats 1 & 2, and Women of the Wild: The Dryad. I have seen more purchases for my older stuff, primarily my Complete Seasons and Complete Trilogies, but these pale in comparison to the amount I've seen for my novels.
#3: The Cover Art. Since the beginning, I used basic pink silhouettes against some kind of simple background. It worked, I think, but clearly wasn't massive popular. I've since found a few good artists to create the drawings for my cover art. I've noticed that hand-drawn, somewhat more cartoonish or anime-esque drawings are getting more popular.
#4: A History & Presence. I'm guessing that the fact that I've been doing this for three years so far has helped, probably by embedding me in the Amazon database, and perhaps in a group of readers. I think having a history can make taking advantage of a situation like this easier, and you won't have to scramble quite as much.
There are probably other factors, but I think these are the biggest. But I also think that, overwhelmingly, #1 is the most important. If you don't want to hear how much of a factor luck can play, well, I sure as hell don't like saying it. But let's get onto the actual advice portion of this, and probably why anyone is reading this. I'll make this as concise as I can, since I'm a fan of blunt, point-blank, easy-to-use-and-understand advice.
Honestly, I'm probably going to try and do individual blog posts expanding on each of these.
- Write Your Ass Off. Seriously, if want to be a successful writer, the first thing you need to understand and commit to is writing. Like, a lot. This needs to be the foundation on which you build your career. You probably need to write every day, to some degree. Writing needs to become second nature. By this point, if I don't write at least something during the course of a day, even days I have set aside to relax, I feel bad. Set a word goal for yourself, I'd say at least 1,000 words per day, do that for a few weeks, or maybe a few months, then up it to 1,500 words per day. Do more if you're feeling particularly inspired, but also hit that minimum even if you're feeling like shit. Taking a day off isn't the end of the world, but don't make a habit of it. I'd say keep building that number up in a similar style until you hit a point that's too much, then ease back a bit. That's probably a good medium. But also re-test this habitually. Basically, the more you write, the more you're building up your endurance for writing. I'm currently doing 5,500 words per day, 5 days out of the week, split between two projects, as a minimum. If there's time leftover in the day, I'll keep working on a third project.
- Set Goals. I'd say it's a really damned good idea to have an idea of what you want to aim for, both in the short term and the long term. First and foremost, you need to determine what it is you're wanting. Is this a hobby? That's cool. Do you want to build a career out of this? Well, that's going to be quite a bit harder, and it's going to take time.
- Temper Your Expectations & Be Very Patient. This is going to take a lot of time, probably. In a way, I got very lucky in the beginning. I started seeing real success within a few months. I exploded, then most of it got ripped away from me and I had to rebuild. Twice. I am not normal. This is going to take time, and you need to be thinking about both the short term and the long term. What are you going to be doing a year from now? Two years? Five? That being said, you also need to be able to be flexible. If something just isn't working, you should probably switch it up. And who knows, maybe it'll work next year, or eight years from now.
- Finish What You Start. I probably do this to a fault, because I hate leaving things undone, but you need to finish what you start. If you're doing a series and it's not doing as well, I can definitely understand trimming it. I have certainly done this. What I'd more say is you should probably write your books in such a way that you don't have big cliffhangers. If you need to bring the series to an end, or even just take a break, then being able to stop after the current book is always a good idea. That way you won't piss off quite so many fans quite as bad as you would have otherwise.
- Be Transparent. If you're having problems, tell your fans. If there's some kind of emergency, be it personal, medical, mental, family, whatever, you don't have to spill your guts and let everyone know your business, but you at least need to let fans know that content is going to stop flowing for a few days or weeks or maybe even a few months. Apologize, thank them for understanding, and try to keep at least some form of updates coming out, even if they have to be vague. If you treat them with respect and honesty, fans are typically very understanding.
- Diversify. I have four different universes that are fairly different from one another, although they each have common themes. If you're smart, I'd have at least two different series going on at the same time. Though probably no more than three. Cycle through releases. This keeps more fans happy and it gives you a chance to get a break from what you're working on so you don't get burned out by writing just one thing over and over again. And you should probably also diversify not just in genres, like Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Contemporary, etc., but also between Erotica and Romance, have different series that emphasize either the sex or the love story. And also the kinks. Maybe have one series focus a lot on BDSM, another on size play, another on multiple partners, or whatever it is that you're into.
- Good Cover Art. A lot of people aren't good with visual art. I'm one of them. I learned enough to at least assemble pre-made assets into something at least somewhat presentable. A few things to consider if you're looking to make your own.
- Don't have too much crap going on. Cluttered covers are visually unappealing, and turn readers off. Keep it simple.
- Yes, everyone DOES judge a book by its cover. Covers draw people in, content makes them stay. Drawing people in is seriously most of the battle.
- Study the market and figure out what looks good.
- Whatever it is, it needs to look good as a thumbnail.
- If you're looking to do it yourself, I'd say use GIMP. It's free, it's fairly functional, it has a shitload of options. You're going to need patience for it, cause it might make you tear your hair out. Don't know how to do something? Just google it. There is almost certainly a tutorial. Look at it this way: If I can figure it out, you can. I'm not exactly the sharpest crayon in the shed.
- Pixabay is the way to go if you don't have any money, since basically everything there is free to use in every real capacity. If you've got some money to invest, you'll want ShutterStock. If you're looking for some quick & dirty cover art for cheap, then you want Fiverr.
- Figure Out What You Give A Shit About. This is important. Basically, you want a balance somewhere between writing what makes you horny, and writing what makes other people horny. This balance is necessary. If you're more business minded, write to market. This doesn't really mean chasing trends, that's not a great idea unless maybe you write REALLY fast. Writing to market is more figuring out what consistently sells in the genre you write in, what people like, and maybe what people hate.
- Adapt. If something isn't working and you've given it some time, maybe it's time to try something new. Patience is definitely important, but being able to determine when what you're doing just isn't working is crucial. Try new things. Experiment. And that's not just in your writing, but also in your cover art, your product descriptions, your marketing, your social media.
- Grammar. Edit your book at least once. If at all possible, get someone you trust who knows this shit to give it a once-over. If you can afford it, pay a professional, because you are uniquely unqualified to edit your own work, mainly just because you wrote it, your brain is more than likely going to automatically compensate over mistakes. Like, you actually won't see them. I've missed some pretty obvious shit, because I knew what I intend to write, so my brain just blew past it without noticing I'd written an extra word, or the wrong word. Misspellings very rarely get past me, but only because I've got spell-checker on.
- Take A Break. I've probably got mild ADD. It's hard for me to stick to something for more than half an hour. Sometimes it's hard for me to stick to something for five minutes. That's why I break it up. Write 500 words, then go play a video game for 15-20 minutes, or read a book, or watch something. Come back, do it again. Sitting down firmly in front of your desk or wherever and telling yourself that you WILL NOT STOP until you've written 2,000 words sounds really cool and dramatic, but it's a pretty good way to fail and probably not write much at all, because there's a good chance you'll come grinding to a halt and think to yourself, How the fuck can I write 2,000 whole words in one sitting? This is way too fucking hard. I guess I just suck as a writer. If you do it the other way, you'll probably be surprised by how well those 2,000 words came out and how fast.
- Plan. You know what I rely on as little as possible? Inspiration. It's a fickle fucking bitch that can go to hell. If I had written only when inspired, I'd probably have less than a quarter of all my work written by now. Before you get started, sit down and make a plan. The more detailed the better. That way you can take advantage of the burst of inspiration you typically get at the start of a project and get all the cool ideas out onto paper (or the screen) in proper order. Then, when the drudgery sets in, (and it will), you can keep going because you don't need to rely on inspiration. It'll suck, but you at least can force yourself onward.
- Read. Stephen King once said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." He was right. Make time for reading. Read at least some every day if you can manage it. Reading keeps you sharp and gives you an idea of how the pros do it.
- Marketing. I'll be honest, I don't know shit about marketing. I can say that the few marketing things I have tried failed utterly. At some point, I'm going to try a BookBub, because everyone says that it's very worth it, although it's really expensive. You should probably figure out marketing.
- Get A Website. And probably a Twitter and Facebook. Do it from the beginning. But don't go overboard. Don't forget that what counts is your writing.
- Don't Trust Success. If you get successful, don't trust that it's going to last. Save as much as you can. Be prudent. Cause yeah, you might have just made 5,000$ this month. What about next month? What about next year? Do you really think you're going to be making 5,000$ a month for a whole year? What about a decade from now? The more you save now, the more debts you can pay off, (is there fucking anyone debt-free in modern day America?), the better you'll be able to ride out the low months. Or maybe even the low years. If you have a job you like, maybe don't quit it.
- Be Prepared To Act. I started selling like fucking crazy in mid-April, and still am as of early May. As such, I jumped on it and am preparing to release between 3-5 titles per month for the next year. Now, to be completely fair, I have a very strong backlist of re-releases, as I plan on re-releasing all of my older content as novels with updated cover art and formatting. But I'm also going to be working on at least two different novels at all times, trying to hit a minimum word count for both novels every day. If the people show up at your digital door hungry for content, you really need to be prepared to feed them, or they might not stick around.
- Don't Compare Yourself To Others. Seriously, just...don't. This is fucking toxic. I know. I've been down that road more than once. Comparing yourself to other authors who are more successful than you are is fucking awful. It leads to despair, misery, depression, bitterness, jealousy, hatred. A lot of the time it leads to you hating yourself and wondering why you're such a fucking failure. It can be really hard when you're down on yourself, but you really have to remember that no, this isn't fair. None of it is. Like, seriously, luck is so important. Although there is a bit of correlation between hard work in to success out, there isn't nearly as much correlation as we'd like. You can bust your fucking ass for a few years and still not see success. You can publish your first story and blow up.
- Don't Feed the Trolls. Don't respond to negative reviews. Like...just don't. I've been lucky in that I haven't gotten many negative reviews, but I've gotten a couple that kind of pissed me off because clearly the person didn't understand the point I was very obviously trying to make. But whatever. I didn't respond, in any capacity. Not only is it a waste of time, it's really just a bad idea. So just don't bother. Plus, I mean, from my perspective, having some bad reviews lends your titles some more legitimacy. Look at a book that has almost nothing but 5 star ratings. That's really suspicious isn't it? Makes you wonder about how legit those reviews are. But that's not quite the case if there's a healthy dose of 1 and 2 star reviews thrown in there. Plus, hey, maybe those lower score reviews actually made a good point and you can learn from that. But if it's some moron blasting your stuff with poorly-written text, you really have better things to do. Like...
- Keep Writing. Like I said before, you really need to keep writing. I can't emphasize this enough. People want more books from you. Really well-crafted tweets, really awesome re-tweets or shares on Facebook, clever blog posts, cool pictures, this is all stuff that people might like, but never forget that the books come first, always.
There's probably stuff I'm missing to be sure, but this is what came to mind. I hope it helped. Like I said, I'll probably do blog posts to expand on some of these ideas, and others as they come to me.
So if you're reading this and you're just starting out, or you've been at it for awhile, or your sales are in a slump and you feel stuck, hopefully this helped. And I wish you a lot of luck!
Oh yeah, one more thing, check out kboards. There's a LOT of good advice there.