Author Comparisonitis and leveling up.

Last week, there was a little kerfuffle online about Sky Warren’s RAM (Romance Author Mastermind) conference, and like a true gossip, I like nosing around and seeing what the issue is.

I’m not writing this to call anyone out or judge any author, in fact, quite the opposite. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I blog to the new author, the one stumbling around trying to find his way in the industry where there are EIGHT MILLION books on Amazon with thousands more added every day.

This is a screenshot taken from a free webinar by Alex Newton of K-lytics. I screen-grabbed it in May of 2021, so the numbers are a bit outdated–and probably worse today.

I’m transparent in that I’ve written a few books, published them on my own–edited them with the help of a couple of beta readers, formatted them with Vellum, did my own covers. I haven’t found any real success–not the kind we really want when we publish a book. (We can all say we don’t want to make money or be a bestseller, but if you’re putting your book on Amazon, you’re hoping for an outcome such as that and there’s no point in lying to yourself. It will only bog your business down.)

So when conversation turns to leveling up, ad spend in the thousands, and launching to number one in the Kindle store and staying there for weeks on end, we have to realize that a conversation like this is like the difference between a janitor-in-training on his first day, and the CEO of that building conducting a billion-dollar meeting. It just isn’t the same.

I feel like these conversations come up every year, despite the information being proprietary to those conferences. You have to be making enough to be invited to attend RAM, and I am a long way off. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the information that comes out of it, but in reality, I’m not in any position to take it, either. I wrote about that before in a different blog post–we’re all at different stages in our journey and what one 6- or 7-figure author can do is not the same as what I can do with the resources that I have. That doesn’t mean you can’t listen to them talk, or take notes, or tuck away what works for them for later use, but is it going to help you with what you need help with NOW? Probably not.

I think the conflict came with the latest episode of the 6 Figure Authors podcast when Andrea Pearson recapped what she learned attending RAM. You can listen here. (Usually they post it on YouTube, but this episode is not available there. You can also listen to it on your podcast app of choice.) Because I write romance, it’s interesting to hear what the big authors are doing in regards to their business, but I know I’m not there yet. I’m not even in the black most months, so I listen with curiosity, a huge grain of salt, and a wish in the back of my mind that one day these lessons will apply to me.

How can we listen and not compare ourselves to these authors? Here are some things I take into consideration:

Are you doing the minimum first? This is a big one for me because if you’re not doing the 101 stuff, you’re not ready for the 301 level coursework. You know exactly what I mean, too. Are you writing in a series? Are you sticking to one genre to find a readership? Have you started a newsletter? Is your book GOOD? That is something we lose sight of–your book needs to be GOOD. Well-written with on-point grammar and punctuation, good story/genre appropriate/following the expected tropes and reader expectations, good cover, good blurb. If you don’t have the core quality of your product down, you’re never going to level up, or be in a position where that’s possible. It’s the difference between the crappy Frostee Freeze and the huge, brightly-colored popular Dairy Queen. Where would you rather buy your chocolate-dipped cone? (No offense to the Frostee Freezes out there, but ours is located in the ghetto and looks like the movie set of a Lifetime murder movie.)

What are your business goals? Everyone talks about this–what do you want out of your book business? But the fact is, if you don’t know, nothing you consume will help you get there. Why do you write? What do you want to get out of your business? A bestseller? Hit the top ten in your category? Do you want to have a huge launch? How many books do you have? How many books will you have by the end of the year? Are you writing a series? How fast are you going to release them? How long are you willing to do this before you see any success? This is part of the 101 stuff I was talking about above.

Find information that will help you NOW. This is probably why I like listening to the presentations from the 20booksto50k conferences in November. They are very generous and post most of the speakers on YouTube. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone, unlike the mastermind classes where you already have to be at a certain level to get anything out of it. There are a lot of resources out there for newbies–podcasts and blogs, free ads courses, etc. Figure out what you need help with in regards to where you are at the present time. Are you working on craft? Looking for an editor? Exploring doing your own cover? Preparing for a launch? If you haven’t released your first book, listening to someone talk about how they’re spending 10,000 dollars on ads every month won’t matter to you, and it shouldn’t get you down. There’s no way you would (or probably could) spend that launching your first book. You’d never get that money back. Ever. There are so many resources for someone just starting out. My favorite is David Gaughran’s free course, Starting From Zero.

If you’re going to compare, at least be smart about it. I think a lot of what people don’t understand when they hear authors spending so much on their ads is that first, the authors have been writing for years and have a huge backlist (not to mention a huge readership), and second, a lot of their ad spend comes from savings of royalties already made. When you’ve been at this for years, you have savings. You’ve invested your money into CDs or high-yield savings accounts. When your interest accrued every year is as much as someone working a part-time job, you can afford to put some of that back into your ads. If you want to compare yourself to another author and base that comparison in reality, look at their genre. Is it the same as yours? Look at your backlist and how long it will take you to get to the same place. How is their book quality compared to yours? I could market my books the exact same way Janie Crouch does–but my books will never be like hers. Even if I copied the covers, genre, and tropes, our author voices and styles will never match. This is what they mean by “Your mileage may vary.” You are not another author and you never will be. How can you achieve your own kind of success?

I love this recap thread by Zoe York on Twitter. She’s so down to earth and pushes you to do what’s best for you and your books while giving you the encouragement to see that anything is possible if you work hard and don’t give up.

As far as I can see, there is no reason to get angry if someone wants to recap a high-end conference or be bitter they did. It’s the same as buying a marketing book from an author who is killing it. You can grab morsels of information but the likelihood you’re going to be able to apply 100% of what you’re consuming to your business that very second is slim.

Personally, I know why my publishing career is at a standstill. I made poor choices I didn’t know where poor choices. I know now through trial and error and listening to what mid-list authors have done to achieve their success. That’s why I did a 360 with my writing and started writing first person billionaire instead of the 3rd person contemporary romance. Will it help? I don’t know. I don’t know of my writing will resonate with readers. I may not know for a couple of years, and that’s something I’ll have to be okay with. Not everyone will make money in this business and I’ll have more choices to make if I’m not one of them. For now, I’m enjoying the process and I’m having fun writing. I’m not going to be condescending and say that’s all that matters, because it’s not. I want monetary compensation for the time I’ve spent writing and producing my books. Otherwise I would publish them on Wattpad or my own website and call it good enough.

You’ll have to decide what matters to you.

Your mileage may vary.

Thanks for reading!

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.” How true is that statement?

Do whatever you want, and don't worry about what everyone else is into. 

Rachel Kramer Bussel

Woman in purple camisole sitting on red chair looking away from the camera.

You guys know I consume a lot of content. Not as much fiction as I should be for a romance author, but I live and breathe non-fiction, especially anything having to do with market trends and industry (both indie and trad) news. I have a fascination with learning, not only to pass things on to you, but because you don’t know what you don’t know, and I like knowing it all. Or trying to. Picking through the weeds is difficult and time consuming, and even today because I have to work, I’m missing out on Clubhouse rooms (and you all know how much I agonize over that).

Anyway, so on one of my off days, I was listening to a Clubhouse room and after an hour of extolling the virtues of TikTok, she says, “But you don’t have to do any of this if you don’t want to.” I would imagine some of us felt relief, because sure, you DON’T have to be on TikTok to sell books. It’s a relatively new platform and it’s not like books didn’t sell before it’s invention. But. After an hour of hearing how wonderful and fun it was, being told that it was voluntary punched me in the gut. After listening to testimonies about how worthwhile it was, how people did manage to sell books on there, her comment didn’t sound true. It sure as hell sounded like we needed to be on TikTok.

It made me think about what we can use in the business and what we really don’t need. These opinions are coming from a place where I wish I would have done some of these things and where I have tried some and think they have merit, where I found some tractions with sales, and what I know I’m missing out on because I didn’t do them. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

You don’t have to . . . be on social media . . . if you don’t want to. You really don’t have to be on social media if you don’t want to. Twitter is a time suck of negativity, IG is going down in flames as TikTok runs miles ahead. No one likes Facebook. But if you don’t like social media, what does an author have left to sell books? You need something. Anyone who pushes Publish and walks away knows you need something or no one will know where your book is. Probably the hardest lesson I learned in the past five years of publishing is that without a newsletter, without a reader group on on Facebook, if someone wanted to be a real fan of my books, I didn’t give them a chance to be. There is no where for them to meet up or chat with me. Sure, I’m on social media, but I’m not active and anyone who finds my author page will see my last post was from almost a year ago. Why would they hit the like button? It’s not like they would get anything out of it. So if you don’t like Facebook, you still need someplace for your fans to meet up. I get it. As a newbie author, maybe you’re thinking you won’t ever have fans, at least not for a long time. This could be true, but you don’t need to make it any harder for them than it has to be, either. If you don’t want to be on social media, you need to replace it with something. I didn’t have a social media presence or a newsletter and after a reader read my book, there was no way for them to connect with me, or me to connect with them to let them know of sales and/or new releases.

You don’t have to . . . start a newsletter . . . if you don’t want to. For years I didn’t start a newsletter. I didn’t want to take the time to learn. The thought of cranking out a book to offer as a reader magnet didn’t bother me (yes it does), but there is so much that goes into a newsletter, and it still makes my head spin. It’s easy to say, “Start a newsletter,” but it’s the behind the scenes that makes me bitter. Learning the platform, learning BookFunnel (because it’s the best way to distribute any bonus material and gather email signups), or StoryOrigin, seemed like a giant waste of time to me when all I wanted was to write books. If you have an active reader group on Facebook, you might be able to get away without a newsletter, though you’re planting seeds in someone else’s garden and everyone says not to do that. You could blog for readers, and Anne R. Allen even has a book about that very thing: The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors. It may be a bit outdated, but her content advice should still be relevant. The only problem with directing a reader to your website is that you lose the control to connect with them. They choose to visit your website or read your blog. If you can snag their email, you can contact them whenever you want. True, they still have to open the email, but they voluntarily signed up, so that makes it more likely they will at least peek at what you have to say. Do you need to start a newsletter? Nope. But as an author who has been writing and publishing–steadily, I might add–with no readership after all this time, it’s my biggest regret.

You don’t have to . . . learn an ad platform . . . if you don’t want to. Like the other two things on the list so far, you don’t have to learn an ad platform, but you do have to have something to replace it, be that a newsletter or using promos such as Freebooksy, BargainBooksy, Ereader News Today, Fussy Librarian, etc. If you want to get the word out about your book, and you don’t want to be on social media, start a newsletter, or learn an ad platform, that doesn’t leave you a lot of marketing choices. Because I haven’t had a newsletter and I’m not active on social media, learning an ad platform and using the promo method are the two things I’ve used to find readers. Not a lot of readers, but more than if I hadn’t used anything at all.

You don’t have to . . . write in a series . . . if you don’t want to. From the minute I started writing and publishing, all I heard was write in a series. There’s a lot of wisdom to this. Read-through (KU page reads and sales of individual books) is great if your first book is strong and you don’t take too long between releases. You have more marketing choices if you write in a series (like box sets and offering the first book for free to get readers hooked), and ad spend isn’t so bad if you pay for a little higher click because essentially you’re not only advertising one book, but many books (as many books is in your series, obviously). So what’s the problem? Writing is hard. Publishing is hard (so much to learn!) and costly. If your book one isn’t strong enough and readers drop off, every book you write after book one is a waste of time. Instead of figuring out how to do covers for one book at a time, all of a sudden you’re thinking about series branding and formatting. If you’re a new author, that’s intimidating. Not to mention if you don’t have friends to lend a hand with beta reading, editing a series can be very costly. I never advise anyone to publish without at least one more set of eyes besides yours on the book (I don’t care who that is). Writing standalones has always been more enticing to me, and I can write them quickly. They’re more manageable, and publishing one book is a lot faster because I have this weird thing with writing an entire series before publishing it. (Which has come in handy this time around as I did find a small little something from book 2 to book 3 that affects book 5 that I can fix now.) What can you do if you like to write standalones too? 1) Use your back matter. Advertise another standalone in the back. Use a buy-link, add the cover. Some ad copy. 2) Don’t let too much time go by between releases, or don’t market heavily until you have a backlist. If readers love you (and you want them to, right?) they will read all that you have. If that’s only one book, they might love it, but then they have nowhere else to go. (And this is especially true if you don’t have a newsletter or a group they can join to hook up with you while you write the next book.) But this also brings me to….

You don’t have to . . . write in one (sub)genre . . . if you don’t want to. You don’t, but it will make things easier if you do. For a few books, anyway. Or if you really want to, it can be wise to separate genres by pen name, but it will slow your productivity, depending on how fast you can write. I decided to use a pen name for my billionaire romance though I think they could have fit in with my contemporary romance okay. I like the idea of starting over, of having one specific subgenre under one name. Of course you can write whatever you want under one name, but marketing might be a little harder and the chance of finding readers who will read it all are slim. What can you do if you want to genre hop? The best advice I’ve heard is to try to not stray too far. Contemporary romance is all-encompassing, and I thought I could write whatever I wanted. It wasn’t true. If I ever get tired of writing billionaire, I could probably get away with writing Mafia, as they have similar tones. Not that I have plans for that as I have never even read a Mafia romance. Admittedly I don’t know much about other genres like Fantasy. An author could maybe get away with mixing RomCom and Women’s Fiction, especially if the WF has humorous elements in it. Domestic Thrillers could pair well with Mystery or Thriller. It will help your cause if they have similar elements and similar covers, so the books your Amazon author page look cohesive.

I could probably do a lot more of these; there are plenty of “rules” in the indie publishing space. The fact is, you can do whatever you want, but that leads to the indisputable fact that you may not achieve the results you want as quickly as you want them. I’ve been publishing for five years. I don’t have the audience I want because I didn’t give them a way to hook up with me, or a space for them to hang out with each other. No readers means no sales. What kills me is I did it my way for a long time, when I was more than willing to do what I needed to do it right the first time. I just didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t TikTok, and while I’m curious about the platform, I’m still wondering just how worth it it is. The whole idea of anything is to do what you enjoy so you can keep up the consistency of that thing. I don’t like my FB author page. I don’t like Instagram. I don’t want to learn how to use TikTok when I can put that time to use and write bonus material, a reader magnet, learn BookFunnel, network with others, and read more in my genre (and while doing that, join a billionaire readers’ group to help me stay on top of the hottest trends).

It’s all where you want to spend your time, how fast you want to put books out, and what you enjoy doing. You don’t have to do anything. You’re an adult. What do you want to do, and will it move your book business forward? That’s a question only you can answer.


What am I loving this week?

Alext Newton of K-Lytics did a comprehensive romance report for the fall of 2021. Being that I love keeping up with the industry, I bought it for $37. You can find out more about it and purchase it for yourself by clicking here. It’s not an affiliate link. I love Alex and the work his team does, but we aren’t affiliated. 😛

Another thing I loved is the interview James Blatch did with romance author Melanie Harlow on the Self Publishing Formula Podcast. She had some great advice, and I really related to what she had to say. I love it. You can listen to it here.

That’s it for me today! Have a wonderful week everyone!

Until next time!

Thursday Thoughts, Personal Updates, and what I need to finish by the end of the year

Last night I sat in on a wonderful Facebook Beginners Ads class by Mal Cooper. She was great! It was a bit of a surprise because of all the webinars and classes I’ve attended that use Zoom, I’ve always been a behind the scenes participant, but with Mal’s class, our cameras were on, and at the end she encouraged us to ask questions (something I did not do, letting my introvert insecurities get the best of me and now I need to email my question). I’d never participated in a Zoom class like that before, but it was fun and after a couple minutes of indecision, I turned my camera on. Luckily I had showered and done my hair and makeup for the day. I feel more productive when I do that, and these day with social media who knows when you’ll need to pop on somewhere and say hi. Anyway, I learned a lot and it was well worth the fee.

There are two more webinars scheduled for this week but I’ll be working and I’ll need to watch the replays. I could probably spend 24 hours a day consuming classes and information!

I’m stalled a bit with my latest novel. I thought of a couple of things that would make the book better, and I’ve paused writing to fix those. I liken changing a scene to pushing over a domino. It can change a lot more than just the scene and can affect the entire book. A lot of writing craft gurus say to keep going and not edit as you go along, but I prefer to have a pretty clean first draft when I’m finished so I do go back and edit and fix inconsistencies as they arise. I still can finish a book in a decent amount of time and I don’t need to get it all on the page in order to finish a book. Life being what it is, I haven’t been able to work on my book much this week at all, but I should have a quiet weekend and make some good headway and probably finish it next week some time. With my appointments for my girly bits and my son’s wound checkups and scheduled dental appointments for both kids, somehow September has grown quite busy. Still trying my best, but my best feels like trying to run a marathon in quicksand and the more I try to work, the more bogged down I get.

I work well with lists, and find I don’t feel so overwhelmed if I can write out what I need to do in the coming months. Here’s a quick list:

  1. Finish current WIP.
  2. Double check everything is how I want it in MailerLite for my newsletter landing page, welcome email, and unsubscribe page.
  3. Proof the proof of Faking Forever and make changes to the ebook and paperback interiors:
    a) add my newsletter sign up to the back matter
    b) add price to the back cover of paperback (check to see if I need a price increase for IngramSpark)*
    c) fix title name font size on spine
  4. Order another proof and check it over to be sure everything is the way I want it.
  5. Format the interior for My Biggest Mistake, (title not set in stone) the ugly duckling trope that is going to be my reader magnet.
  6. Create a cover for it, front and back because I’m going to upload it to KDP so I can proof a paperback proof of it. It can stay in KDP because after it grows stale as a reader magnet I’ll publish it.
  7. After I proof it and make sure there are no typos in it, create a Bookfunnel account and upload it. Ideally I would like to have 1,000 emails on my newsletter before I start to publish anything.
  8. And last, but not least, before November, create a box set of my Rocky Point Wedding series, and run a .99 promo on it for the holidays. I’ll probably do a couple of smaller promos like Ereader News Today or Robins Reads. I’ve never tried them before. I did a BargainBooksy through Written Word Media that didn’t do too well for a .99 promo of Wherever He Goes. Their FreeBooksy is always great, but not sure if I want to give away a complete 4-book boxed set. Even .99 is low, but my royalties will come from the page reads I’ll get in KU, so maybe I will do free. Not sure. The books are already over a year old and I don’t know if I’ll write anymore 3rd person books. I’m more than comfortable writing what I’m writing, but never say never.

*IngramSpark sent out an email saying they needed to up their pricing due to rising costs in the industry, and they are slowly going through everyone’s books to see if their pricing will stay on the positive after the price increase. If your book is set to go into negative royalties, they’re going to ask you to up your price. Which isn’t a big deal normally, but IngramSpark forces you to match your price to the cover if you put it on there, which I do, right above the ISBN box on the back. So if I have to raise the prices for any of my books, I’ll need to make the changes on the covers as well, and resubmit. I don’t care if my books make fewer royalties–I rarely sell paperbacks anyway–and if my books can stay in the black, I’ll leave my older books how they are and price higher any books I publish through them from now on. If you want to read their announcement, you can find it here.

It’s difficult to know what to do first. It makes sense to publish Faking Forever so I have a buy-link to put in the back of my reader magnet so when they finish reading a free book, there’s one available to purchase. On the other hand, publishing it without a newsletter in place to announce the launch and depending on paid newsletter mentions like BargainBooksy, ENT (Ereader News Today, Robins Reads, Fussy Librarian, etc) and ads may not be enough to give me a good launch as a new pen name without a backlist. Mal said something that I agreed with in the Facebook Ads class last night too, and she said it doesn’t make much sense to put a book that’s going to be in KU on preorder because KU subscribers will wait to read it anyway. I guess I’ll be trying to get newsletter signups and promoting my reader magnet without a book for sale, but I’ll have it all ready to go into KDP so when I do decide to publish it, all I’ll have to do is press publish and approve proof. The only good I can see of doing a preorder while you’re in KU is having the buy-link to post in places. Something to think about.

Probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in the past five years I’ve been publishing is for me, at least, it just is not working to publish as I get books done. There is no consistency in a publishing schedule when I’ve done that. There are a couple of indies who do well publishing as they finish books, but I think those are the exceptions that prove the rule. The indies who make consistent money are the ones who are a few books ahead in their schedules. It’s tough because I’ve talked about this before: you have to be okay with keeping books while you stock up, and then you have kind of a conveyor belt feel to the entire process. I don’t want to feel like that, but I also don’t need the pressure of writing and publishing a book every four months without a Plan B. I don’t know. All I know is that I need to get through some of my list and as I do hopefully I’ll find readers and starting an avalanche of readers, email subscribers, and releasing books won’t seem as daunting as it does right now.

What I’ve enjoyed this week:

The Six Figure Authors Podcast is back from their summer hiatus, and I enjoyed listening to their first episode! They talk about taking your writing from hobby to career level, and you can watch it here.

I also loved this episode of the Wish I’d Known Then podcast. Thomas Umstattd Jr. had a lot of interesting and possibly controversial things to say about treating your books like your business. There are so many writers and authors who don’t want to look at their books as a product to sell, but then when it comes to marketing, they don’t understand what to do. Give it a listen and tell me what you think. Do you agree with what he has to say?

Monday I’ll talk a little bit about writer’s block and why it seems I never suffer from it. Come back for those tips!

Until next time!