I met someone recently who runs his own start up. It’s a super niche technical business, so when he started talking about it (albeit passionately), I expected everything to go completely over my head.
A lot of it did.
But as my friend began to talk less about gadgets and more about the daunting experience of starting a business, I found myself suddenly able to relate. That’s when I realized it- writing a novel is basically like building a start up.
1. Whether Building a Start Up or Writing a Novel, No One Really Gets What You’re Doing
My friend is creating some GPS gadget (sorry friend), and the innovation lies in something very technical. He said he tries to explain his vision to friends and family, and while they are supportive, they really have no idea what he’s trying to do. There are apparently only 3 people in the world who get it.
This experience is exactly like writing a novel. Sure, people understand the concept of novel writing and maybe even your basic premise, but you (and maybe your editor) are the only ones who get what you’re trying to do. You know the message you’re trying to convey. The nuances. The weeds.
Like building a start up, writing a novel makes you feel as if no one will fully understand what you’re creating until it’s done.
2. Building a Start Up and Writing a Novel Both Require An Appreciation for Innovation and Creativity
My start up friend talked about the creators of Uber the way I talk about J.K. Rowling. He went on and on about the innovation of the company and other pioneers because he was struck by their creativity. He was moved by both the simple and complex, so long as it was creative.
As novelist, I could relate to that. Seeing such innovation in others makes you want to find that creativity/innovation in yourself. It’s inspiring.
3. Writing a Novel, Like Building a Start-Up, Requires a Significant Investment
My friend was the first person to invest in his start up. He quit his job and dedicated 100% of his time to the company. Then, he convinced others to invest (and believe) in his ideas, skills, and strategy as well.
Writing a novel also requires a significant investment. The first investment is from yourself- it’s definitely a time commitment and probably a financial commitment as well (i.e., for classes, conferences, editors, etc.).
Like the entrepreneur, as a writer, you will have to ask for an investment from others.
By asking people to buy and read your book, you’re requesting that they invest their time and money into your ideas and skills—and your characters.So novelists, next time you meet an entrepreneur, make sure you tell them, “I get it.”
What about you? Do you think writing a book is like building a start up? Let me know what you think in thecomments.
Take fifteen minutes to write about an innovator or writer who inspires you. How can you relate to them? What can you learn from them to help you become a better writer? Don’t forget to share in the comment section!
About Monica M. Clark
Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter(@monicamclark).
At the beginning of December, I reduced the online price of my novel and a story collection. I wanted my books to be part of the holiday sales craze, so I took the ebook versions from $4.99 to 99¢. My royalties at those prices? About 30¢ a sale.
I smiled when I told my wife that I’d done this–a crooked, sad, maniacal smile. She gave me her best “WTF!” expression. And as it’s turned out, I should have paid attention.
It’s way too easy for us indie authors to devalue what we’re selling. Way too easy. If we don’t rack up downloads right away, we go into pricechopper mode, as if our work is the equivalent of a can of stewed tomatoes that hasn’t moved.
What’s the best price for an indie ebook? Shoot, what’s the best price for a book in general? Publishers struggled with this issue immensely when everything was paper based. A first-run print job was a sizable risk, even with good marketing. According to bestselling author Kathryn Rusch, who writes the blog The Business Rusch:
“By the middle of the previous decade, it cost at least $250,000 to publish a mid-list novel with a nice cover and an author advance of $10,000.”
But with ebooks, supply is limitless. There’s no cost difference between one or a million digital downloads. The only thing any ebook author needs to worry about is demand.
That’s a big worry, though. Building demand for a book is hard as hell for individual authors. You have to account both for what customers expect and what they value. The latter often comes down to subjectively defined qualities like skilled editing, effective plotting, character development, and use of language.
In the early days of ebook distribution, it was all about attracting readers. The best price back in 2009, when the Kindle was introduced? Free.
Many of the initial successful indies–like romance novelist Judy Powell and humorist/blogger Rachel Thompson–built big audiences by using what was then an open-ended system at Amazon that allowed them to offer at least some of their work for nothing.
In an interview with Forbes last fall, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says of a company study about ebook price points:
“At the Apple iBook store, free books are downloaded about 100 times more than paid books. The lesson for authors who want to rapidly build their platform is that free books are a very powerful tool.”
Yet, even if you opt for this tried-and-true route, there’s really no more “free” on Amazon–or Barnes and Noble, for that matter.
Last year, Amazon introduced its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system, which has many fabulous features. As one example, in an industry notorious for inaccurate and incomplete reporting to authors and agents, its real-time online reporting system is a big fat raspberry at traditional publishers.
But the most prominent feature of KDP is a pricing system that allows the author to set his or her book between $2.99 and $9.99 in exchange for getting 70 percent of the take. KDP also allows authors a more flexible price range of 99¢ to $200 if they’re willing to accept royalties of 35 percent.
At Amazon, the lowest you can go with price is a penny off the dollar –with one exception. KDP members are allowed five “free days” in each 90-day period if they’re willing to sign a deal where they sell their digital title only through Amazon’s Kindle Store.
In 2012, many indie writers gave the “free day” concept a shot (or two or three). I did a three-day August run that resulted in 10,100 downloads of my novel. Some other indies have reported getting as many as 50,000 downloads when their books were free.
If you’re an unknown author, that’s absolutely amazing. It matches Coker’s findings in the Smashwords study.
But you burn through those days quickly, get drunk on the idea that so many people have your book, and then must reenter the real world of charging for your writing. In my case, after my free days, I priced my book at $2.99. I got two downloads the day after and then nothing for several weeks, no matter what marketing I did. By the end of September, I’d had enough. I’d written a great story that was professionally edited and formatted. If it could sit at $2.99 with no purchases, why not have at least a little pride and make it $4.99?
In fact, while Coker points out that, logically, 99¢ books sell better than $1.99 books and $1.99 books sell better than those priced at $2.99, here’s his key observation:
“As price increased there were fewer sales. But what price yields the greatest income? And that was really interesting: We found that the $2.99 to $5.99 price band appears to be the sweet spot for indie authors, those prices over-performed the average in terms of income for the author. But 99¢ and $1.99 under-performed.”
That’s because books aren’t commodities. They aren’t even really consumer items in the conventional sense. Each book is a unique world that readers step into and keep safe on a shelf or in their Kindles when they’re done.
Customers may love discounts on bestsellers, but they don’t buy any old book just because it’s cheap. Try imagining the equivalent of a supermarket sale sign, and you’ll see the problem:
While Supplies Last! Prices Slashed on Sexy Literary Thriller! Less Than a Can of Tomatoes!
You can’t replace one book with another. For instance, I just bought the paperback version of Haruki Murakami’s mammoth 2011 novel 1Q84 for about $20. It’s fabulous. I also have roughly 20 books that I’ve downloaded for free this year from indie authors I know and another 50-plus that I’ve purchased for anywhere from $1 to $3.
But I’ve read very few of those downloaded ebooks. I regularly attempt to, but things keep getting in the way–yet I am reading Murakami, an established literary author, in paper.
So: Are we trying to sell books? Or to get people to read them–to enter the worlds we’ve created?
That’s not a rhetorical question.
Experienced authors like thriller writer Wesley Dean Smith regularly offer suggestions to indies about pricing. Here are his latest recommendations for 2013:
Novels: $6.99 – $7.99
Short Books: $3.99
Short Stories: $2.99
Short Story Collections: $4.99 – $7.99 (depending on the number of stories)
For Smith, indies are competing with traditionally published books. He also astutely points not only to the digital/paper divide but also to the psychology of buying books in either form. “If you have a $16.99 trade paper and a $7.99 electronic novel, it looks right to buyers,” he says.
The thing is, most indie authors don’t pay attention to this advice. The majority of indie ebooks are priced from 99¢ to $2.99. That’s a lot of “WTF!” spousal faces.
But if Kindle and iPad owners liked an author’s 99¢ mystery or romance novel last year, maybe they’ll be willing to pay $4.99 or $5.99 for another book by the same author this year. Maybe they’ll pay $6.99 and $7.99 for other titles the following year.
Which brings me back to that beautiful face my wife made in December. She was right–and I’m paying attention.
In early January, I raised my prices to be more in line with what Dean Wesley Smith advises. As I move forward, I’m hoping that my potential readers will see value when they look at the price tag–rather than a deal.
I have a new novel coming out this spring. I assure you, it will not be sitting on the floor somewhere with a 99¢ sticker on it. But even at $6.99, it will be less than any traditionally published novel out there.
In writing, the author is the brand. And that means you. You need to present yourself in your communications with potential readers in a way you are comfortable with and which is related to the books you expect to be promoting. An important part of this is to know which genre you are working in. It’s invidious, I know, but received wisdom is that if you work in more than one genre, you probably need two different names and two different brands. When you are putting yourself out there and finding ways to talk about your book, don’t forget what your brand is – who you want people to see you as. Stay focused.
Creating an author platform is vital for a new author’s success, and creating a brand is the basis for the platform. You need to know what you are creating before you start!
Deciding On Your Brand
Branding is more simple than it sounds. Anything that relates to the theme or plot of your books is included in your brand. To decide on your brand, answer the following questions:
How do you want to be known?
What words do you want people to associate with you?
What are your goals for the next 3 years?
What words are associated with that?
Will your books be in a particular genre?
Who do you admire and want to emulate in writing and also as a brand?
Find their websites and keep screen-prints of what you like and don’t like. Use them as a model (but obviously no plagiarism!)
You stand to gain more attention by using elements of your brand and keyword search terms because this is what your intended audience will be searching for. Your writing themes and plots will give you the necessary keywords you are looking for. It is a good idea to do your research on best SEO practices and also conversion rates of keywords and long tail keywords (which tend to convert more traffic). Keyword Research Resources: Where do we get all of this knowledge about keyword demand and keyword referrals? From research sources like these:
If you have a website already, enter it into a keyword tool.
Are you happy with the keywords associated with your site? Do you need to change your focus?
What images do you want associated with you and your brand?
You also need to know what you want for your future, because if you can’t see the brand extending over multiple books you have hard work ahead!
State your purpose to help create your brand message. The more words you remove from your description of your purpose, the stronger the words that remain become. Be focused. When you are just starting out, when you are still developing that core audience – err on the side of being specific. Focus on the topics you discuss, the audiences you target and the way you describe your work.
If you are an independent author, your website merely serves as a placeholder on the web without a means with which your fans can interact. It’s not only your fans you want visiting anyway, you want to drive new prospective readers to your book, and to you, as an author. The most effective way to do this is by engaging people through an author branded blog.
Whether you like it or not, it is your responsibility to market yourself and your book. No matter how timid or shy you may be, if you intend on more than fifty people buying and reading your book, you will have to put some real effort into marketing yourself. The simple truth is, get over it! You are now in business as an author, and you have a product and a brand of hopeful value to offer a large portion of the public. Now you are given the task of promoting what you have created to the people who will want it.
The best place to start your author platform is with an author blog. Create your blog and have it available on your website (I suggest you go through WordPress as it is the most inexpensive method to get yourself in the public view, it enables you to share your content across many social networks, it is user friendly, offers a wide range of widgets and customizations, and it gives you the option of purchasing your own domain name so your blog will serve as your website).
Even if you think you are aware of the basic reasons why it is a good idea to hire a professional editor, this article is worth reviewing. If you want to be a professional author than it is imperative that you treat your manuscript professionally as well.
You may think it costs too much money, or that you are equipped enough to handle the editing. This is nonsense. How much time have you invested in your manuscript and how do you want it to be received by the public? If you respect your own writing then you will afford the cost of a professional editor and listen to all they have to offer.
What a Professional Editor Provides
Editing your manuscript is a job for a professional editor. Whether you’ve written beat poetry or the next blockbuster screenplay, a lavish period romance or a hard science fiction adventure, the right editor will know your form and genre. They will know about important things like leaving the dialects alone, preserving your voice and vision, and making sure you retain complete creative control. If you’ve written nonfiction, your editor will be focused on helping you communicate your ideas clearly and concisely, giving you a better, stronger, and perfectly crafted manuscript.
Proofreading and copy editing are different services.
Proofreading is the reading of a galley proof or an electronic copy of a publication to detect and correct production errors of text or art. Proofreaders are expected to be consistently accurate by default because they occupy the last stage of typographic production before publication.
Copy editing is the work that an editor does to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of text. Unlike general editing, copy editing might not involve changing the content of the text.
5 Reasons Why You Should Hire a Professional Editor
1. You Need an Expert, Honest, Fresh Pair of Eyes
No matter how many times you have proofread your manuscript, you have missed something. With the services of line editing and developmental editing, you have the opportunity to have your story structure analyzed. These services could take your already great writing and make it exceptional.
2. Your Book Can Be Improved
There are several areas in which your book can be improved. Sentence structure, confusing scenes, too much dialogue, or an abundance of information that actually detracts from your story. These are things an author will overlook because the story reads well in their head simply because they created it. The author is unable to see from the perspective of the reader.
3. Your Book is Not Their Baby
An editor takes the viewpoint of a reader. They don’t care if you are in love with a certain paragraph or chapter that you have written, if it needs rewriting, or needs to be scrapped, they will boldly tell you.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain
4. Editors Have a Unique Perspective
The editor has a unique perspective. Not only are they a fresh set of eyes to fine tooth comb your work, but they have the background that labels them as an expert in their field. They know grammar, sentence structure, story outline, pitch, premise, tone, and theme, and they understand how all of these things work together to create a great story.
5. Even Famous Authors Have Editors
Do you think the great authors like Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy, or Stephen King, do not have to scrap sections of their work or do rewrites? Do you think they think they can or would choose to only self-edit their work? No, they wouldn’t, they rely on professional editors for guidance. They understand the benefits of editing and polishing their manuscript.
“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” ― Patricia Fuller
Hiring an Editor
Before you hire an editor, you need to know what kind of help you’re looking for. Do you want developmental editing—“big-picture” feedback about structure, style, pacing and voice? A developmental edit for a work of nonfiction may include feedback about the book’s organizational structure, as well as both stylistic and informational strengths and weaknesses. (For example: “The strongest parts of the book are where you use humorous anecdotes to illustrate your points about how bad managers don’t even know they are bad managers. Why don’t you try opening each chapter with one of those anecdotes, to make it easier for the reader to identify with the problems you’re about to discuss?”)
If you’re writing fiction, developmental editing also includes notes on plot, point of view and characterization. (For instance, “I think the real story starts in Chapter 3, at the moment when she wins the lottery,” or, “While I love the way you show the character growing throughout the story and her sarcasm is often funny, she comes off as unlikable. Here are some things she might do/say to get the reader on her ‘side’ from the beginning.”) Often, a developmental edit is given in the form of a detailed report or letter rather than as notes made directly on the manuscript.
If you want the latter, you’re looking for someone to line edit your manuscript. In a line edit, your editor will point out specific things such as certain lines of dialogue that don’t sound convincing, or pacing problems in a given section. (“Why not skip the backstory here and move right to the kiss? It’s what readers have been waiting for!”)
I suggest both. Often, an editor provides both developmental feedback and line edits. Because developmental feedback assumes the writer will return to the manuscript and rewrite parts, line editing is sometimes held off until that rewrite has been completed. Alternatively, the editor may be contracted to work on a second line edit of the book to address anything that has been added or changed in the revision.
Many authors are reluctant to accept developmental feedback and line edits. Not taking these editing marks into serious account is a mistake. It is important to remember that your editor is an expert in their field and will only make suggestions where, as a reader of your work, they deam a change is necessary. You don’t have to accept everything your editor suggests, but it may help to do the rewrites and get new feedback from proofreaders or friends. It is quite possible that the magic of your story will be enhanced by your revisions and attention to detail. Hiring an editor to fine-tune your manuscript can take your story to the next level, possibly making you an award winning author.
Pay homage to your souls passion by showing up to make use of it. Face it, your desire for success and fame will never be realized if all you can manage to do 90% of the time, is daydream about what you are going to do. Hard work is favored with reward. Believe that you must show your dream some respect by putting in some time and attention to create your masterpiece and hone your talent. Strive to do your best and you will become your best.
Structure your schedule to include a time frame where you will work at your craft. Simply put, WRITE EVERY DAY!
If you are serious about giving the hours of creativity, then hang on tight, your soul is about to get a big dish of what it hungers for. At first you will feel a sense of satisfaction for your effort, but then the payoffs begin to roll in. Your writing is going to improve, and here is a map to guide you closer to your goal.
There is no such thing as writers block.
Get up thirty minutes earlier and start a dream journal.
Keep a doodle pad handy, or colored index cards for brainstorming.
Research at least once a week on your plot theme and structure.
Read an article about writing every other day.
Don’t read what you have written.
If your mind is wandering, do a brainstorming session and mind-map your ideas.
Read everyday in your chosen genre.
Be open to new ideas and try one on once a week.
Stretch and breath and drink lots of fluids. Don’t waste your time surfing the net.
Instant gratification is a lie and will get you nowhere and you are wasting precious time seeking it.
Writers Block: Seven Ways to Get Unstuck
You may be unable to write the thing you want or need to write, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write something. And that’s the key to breaking out of a funk. It’s like loosening up your muscles – once you get warmed up, your workout will be easier.
Here are a few tips for turning your brain cramp into a writer’s cramp:
Write something else. An email, a blog post, a grocery list. Anything to get a little momentum going.
Free associate. Put pen to paper or fingers to keypad and write continuously for 15 minutes without stopping. Seriously. Whatever comes to mind. What you had for breakfast, what you see in front of you. Just do it.
Try some creative writing. Write about your childhood home, your first memory, a favorite teacher or best friend. Turn on the TV. Take a line of dialogue you hear and use it as the starting point for a story.
Go online. Find something that really fires you up – sports, politics, the weather – whatever floats your boat or gets your goat. Read the comments and you’ll see how regrettably few people online are impeded by writer’s block. Join what passes for debate there and post a comment of your own. You might find that all you really need is to stir the passions a little.
Change the scenery. Go somewhere else to write.
Get moving. Get up out of your chair and take a walk or go for a run. Get energized.
Read. Great writing inspires me. See what it does for you. Pull out a favorite book, or go online and track down the screenplay to a favorite movie.
Start a Dream Journal
What happens when you dream and what happens when you write is not so different, really. They both connect to the subconscious. All the weird stuff that floats around in your subconscious can be a good place to go when your work-in-progress gets blocked up. Make a game of it: choose some random element from a recent dream and work it into a scene you’re writing. It will keep you going—and in writing, if you just keep going (somewhere… anywhere!), you often end up headed in the direction you genuinely needed to go. The very act of keeping a dream journal stimulates the recollection of dreams. So the more you plan to remember, the more you remember.
Tell yourself you will remember your dream. If you sleep for the recommended 6.5 hours or more, you have five dreams every night. If you tell yourself and convince yourself that you will remember your dream, you will remember at least one in the morning.
Keep your mind focused before you fall asleep. Try to keep one idea in your head. Think about a news story you heard this morning. Think about your significant other. Dream about future kids if you don’t have any. Think about what color you want to paint your bedroom if you’re really desperate. Just try to keep it focused and don’t stress. You might remember a dream about this subject when you wake up.
Keep your journal near your bed with a working pen marking the next blank page. In the moments you waste looking for the journal, you will lose memories.
Your dreams can sometimes inspire you to write. Even the characters your mind creates can be used. Many best-selling authors say that their characters were created in their subconsciousness; their prime method of communication is through dreams.
Your Plot Theme and Structure
Theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What is says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges and experiences it presents. Theme can be a broad topical arena, or it can be a specific stance on anything human beings experience in life.
It can be a principle or an inevitable stage of growing up. It can be subtle or it can be on the nose. It can be contextual, or it can be the centerpiece of the story. And because it can be all of these things, or seemingly none of them yet strangely moving, it is often confusing to writers who can’t quite grasp what it means to the craft of storytelling.
Theme is the relevance of your story to life. To reality, as reflected in your fiction. Theme is love and hate, the folly of youth, the treachery of commerce, the minefield of marriage, the veracity of religion, heaven and hell, past and future, science versus nature, betrayal, friendship, loyalty, Machiavellian agenda, wealth and poverty, mercy and courage and wisdom and greed and lust and laughter.
Theme is life itself, as manifested in our stories, as seen through our characters, and as experienced through our plots. Take the time to do research on your theme and it will help you develop your story.
If you are feeling a bit stuck, try to find the real life equivalent to your plot. Then, do research to find out what actually happened, and use the real life events to invigorate and expand your current plot.
In a few sentences, write the basic action of the plot. For example, If your story were The Heart Stays, you might write: “A Native American College student gets a scholarship to an Ivy league School and had to deal with the unexpected arrival of her troubled sister on campus.”
Go onto your Internet and Google. Use a simple sentence, for example, “Native Americans who got scholarships.”
Open several of the websites that come up, and see what kind of information you discover. Make notes of anything that is interesting or surprising.
Now repeat the experiment, but this time research another aspect that interests you. Once again using our example, you might research “scholarships” and see if the details match the ones in your own story.
Repeat the exercise one last time asking one more question about a different area. For example, I might want to know how many scholarships were offered to Native Americans.
To recap, research can be a way to enhance a fictional plot. The trick is to find a few rich details and stop.
It goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of your vocabulary: exposure to published, well-written work has a noted effect on one’s own writing, as observing the cadence, fluidity, and writing styles of other authors will invariably influence your own work. In the same way that musicians influence one another, and painters use techniques established by previous masters, so do writers learn how to craft prose by reading the works of others.
With articles about writing, you can learn everything you need to know about virtually any writing topic and genre. Whether it’s fiction writing,how to write an article, getting published, promoting your work and much more. You learn from published authors and industry experts alike how to take your initial ideas and turn them into a completed story that is creative and print-worthy.