The hard-boiled truth of fiction writing
For those out there who write fiction, I’d like to share what I’ve experienced as a writer. I hope I can provide some helpful tips and maybe some meaningful perspective.
I wrote my first novel fifteen years ago. Today I have five novels for sale on Amazon. My books are categorized within Amazon’s search ranks as “hard-boiled detective fiction.” Most people think of eggs when they hear “hard-boiled,” but this term is actually on a short list of primary keywords that Amazon offers under the Mystery & Detective category. If you’re not familiar with Amazon, then yes, categories and keywords are important, and need to be part of your marketing strategy.
But before I dive into the rabbit hole of book marketing, I’d like to talk first about the writing process. I strongly recommend reading books on fiction writing technique (I’ll recommend a few at the end of this post). I wrote my first novel, Stateline, in 90 frenetic days. When I finished it, I had a 110,000-word manuscript, and boy, did I think it was brilliant. I spent the next three years learning that not only was it not brilliant, it was crap. After applying what I learned from books on writing, and heeding advice from some kind people, I rewrote the manuscript, reducing it to 92,000 words, and then I spent two years polishing it. I learned to apply two key principals of fiction technique, which I think often separate weak from strong fiction: Show, don’t Tell, and Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE). I can’t calculate how many hours I spent on Stateline. When I was certain it was as good as it could be I published it on Amazon. Some reviewers pointed out a few things, which prompted yet more polishing. Lesson: invest yourself in your craft, and never lose your patience.
Second, view your writing as a lifelong pursuit. If you’re looking for instant gratification, forget about writing. I was on a chat room once where a young writer said he wanted to publish quickly, so he could enjoy fame and fortune while he was still young. As you might guess, more mature writers suggested he would likely be disappointed (and some were not so polite about it). Bottom line: Successful authors write daily, year after year, and publish multiple books. Many great authors waited years to become recognized. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
Third, understand and accept that you must run your own business. Even if you have an agent (I had two) and get a contract at a commercial house, you will need to do your own marketing if you want to sell books. I’ll admit the concept of marketing my novels made me both uncomfortable and a little discouraged. You mean, after all the blood, sweat, and tears I put into my writing, I have to go learn about things like Kindle categories, Amazon algorithms, and Twitter networking? The unfortunate answer is yes. If you’re going to write books, the effort is kind of pointless unless you can sell them.
And now, let’s talk book marketing. Like many novelists, I rely primarily on Amazon, the world’s largest bookstore. Almost one hundred percent of my sales are Kindle downloads. Although I have paperbacks available, they don’t sell much. Maybe if I could get them in major airports they would, but for 99.9% of authors, that’s not a realistic option. The Amazon Kindle Store, on the other hand, offers by far the most writer-accessible marketing options. Below is a list of marketing tips for authors seeking the path from zero sales to some decent money (or maybe, just maybe, much more than decent!):
Publish through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and enroll in KDP Select.
· KDP Select allows two very important options: First, you can make your book available in the Kindle lending library (you get paid for every page read), and second, you can make your book free for 5 days out of every 90-day period.
· Free, you say? Why would any sane person give away their book for free?
When you give away free books, it improves your ranking in Amazon for the next two to three weeks.
· Improved ranking equals improved visibility, which will help your books sell after the free promotion expires.
· The more people who read your book, the more fans you win, and then you benefit from increased word of mouth.
· Free promotions work especially well for the first book in a series, because readers who enjoy your free book will buy the rest in the series.
· Free promotions, done right, can result in a large numbers of reviews.
· If you can afford it, look at running a BookBub ad. If your book is selected by BookBub, you will likely give away a minimum of 20,000 downloads. This will generate at least 40 reviews.
I know I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg here. To learn more on the power of free, I recommend reading Let’s get Visible by DavidGaughran. Read it carefully from cover to cover; it’s very valuable.
Other recommended reading:
Dave Stanton is the author of five novels in the Dan Reno private eye series. They do not have to be read chronologically to be enjoyed, but for those who want to know, the order is: Stateline, Dying for the Highlife, Speed Metal Blues, Dark Ice, & Hard Prejudice. Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960, Dave Stanton moved to Northern California in 1961. He received a BA in journalism from San Jose State University in 1983. Over the years, he worked as a bartender, newspaper advertising salesman, furniture mover, debt collector, and technology salesman. He has two children, Austin and Haley, and lives with his wife, Heidi, in San Jose, California. Stanton's five novels all feature private investigator Dan Reno and his ex-cop buddy, Cody Gibbons.