Indie Basecamp

When it comes time to make the decision about publishing path, too often indie writers overlook the fundamentals until the lack of foundation feels overwhelming. Once overwhelmed, the situation doesn't get any better. For this year's Colorado Gold, I put together a list of things to do - and the sequence I believe makes the most sense.

Here's my checklist*:

Day 0:

These are the things you probably didn't think about while you were writing your book.

  • Hang out a shingle. Get the URL and establish a website. Your website is the place where you gather fans. Set up a shell so you have a place to link to when you need it. Don’t worry about content there yet.
  • Set up a mailing list. Your mailing list is the one channel you have that goes directly to your audience. Don't abuse it. Mailchimp is your friend. Start an account and add their signup widget to your website.
  • Write your author bio. Make three versions – 50/100/300 words long. Don’t recite the facts. Tell a story. Add them to a page on your website (often labeled "Press Kit") so you can find them again when you need them.
  • Get a photo of your face. Professional is good, but a selfie that says “Hi there!” will do at this stage. Add it to your "Press Kit" page
  • Get a Twitter account. Use the short bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with readers.
  • Get a Facebook account. Use the medium bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with readers and writers (via closed groups)
  • Get a Google+ account. Use the long bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with writers.
  • Put the links to all three on your website.
  • Decide if you want to play in any other gardens.
  • Begin cultivating your network of peers

Week 1:

A lot of these things need more than a week to do. My editor asks for a month to work her magic. I only give my betas three days. I've bundled these together because you can't really get ahead in the process until you've done all these things. While you're waiting, you could start the next book and reach out to indie authors in the niche you're about to become part of.

  • Pass your final manuscript to beta readers. First time authors find this difficult because they have no betas. (It's easy. Ask me how.)
  • Decide how much of the feedback to incorporate. Just because they said it's a problem, doesn't mean you need to fix it.
  • Pass your final manuscript to your editor. You'll need at least a copy editor. Plan for this.
  • Decide on how much of the feedback to incorporate. Just because the editor noted it, doesn't mean you have to change it.
  • Get the cover art

Week 2:

These are the "publish it" steps. There are a lot of different paths. Mine is more complicated because I'm fussy about the ebook formatting. I've taken the time to learn the skills necessary to publish the ebook in the format I want. In the beginning, I'd have done this if I could have. While I've labeled this week 2, it shouldn't take more than a morning.

  • Get an account at Draft2Digital
  • Upload your final manuscript but don’t publish it there
  • Upload your cover art
  • Download the resulting .epub file
  • Get the Amazon Offline Previewer
  • Open the epub with the previewer to convert to mobi.
  • Decide what markets to participate in (Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBook)
  • Upload your files (cover and interior) to each one directly

Week 3:

After you've hit publish, there's not much you can do. Especially not with a first book. What you need to do is start the next one and work on your foundation.

  • Profit. (not really)
  • Work on growing your network of peers
  • Join RMFW

I appreciate that this laundry list doesn't actually tell you everything you need to know - like what to do with your new accounts (play with the people you find there) or how to get people to sign up for your email list (I support the "one at a time" strategy as most valuable). One of the difficulties is that there are as many different ways to use social media as there are people.

Leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer.

* The steps assume you're writing long-form fiction (novels) and have a completed manuscript in your hands. You can't get fans for a book you're going to write so having the manuscript done is a watershed event. Non-fiction authors may discover their process works a bit differently.

This post tries to answer the question "Now what?"

Image Credit:Image Credit:cotaro70s: Everest Base CampCC BY-ND 2.0

Marketing Physics

Back in the dark ages when I took physics, I learned about the six simple machines. When dealing with marketing, I find the lever makes a good analogy. It increases the force applied by a given amount of effort. Rephrased: You don't have to work as hard to get the same result.

Call me lazy, but any time I can get the same result with less effort - especially in marketing - I'm all over it.

The concept is simple. In marketing, we need to apply effort to gain purchase - literal as well as figurative. The more leverage we have, the less effort needed.

Marketing isn't the lever. It's the fulcrum. It's base you need in order to focus the application of effort. The fulcrum needs to be solid enough to take the load of both the effort and the output. If it's too squishy, applying effort will crush it. It can't really be too strong, but there's no need to make one stronger than you need. A fulcrum that can support ten tons doesn't actually give you any advantage when you're only trying to move a ten pound load.

In this context, marketing is not what you do. It's the way you've decided to do it.

I write SF/F novels. I self-publish them. I use social media as my primary communication channels. I follow the "Big Frog, Small Pond" and "1000 True Fans" strategies. Those were my decisions regarding marketing. That's my foundation, my fulcrum.

Effort is the sum of all the forces applied to the lever. For authors, that can be time spent at conventions, on social media, or writing blog posts. It can be cash spent on ad buys and market research. It can be anything the author does to promote the works. It's built from all the decisions an author makes about strategy and model. What do you have to offer? Where do you offer it? How do you choose to make people aware of your product?

The output load in this case is the number of purchases or - perhaps more accurately - profit. After all, it does little good to spend $10 for every $1 in revenue. It might be advantageous to achieve some short-term goal, but it's a bankrupt model in the long run. Literally.

The lever is the key. The lever is what multiplies the effort and provides the applied force to the output. For authors, that's the backlist. If you only have one book to sell, then the lever is short. You have to apply a lot of effort to get a unit of output. If you have two books to sell, then you get a multiplier. Perhaps people who buy the first will buy the second. You have more visibility - a bigger footprint - which makes your lever longer but also stronger. Add a third and a fourth and a fifth and you begin to build a machine where only the lightest touch of effort can give you a huge amount of purchase.

It's just simple physics.

Hocus Focus

Another one of those articles came across my feeds the other day. You know the ones? The ones where somebody with a book or two placed with A Real Publisher decries the sad state of authorship and how being poor but published is much superior to being one of Those People? There are fewer of those articles floating about these days,  but I keep running across this canard:

"Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing."

If that's what you're doing as a self-published author, you're doing it wrong.

I understand the rationale. It comes from the old school marketing people using mass market techniques on niche market segments. The impetus to do something - even something that doesn't work - can be overwhelming. It's what causes authors to abuse social media by posting "buy my book" messages six times a day to hit all the major time zones. It's what causes writers to spend time writing meaningful blog posts three times a week because they've been told that's how to get readers. It's why so very many of us think they have to be everywhere all the time or they're missing out the growth potential of each of the channels.

But here's the thing.

As content creators, we really should focus on creating content. The content we need to create is not "interesting links" or "regular blog posts" or even "quality content." We need to create new stories. Sure, they're rehashed retellings of one of the seven basic plots, but to readers, they're new stories. We breathe life into the characters and unfold plots. We take readers to worlds that fascinate or horrify or titillate - sometimes all three.

We can't do that if we're focused on marketing. We can't do that if we're spending the majority of our effort and attention chasing goals based on flawed models.

The heck of it is, the models sorta work. That's the danger in them. They work in the same way taking a pair of pinking shears to your lawn works. If you stick with it, you will eventually get your grass cut. It may take so long that you'll have to start again immediately, but it does work. Sorta. As an analogy, I think it applies to the way people approach marketing. The mass market tools work but they're not very effective and they're horribly inefficient. By focusing time and energy on using those tools, you incur an enormous opportunity cost. You wind up spending all your time marketing and never write the stories your audience wants.

All because of a misplaced focus.

Image Credit: "Focus" Michael Dales CC BY-AT-NC

The Launch

Few subjects quicken the blood like releasing a new book. Between the fear that this one is going to stink and the hope that maybe this one is going to be The One, the emotional roller-coaster of launch has few equals in the life of any author.

A lot has changed in launch strategies over the last ten years. The process is still fun, nerve-wracking, and almost never as successful as we hope, but there are some things to consider beyond how much time you shouldn't be spending refreshing the Amazon reports page. Start with the basics:

What Do You Want?

Most new authors - and a fair number of experienced ones - don't actually take the time to think about this. "Sell more books!" is an admirable goal but operationalizing that can be problematic. For many, the launch is an occasion, something to announce, an event to bruit about because who doesn't love a book launch? They see it as a great time to promo the heck out of a title in the hope of launching the book into Orbit ... or maybe Tor.

So what do you want? Sales, income, or readers. Pick one.

One thing to consider is the Amazon Rocket Launch. This is the one most people pursue, hoping to get a huge first day or two that will catapult their book into the upper reaches. Before you pursue this remember the mantra:

Up like a rocket,
Down like a rock.

Amazon's weighted rolling average of sales ranks punishes spikey sales so if you sell to everybody who knows you on day one, there's nobody left on day two to keep your missile from falling back to the ground.

For me, the goal is income. As a full time author, I need to cover my bills and keep food on the table. If I can afford to keep doing what I love, then sales and readers will follow. So I focus on the basics of launch to avoid the Rocket as much as I can. The strategy is called "soft launch" or "slow burn" and involves keeping the news low key and spreading it out over time.

1. I don't announce the release any more. I let fans tell me when the book is available. They often know before I do. Having them tell me - on social media - means they're also telling all their friends at the same time.

2. I actually do send an email out to my list around the second or third day. They signed up to be notified and I try to let them be the first people I tell. I just don't tell all of them at once, hoping to spread the sales out over a few days. It's not like I have a big list. I keep it trimmed down to under 2000 addresses but spreading those out can make the difference between a long, steady climb in sales and a crash ending spike.

3. I post to my blog. Eventually. Frequently that's earlier than I'd like but I only update my blog once a month and I tend to release near the end of a month so I capitalize on Kindle Unlimited (which is a different conversation).

4. Back in the day, I used to make one tweet with a link to the book. Just one. Not one a day. Not one that's repeated three times to hit all the major time zones. One. Ever.

My goal is to stay in the top 1000 on Amazon for a month. After that, gravity - and algorithms - take a toll on the heartiest of fliers. Doing that generally gets me about 5000 sales and over a million page-read on KU.

But I'm established. I spent years building my audience and growing my fanbase. What about somebody just starting out?

The rocket ride is the same should you choose to light the fuse. You might climb very high very fast. The crash will hurt just as much.

Soft launch pays dividends for those who are just starting out. Since you can't depend on your fans yet, getting the word out is where you need allies to help you. Joining a like minded group of authors who can help you is probably the single most important thing a new author can do. I have a mantra for that, too:

The fastest way to get an audience is
borrow one.

Who do you ask? How do you do that?

I've written about allies and how to find them before. There's nothing fancy or complicated about it. Compared to blog tours, swag planning, and review chasing, it's pretty low key and not as time consuming. It leaves a lot more time for what matters - writing the next book - but often feels uncomfortable to new authors who'd rather do something - even if it's not very effective - than to  trust the soft launch to do its magic.

Generating early buzz with beta readers pays dividends as long as your beta-to-release time is short (a few days or a week). The issue there is my third mantra for today:

You can't get fans
for a book you haven't released.

Whether or not you ride the rocket, here's hoping your next release brings the results you want.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls https://www.nasa.gov/content/expedition-38-lifts-off

The Myth Of Reviews

While I'm pottering about in my writing shed, I frequently come across the myth of reviews. Generally it follows the form of "How do I get more reviews for my book?" This question is a symptom of the more pernicious problem - buying into the myth that reviews generate sales.

It's an understandable myth that's been caused by confirmation bias getting passed along as causal relationship. It develops like this:

  1. You publish a book.
  2. You don't get many sales.
  3. You do a little promotional activity
  4. You get more sales.
  5. You notice you have more reviews.
  6. You seek reviews with ARCs, giveaways, pleas at the end of the book.
  7. You get more sales.
  8. You notice you get more reviews.

The confirmation bias comes into play because you took an action - requested reviews. You believe that action resulted in more reviews and that those reviews generated the sales.

Here's the thing: If you want more reviews, sell more books. Only people who read the book will review it. If you're seeing more reviews, it means more people are buying your book.

Here's the other thing: When it comes to Amazon reviews - the ones most people seem concerned about - the potential reader who sees those reviews is already on your page. You've done the heavy lifting and it's up to the cover and blurb to get them to sample.

My opinion is that reviews only matter in the edge cases - those situations where the potential reader is either on the fence or is looking for confirmation for the decision they've already made. If you haven't hooked them with both the cover and blurb, the reviews aren't likely to convince somebody to overlook that pair of sins and take a sample. They'll have already clicked 'next.' If they've decided to maybe give it a try, they'll look at reviews to justify their decision. If they've decided they probably should pass, they'll look at reviews to confirm their choice.

There's one other factor at play - the sophistication of the potential reader in navigating the Amazon ecosystem. People who understand the jungle know how the Amazon review game gets played. They tend to go with sample over review in order to make up their minds before they pull money out of their debit accounts.

Just to forestall the argument about Goodreads or Bob's Book Blog or Kirkus or whatever, those are lovely. Getting reviews there by convincing a reader to talk about you is good buzz. I'm not convinced that Kirkus is worth the dosh, but I'm miserly. My point is that nobody's going to review your book if they haven't read it. I know it's common advice to send out ARCs and generate pre-publication buzz and all that, but spending time and energy pursuing Amazon reviews is not likely to pay off anywhere near as handsomely as getting that next book out.

If you're doing anything that stands between you and release day, stop doing that.

I realize this is the minority opinion, but if books with more reviews got more sales, then my book with 700 reviews would have more sales than my newly released title with only 70. While that is, in fact, true, the reality is that the book with hundreds of reviews was released years ago and sells a couple of units a day. It has sold a hundred times more units in its lifetime than the new release, which generated a lot of reviews. The new release - with only 70 reviews - is selling a couple of hundred units a day. It hasn't been around long enough to generate many reviews but it's still selling much faster than the older titles.

I use this handy mantra:

Reviews do not drive sales.
Sales drive reviews.
If you want more reviews,
sell more books.

The best way to sell more books is to release more books for readers to buy and not spending time and effort chasing the review rainbow.

JMO. YMMV.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
CC BY-SA 2.0 License

A Few Notes on Discoverability

Discoverability is one of those newish buzzwords that tries to describe the process by which a reader finds a book to read. The problem with the generally accepted view of discoverability is that the goal is not to have people discover a book. You can't build a career on a book. As an author you need readers to discover you. That may feel really scary but fight it. If you're an author, it's the reality of your chosen work. You can't be a concert pianist if you never get out of your living room.

Discoverability Only Matters Once

What we tend to lose track of is that most of an author's fanbase is made up of people who discovered him or her just one time. Once a reader knows your name and what you write, you don't need to be discovered by that reader again.

If you're smart and if you write something that that reader likes, you'll keep him or her reading your stuff forever—or at least until you piss them off by charging too much, writing too much stuff they don't like, make them wait too long between works, or toss some other sand into their gears.

How Does A New Author Do That?

Lean on your network.

There’s a difference between network and platform. Your network is a collection of your peers. Writers, artists, editors, and others engaged in the creative endeavor of bring literature to the audience. Your platform is your audience. They're the people who support you by buying your stuff.

Your network doesn't need to discover you. You need to build the network. You've already started by being a member of RMFW. Your network should have members who like and respect your work. It should have at least a few members whose work you like and respect. They don't all have to be in the mutual kumbaya society, but having a half dozen people with whom you share sensibilities is important.

Individually, new authors have very small audiences, perhaps as few as a hundred readers garnered over months of frustration. Ten such authors—with similar sensibilities and writing in related genres—have a thousand.

A thousand true fans represents critical mass. Once you get there, discoverability is a function of how fast your true fans share. It is no longer the author's problem.

The combined audience of ten authors won't give you that thousand true fans, but it's a nice start. Use that group to prime the pump by giving them something positive to talk about.

Give Them A Reason

My friend Evo Terra regularly says something like "If you want people to talk about you, do something remarkable." Having people talk about you means you get discovered by people who hear the talk.

One book is not remarkable. One book a year is not remarkable. One really OMFG book? Not remarkable for more than one news cycle.

What’s remarkable?

  • Regularly recommend somebody from your network.
  • Participate with readers in social media.
  • Build a body of work as fast (and as good) as you can.
  • Earn the reputation you want to have by being willing to build it one reader at a time.

It'll take a couple of years. Maybe three, maybe five.

If you write good stuff, if you build a good network, if you pay attention to the details of your craft, then readers will discover you and--through you--your work.

It's up to you to make sure they only need to discover you once.

Image credit:By Stewart Butterfield (flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Best Day

One of the more common questions I hear is “What’s the best day to release a book?”

Generally, the question comes from somebody who may have released a book or two and it sank without a burp. They think the reason it sank might be they launched in the wrong season or the wrong day of the week.

It’s understandable when one considers that publishers generally release a spring and fall catalog. Some add a winter calendar. They send those to bookbuyers so that must be when people buy books, right?

Not so much.

Bookbuyers make their selections to stock in the coming season. Publishers collect all the new titles into the glossy catalogs to make those selections easier. Booksellers know that readers enter their shops every day of the year so a seasonal catalog is simply a convenience for the publisher and buyer. The books they order from the catalog may not see a store shelf for weeks.

The year end holiday season offers another possibility for launch. The rationale follows the logical path where people get new e-readers for the holidays and will need fresh reading material to go on them.

In the past, starting around 2010 and on into 2014, that was a reasonable path to follow. Lately, fewer people are buying new dedicated readers, opting for tablets or even smartphones as reader-of-choice. That still offers an opportunity but removing a few million new Kindles from consideration each December limits the utility of this strategy. It’s not a bad idea to release a work in mid-December so that it’s got some traction and visibility by month end, but that’s not a good reason to delay a book that’s ready in October.

There are those who weigh the advantage of the day of the week. Saturday? People are off work and might be looking for something new to read for the weekend? Perhaps Friday night for those who plan ahead? Sunday might be a good day to release a book because – for many – it’s a day of rest and quiet contemplation.

Personally, I favor any day that ends in “Y.” The only exception might be if you plan to launch into Kindle Select. Amazon aggregates page-reads by the calendar month so releasing on the last day of the month will maximize page-reads toward a potential Kindle All-Stars reward. For new authors this is almost never worth chasing. The lowest tier of All-Star reward takes about two million page-reads for a single title. People who ask “What’s the best day?” don’t usually expect to get millions of page-reads. Mostly they only want to give their book the best chance at catching on.

Here’s the thing.

Booksellers know that readers enter their stores every day of the week. Perhaps they get more foot traffic on the weekends when people are off work, but that has less to do with readers wanting books on the weekend that with readers being able to get to the bookstore. For most indie authors, the market is ebooks and the largest bookstore in the world is on every reader’s desk – even in their pocket. A reader who wants a new book only has to log in. Which means – in most cases – the best day to release a book is my favorite day that ends in “Y” - today.

Social Capital

A lot of attention gets paid to social media without really understanding a fundamental concept - social capital.

In addition to all its other characteristics and traits, social media transactions depend on - for lack of a better term - a currency. You earn it as you give and pay it when you ask.

This makes a certain amount of sense if you think of the pesky neighbor who always wants to borrow your lawnmower but never returns it with gas in the tank. It doesn't help matters if he returns it with a bottle of beer when you don't drink beer.

That underscores a different - and more common - problem with social capital. So many people work to "create compelling content" without realizing that their "compelling" is my "no thanks." What should have resulted in a deposit to their social capital account winds up being a big fat withdrawal.

Most of the time - and I think, most people - fall into the "revenue neutral" portion of the continuum. Sometimes what they post is interesting enough but not engaging. They're the crazy uncle who tells a story about his trip to the grocery store when some kid was whining for candy and his mother wouldn't let him have any. They're the people who scour the web looking for "compelling content" to "share."

If you want to build up your social capital, don't do that. Reach out to somebody and talk with them. Authors, artists, creatives of all stripes can make a huge impression by reaching across the web to talk with fans. Congratulate them on a new job. Sympathize over their recent loss (even if it's only hair). Treat them like people - not contacts you count like coups. Every time you do that, you get a few bits of social capital. Every time some lurker sees that, you get social capital. Every time somebody notices that you're not asking for something but offering something without expectation of payment, you're earning social capital.

Sure it's only a few tiny slices. You need to do it a lot to get a pile big enough to make a difference, to accrue enough in your account to be able to spend it effectively.

When you spend, you don't spend little slivers. You spend big chunks.

Every time you ask somebody to look at your book, or read a new 5-star review, or even just link to your website, you're spending capital. A lot of people are running a deficit budget and wondering why things aren't moving.

Even things that you'd think would pay off big - like recommending a book that's not yours - can backfire on you if the person getting the recommendation doesn't like the book you recommended. If they remember who promoted it to them, they'll blame the you - not the author. The obvious advice is "don't recommend a book you don't like" but too many people recommend books because the author asked them to - or because the author is a friend. If you love it, say why. If you only liked it, say why. If you didn't even like it - or its in a genre you don't read - don't do anybody any favors because you're spending social capital that's difficult to recoup.

Before you make that next social media post, remember: You earn in pennies but you spend in Benjamins.

Image credit:
Steve Snodgrass: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass
Creative Commons: SA-BY

We Disrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

One of the things I keep hearing is that Amazon is disrupting the publishing business. That disruption is what allows independent authors like me to make a living in a field where - in the past - only a handful of superstars could quit their day jobs.

I've been looking at this for a couple of years now and I think we're focused on the wrong end of the paradigm.

Disruption is a technical term and happens when an innovation changes the marketplace for a new and under served populations of customers.

Who are the customers in publishing?

Certainly not the authors. Publishing has long see the authors and editors and artists less as customers than as piece work laborers, a necessary overhead cost in producing the books that they sell to the real end customers - readers.

I would argue that the disruption that Amazon has caused is in reading and they did it by changing the distribution model that a few (and shrinking) number of companies have controlled for decades. Ebooks in general and Amazon in particular gave people with limited means and limited mobility access to the community of letters in numbers that were unthinkable before. Those readers, and our ability to reach them, is what makes it possible for me to make a living writing novels.

So when the Wise and Powerful Wizard of 'Zon changes the rules, like trying out new subscription models or altering what authors get paid, remember one critically important distinction.

We're not the customers that their disruption serves. We're only the beneficiaries of that disruption.

Cash the checks and keep writing.

Image Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[This post originally shared with the Writers Discussion Group on Google+ - Aug, 2015. Nothing has changed since then.]

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

The new year is a time to look ahead but also a time to reflect. The timing of this column is significant to me because ten years ago yesterday – January 12, 2007 – I sat down to write what would become my first science fiction novel. I finished the first draft in ten days, the second draft in four, and had a completed third draft by the end of the month. I started recording it – a few chapters at a time – in the front seat of my car because it was the quietest place I could find. I released the first episode at Podiobooks.com on February 17th. I made every mistake. I did everything wrong.

I wrote four novels that first year and podcast them all. I had no idea what I was doing and never imagined that I’d be here – ten years later – a full time novelist.

This column isn’t to tell you how great I am. It’s to help lend some perspective on how much the industry has changed since I began. Many think the golden age is over. The people who were in it when it began will always be the winners and there’s no room for the new folks coming along behind. The pool is flooded and it’s impossible to rise to the top.

Yeah. Not so much.

In 2007, the Kindle wasn’t on the market. Self-publishing consisted of Lulu and BookSurge for print-on-demand titles. The price points killed sales. Booksurge – which would become CreateSpace – took a drubbing in 2008 when Amazon tried to get all the POD authors to use only their interface to sell books on Amazon. It’s not that bad now, but the wise POD authors always list through CreateSpace for Amazon these days in order to keep their titles from going out-of-stock, but I digress.

In January, 2010, I signed with a small press to produce my books in text formats. They convinced me that we could do better together than I could on my own. The salient point is that I built my audience for three full years and across six titles before I tried to sell what we’d consider a book. I did it by giving my stories away as free podcasts.

I made a lot of strategic decisions in those years about what to write, where to release it, how to promote it, and what tools and techniques to use to build that audience. It took months to get the first hundred, a year to get the first thousand. By the time I signed with the publisher in 2010, I had a million downloads across all the episodes in all the books and that took three years.

We released Quarter Share just before the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention in the spring of 2010. By then the Kindle was making noise in the marketplace so we released both ebook and paper. That ebook thing was a gamble. In those days selling a few hundred ebooks a year was a Big Deal. We had a release party at BaltiCon and a table where I hand sold a few copies in paper, mostly to the fans who already knew the story from listening. Quarter Share sold a few hundred on release and settled down to about ten a month.

Things stayed quiet until the Kindle Autumn of 2010. That’s the point where the Kindle’s market penetration tipped into the mainstream market for heavy readers. It would be another three months before Kindles became more common with casual readers. In October I became the first author at my publishing house to sell a thousand units in a single month with a single title. Others had sold a thousand across multiple titles, but that was the beginning for me.

By 2012 I dissolved the contract with my publisher by exercising my exit clause, got my rights back and spent a year re-issuing the four titles they’d released under my own imprint. By then I had eight books. Now I’m working on lucky number thirteen and the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

But here’s the thing.

The fundamental market has changed, but for the better. Millions of people read ebooks now. Dedicated devices are less common. Tablets and smartphones have taken over. Amazon and Kobo have a presence everywhere around the globe making digital products available to almost half a billion English speakers. The early stigma of self-publishing as vanity press has not disappeared but has become significantly diluted as dedicated self-publishers approach the work professionally in order to produce works that rival – even exceed – the quality of those published by the Bigs.

The reality of publishing today encompasses a variety of paths. Small, productive self-publishers can – and often do – earn more than authors published by the likes of Random House and Macmillan. They get fat and happy on sales numbers that are too small to support any of the bigger houses and some of the small. With reduced fixed cost overheads and very small variable costs people like me can do what most authors were never able to achieve ten years ago. We can quit our day jobs.

It’s not fast. I spent three years just building audience for my stories and five years before becoming a full time author in the summer of 2012.

It’s not easy. I’ve written over two million words across my novels. I’ve tried and failed a couple of times along the way. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons.

It’s not guaranteed. Fiction is still art and art is fickle.

But it is possible if you’re willing to do the work – the real work, not the work you want to do. If you’re willing to stick it out for years, not weeks or months, in order to build the structures, establish your audience, and work it like the business that it is. The life of an author isn't a sprint or a marathon. It's not a race of any kind. There's only one finish line and it's the one we all face. If there's one thing I've learned over the last decade it's that writing is a way of life.

So Happy New Year, RMFW. We're already almost two weeks in. Go write something great.