Okay, so that title might’ve been a little clickbaity. I apologise. Blame the state of the internet.
But the truth is, I believe there are four tasks that can be carried out each and every single day that ultimately lead to writing success, and probably success in a whole bunch of other fields too.
A bit of back story first. I’ve been writing seriously–as in writing as my primary vocation–for around two years now. In those two years, I’ve dabbled with things like KDP Select, BookBub, tried different editing methods, different covers, followed and abandoned various idols before following them all over again.
But over those two years, four things have stuck.
Four things have got me to where I am today.
And sure, the writing business might be going well now. It might not be going well tomorrow. I might wake up tomorrow and see my sales crumble. I might never sell another copy of my books.
And yet I’ll keep on following these four daily steps because I have the utmost confidence in them. I believe in them because I’ve seen what they can do for a writing career, regardless of how successful or poorly it’s going.
In fact, I’d argue these steps are even more important when you are selling. Because when you’re selling, it’s easy to take your foot off the gas. To assume that’s just the way it is, that things are never going to change.
Well, no. They do change. Sometimes in a drastic way. So never get complacent. Always follow the damned steps.
Here they are, without any further ado.
Okay, a nice and simple one to start off. But it’s true. You need to write a significant amount every day. If not every day, then at least five days a week, or enough in a few writing sprints to add up to a lot of words. I’d suggest 2,000 words a day is a nice target to shoot for. Personally, I ignore that and aim for 4,000-6,000 words. I take weekends off. And yeah, it still adds up.
I used to be of the opinion that a little here and there all adds up to a lot. 100 words one day, 50 the next, maybe 750 at the weekend. But seeing how this landscape works, seeing how quickly the traditional system is now working to keep up with the rapid independent publishing release schedules, I’m not so sure anymore. The big bestsellers are suddenly publishing three books a year instead of one. Or six instead of three. And that’s all because of the new world of publishing.
For what it’s worth, I think that new world is a wonderful place to be for both writers and readers. More quality stories = win for everyone.
So it goes without saying that you need to write. I think a quota can work, but try it for yourself as they can be a little restrictive. I personally find a set quota quite stressful, hence my range of words.
Oh, and I always hit that range. Even if I take a day off for whatever reason in the week, I make it up on other days.
Because I’m a writer. It’s what I do.
I owe it to my readers to put in as much effort as I can every single day of my life.*
*excluding weekends. Sorry.
What happens when you stop writing?
Well it’s self-explanatory really. Stop writing and you stop producing new words. Stop producing new words and you stop writing books. Stop writing books and you stop releasing products.
Stop releasing products and you lose readers.
So keep on writing. Above anything else, keep on writing.
And don’t stop for anyone. Not even yourself. Especially not yourself.
My second step in the four steps of writing success (lol) is quite broadly and ominously titled “business.”
What is business?
Well, business is everything related to your books as a product, or your author image as a product. It’s marketing. Social media. Advertising. But also replying to emails, formatting, designing covers, writing blogs… everything to do with getting your books out there and making them more visible.
A lot of writers are allergic to words like promotion and marketing. I was, for a time. A time when I wasn’t selling shit.
And then I swallowed a bit of pride and accepted I wasn’t selling enough by my own personal standards and forced myself to ask a simple question every single day. Including weekends.
What can I do to make my books more visible today?
Again, broad. But liberating. It could be a tiny task like submitting to an ad site. Or no task at all–a day when an ad is running anyway so you don’t technically have much to do.
Or it could be something more minor. Tweaking formatting. Fixing a typo a reader spotted. All these equal more positive word of mouth, which in turn equal… yep. More visibility.
So please don’t be afraid of business or marketing. Put your publisher hat on (they’re really quite something) and ask yourself that question every single morning.
What can I do to make my books more visible today?
If you don’t know, you’re doing something wrong. Even if it’s learning about what you could be doing (like reading this post), well that’s just killer because it combines task two and three here.
What happens when you stop “doing business STUFF”?
When you stop doing business stuff, your books become less visible.
Sure, you might still sell well. You might sell very well. But you’re hitting fewer eyes, which means less word of mouth will spread. You’re ignoring things like weird formatting niggles and abandoning your website which makes you look less professional.
All of this adds up. And it will catch up with you.
Speaking from experience, business is the area I neglected the most in my earlier days of writing. I was in the school of thought that readers just “found” my books, that I had to trust the algorithms, that Amazon were my friends.
Well, I trusted them all for a while. And then I started doing a little bit of business every day and sell a shitload more as a result.
So sure. Ignore business. Ignore marketing. At your own peril.
PS: For what it’s worth, I don’t recommend doing business tasks for the sake of it. Don’t go too far, like reducing one book to 99c one day then another to 99c then next then another free… and so on.
Just be wise about it. Sometimes, you can simply answer your question with, “well my first book is perma-free… so I’m making my books more visible today.”
And that’s totally fine.
It’s something. Which is better than nothing.
Ah, the most neglected area of all.
When people ask me why the hell their books aren’t selling, often it simply–and unfortunately–boils down to this.
The covers are great. The blurb is good.
But the writing just isn’t.
Grammar issues and typos aren’t all that “study” entails (so bear with me). And sure, typos happen–they happen all the time in books from all publishers and the most esteemed of authors. But look, readers are intelligent. They know when someone hasn’t hired an editor. They know when someone struggles putting sentences together. They just know.
And they won’t buy any follow-up books from a writer who is clearly lacking in the study department.
So if you know your grammar and spelling aren’t great, please please please do some research, or at the very least hire a proofreader. They’ll help you and train your subconscious to write better in future. Honest.
That said, there’s way more to study than just grammar and typos. Study is everything. Study is reading other works of bestselling authors. Study is watching hit, Emmy winning TV shows and marvelling at the writing. Study is reading books on craft and taking business workshops and trying new things.
Study is tearing out the pages of your favourite book and pasting them on the wall to work out how the hell the author did it.
Newsflash: Yes, you’ve written a book. Maybe you’ve written thirty books. But you’re not perfect. And if you think you don’t need to learn anymore, well good luck down the road.
We always need to challenge ourselves. We always need to hold ourselves accountable by learning new methods and techniques. Because if we don’t, we just settle into a boring safe state of typing along, doing our potential selves a great injustice.
So get a book out and start reading it. Get a Netflix subscription and watch all of Orange is the New Black and figure out why it’s so damned brilliant.
Then, apply that study to your own work.
Or don’t. And don’t get any better. Just like a weightlifter who sticks to the lightest weights because they know they can lift them instead of training a little harder to lift the next ones up.
What happens when you stop studying?
Explained above, but briefly: you stop flexing your creative muscles, and therefore your writing career stands still.
Or, you don’t challenge yourself to learn proper grammar and spelling because you’re too stubborn to… and your writing career never gets going.
Harsh, but it’s a harsh world. And I’m sure you’d rather hear it from me than, say, a reviewer vowing never to read your books again. Right?
4. Enjoy yourself
Yes! The final step in the conundrum is… wait, what?! Have fun?!
Well, yeah. Because if you can’t enjoy yourself, what’s the point? You’re a writer. You’ve got the best job in the world. You imagine things and write them down for a living.
From the comfort of your bed.
Or at the other side of the world.
And that’s the refreshing beauty of it. No two days are the same. Or if you prefer them to be, they can be.
Do whatever it takes to keep writing fun. And that includes sleeping properly, exercising properly and socialising properly.
Take weekends off. Ignore the bullshit about having to write every day. You’re allowed to take some downtime. I give you permission. Go on–go out and get royally pissed. All in the name of writing success, right?
I hope these four steps helped. They’re the only four things I’ve stuck with over the years, the only four things that consistently work through the good times and the bad.
Now, it’s the weekend. Where’s that beer…?
Thanks Ryan. Brilliant post. And I love the way it can be summed up in 4 of those muscular verbs we writers love so much – write, promote, learn, enjoy! Thanks again for a very helpful post.