More Than Writing a/k/a Goals For The New Year

Each year around this time (it's New Year's Eve as I write this), I think about the different areas of my life and set goals following 3 guidelines:

  1. Aim High
  2. Be Flexible
  3. Life Is About More Than Writing

Whether or not you're a list-maker or goal-setter, I hope my thoughts on goals will help you get excited about the coming year.

The 3 Guidelines

High goals are great because most of us rarely exceed our goals, so setting them high ensures the best results.

Also, as the above graphic (a modified quote from Robert Browning) suggests, higher goals are more inspiring and exciting. “Outline my first novel” is a lot less motivating than “Finish and publish my first novel.”

One caveat: setting all your goals too  high can lead to feeling discouraged if none of them are met.

That's where flexibility comes in. I set a few goals that will be tough to reach and others that I’m confident I can achieve if I work hard.

I also set ranges.

So my goal might be writing  3-6 short stories in a year. That leaves me room to write fewer of them if I take on other unplanned projects or more if I get very focused on producing short pieces.

As to (3) on my list above, there's more to life than writing, I love writing so much, it’d be easy for me to focus on nothing but.

Adding other goals reminds me that the point is not be a successful but unhappy writer, it’s to be a happy person who spends the bulk of my work time writing.

Areas Of Life

Below are the areas of life I focus on when setting goals. Feel free to borrow these or to choose your own.

  • Writing

Here I decide on my writing projects, not sales or publication goals. I’ll share my 2017 goals as an example, but I won’t do that with each category as everyone’s goals will differ.

For 2017, I aimed to:

  1. Revise and finalize the fourth and last book in my Awakening series, The Illumination
  2. Build this website as a resource for other writers
  3. Write, revise, and finalize the first book in my new mystery series

I reached (1) and (2).

As to (3), I’m on page 110 of 389 in my revisions to The Worried Man and once I’m done I’ll send it to beta readers.

I didn’t finish on schedule because I took a detour, or several, by writing nonfiction books that weren’t on my goal list. But I’m happy with those, so overall I feel pretty good about this set of goals.

If you’re writing while still working significant hours at another job, you may want to choose one major writing project, such as a first draft of novel or a non-fiction book, for the year rather than three. Or you may want to choose three smaller projects–three short stories, blog posts, or articles.

  • Writing Business

In this category, I set goals for publications, royalties, sales, and related items.

If you’re starting out, you might aim to publish your first book. If you’ve released one or two already, your goal may be to try out new advertising platforms, figure out ways to get publicity, or create or update your marketing plan.

Your goal also could  be to learn as much as you can about self-publishing or about following the traditional route of seeking an agent or publisher.

  • Your Non-Writing Profession Or Job

The goals for my day-to-day job or career evolved over time and usually dovetailed with writing.  At some points in life, my job goals were to work as little as possible so I could have time to write.

When I became a lawyer, though, I focused on developing skills and achieving “firsts” (such as first appellate argument). Later I focused on building client relationships and then building my own law firm. Still later I aimed to slow down my law practice to write more.

Your annual goals will depend on your long-term plan.

If you hope to write full time eventually or you want more time to write as you continue your current job, you might look at how you can work less and earn more at your non-writing career. If you want to keep doing both, your goals might be more focused on advancing your career and you might build more flexibility into your writing goals.

  • Other Income/Investments

Whatever your overall professional goals, having other sources of income or investments can make your life better and less stressful.

The economy, business, and the political world all change rapidly. The more ways you earn your living, the easier it will be to adjust to whatever comes next.

If you're not sure how to do this, your goal for the year could be to read one or two books on the topic (the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series is a great start) or to read articles or talk to people who have multiple streams of income.

Also, it’s okay to start small.

Joanna Penn tells a great story about how her first affiliate income check (income from recommending a product or service) was something like $5. Now, though, she says affiliate income is a significant percentage of what she makes every year. This is a great example of starting small.

  • Relationships

There is something about setting relationship goals that seems a little too analytical. After all, relationships are about feelings and what’s in your heart, not your head.

But for most of us it can be easy to take the people around us for granted, and making a point to have better relationships helps ensure that doesn't happen.

I find it especially helpful to set specific goals here. “Have better relationships” doesn't give you a plan for what to do to achieve that. 

Everyone will have different goals on this front, but a few examples are visiting family or friends who are out of state several times a year, talking on the phone (rather than using only texting or social media) with a good friend regularly, or meeting someone you don't see often enough for dinner once a month.

  • Interests/Fun

Yes, I include this on my goal list!

I started adding this category when I was working full-time and going to law school at night because for the first semester or two there was almost no time for anything else. I realized that I couldn’t continue another three years that way. Even if “Interests/Fun” only got an hour every couple weeks, it was important to make space for it.

You might include setting aside time for hobbies or sports, vacations, taking walks, seeing plays, reading, or whatever else you love that does not involve working.

  • Community

For me, contributing to the community helps me feel better about life, myself, and the world. It’s also a great way to meet positive people and to get perspective on my own challenges.

Goals here can include donating, volunteering, attending or planning fundraisers or other events, or simply learning more about different organizations you want to support in the future.

  • Health And Fitness

It’s hard to enjoy life and do our best if we’re not feeling well. Also, if you write a lot, you may start experiencing strain injuries or aches and pains associated with being at the keyboard.

That's why I set big picture goals as well as day-to-day ones.

One of mine last year was to eat about 10% more vegetables. That goal pushed me to find a few more vegetables I could tolerate eating (asparagus and raw spinach—still can’t eat cooked spinach, no offense to Popeye). I also make a point to include some vegetables in at least two meals a day.

If you’re a vegetable-lover (I've heard there are such people), that may not sound like much, but it’s a big step forward for me.

Unless you're by nature into health and exercise, it's probably best in this category in particular to pick just a couple goals and really focus on them rather than creating a long list that quickly feels overwhelming.

What are your goals or aspirations for the coming year?

Feel free to share them in the comments or email me ([email protected]) with thoughts or questions.

Best wishes for a happy, peaceful, and productive new year!

Until Friday–

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If one of your goals this coming year is to write a novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist helpful. You can download the free template for it here if you'd like to explore before buying the book.

Using An EBook Formatting Service

A couple weeks ago I wrote about using Vellum as a self-publishing tool. It allows you to pretty easily convert your word processing files to ebook and print formats.

A lot of writers, though, have asked me about using a service to do this instead. 

Up until this year, that's what I did with each of my novels. It's a good option for many writers who self-publish.

You can also check out the free formatting option at Draft2Digital. I haven't used it myself, so I won't comment on it.

When Should You Pay Someone Else To Format Your Book?

In my opinion, contracting out the formatting of your book makes a lot of sense if:

  • You don't like working with software

If using new (or any) software makes you want to tear out your hair, it may be worth paying a service. While I find Vellum is pretty user-friendly, as with any software, it takes some effort to learn its quirks and ins and outs.

Also, user-friendly is a relative term.

I've used computer programs for over thirty years, so a lot of things that seem obvious to me could be challenging to understand if it's your first attempt to use a program beyond a word processor.

  • You need or want to minimize the amount of computer work you do

Many writers, including me, struggle with neck strain or back strain from typing a lot. Other issues from laptop and computer use include eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and prolonged inactivity.

You may prefer to pay someone else to do the technical work so you can reserve your computer time for writing. This can be especially important if your day-to-day career also requires a lot of typing.

When I worked a lot of hours as a lawyer, I spent much of my day in front of my keyboard, as I wrote a lot of legal briefs, corresponded with clients mainly by email, and kept my books on my laptop. Whatever computer work I could outsource for my self-publishing, I did.

  • Your time is limited and you can afford to pay a service 

Sending your word processing file to a service can also save you time.

There are a few caveats, though.

You will still need to review the finished product and flag any conversion errors. This takes time in itself. With Vellum, I find I integrate this into the formatting.

Also, correcting errors directly in the Vellum file generally doesn't take any more time than sending notes on the errors to a service.

Despite that, overall, having a service format your book is usually quicker.

All of the above, of course, assumes you can afford to pay a service. To give you an idea of cost, before I started using Vellum, I sent my files to 52novels.

Here are the prices from its website as of December 29, 2017, when I'm writing this:

Formatting manuscript into an ebook format from Word, WordPerfect, RTF, or another “readily workable native text format”:

Under 15,000 words: $125
15,001 to 40,000 words: $150
40,001 to 100,000 words: $200
More than 100,001 words: Quote, with $225 minimum

Keep in mind that if you ask for too many follow up corrections due to your own errors in the manuscript, you'll also need to pay per-correction fee.

Print conversion has additional fees. (See the pricing page here.)

  • You're not sure if you'll write or publish another book

If you're not sure if you'll write or publish another book, it probably makes more sense to pay a service for formatting.

It'll probably be cheaper than the cost of Vellum or a similar program. Even if it's not, you won't need to spend time learning a new program that you may never use again.

Tips On Working With A Formatting Service

Based on my own experience, there are some things you can do to make working with a service go more smoothly.

  • Get A Recommendation

You can do an Internet search and find plenty of ebook and print formatters.

It's best to get a recommendation, though, from another writer.

Ask about how reliable the service is, whether there are hidden costs, whether the service keeps to the promised schedule, and if there are any reasons the writer would not recommend the service.

  • Plan Ahead

As with any business, there are busy and slow times for ebook formatters. It's best to contact a service well in advance to find out what the waiting time is before your book can be started and how long the conversion process takes.

Be sure to check the schedule before you announce a release date for your book or, worse, set it for preorder.

That way, if the timeframe is longer than you'd expected, you can push back your dates or shop around for another service.

I've waited as short a time as 2 weeks and as long as 6 weeks. I've gotten files back sometimes in days and sometimes weeks. So far, happily, the times have always conformed with the estimates I was given or been shorter.

  • Finalize And Proofread Your File, Including Back Matter

As noted above, if you need to make too many changes after conversion, you'll need to pay extra.

If you carefully proof your file and have someone else proof it as well before you send it, you'll be much less likely to need a lot of changes.

Also, don't forget to add any back matter, such as an Author Biography and/or an Also By page and provide links to your other works, your website, your social media platforms, or anything else you want your readers to find.

It's easy to forget about those pages in your rush to get your story polished.

If you create those back matter pages quickly when the service reminds you (as some formatters do), you're more apt to make errors that require corrections later. (At least, I'm more apt to make errors, as exactly that happened with When Darkness Falls, the last book I had formatted for Kindle.)

  • Proofread And Eyeball The Formatted Files

Carefully check the files you get back.

Doing so will help you spot proofreading errors you missed. It's also vital for spotting conversion errors.

Glitches can happen with any conversion, and you don't want to find out after you've started selling your book that certain letters were replaced with odd-looking characters or the paragraphs are running together.

The latter point is why I mentioned “eyeball” above.

It's important not only to look at words and paragraphs but to scroll through the pages to see that chapter headings, chapter endings, and back matter all look right.

You'll also want to check the links in the Table of Contents and in your back matter.

I hope you found the above useful!

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Scene-By-Scene Revision

I had a much longer post planned today about the pluses and minuses of taking detours from your writing plans and chasing shiny objects.

I promise to write that eventually and link to it, but it's Christmas Eve. Once I finished 30 minutes of (re)writing fiction with my cup of tea, I spent the morning getting as much as I can ready for a breakfast buffet I'm hosting tomorrow.

The photo below shows my first attempt at frozen chocolate-dipped strawberries (you can see I had mixed success but I think they'll taste good):

Also not relevant to writing, I pulled out my mom's 1950s dish warmer to keep the bacon, mini-quiches, and toast warm tomorrow:

I still have some dishes to sort out and a whisky sour recipe to try (more retro fun, as that was my dad's favorite drink).

So for today I'm simply sharing the checklist I use when I reach my near final rewrite and focus on each individual scene:

Scene-Level Revision Checklist
  • Is each scene necessary to a plot or subplot?
  • Is the point of view the strongest choice for each scene?
  • Does the writing bring your reader into each scene using all five senses, not only sight and hearing?
  • Are the characters’ emotions and motives clear enough for the reader to understand?
  • Are your characters behaving in ways your reader will believe?

I've been referring to this list the last few days as I do what I hope are final revisions on The Worried Man, the first book in a new mystery series. I love this part of writing, so it was a little hard to tear myself away to clean and wrap presents.

Visiting City Hall on my birthday – nice of Chicago to put up a tree for me

Once I did, though, I was glad. I love the winter holidays and the friends and family I share them with.

So I guess I did write about shiny objects and detours after all, in a way. I let myself veer from my writing goals, and that's okay.

Until Friday (and Season's Greetings!)–

L.M. Lilly


Promoting Your Audiobook

It's not easy to promote audiobooks, at least those done through Audible/ACX. You can't run a sale because you have no control over the price.

I just listed The Illumination with Audiobook Boom.

One thing you can do to help get reviews is to request free promo codes from ACX.

You will almost always be able to get 25 for a new book, and sometimes I've gotten additional codes down the road.

You can then submit your book to Audiobook Boom.

For $10, Audiobook Boom (if it accepts your book), sends a listing about your audiobook to its list of almost 5,000 subscribers.

How Audiobook Boom Works

Those who are interested in listening to and reviewing your audiobook request it. You are not required to send any of them a promo code, though.

Audiobook Boom sends you each requester's name, email address, and review profile on Audible (or sometimes Goodreads). You then look at the profile and decide if you want to give that person a promo code to use to download your audiobook for free.

I just did this for the fourth (and last) book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series, The Illumination.

When I checked profiles, I looked for people who either (a) had reviewed a lot of books (many had reviewed hundreds) or (b) had reviewed at least 6 or 7 audiobooks that fell within the supernatural thriller, suspense, horror, or occult genres within the last year or so.

One person had reviewed 5 audiobooks but judging from the bare man-chests on 4 out of 5 of the covers, they all had a strong romance component.

My Awakening series has an occasional sub-plot involving a romantic relationship between characters, but it's minimal and, for one couple, occurs entirely off-screen. So I didn't send that person a code.

If a person uses the code to download your book, you do get some credit on your Audible sales dashboard.

It's hard to say exactly what that translates to in dollars, but I'm pretty sure every time I've used Audiobook Boom it has paid for itself.

Potential Drawbacks

There are possible downsides.

(1) There's no guarantee that your audiobook will be requested. I've always had at least 10-20 people request each book in my series. But even if no one does, you've only lost $10, so I think it's worth a shot.

(2) Not all requesters actually leave reviews.

That being said, Audiobook Boom does ask that you report if people don't leave reviews, and that eventually may take them off the subscriber list.

(3) Audible has changed its practices. You used to be able to use the promo code yourself to send your book as a gift to the requester. Now instead you send the person the code with instructions on how to download your book. There is nothing, though, to stop the person from using the code for a different book entirely.

(4) Finally, there is the obvious possible drawback–people are not obligated to leave a positive review.

For the most part, though, if your blurb and cover accurately signal the genre and your audiobook is of reasonable quality, most people will be fair. At worst, if they don't like something, they'll say why, and you may learn something for your next book.

Let me know if you try it out.

(For more on creating audiobooks see 3 Ways To Create And Distribute Your Audiobook and The Cost To Create An Audiobook Edition Of Your Book.)

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If, like me, you are posting an audiobook that is not the first in the series, you may want to make sure you have codes for previous books available as well. I'd rather give someone an extra code to try the earlier book first than to have them try to listen from the middle and not understand what's happening.


Making Your Book Description Look Pretty On Amazon

If you're pretty new to self-publishing or you're planning to publish soon, you may not know that you can customize how your book description looks on Amazon.

Compare These Descriptions

Here's a description of a Vampire Queen Saga boxset (which I haven't read, I picked this for the typeface) that uses different type sizes, boldface, italics, and paragraph spacing.

This approach highlights the tag lines, italicizes titles, and makes the entire description appear easy to read.

The description below is from an Anne Rice book.

It includes boldface, but the paragraph of description is not broken up at all, making it a little less inviting.

Changing The Appearance Of Your Book Description

You can customize your text in your KDP Dashboard. Choose Edit Book Details for your published book.

In the description box (shown below), you'll add some codes, which I'll get to in a moment.

Click Save at the bottom and the next screen until you scroll down to Publish. You'll need to republish for your changes to appear.

Adding Codes

You don't need to know coding already or be a programmer or website developer to customize your text.

To see some of the basic codes that can be easily added, I use this blurb preview page. It lists “Allowed Tags,” such as <b>, which turns on boldface, and </b>, which turns off boldface. The <h1>, <h2>, etc., are headers.

For example, the <h4> in my Super Simple Story Structure description above makes the first two lines larger and boldfaced and adds an extra blank line after them. The </h4> turns off the header setting so the next lines are in regular text:

In the blurb previewer, you can type or paste your description into the Input box, experiment with adding codes, and see (roughly) how they will look in the Output box below.


The Output display you'll see is not always perfectly accurate. After you change your description in the KDP Dashboard, watch for the description to update on the book's sales page and check it so you can quickly modify it if something doesn't look quite how you expected.

Experimenting with the codes and how they look is a great way to spend an hour on a gloomy winter day.

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Using Vellum To Create eBooks And Paperbacks (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 3)

If you self-publish your work or plan to, Vellum is a valuable tool that can make your life easier.

I used to pay services to convert my Word files to ebook and print formats, but now I do it myself. (For more on using a conversion service, see Using An eBook Formatting Service .) Doing it yourself is less expensive and it takes only a little more time than it used to take me to send in edits to files the services created for me.

It's also is far less expensive (considering both time and money) to do updates, such as when I want to add a book to About the Author and Also By pages.

Right now, Vellum works on Mac, which is how I use it, and not for PCs.

I have heard, though, that you can use Mac in Cloud to run Vellum. (I have not tried that myself.)

Create Publishing Files Easily

Originally, Vellum created ebook files (including mobi for Kindle and epub files for other platforms like Kobo and iBooks) from your word processing files, but not print books.

Now you can create paperback editions with Vellum as well.

Here's a screen shot of the page where I added title information yesterday for my latest book The One-Year Novelist.

Screen Shot from The One-Year Novelist Title Section on Vellum
Favorite Features

Vellum creates that column on the left automatically, listing your chapters. (For this book, I used Weeks instead.)

It also creates a Table of Contents for you.

One of Vellum's many  wonderful features is that you can drag your word processing file into Vellum, format it quickly, and generate all the types of files you need in one step.

For print, Vellum generates a PDF you can upload to whatever print platform you're using (such as CreateSpace). It automatically inserts headers with the book title and author, allows you to choose trim size, and sets the pages with the correct gutters.

How It Looks

There are different options for how your chapter headers look.

Below is what I used in The One-Year Novelist, where I titled each section by Week rather than Chapter. I'm hoping to finalize the print edition over the weekend and have the paperback available by the end of next week.

If you want to customize your print edition, you can use the Duplicate feature to create a new copy of your book and edit that version for print.

Cost And Ease Of Use

You can download Vellum for free and see how you like using it, which is what I did at first.

If you want to generate files to publish, then you need to purchase. You can buy a license to publish only ebooks, ebooks and print, to publish a limited number of books, or to publish an unlimited number.

Buying the unlimited license with print and ebook cost me under $300, which is about the same as I paid to have a service convert two novels to ebook formats only, so for me that was the best deal.

If you are pretty comfortable using word processing programs, I think you'll find Vellum user-friendly. Most features are easily findable and, if not, a quick Internet or Help search usually reveals the answers.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on tools of the writing trade see Scrivener (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 1) for writing software and Canva (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 2) for creating graphics.


Experimenting With First In Series Free

On Friday, I recommended two resources for creating marketing plans for your novel and promised to share what I've done in in 2017 and how it's worked out.

My main goal for advertising and marketing for 2017 was to bring new readers into my Awakening Series.

My main strategy was to list the first book in the series free.

BookBub Listing March 2017


I thought that might be worthwhile because the final book, The Illumination, released in May in ebook and paperback, and the audiobook edition became available this month, so at last the series is complete. (I published The Awakening in ebook format back in 2011 and waited far too long to write and publish the other three books.)

BookBub Featured Deal Results

BookBub is one of the only enewsletter featured deals that has paid for itself and generated significant additional income each time I've been able to get one.

(The BookBub Featured Deals are a single listing for a flat price in the enewsletter, as opposed to BookBub ads, which appear at the bottom of the newsletter and for which you pay per impression.)

I had a few features in previous years with The Awakening ebook editions at a sale price of $0.99 (regular price has varied from $2.99-$4.99). But BookBub turns down many applications for deals, and it seems to get harder to get one the longer a book is out.

I applied two or three times in late 2016 and was turned down until I switched The Awakening to free.

On March 2, 2017, The Awakening was ranked No. 16,366 of all Free Kindle books.

By mid-afternoon March 6, the day the feature ran, it was No. 11 on the overall list of Free Kindle books. By evening, it reached No.5.

What Does Free First In Series Mean For Sales And Royalties?

Obviously, there are no sales or royalties on a free ebook, only downloads.

There is one exception–sort of.

When there's a spike in downloads, I usually sell additional audiobook editions as well as a paperback or two. Audible usually discounts the audio price, and the paperback royalty is low, so I estimate in 2017 that added up to not much more than $100-$200  over the course of the year for Book 1 in The Awakening Series.

The real boost came from the remaining books in the series.

In March, Books 2 and 3 were for sale and Book 4 available for pre-order on five ebook platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Nook, GooglePlay, and iTunes).

Kobo sales showed a dramatic difference. From January through November 2016, my total Kobo royalties were $293. But from January through November 2017, the royalties were $1,195.

On Nook, during the six months before the March 2017 BookBub feature my royalties for The Awakening Series were anywhere from $10-$50/month. For the six months from the BookBub feature on, it has averaged $103-$370.

On Amazon, royalties for the Kindle editions of The Awakening Series totaled about $3,400 for January through November, 2016. This year for the same time period, the total was $7,282.63.

Other Advertising

During both 2016 and 2017 I also advertised The Awakening and sometimes The Unbelievers in other enewsletters. (For limited times, I discounted The Unbelievers to $0.99 compared to a regular price of $3.99-$4.99.)

These other enewsletters also resulted in spikes in downloads.

In fact, just last Friday, The Awakening reached No. 1 on the Occult list for Kindle due to a Fussy Librarian listing.

A Few Caveats

The numbers above reflect a lot of variables.

First, The Illumination (Book 4) came out in May, 2017, and The Conflagration (Book 3) released in May, 2016.

So for the first four months of 2016, I only had two books out in my Awakening Series. If I could have had the whole series released in 2016, presumably those numbers would look a lot better.

Also, I updated all my covers in 2017. The news ones more clearly brand the series and better convey the type of book.

Finally, there's no way to know what my royalties would be if I'd left The Awakening at $3.99 and run $0.99 sales periodically rather than leaving it free for the year.

I think it's unlikely I would have gotten a BookBub Featured Deal, so I would not have had that big spike in March 2017. But I probably would have gotten $0.99 listings in other enewsletters, as most have accepted The Awakening every time I've applied over the years.

Also, readers are much more apt to read a book they paid for, even if they paid only $0.99 cents, than one they downloaded free. So while I'd have a smaller number of Book 1s on people's ereaders, there might be a higher percentage who actually read it and bought the later books.

In the end, I feel it was worth making Book 1 free.

There were over 60,000 downloads, so despite that probably less than 10% of them resulted in actual reads of the book, that many people saw it, liked the cover, and are likely to remember it if they see it later.

That's a type of reach and advertising that's expensive to buy, and through a BookBub Featured Deal and other enewletters ads, my advertising dollars generated a net profit.

That being said, I'm considering putting The Awakening back at $3.99 in January and running some $0.99 sales to see how that goes for 2018. (I'll talk about other reasons for that in a later post.)

Either way, I'll let you know.

What's your experience with free first in series? Please share in the comments.

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly



Creating A Marketing Plan For Your Book

If you want to get your novel into the hands of readers, you need a marketing plan.

Even if you have a traditional publishing contract, unless you're Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark (in which case you're probably not reading this article), only limited resources–or no resources–will be devoted to your particular book.

When I started self-publishing in 2011, I did an overall business plan. It included some marketing, but all of it quickly became out of date as the publishing industry changed.

Since then, I've been a bit haphazard, though I've had some success. I'll share what I've done this year and the results on Sunday.

My December goals include creating marketing plans for my new Q.C. Davis Mystery Series (first two novels are in progress now), for The Awakening Series, and for my non-fiction writing books.

I looked at two resources to figure out what ought to go into the marketing plans, both of which I recommend.

Small Business Administration Plan

The first is the Small Business Administration marketing and sales page.

It provides a good overview of what should go into a marketing plan, including figuring out your target market, your competitive advantage, your budget, and more.

A few aspects may not be that relevant to your author business. For example, there's a discussion of accepting checks, cash, or credit cards.

That might matter for in-person events, but most indie authors sell primarily online, in which case we're getting paid by direct deposit from Kobo, Amazon, or one of the other ebook platforms. (Some indies are starting to sell direct from their sites now, though, which I plan to research and write about.) If you have a traditional publishing contract, your publisher will be paying you (I hope!).

Marketing Plan Template

I found an extremely helpful article on Marketing Plan Template: Exactly What To Include. The author, Dave Lavinsky, includes within it a link a to template that's for sale, but I found the article alone perfect as is.

Lavinsky does exactly what the title promises, explaining 15 steps for your marketing plan.

I found nearly every one well adapted to marketing novels. I used his 15 sections to start making notes for the Q.C. Davis plan yesterday.  (When it's finished, I'll provide a link so you can download it for reference.)

Beginning notes on marketing plan for Q.C. Davis mysteries

The article is from 2013.

The only part I thought was somewhat dated was splitting out Section 8, Promotion Strategy, from Section 9, Online Marketing Strategy. Most of my promotion is done online, so at first it seemed to me the two would be duplicative.

As I wrote thoughts on each, though, I realized it might be good to separate these points out. There may be offline marketing and advertising opportunities these days that other authors and businesses are neglecting, which could make it less expensive to use those ways to get a book or series in front of potential readers.

Also, don't let the fact that there are 15 sections discourage you from sketching out thoughts on each one. I did it in about 45 minutes.

While my notes include a lot of blanks and follow up items, doing that got me started on market research last night that I wouldn't have otherwise done. (I found readers of two more authors to add to my target list — Tess Gerritsen and Jonathan Kellerman.)

Also, it brought home to me that I really do need to start planning now if I want to release in Spring 2017, as I hope to do.

Looks like it'll be a busy December!

For quick reference, here again are links to the two marketing plan resources I found helpful:

Until Sunday, when I'll talk about putting the first book in a series free as a marketing strategy

L.M. Lilly


One Word And Your Writing Life

At a recent conference on business for authors, several panelists talked about figuring out the one word that gets across what you want from your business/writing life.

The word doesn't need to be specifically about writing or business. Instead, it sums up what you want from life.

The idea is to ask yourself what will make you happy and what word expresses that and build your business around it.

One Word Matters

When I started my law firm, I never thought about choosing a word or exactly why I wanted to run my own firm.

I knew I wanted to work for myself, as that was one of the reasons I became a lawyer. I also wanted more control over my schedule and more time to write, but I didn't specifically set out to create that. I more or less assumed it would happen when I became my own boss. (Anyone who worked for themselves probably could have told me that wouldn't happen. Quite possibly someone did tell me and it didn't sink in.)

Because of that, my firm grew in ways I didn't expect. Other attorneys congratulated me on my success, and I was happy to have a lot of business.

But because I hadn't figured out what type of life I wanted, I rapidly recreated exactly what I'd left–more work than I wanted and little time for the rest of my life.

I don't want to do the same thing with my writing business. There are only so many career changes I want to make in my life.

That's why the one word concept drew me it.

Examples Of One Words

Author Joanna (J.F.) Penn has said her word is Freedom.

When she set out to create her online business, she knew she wanted the freedom to live wherever she chose and travel wherever and whenever she wanted.

With Freedom as her word, she realized she needed a business that allowed her to work from anywhere, one she could run from her laptop. That word also told her what she didn't want–a business that required separate physical space, lots of equipment, and on-site employees she'd need to manage.

The authors at Sterling & Stone, in contrast, seem to expand the size of their company constantly.

They are three authors co-authoring books, but they also employ multiple people, develop software and services for writers, and host a  yearly conference. Their one word probably wasn't Freedom, or if it was, it meant something different to them than to Joanna Penn.

As another example, if your word is Security, you probably don't want to throw caution to the wind and quit your current position the first time you make a hundred or even a thousand dollars in a month from your writing.

If your word is Exploration, you might try playwriting, screenwriting, poetry writing, and novel writing all within a few years or maybe a few months. You also might write in multiple genres or explore other types of creative projects.

Choosing Your Word

Do any of these words express what you want most from life?

  • Joy
  • Recognition
  • Success
  • Fame
  • Peace
  • Connection
  • Freedom
  • Security
  • Excitement

Think about how you feel about these words (or others you come up with) and what they mean to you.

How might your choices be different depending on the word you choose?

My own word (I'm pretty sure) is Creativity.

For decades Security actually was most important to me, as I had a rough time in my late twenties when I was unable to work due to a repetitive stress injury and moved home with my parents.

After that, for a long time I felt driven to achieve as much financial success as possible for fear of hitting a serious stumbling block again. I always wrote on the side, but it was very hard for me to turn down better-paying work whenever it was offered.

Also, if I spent too much time on “non-productive” (meaning non-paying) activities, I worried that I ought to be focused on earning enough to pay off debts or fund my retirement.

Now, though, I'm happiest when I have time not only for my own writing, but to engage in the storytelling of others. I love to read books, see plays, watch movies, and watch television series that tell long form stories.

The more I do all of that, the happier I feel.

What Creativity means to me going forward is that each project or task I do needs to either (a) generate money while still allowing me a lot of time for creativity or (b) be something creative I enjoy for its own sake.

In my perfect world, every activity I do will fit both.

So what's your word?

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Choosing a single concept or focus can also help when setting goals.




The Worst Ways To Spend Money On Book Promotion

How do you know what promotional or book marketing services are worth the money?

This is a question I get often, both from people with limited funds and from those who would far rather spend money than time when it comes to marketing.

A lot of the calls and emails I receive from lawyers, doctors, and businesspeople who've written and/or published their first novels revolve around this issue. Many of them feel it's better to spend their hours writing or earning money at their non-writing careers/professions and to pay an expert to handle marketing.

The problem is, marketing or promotion “experts” abound, as do services, but many provide little or no value. 

That's why this Friday I recommend you check out The Digital Reader article 8 Ways For Authors To Waste Their Money.

Top of the list is hiring a publicist, which can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. If you or your book are not already well-known, there's not much a publicist can do but charge you high rates for services you could buy yourself at a fraction of the cost.

Another money pit is a service that promises to get your book on bestseller lists.

All the lists frown on, discourage, and expose attempts to game the system by buying your own book, which is what many of these services basically do. Also, nice as it might be to get that bestseller tag, if you are on your first book, the odds that paying to call it a bestseller will ever generate enough sales to make it worth the price tag are, in my opinion, slim to none.

The only point I disagree with the article about, or at least would qualify, is the dismissal of email blast services.

I agree that there is no value to emailing around a press release about your book. I also agree that paying for tweets or other social media posts rarely results in sales or enough name recognition to be worthwhile.

There are email newsletters, though, to which readers subscribe who are looking for free and discount ebooks. (The Holy Grail of these right now is BookBub, but if you can't get in there, I've found others such as Just Kindle and Book Barbarian (for fantasy) worth buying.)

These e-newsletters can be good ways to reach new readers. It's most cost-effective to pay for slots when you have at least 3 books so there's a chance of sales in addition to your discounted (or free) ebook.

Don't forget to check out the comments on the article, as they contain more useful information.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly