The Power of Deliberate Practice

I want to share some other people’s work today.

Let’s start with Alaskan singer-songwriter Marian Call. Marian and I have been getting together over Zoom every couple of weeks to talk about play and practice and problem-solving — and, in Marian’s case, the challenges of taking everything you know (or think you know) about a discipline and applying it to a new instrument.

(Marian has been a full-time performing musician since forever, but she only started studying the guitar a few months ago.)

We also play for each other, which means that I had the privilege of hearing Marian play her song “Equinox” a few days before she posted it online.

I’ve also had the privilege of watching Marian’s guitar playing improve with both time and technique — as she, in turn, has watched me become a stronger and more confident pianist. That’s the secret best part of these kinds of things: watching someone work their way towards specificity, mastery, and magic.

Which brings me to Alan Lastufka.

Two years ago, I helped Alan work through a draft of his novel (currently titled Don’t Forget My Face). I could tell you just how far Alan’s gone with his writing since he and I had our coaching sessions, but I’ll let him explain it:

If you decide not to watch the video (though you should), Alan’s writing has received honorable mentions in multiple writing competitions and is starting to get endorsements from leading names in the sci-fi/horror genre. Plus, he’s turning his writing into beautifully handcrafted print books and brilliantly crafted short films.

I love working one-on-one with writers, and I love it even more when the writers I coach or edit get freelance work published or announce their first books or book a reading at Iowa’s famous Prairie Lights bookstore — essentially, when they build their craft and their careers far beyond anything I could ever take credit for.

Because the thing about learning how to practice — whether it’s music, fiction or freelancing — is that once you make the deliberate, disciplined choice to continually improve your work, there’s essentially no limit to what you can create.

Especially if you tell yourself you have unlimited time. ❤️

Lori Lacina’s ‘Mama Said’ Is Now In Print!

On Friday, I took the bus to Iowa City so I could visit Prairie Lights (arguably Iowa’s best-known indie bookstore) and hear Lori Lacina read from her new book, Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This: 365 Daily Reflections From the Heartland.

This was a treat—not just because indie book readings are always a lot of fun, but also because Lori had asked me to work on a draft of Mama Said as a developmental editor.

And now the book’s out! In the world! Here’s a photo of my copy next to a plant!

I’ve done a handful of developmental editing projects with a handful of writers (some of which are currently in process), but this is the first time I’ve gotten to hold one of their published books. It’s an absolute delight.

Lori consulted with a number of writing teachers, mentors, editors, and designers as she took Mama Said from draft to publication, and her Prairie Lights reading—to a full house—is proof that self-publishing can work when you do it right.

I’m so thrilled for Lori, and so happy to see Mama Said in print. ❤️

How to Earn Passive Income Through Self-Publishing

I could literally sum this up in one sentence: publish a book that people want to buy.

Of course, most financial stuff could be summed up in a single sentence.

Don’t spend more than you earn.*

Look for ways to increase your income.

Invest your extra earnings in something that is likely to increase in value over time.

A self-published book, in most cases, will not increase in value over time. There’ll be a spike of sales in the first few months, followed by a slow decline. (My most recent monthly Amazon royalty payment was for $6.51, for example. Last July, when I released the second volume of The Biographies of Ordinary People, my monthly ebook royalties hit $203.84.)

However, a self-publishing career might increase in value over time. As you build your readership over subsequent books, each individual book is likely to generate more sales—both at the time of publication and afterwards, as new readers catch up on your back catalog.

There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to build the type of self-publishing career that generates a sustainable passive income stream, so don’t go into self-publishing just because you want to make money. As I teach in my self-publishing classes, there are many ways to define self-publishing success, most of which are a lot easier to achieve than a passive income stream.

If your definition of “self-publishing success” equals “building a readership, going on book tour, seeing your book in bookstores and libraries, and winning awards,” well… all of that is a lot easier to achieve than developing a passive income stream of any significance. You’ll still sell books, and you can even earn back your expenses if you’re thoughtful with your budget, but you’ll find yourself in a situation where you earn, like, $5,000 in royalties in Year 1 and $500 in Year 2.

Yes, that $500 is technically passive income because you didn’t have to work for it (you already published the book and did the marketing, and at this point you’re getting paid whenever someone finds you online and decides your book looks interesting), but you can’t live on $500 a year.

So you have to write another book.

(Really, for most authors, it’s “you get to write another book.” The writing is the fun part!)

A publishing career, whether you work with a publishing house or become your own publisher, is a long-game endeavor. You get big chunks of money all at once and then little dribbles of money here and there, and in an ideal situation you’d release enough books to keep bringing in occasional big chunks of money while simultaneously earning passive income from all the little dribbles of money.

However, this system doesn’t work out for everyone. If you’re not writing books that people want to read (see the opening sentence of this blog post) you won’t build the readership that turns the long game into a sustainable passive income stream.

Sure, you can write a book that a small subset of people want to read. I’ve done it, and it can be a very satisfying process. Getting the right book into the right hands is always worthwhile.

But if you’re trying to maximize your income while also standing out from all the other writers trying to do the same thing, well… you can either hope you’ve got the kind of book that’ll appeal to a wide range of readers and that you get lucky enough to release the book at the right moment for it to become a bestseller (e.g. Andy Weir publishing The Martian), or you can focus on building your online presence first and then publish your book after you’ve become well-known for being yourself (e.g. insert your favorite celebrity/influencer here), or you can focus on a narrow segment of the long tail and publish hyper-focused genre fiction like “older woman younger man humorous romance where the younger man has a really cute dog.”

Ugh, that sounds discouraging, right?

Here’s the secret.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO MIN-MAX YOUR ART.

In other words: the odds of you successfully reverse-engineering a bestseller are so small that you might as well write what you want.

(Especially in the early stages of your career, when you don’t have enough of an audience to know the type of book they’re hoping you write next.)

Yes, it’s nice if what you want to write lines up with what someone else wants to read.

Yes, it’s worth learning how to build an audience and how to make money from your creative work (luckily, I have posts on that here, here, and here).

Yes, it’s also a good idea to structure your budget in a way that allows you to make a profit on every book you self-publish, though I haven’t been able to do that for every book I’ve published and I do this kind of thing for a living.

But it isn’t the only thing I do for a living, which is one of the reasons why I’m able to keep doing it. This isn’t just a self-publishing thing, btw; the majority of traditionally published authors have additional income streams as well.

So go after that self-publishing passive income if you want, but try not to focus on how much passive income you’re likely to earn from your first few books. Instead, think of the money you put into your self-publishing career as an investment—not just in your bottom line, but also in yourself and your readers—that might increase in value in the future. ❤️

*Don’t spend more than you earn is actually a terrible financial platitude. It really should be more like “don’t spend more than you earn UNLESS you need to go into debt to survive OR that debt will help you earn more in the future OR this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can pay off with future earnings OR other valid reasons that I haven’t thought of.”

Reedsy Discovery Wants to Match Indie Authors to Readers

You already know that I am a huge Reedsy fan; they’ve got a wealth of tools to help writers draft, edit, and market their books, including the plot structure infographics I wrote about earlier this month.

Reedsy also featured this very blog as one of their 12 Author Websites That Get It Right, putting Nicole Dieker Dot Com on par with David Sedaris and J.K. Rowling.

Plus, in 2017, they invited me to judge a short-story contest.

So yeah, I’m all in for Reedsy, and as soon as my NEXT BOOK draft is at the ARC stage — which, since the draft is currently at 6,908 words, probably won’t happen until next year — I’m going to submit it to Reedsy’s new indie author service, Reedsy Discovery.

Reedsy Discovery lets reviewers share their favorite new indie books with an audience of eager readers

Here’s how Reedsy Discovery works (I’m going to go ahead and quote Reedsy here):

When you sign up to Discovery, your book will be presented to a pool of experienced and relevant reviewers that have been hand-selected by the team at Reedsy. For maximum suitability, they get to choose what they review — so make sure that your title, synopsis, and cover catches their eye!

Then, on the launch date of your choice (which, we’re imagining might coincide with your publishing date) your book will be promoted to thousands of registered readers who can then:

Browse your sample chapter 👀

Comment on it 💬

Lovingly admire your cover design 😍

Read your review (if you have one) 🤓

Upvote the book 👍

And purchase it through your chosen online retailers 💸

The Reedsy Discovery service costs $50, and I’m betting that being an early adopter might get your book a little more visibility, so if you’ve got fifty bucks and a book that’s in the ARC-and-marketing stage, why not give it a try? Use the Reedsy Discovery Launch Prep Checklist to make sure your book is Discovery-ready, and then send it out and see what happens!

Reedsy Discovery is also looking for talented book reviewers

You can also apply to be a Reedsy Discovery reviewer and get paid to read and review books — which is something I’m considering doing, but I don’t know if I can both be a reviewer and an author. (THIS IS A GOOD QUESTION FOR REEDSY, IF YOU’RE READING THIS BLOG POST. OR I COULD JUST EMAIL YOU.)

The reviewer payout doesn’t come directly from Reedsy; it comes from readers who can give you tips in exchange for your reviews:

When readers enjoy your work, they can send $1, $3 or $5 your way. These small thankyou’s can help you earn money from your reading addiction / passion.

I’m not sure how many people will tip Reedsy Reviewers — that’s still to be seen — so for me the draw isn’t the money. It’s the ability to grow my blog readership by getting Nicole Dieker Dot Com in front of a larger audience. (Remember that series of posts I wrote about audience-building?)

After all, every author whose book I review will share my review with their audience, and every author looking for a book review blog that’s still actively posting* will give Nicole Dieker Dot Com a visit, and so on.

But enough about me. This post is supposed to be about Reedsy Discovery, after all.

So go check it out — and then leave a comment if you’re interested in submitting your book and/or becoming a reviewer! ❤️📚💸

*If you’ve ever clicked through one of those “lists of book review blogs” — and Reedsy has such a list — you’ll learn just how many of those blogs are no longer actively posting reviews or no longer accepting submissions. But I love doing book reviews, and I’ve already decided that I’m going to do a weekly book review on this blog, so… let’s see if Reedsy Discovery wants me on their team.

Read The Billfold’s First Book, Frugal and the Beast and Other Financial Fairy Tales

The Billfold’s first book, Frugal and the Beast and Other Financial Fairy Tales, is OFFICIALLY RELEASED! 🎉🎉🎉

Here’s what people are saying about Frugal and the Beast:

“The Billfold turns personal finance advice on its head, so it’s no wonder it would do such clever things with fairy tales. These stories reveal so much about who we are and how we live today.” — Mike Dang, co-founder of The Billfold and editor-in-chief of Longreads

“I never knew I need Rumpelstiltskin to involve Bitcoin or a parable about instant pots, but I’m so much happier now that I’ve read both. These stories will both delight and get you thinking about money.” — Lillian Karabaic, author of Get Your Money Together and host of Oh My Dollar!

The Kindle edition is $5.99 and the paperback edition is $10.99, but The Billfold earns roughly the same royalty either way so choose whichever one you prefer. Frugal and the Beast is also available for Kindle Unlimited, if that’s your thing! There are so many good ways to read this book, including reading the six fairy tales published for free on The Billfold (if you just want the free ones; if you want the full collection, you’ll need the whole book).

I am so excited to get Frugal and the Beast out to readers, and I hope you enjoy it. ❤️

Self-Publishing Update: Another Bargain Booksy Promo

Sales/Expenses Since August 9

Books sold: 29 ebooks, 0 paperbacks

Money earned: $56.83

Money spent: $35

Total

Books sold: 539 ebooks, 229 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $2,337.19

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $10,547.51


Just a very quick update today — I spent $35 on a Bargain Booksy promotion at the end of August (promoting Volume 1 in the hopes that it would also drive interest in/sales of Volume 2), and that promotion correlated with 11 sales of Volume 1 and 5 sales of Volume 2. At roughly $2 in royalties per sale, that comes out to $32 total… which means I didn’t quite break even on this promotion.

But hey, I sold sixteen more copies of my book and gained (assumedly) eleven new readers! That’s not nothing. ❤️

Self-Publishing Update: Exactly What Life Is

Sales/Expenses Since June 25

Books sold: 29 ebooks, 3 paperbacks

Money earned: $93.81

Money spent: $0

Total

Books sold: 510 ebooks, 229 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $2,280.36

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $10,512.51


I haven’t done an update in forever, but that’s because I haven’t had much news to share. Since getting back from my mini-book-tour I’ve been focusing on editing/managing The Billfold LLC (which recently transitioned from a partner LLC to a single-member LLC with me as the sole owner) and prepping my fall teaching schedule.

I’ll be able to announce a few more classes SOON, but I can announce one class RIGHT NOW: How to Get Started as a Freelancer, a four-week online course offered through Seattle’s Hugo House. The course runs from September 29 to October 27,  and you’ll get a new lesson (and series of assignments) each week that you can complete at your own pace. You’ll also get access to a discussion space where you can chat with other students (and me). I’m very excited; this is my first online course, and I’d love to do more in the future.

Unfortunately, you can’t register for How to Get Started as a Freelancer until August 20 — so I’ll send you another reminder in, like, two weeks.


The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 just got its IndieReader Review, which I’m sharing because it illustrates that this book does exactly what I was hoping it would do even when the reviewer doesn’t like it:

Meredith begins the book with a clear goal: she wants to write and put on her own musical. That plan is quickly thwarted, and there is nothing to replace it—she just survives. There is nothing for us to root for or care about.

“That plan is quickly thwarted, and there is nothing to replace it — she just survives” is kind of exactly what life is. (Can you tell I grew up loving Chekhov and Tolstoy?)

Arguably, Meredith does replace her original (naive) plan to stage her own musical: first she tries to get a job with a professional theater, then she works for her hometown community theater, then she goes to grad school, then she… well, I won’t spoil everything. But, and more importantly, she fails at a lot of stuff — and every time, she has to figure out how to survive and start over. As a Goodreads reviewer put it:

Helplessly creative and full of determination, it is Meredith’s story that struck me as the most interesting, and nuanced, and, well, real. And although she has her own, personal moments of happiness, to see a main character in a story genuinely grapple with how she can somehow make her creative pursuits a career was so refreshing. Nothing gets handed to her on a plate, and there are plenty of doors that get slammed in her face along the way.

So… yeah. The same story, interpreted in different ways.

Which is also (metaphorically) exactly what life is. ❤️

Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash.

Two articles about the writing and self-publishing process

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

It’s been over a month since The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016 launched, and since then I have gone on a mini-book tour, taught two classes related to writing and self-publishing (with more to come), spent a long weekend at Disneyland, and, most recently, published two articles about the writing and self-publishing process.

The first article is at Longreads, and it’s titled How the Self-Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels. If you’re interested in numbers, earnings, expenses, and (for obvious reasons) politics, you’ll want to go read that one.

If you’re more interested in the process of writing, you should read my Draft Journal essay titled The Five Times I Tried Writing My Novel. It took me roughly two years to write the draft that became The Biographies of Ordinary People, but that was not my first attempt at telling this story.

It’s interesting to think about the ways in which “all the books that were not Biographies” changed, over the years. My first draft, which I started (and quickly abandoned) when I was in college, focused entirely on a college-aged woman — there wasn’t any family in it, just ambition.

In the version I started drafting while I was a receptionist in Washington, DC, the Meredith character was named Therese Gorrell, and she had been born in the rural Midwest — she wasn’t a transplant from a larger city, like I had been as a child. (In Biographies, the Grubers’ move is a natural starting point for the story; not to misquote Tolstoy, but you could easily say that Vol. 1 is “a stranger comes to town” and Vol. 2 is “a woman goes on a journey.”)

In the version I worked on in Los Angeles, which was the most fully-formed of any of the drafts, there were four Grubers: Rosemary, Jack, Meredith, and Natalie. That was the draft that was too much like autobiography, and it wasn’t until I added Jackie to the story that it began to come together as a novel instead of a retelling of my own childhood. I created Jackie to force a different set of family dynamics and ensure I wouldn’t just write what I’d grown up with, but she ended up becoming this character that I intensely admire (and in some ways envy), and she allowed me the ability to branch the whole “how do ordinary people make art” question down a different path.

There’s also a version where Meredith is grown up and is asking Rosemary questions about her life, and the whole thing is a framing device for flashbacks to both the 1990s and the 1960s, and I’m really glad I got bored with that idea because I’m already bored just explaining it to you. (Plus I would have had to do a lot of research about the ’60s.)

So. What I mean to say is that you should read the Longreads piece and the Draft Journal piece, and be grateful that you got the current version of The Biographies of Ordinary People, instead of all the other versions I discarded along the way.

Photo by Dana Marin on Unsplash.