Indie Author Advice From Seth Godin’s ‘This Is Marketing’

If you’re already familiar with Seth Godin’s blog, or have already read any of his bestselling books — Linchpin, Purple Cow, etc. — you already know a lot of what he’s going to tell you in his newest book, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.

  • Make a product that solves a real person’s problem.
  • Get really specific about what kind of person you’re targeting and what problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Don’t be a brown cow (boring, typical), be a purple cow (unique, remarkable, phenomenal).

So I wanted to focus on just one section of this book that happens to be particularly relevant to creative career types (aka “the kind of person this blog is targeting”).

In Chapter Nineteen: The Funnel, Seth writes about “life on the long tail:”

On the left are the hits. There aren’t as many of them, but they each sell a lot. In fact, number one sells ten times as many copies as number ten, and a hundred times as many as number one hundred. A hit is magical.

On the right are the rest. The long tail: good products of specialized interest. Each, by itself, doesn’t sell many copies, but taken together, the long tail sells as much as the short head.

Half of Amazon’s sales are books that are not in the top five thousand. Half!

Half of the music consumed on streaming sites isn’t available in stores. Not half the titles, half the volume.

Amazon can do great with this strategy since they sell all the available books. Each author, though, is in pain: selling one to two books a day is no way to make a living.

Seth’s advice is to become the “short head” of a specialized market, e.g. the best person selling “video courses on using a GH5 camera to make movies.”

Or, in the self-publishing world, the best person writing “steamy older woman younger man romance.”

If you’ve spent any time on Amazon recently, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of indie genre fiction authors have started using specific genre keywords in their titles. We’ve got Gloria King’s Love Thy Neighbor: Steamy Older Woman Younger Man Romance, for example, or A.R. Winters’ Cooks, Crooks and Cruises: A Humorous Cruise Ship Cozy Mystery (Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries Book 2). They want readers to know exactly what they’re getting, so the readers who want exactly what they’re offering will be incentivized to purchase.

This is one way to get around the “can’t make a living selling two books a day” effect. (At roughly $2.50 in royalties per book, that’d be $1,825 a year before taxes.)

The other way to get around the “can’t make a living selling two books a day” thing is to find ways of earning money besides selling books.

Like keeping your day job. (As many authors do.)

Or freelancing. (Ditto.)

Or freelancing and teaching and editing and speaking and a bunch of other gigs that all support and sustain each other. (Tritto.)

If you do that, and if you are ready to build a career that, as Seth notes, is about solving someone else’s problems*, then you can do the creative work you want to do without having to try to be the best person at “older woman younger man humorous romance where the younger man has a really cute dog.”

Because you’ll be making the art that only you can make, telling the stories that only you can tell, etc.

And, in a world where other people are competing to be the best at a certain set of keywords, this kind of unique creative work can really stand out.

Of course, you still have to figure out how to market it.

Which means you’ll probably still want to read Seth’s book. ❤️

*One of my most popular freelance articles, which still gets retweeted and shared at least once a month even though it was published in 2015, is Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself With A/B Testing at Unbounce. This is a perfect example of using a freelance career to solve someone else’s problems (both Unbounce’s problem of needing a guide to A/B testing, and the readers’ problem of… also needing a guide to A/B testing). When I teach my “how to freelance” classes — and I’ll be teaching another one this summer, so check back later for dates — I get a lot of students who want to build careers as travel writers or celebrity profile writers or writers of stuff that sounds interesting to them. You can absolutely get paid to write about travel (I’ve done it) but you’ll get paid a lot more money if you’re also able to write about A/B testing.

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Why Financial Independence Is Like Self-Publishing

As of this morning’s freelance paycheck, I have $100,203.85 in assets and $825.44 on two credit cards that will both get paid off tomorrow, giving me a total net worth of $99,378.41.

I mean, I’m more excited about the “$100K in assets” figure, since I’ve been working towards that goal for a while (even though I know I probably won’t hit a for-real six-figure net worth until I get my next freelance paycheck).

After this, I guess the next big goal is a total investment portfolio value of $750,000, which — at the recommended 4% annual withdrawal rate and the level of frugality I’ve managed to maintain since college — should render me financially independent. 

In other words, I’ll be able to live exclusively off my investments if I choose.

The various online calculators suggest this will happen in the next 10-12 years. I am smart enough to understand that other things may happen in the next 10-12 years to shift that goal, but optimistic and/or dedicated enough to decide it’s a goal worth working towards regardless.

Being able to live half off my investments and half off my freelance writing and teaching and self-publishing income, for example, would also be good.

There are a lot of potential success scenarios here.

There are also a lot of potential success scenarios for a self-published book — like, it’s literally the first lesson I teach in my online Finances of Self-Publishing course (which you can take next month, sign up here).

You could write a runaway bestseller; you could write and publish a book a year and sell it to your 1,000 True Fans; you could write a book to preserve a piece of family history and use tools like Reedsy and IngramSpark to create a beautiful hardback copy that’ll last for generations.

Self-publishing can also get you many of the aspects of “the author’s life” that a lot of us dream about: a book launch party with cake and sparkling beverages, the opportunity to do readings and signings at bookstores and libraries, the professional expertise required to teach classes or speak on panels at conventions. A quiet home office with plants in it. The ability to say “I will block off X amount of time, every day, just for writing my next book.”

(Current NEXT BOOK draft: 12,253 words.)

Of course, you can get the plants and commit to a writing schedule before you finish that first draft — and if you want to learn more about how to do that, you should sign up for my online course How to Develop a Writing Practice, which runs end-of-April through end-of-May. (It’s a self-paced group course, so you’ll take it as a group but won’t have to be at your desk at any specific time for mandatory webinars or anything like that. You’ll be free to do the readings, chat in the group discussion forum, etc. whenever you have time available.)

Just like I’m already thinking about myself as having committed to financial independence — and behaving and budgeting like a financially independent person might behave* — 10–12 years before I’ll actually get there.

But I thought, during my early-morning yoga practice where I usually get my best thoughts, that the whole financial independence thing was strikingly similar to the self-publishing thing. A nearly identical mindset.

Self-publishers take on both the author role and the publisher role. They develop various “success scenarios” for their books — maybe they want to crowdfund their “advance,” the way I did for The Biographies of Ordinary People; maybe they want to sell more than 500 Kindle copies in the first three months**; maybe they want to to go on book tour or get their book reviewed by Kirkus or submit their novel for various awards.

There’s a lot that a self-published author can’t control, such as who wins those awards or how much money Amazon pours into its Kindle Unlimited Fund or whether the market for their particular genre changes, but there’s a lot they can control through research and careful budgeting.

The biggest factor under their control is whether they spend more on their self-published book than they plan to earn (THIS IS THE NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING I WILL TEACH IN MY CLASS, BTW).

That’s also one of the biggest factors that will determine whether they’ll self-publish another book and slowly build up a career as a self-published author.

Likewise, the person going after financial independence takes on both the worker role and the employer role, even if they already have another employer. This person is setting aside money for to pay their future salary the same way an employer sets aside money for payroll, and deciding how much they might want to earn in the future the same way an employer decides how much to pay employees.

There’s a lot that this person won’t be able to control, such as whether they get laid off (or lose their biggest freelance client) and have to cut back on their savings goals (or spend money they’ve already saved) until they find another source of income. They won’t be able to control market changes or recessions.

The biggest factor under their control is — you guessed it — whether they spend more than they earn.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because several years ago I got myself into $14K of credit card debt during a period of underemployment. There are 100% for-sure times when you cannot spend less than you earn because you are simply not earning enough. I have been there. Lots of people are currently there.

If that’s where you are, and you’d like to not be there, I’d recommend reading Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. This book should be available at your local library (get the 2018 edition if possible; if not, the older editions should be just as good though slightly less relevant to today’s economy) and it absolutely changed my life when I read it while working as a part-time telemarketer.

If you like cats and glitter, I also recommend Lillian Karabaic’s Get Your Money Together: An Illustrated Purrsonal Finance Workbook to Help You Budget Your Money, Save for Retirement, and Smash Debt. This book might not be available at your local library, but it’s exceptionally useful if — well, to quote Lillian Karabaic:

I only started teaching personal finance only because I was frustrated with the lack of queer-friendly, feminist, and, most of all, fun personal finance education out there — especially stuff that deals with actual real-life money issues and doesn’t assume you have one full-time job with benefits, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence.

I’d also suggest reading Grant Sabatier’s Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need, because Grant devotes the first half of the book to “how to earn more money” and the second half to “how to become financially independent,” so if you’re interested in that, go check it out. Literally.

And if you’re interested in the finances of self-publishing, well… you could always take my class. ❤️

*Contrary to popular belief, “financial independence” doesn’t mean “having more money than you could ever spend.” It’s more like you’re paying yourself an annual salary based on your investment returns. Which means you’ll still need to stick to a budget, and in some ways you’ll need to be more careful about your budgeting and spending than a person who isn’t “financially independent.” After all, you want that pool of investment money to last for the rest of your life.

**The average self-published book sells fewer than 500 Kindle copies, so hitting this benchmark is an early sign of success.

Registration Is Open for Two New Online Classes: The Finances of Self-Publishing and How to Develop a Writing Practice

Very excited to announce that I’m teaching two online classes with Hugo House this spring!

Take The Finances of Self-Publishing if you’re planning to self-publish a book and want to know 1) how much it’ll cost to produce the book and 2) how much you might earn back in sales. It’s a short course — just two hours’ worth of material spread over two weeks.

Take How to Develop a Writing Practice if you want to learn how to make time to write a book, a blog, or anything else you’ve been itching to put into words. This four-week course will get you writing right away, and help you build writing habits that will last a lifetime.

Both courses are group courses, which means that although you can work at your own pace within the course (there aren’t any class sessions that meet at specific times or anything like that), you’ll be part of a group of students who are all taking the same course at the same time. It’s an excellent way to get to know other writers.

Registration for both courses opens today, and you can get Early Bird pricing if you register before March 19.

Full course details below. If you have questions about either of these courses, leave ’em in the comments!

THE FINANCES OF SELF-PUBLISHING

April 18–April 25, 2019

Self-publishing is easier than ever—but it isn’t cheap. When you become your own publisher, you take on all the costs associated with publication: hiring editors and designers, getting industry reviews, planning book launches and book tours. This course will cover the finances of self-publishing, explain the types of expenses you can expect as a first-time publisher, and discuss ways to keep your costs low while still creating a professional-quality book.

HOW TO DEVELOP A WRITING PRACTICE

April 30—May 21, 2019

Successful writers understand that writing is not just an art—it’s also a practice. If you’re having trouble finding time to write or feel like you lack the motivation to complete your writing projects, this class is for you. Students will learn how to track their creative energy throughout the day, analyze their schedules to set aside time for writing, use measurable goals to maximize productivity while writing, and discuss how to remain committed to their writing practice long-term.

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.

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.

Self-Publishing Update: How Long Until I’m Back in the Black?

Sales/Expenses Since May 29

Books sold: 31 ebooks, 40 paperbacks

Money earned: $291.60

Money spent: $678.85

Total

Books sold: 481 ebooks, 226 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $2,186.55

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $10,512.51


Right now I’m $1,416.96 in the red, which represents roughly 500 book sales. Considering that Biographies Vol. 1 sold more than 500 copies in its first year, I could very easily assume that Biographies Vol. 2 will hit the 500 mark — which, when combined with any additional Biographies Vol. 1 sales, would clear out that debt and help me break even by, say, May 2019.

I don’t anticipate any other major expenses for either Vol. 1 or Vol. 2, now that the mini-tour is done. Any additional readings or classes will either be local or combined with other travel (e.g. visiting my nephew and doing a reading in Washington, DC). I’m not submitting Vol. 2 to any awards, since it doesn’t really stand on its own the way Vol. 1 does. All I have left, in terms of costs, are the upcoming promotions on BargainBooksy, Fussy Librarian, etc. — and those are, like, $25 each.

So here we are. I need to earn back the costs of this recent tour, and then anything after that will be pure profit. (I could get to the “profit” stage a little faster by separating out the “reading” and “teaching” costs — I counted all of my non-vacation travel expenses as Biographies expenses, but my hotel and food expenses on the day I taught at Hugo House might belong in a different category. That’s worth considering, actually, and maybe I should redo my math.)


I don’t know if you read Longreads, but last week they published my essay “How the Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels.” I absolutely recommend reading it, because it’s got all of the analysis of these blog posts plus extra research and more polished writing. Here’s an excerpt:

Even if Facebook weren’t force-choking our posts (and we don’t exactly have proof that it is, aside from all of the evidence), we’d still have to deal with the ways in which social media both amplifies and dilutes any message we try to share. Everyone is asking you to read their thing, whether it’s a Twitter thread or a debut novel. Nobody has time to read everything, and the novel is longer and costs money (or a trip to the library).

“Social media and the internet have been instrumental in destroying the economics of writing,” Bradley Babendir told LitHub. He’s specifically referring to book criticism, which used to be a valued, paying gig but is now dominated by crowdsourced reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Book critics still get work the same way that authors still get sales, but … no, I think that comparison stands.

I’ll leave you with that, so you can go read the whole thing. More news when I have news to share! ❤

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash.

Self-Publishing Update: The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 has been out for ONE WEEK!

Sales/Expenses Since May 13

Books sold: 68 ebooks, 29 paperbacks

Money earned: $275.67

Money spent: $293.34

Total

Books sold: 450 ebooks, 186 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1,894.95

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $9,833.66


It’s been exactly one week since The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 launched, and during that time the book has sold:

  • 58 copies on Amazon Kindle (this includes the 35 pre-orders)
  • 1 copy on Barnes & Noble’s Nook
  • 1 copy on Kobo
  • 3 copies on Apple iBooks
  • 29 paperbacks

As a point of comparison, Biographies Volume 1 sold 85 ebooks and 58 paperbacks in its first week. Volume 2 hasn’t done quite as well, but you’d expect that for the second book in a series.

However, I also expect to sell more books over the next two weeks as I embark on my READING & TEACHING TOUR! (Is that what we’re calling it?) Here’s a recap of where I’ll be when:

  • Tuesday, June 5: Teaching “The Finances of Self-Publishing” at Seattle’s Hugo House. 6-9 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Wednesday, June 6: Reading and signing at Seattle’s Phinney Books. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Friday, June 8: Reading and signing at Portland’s Another Read Through. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Sunday, June 10: Reading and signing at Juneau’s Rainy Retreat Books, with music from Marian Call and Laura Zahasky! 5-6 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Monday, June 11: Teaching “Getting Started as a Freelancer” at Juneau’s 49 Writers. 6:30-9 p.m. Sign up here.

There will be more READING AND TEACHING in the future, but this is what I have scheduled for now!

I also wanted to let you know that I’ve already started receiving emails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed Biographies Volume 2. Those are the best kinds of emails to receive, because it means that my book is doing what I hoped it would do: connecting with readers.

Thank you, all of you, for your support as I launched this second book! I hope you all get the chance to read and enjoy it. ❤