These are my notes from the Romance Writers of Australia 2023 conference. Please be aware that this is not a transcript.
The elements you need to quit your day job in twelve months (through indie-publishing on KU).
- Be a business person
- Goals in 12 months (not necessarily quit your job, make this suit you)
- Sustainable strategy
- Intersection between what we love and what readers love
- Define a vision for the future
Self-publishing success is often a trad-publishing failure at the same number of books sold, because indie authors get a higher percentage of each sale (70% compared to 40%).
None of us are doing this “for the money”. There are easier ways to make money, like being an investment banker! So you may as well write what you love.
Be careful in your goals.
- Keep them within your reach
- You have to feel like you deserve it
- Give room to upgrade as you reach your goal
- Not so small that it’s boring.
Exercise: What is your vision? (I’m not going to put mine here)
Reasons why reaching a goal is hard.
- Not willing to make the necessary changes
- Listening to negative thoughts (of self and others)
- Dream is too boring/too small
Now that you have a direction, the steps become a bit clearer.
The presenter’s formula/initial goal
Selling 1000 books per month at $4.99 each will result in an annual income of $41,916 (12,000 x $3.49). This is achievable with 20 books (at 1.6 sales per book per day).
Only works with a solid author brand
Each book builds on the one before
This creates a sustainable model
Presenter income in 2022 – $129,000 across 50 individual books (186 books once all formats counted, eg 1 book in ebook, print, and audio = 3 formats).
Presenter showed a graph with income leaping up dramatically in 2022, which was due to a viral TikTok post. Presenter then changed the blurb of the book to the words in the TikTok to take advantage.
- Lean into your strengths
- Don’t hold back
- Be “The Most” (bonkers, best at one trope, whatever)
Sometimes you can go off brand (especially if you get caught up in a trend).
- Most authors try different things (and it’s natural to do this)
- Deviation from strategy isn’t usually financially successful
- It’s ok to do it, just KNOW WHY you are doing it
Readers – understand them
- Know as much as you can about your readers
- Presenters readers tend to stick to one genre
Authors tend to read widely but readers don’t always do that, so don’t assume they will do what you do.
In presenter’s experience, readers are series loyal, then genre loyal, then author loyal.
Readers want a specific experience over and over again.
Currently readers search by trope, especially trending tropes, rather than by author.
Casual reader: 6-12 books a year, will buy at airports or book shops
Genre reader: 100+ books a year. KU and/or libraries to keep costs down
Readers tell you what they like through their buying habits.
What makes a strong author brand?
- Promise to readers
- Reader defined (and author influenced)
- Stick to one genre*
- Consistency on:
- Heat level
- Violence level
- Types of characters/setting
- Values/world view
*For Romance genre, sticking to one sub-genre isn’t completely necessary under one author name, but HEAT level needs to stay consistent.
Build a fandom!
Exercise – write down 3 strengths and 3 constraints. (how many of you wrote the constraints first and found them easier than the strengths?)
If you feel like you have too many things “to do”, make a list of everything you do/should do, then be brutal. Prioritise them by earning power/return on investment and only do the top three.
You’ve got a brand – now what?
Every decision must ask “does this keep my promise to my readers?”
Everything you do must keep this promise.
Watch the market (eg top 100 best sellers in your genre). Look at:
- Cover trends
- Blurb trends
- Popular tropes
Watching the market means you can see trends early. Use this:
- Market older books that fit (maybe change covers to suit)
- Write to trend (if you can/want to)
Figure out where your voice fits among the trends/in the market.
Three Aspects of Branding
Creativity is you – be true to you.
Packaging – remember the promise to your reader.
Be consistent across:
- Edits: readers will overlook small errors if they love the story*
- Clarity for readers
*Presenter told a story about how she did a find and replace for a name Rita for (can’t remember, maybe Molly?) and ended up with a made up word; heritage became heMollyge. No one noticed (not in a single review) for six months of ‘good’ sales until a reader emailed her.
Titles: use tropes. See what is trending in your genre.
Blurbs: try to write the blurb before you write the book. Think about hooks for the reader. Most blurbs only cover the first 30 pages of the book, so you can write it without knowing the ending of the book. If the blurb doesn’t work, then the book probably won’t work.
Marketing – you don’t have to do all the things and DONE is better than perfect.
- Author collaborations
- Social media
- Backlist (you’ve already written them, use them)
Idea: the presenter has an ebook with all the extra scenes and epilogues in it, sorted by series, and sends this to her newsletter list whenever there is an update.
The battle plan
What is your promise to readers?
How can you show your authentic self?
Take a good look at what you have (backlist, socials, newsletter, website, everything) and check them against the promise.
Start studying the market
Plan new releases
Focus on long term growth with minimal risk
Create a ‘to do’ list and align “now” to “goal”, then work out the steps. And remember, learning about the work isn’t the same as doing the work. Going to courses can be good but at what cost? Can your time be used better?
Questions from floor
Q: If you change your strategy, how long do you give it to see if it’s working?
Decide on your own timeline (because it depends on so many factors) and put it in your calendar as the end date with a note to review it. For example, on Tiktok, I enjoyed being there so I gave myself six months to make it work, but if I hadn’t liked it, I would’ve given it two weeks.
Q: Where do you source your covers?
From cover designers. I give them a brief and that’s it.
Q: What is your 12 month strategy?
Now it is to reduce from six books a year to four which will give me time to do other stuff
Q: How does word count add to author brand?
Personally not much, but only within the expected range. The main impact is on the time is takes to write and subsequent release dates (longer books, less releases). Make your preference work for your strategy.
Q: How do you choose which collaborations to do?
It depends on where you are at in your career.
Q: Do you have any data on series read-through?
For same couple series (common in fantasy and mystery), 50% of people read the second books, then of those 50-70% read the third one, then of those, 90% will read the last one because they are hooked on the characters by then. Romance series (with a new couple for each book) has an average read through of 30% (so one third of people who read book one will read book two) and this is consistent for all books in the series, creating a tail effect.
Q: Should I write a whole series before publishing book one?
I prefer to have one written and the second in progress when I launch because if I write a whole series and then book one fails, I’ve done a lot of work for nothing. It’s a risk. But if you have the whole thing written first, you have more certainty over release dates.
Q: What is your drafting strategy?
I don’t outline because once I know what is going to happen, I’m too bored to write the story. I tend to be character focused, but the downside of this method is plot issue which can mean I write myself into a corner and get stuck and/or need more edits later. I’ve since developed a skeleton method for faster drafting with less plot dramas.
1st draft – 10-20k outline of dialogue and action with conflict and tropes
2nd draft – add in character details to take it to 50k
3rd draft – add ‘prettiness’ to get to 75k
This helps me stop getting stuck as it’s an outline but also a real book with dialogue, action, and notes.
The reason we usually get stuck is because a character needs to do something for the plot that is out of character for the character.
Q: How does selling swag work from down under?
I have an assistant who does all my swag. I thought the shipping costs from NZ would stop people from buying but they actually paid it. Make it a fan experience and they’ll pay. The other option is to have someone based in the USA run it for you.
Q: How did your kickstarter work?
My original goal was $10k, and it actually worked out well to set the goal lower than the actual goal as the kickstarter platform helps you once you hit the goal. It ended at $55k and we got another $35k in related sales afterwards.
Q: How do you think these strategies transfer to other subgenres (presenter writes paranormal)?
What do your readers like? Special editions books work well in all genres, google some examples in your sub-genre.
Only do what works for you.