A Year in A Life

AfterShockwebI’m not very good at pre-planning (yeah, anyone who knows me is laughing right now—they all know I stink at details and logistics!) but I enjoy looking at the big picture of my schedule, seeing how all my projects fit together and also pinpointing crunch times.

 

Here’s a look back at my 2013, where my word of the year was EXCITED:

 

As of today (yeah!) with the release of AFTER SHOCK, I published five books in eleven months. Three of the five with NYC publishers, one indy project, and AFTER SHOCK with Thomas-Mercer.

 

In 2013, I also wrote five and a half books from start to end while juggling edits and revisions on the five above. By far my most productive year as far as actual words on the page.

 

I hit the USA Today list a few times and sold 262,000 books, not counting my NYC sales.

 

I spoke at events in London, NYC, San Diego, Chicago, New Orleans, Charleston, Fayetteville, and back to NYC again—which is less than most years, but more than I’d intended as I’m trying to learn to say “no” to anything that takes me away from writing.

 

I wrote over 50 guest blogs (yeah, I do really have to work on that just say no thing!) and several dozen guest podcasts/video interviews, was featured in the USA Today and Entertainment Weekly among others.

 

Oh, and I won a few awards! Including the Thriller Award (for BLIND FAITH) and the RT Seal of Excellence (for BROKEN).

 

All in all, a great year. Very exciting indeed.

 

What’s in store for 2014?

 

After the release of AFTER SHOCK (did I mention, it’s out today? oh, and it really, really rocks—I mean really!) I have several more books planned for 2014 including:

* my second YA thriller in November, still untitled

* HARD FALL, the next Lucy Guardino FBI Thriller

* FIGHT DIRTY, the first in the Renegade Justice spin off series staring Morgan, everyone’s favorite teenaged psychopath from Lucy’s world as well as Jenna, Andre, and Lucy’s husband, Nick

* a new, top-secret, hush-hush BIG project coming in May (I’m sure I’ll be letting you guys know more before then, but right now there’s tons of stuff going on behind the scenes and I want to get things firmed up beforehand)

 

Plus, possibly (in my spare time):
* the launch of two new middle grade projects
* RAW EDGES, the second in the Renegade Justice series
* the Hart & Drake special Christmas wedding story (fans have been clamoring for this one, so I’m really trying hard to get it finished, but also need to make it worthy of their wait)

 

AND that’s just what I know of right now, the first week in January—who knows what might happen? That’s the one place where I try to never say no: to ideas and trying new things. If it’s something that will delight my readers and/or help me elevate my craft, then I’m in!

 

You might think from this that 2014’s catchword is productivity or some variant. But no, the north star guiding me this year is…drumroll please…

ENGAGED

 

I want people more engaged with my stories than ever, just as I want to engage with my readers more than ever. And I’m working hard on taking my craft to a place (experimenting with world building and POV) where that can happen as well as finding new ways to connect with readers.

 

That’s my year ahead—what’s in store for you?

If 2014 finds you ready to share your stories with the world as a ProWriter, check out the courses created by myself and Joanna Penn on The Secrets of a ProWriter, Breaking into Publishing , Secrets of Indy Publishing, and How to Reach Readers and Market Your Novel.

 

Click HERE for more info.

Make a Wish

sylvester-143092_640This time of year there is no shortage of “best of” lists or predictions for the new year.

 

Predictions might be helpful as a springboard to new ideas or brainstorming, but other than that, all they do is either reassure you that your beliefs are also shared by others or they overwhelm you.

 

Instead, I’d like to make a wish about what I’d like to see shape the future of publishing.

 

As always, I’m taking a reader-centric approach, focused on what’s best for my audience rather than simply looking at the bottom line (something NYC and other indies might try).

 

Here’s what I’d like to see:

 

Publishing contracts that reflect what they truly are: licensing agreements. Right now, they’re more like indentured servitude agreements demanding that all an author’s work and all their time be focused on supporting the publisher’s bottom line rather than giving readers the great reads they deserve.

 

A licensing agreement is a win/win for all. Publishers would license the use of the author’s rights for a specific length of time, allowing them to focus their efforts during that window of opportunity without compromising the author’s future earning ability—or handcuffing the author with insane non-compete clauses that don’t allow an author to write anything else.

 

It would be a great way to save time and energy for all involved—as well as increasing synergy, so that each project can maximize its potential for success rather than receiving sporadic attention, only to end up forced into either “bestseller” or “failure” pigeonholes.

 

Here’s a concrete example of how that might work. Every time I release a new indy project, sales of my NYC books increase. Why? Because I make it easy for my readers to find them, so new readers have no friction between them and my books—ALL my books.

 

Which means it would be in everyone’s best interest to allow authors to publish outside of the restrictive schedules required by NYC. For authors and publishers to truly partner on each project (there’s that idea of strategic partnerships again!)

 

No brainer, right?

 

Which translates into my greatest wish: for publishers to start treating readers like they’re essential to the survival of the industry, whether you’re one author or a huge conglomerate. Because they are.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Keep your readers happy, they’ll keep your bottom line happy. So simple, yet so very hard to do.

Step 4: How to Sell a Million Books

Note from CJ: As you know, I’m publishing five books this year. Three down and two to go means that it’s time to run some of the most popular posts here at No Rules. Enjoy! ~CJ

(This is an ongoing series on my own launch and sales process. You can find the first post HERE)

 

Step #1: Write a Damn Good Book
Step #2: Help Your Readers Find It
Step #3: and Share it with Their Friends
Step #4: Repeat.

 

This final step seems obvious, yet it’s where many go wrong.

 

Instead of following their first book with a second that will appeal to the same audience, they turn to a completely different genre.

 

I totally get experimentation. I absolutely understand a writer not wanting to be “pigeon-holed.” And yes, I never, ever would tell anyone to follow a formula.

 

But don’t abandon your readers! Remember, they’re family.

 

In my own career I’ve gone from medical suspense with romantic elements to straight romantic thrillers to mainstream FBI thrillers to women’s fiction/suspense to paranormal romantic/medical thrillers…seventeen books and no two fit the exact same subgenre.

 

(Hence the term Thrillers with Heart–the one thing all my books have in common is that they all have the adrenalin rush of a thriller with a strong relationship at the core)

 

BUT, despite all that genre-busting, my readers have not only come along for the ride but brought their friends along with them. Why? Because I always strive to keep my promise to them: fast-paced character-driven thrillers with an emotional heart.

 

I’m not saying you can never write anything that would appeal to a totally different audience…what I’m saying is that you need to consider your current audience as well.

 

Also, when building a career you need more than one book out there working for you. In my experience the tipping point occurs with four to six books out there at least four to six months.

 

Ah…there’s that pesky magic ingredient that we have no control over: Time.

 

Instead of fretting about how long it takes to build your career, use that time to your advantage by writing the next damn good book. It’s your number one, absolute, best marketing strategy and something totally within your control.

 

Here’s how it breaks down:

 

Time + More Books = Readers

Readers + Word of Mouth = Steady Sales

Steady Sales + New Books = Success

 

If you graphed those three equations they would resemble a rollercoaster. First, a slow, slow, slow build up to the first curve…then you gain momentum as you race around that curve and climb a hill, drop a bit, climb back up again, always going a little higher…finally you reach the highest peak and then…you fall back to Earth again.

 

With book sales, if you have one book out there that fall back to Earth will land you right back where you started.

 

The real magic comes through repeating the process. Each new book delighting your current readers and inspiring them to spread the word to new readers. With several books, you’ll find that final fall off the sales peak of a new book’s launch isn’t as far or as fast. And the peaks will be higher and longer.

 

Until finally your readership will grow to a level where they serve as your safety net, keeping you from hitting the ground ever again.

 

There will still be highs and lows, but now that you have the steps down, there’s no reason why you can’t repeat them and build a career as a ProWriter.

 

Most importantly, you’ll have fun doing it! Happy writing!
CJ

 

Ready to share your stories with the world as a ProWriter? Check out the courses created by myself and Joanna Penn on The Secrets of a ProWriter, Breaking into Publishing , Secrets of Indy Publishing, and How to Reach Readers and Market Your Novel.

Step 3: How to Sell a Million Books

Note from CJ: As you know, I’m publishing five books this year. Three down and two to go means that it’s time to run some of the most popular posts here at No Rules. Enjoy! ~CJ

(This is an ongoing series on my process in launching and selling books. You can find Step #1 HERE and Step #2 HERE)

 

Step #1: Write a Damn Good Book
Step #2: Help Your Readers Find It
Step #3: And Spread the Word to Their Friends

 

Ah…now we’re at the heart of any product sales strategy: Word of Mouth. It’s what makes bestsellers, builds an author’s name recognition, wins loyal readers.

 

How do we get those loyal readers? We earn them.

 

That’s right. You can’t buy loyal readers no matter how many blog tours you hop onto, how many ads you buy, what kind of publicity you get…but all those can build buzz.

 

To me, “buzz” is short-lived name recognition. It can be the spark that ignites the rocket or it can be a match that fizzles out in seconds.

 

Far better to focus instead on earning loyalty among readers who want to spread the word for you. That’s long-lived name recognition which can build a career.

 

What makes you want to tell friends about a book you’ve read?

 

Of course, it has to be a damn good book (see Step #1).

 

It also has to have something special, worthy of spending time and energy talking about it. That unique hook that grabs a reader and won’t let go.

 

This might be a compelling character or plot twist or your voice…something that makes your damn good book stand out from the crowd.

 

Once you hook your readers, how can you inspire these fervent fans to spread the word?

 

Make it easy for readers to share their experience. This is where being flexible with pricing and giving free books away can be useful.

 

Free and special priced books often get noticed by bloggers and other voracious readers who share the news of a “great deal on a great book” on forums. This is the main advantage of using programs like KDP Select or placing a book on a “permafree” status.

 

I have given away over 50,000 free books as well as sold hundreds of thousands at special sale prices. Dozens of reviews mention that this is how readers found me–and that now that they have, not only will they buy more of my books but they will also recommend my books to their friends.

 

I ran a special “reader appreciation sale” on my novel BLIND FAITH and thanks to my readers spreading the word, it debuted at #2 on the NYT combined print and ebook list.

 

Be generous. Gift your books to readers who visit your blog or sign up for your newsletter. Consider doing something special for readers who help to spread the word by writing reviews.

 

Right now I’m giving my extra-special Street Team Family “We love Lucy” pins as a thank you for posting reviews and helping to spread the word on my latest Lucy Guardino FBI Thriller, KILL ZONE.

 

Treat your readers like family…okay, maybe even better than family.

 

Give them a damn good book every time, treat them with respect, show them that you appreciate the time and money they spend on your books, and they’ll stay with you for life.

 

Not to mention, they’ll do the heavy lifting when it comes to spreading the word for you.

 

But there’s one final step you need to complete your journey to success. Stay tuned for Step #4.
CJ

Part 2: How to Sell a Million Books

Note from CJ: As you know, I’m publishing five books this year. Three down and two to go means that it’s time to run some of the most popular posts here at No Rules. Enjoy! ~CJ

(This is an ongoing series examining my personal process. You can find Step #1 HERE)

 

Step #1: Write a Damn Good Book
Step #2: Help Your Readers Find It

 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But Step #2, Help Your Readers find your damn good book, is the most difficult step.

 

Why? Because the secret ingredient here is TIME.

 

(There’s another secret ingredient, but we’ll get to that in a future post)

 

Writers hate to wait. Once we have that book, we want to see it launch like a NASA rocket. We can’t stand to see it languishing in obscurity.

 

What can you do to launch your book, help readers discover it?

 

Publish it correctly. This means good formatting, using the same best practices that NYC publishing uses such as correct metadata, categorizing it in the proper BISG genre category, using an ISBN, and having a strategy before you hit “publish.”

 

What’s a good strategy? Whatever will help YOUR readers connect to your book.

 

Note there’s no mention of marketing or publicity or promotion there. The one advantage indy authors have over NYC publishers is that we can reach OUR readers directly.

 

Use that! How?

 

First, create a cover that makes the reader feel the same emotion they’ll feel when they read the book. One that conveys the proper genre, that will resonate with your target audience, and that stands out from the crowd (at thumbnail size, no less!) AND that supports your brand recognition.

 

A lot to ask from one 250 x 500 image! This is why you should hire a professional to work with you on creating your covers.

 

(I’ve talked about cover art in the past HERE and also plan a future post on using cover art to build your brand, so stay tuned!)

 

Second, craft a blurb (sales copy, back cover copy, product description–there are many names) that is compelling and gives the reader an emotional promise of what the book is about.

 

If the book is funny, make them laugh. If it’s tragic, make them blink back tears.

 

Again, a lot to ask of a hundred words! Tweak and polish and ask for advice and tweak some more.

 

Do not try to explain the plot! Instead try to make the reader connect to the story on an emotional level.

 

(You can learn more about the art of blurbing HERE and in my free email class HERE)

 

Third, continue to build your connection with your readers outside the book. This could be via a blog, facebook, twitter, a letter to readers you post on the product page, a book video, an excerpt, reviews, cover quotes…the list is endless.

 

Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the reader and why they would fall in love with this story.

 

Don’t abuse their trust by taking a shot gun approach and trying to sell to everyone. The point here is to sell your story to the people who will most enjoy it.

 

CHOOSE who you connect with. These are the readers who will not only love your story but share it with their friends.

 

Yes, it takes time. Yes, there will be people who just don’t “get” your story and will leave one star reviews or send you nasty emails. Yes, there will be a lot of effort revamping cover art and blurbs until you are reaching the RIGHT readers.

 

But once you have them, they’re yours for life. They’ll be your disciples, they’ll do the hard work of spreading the word for you.

 

Which brings us to Step #3…come back in a few days and we’ll talk about that all important Word of Mouth.

 

Thanks for reading!
CJ

Part 1: How to Sell a Million Books

Note from CJ: As you know, I’m publishing five books this year. Three down and two to go means that it’s time to run some of the most popular posts here at No Rules. Enjoy! ~CJ

Photocredit: Alexis OToole

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I try to share everything I’ve found of value whether it’s a guest blog from an expert (or a newcomer who has learned something valuable along the way) or a link to a business or psychology or marketing or even science article that might help you with your journey to becoming a ProWriter.

 

(Heck, JoAnna Penn and I have even spent dozens of hours putting together four ProWriter classes to help you with the nitty gritty details)

 

But the question I’m most often asked is “How do YOU do it, CJ?”

 

So here I am, squirming in the spotlight, sharing my process. I’ll break it down into several steps. Remember the No Rules, Just WRITE! motto: it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about what’s right for you.

 

(I’m going to try to keep things general enough to help everyone, but if you have specific questions, please feel free to post them in the comments.)

 

Okay. Step 1 to selling a million books: Write a damn good book.

 

This is the hardest part but also the most fun. I honestly can’t give you any secret recipe to writing your book because even though I’ll be publishing my seventeenth book next week, every single book has been written in a totally different way.

 

What can I say, I bore easily. Some books just flow onto the page. Some books I have to wrestle with every word. Some I write linearly (actually I think it’s been two out of the seventeen), one I wrote literally backwards scene by scene.

 

The point is: know what works for you and for this story. No one can tell you the right way to write, but you do need to be open to trying new approaches.

 

The only secret I have is as simple as ABC: Apply Butt to Chair.

 

My first draft is where I have fun. It’s for me, me, me–I’m very selfish with it, willing to indulge any flight of fancy, write the most purplest of prose, go over the top and run wild.
The first draft is where anything is possible, so try to explore it all, without limitations.

 

For me, the real work comes with the second draft. This is where I take my story and turn it into entertainment.

 

Why is that work? Because it means it’s no longer about me. It’s ALL about my audience.

 

This second draft, I call it my re-visioning draft, is where I slice and dice, reining in places where I pushed too far, kicking it up a notch when I played it too safe, anything that will give my readers a better story.

 

If the first draft is about you discovering the story, then this second draft is about connecting your audience to your story.

 

This draft is where beta readers and critique partners and a developmental editor are helpful. Anyone who can give me an objective opinion as a reader about what works and what doesn’t.

 

Here is where you will kill your darlings–those scenes or passages that are beautifully crafted but don’t serve the story. No worries, save them in a special folder as you will probably find another story in the future where they can find a home.

 

Concentrate on the three R’s: Revise, Rework, and Rewrite.

 

The third draft is the polish draft. Once you have the story where you want it, it’s time to hand the manuscript off to copyeditors.

 

Don’t skimp here. Hire professionals. I use editors who work for NYC publishers and also freelance. Each of my books goes through two copyeditors and two proofreaders (and often one professional developmental editor) and I still get notes from readers on things we’ve all missed.

 

Your readers are paying for the privilege of reading your story. You owe it to them to give them the most professional product possible.

 

There you have it. Step #1 of How to Sell a Million Books: Write a Damn Good Book.

 

Stay tuned for Step #2, coming in a few days. In the meantime, happy writing!
CJ

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