What Do You Want?

Trying to get writers to agree on something is like herding cats. We are all passionate people. We have a tendency to flare up over minor disputes (especially online). And we can usually pen a tight argument for pretty much any position.

But I also think a lot of disagreements spring from the fact that we are all very different people, with different dreams, goals, and ambitions.

As such, what might be good advice for one writer could be bad advice for another. Especially if you are aiming for different targets.

So, what do you want?

It would be nice to sell a million books. It would be flattering to have every agent and publisher in New York clamoring for your signature. But it would also be nice to win the lottery.

Let’s talk about realistic goals.

I’m going to earn enough this month – my third month self-publishing – to cover most of my rent. Next month, or the month after, I might be able to cover the whole thing. That’s a realistic goal.

Before anyone gets too excited, my rent is quite low. However, that’s one less bill for me to pay. And the thought of book royalties covering it is immensely satisfying.

Maybe I’ll be earning enough in a couple of years to live off. Maybe not. But I think that’s something I can aim for. I don’t think it’s unobtainable. Not if I can keep publishing stuff that people seem to enjoy.

When I was younger, seeing my book in a bookstore would have been my #1 goal. While I would still get a kick out of it today, it has been supplanted by the dream of making a living from writing. In fact, it’s quite far down the pecking order of things I would like to happen.

More recently, getting a publishing deal – any deal – was all I was interested in. That’s no longer important to me either. I’m very happy working on my own. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to turn down a check with lots of zeroes, but it’s not something I’m actively working towards.

Because seeing my work in bookstores and getting a publishing deal are not important to me, self-publishing makes perfect sense. My primary career goals at this moment are financial, and I believe that self-publishing affords me the best opportunity to make a living from writing. There’s no question in my mind about that.

You may well be different. You may dream of being taken on by a super-agent, of hobnobbing with editors, of author signings, of being on a publisher’s table at a conference, of getting a review in Kirkus. I don’t. Those things aren’t important to me. Some of them might be nice, but I’m not working towards them.

Decide what your dreams are. Decide what’s important to you. Then set a series of obtainable goals – that you can work towards – that will bring you closer to your dream.

I would like to earn enough from writing so that I don’t have to worry about money. That really wouldn’t take much. I’m pretty low maintenance. I would like to travel quite a bit – that’s pretty much the only thing I do spend money on, outside of seedy bars – but aside from that, my overheads are pretty low.

But money is only one aspect of what I want to achieve. I also want to write lots and lots of books. There are so many stories I want to tell. I’m sure you know the feeling.

My problem is never finding ideas; it’s finding the time, the discipline, and the right words to execute them well. And there are some ideas that I’m not ready for yet, and they are waiting in my little notebook for me to improve.

I’m under no illusions. I think I can write a good story. But I also think I have a lot to learn about the craft. I can see areas where I can improve. Lots of them.

I would also like to expand the scope of what I write. I want to learn more. I want to grow as a writer. I want to improve with every title I publish. I want to push myself.

I also want every title I publish to be a quality title. I’m not just talking about the writing here. I want good covers, good editing, good formatting – I want to be proud of the work I put my name on. I want the story to be satisfying to readers. I want readers to really want to read more of my stuff after they finish one of my books.

I don’t just want to take their money and run. I would much rather sell 5,000 copies each of 20 books than sell 100,000 copies of one book and a handful of the rest. I’d like to know that I found my audience and kept them.

My goal is to publish lots of different stories and lots of different novels in quite a few different genres. I think that’s achievable. And if I work really hard, maybe some of them could be great. Time will tell.

There is a happy symbiosis here. If I work hard at the craft, if I only publish my best work, if I present it all professionally, and I publish lots of stories and novels, then that gives me the best possible chance of making a living from it.

Right now – for me – self-publishing is the only viable path I can see to achieve those goals. That may not always be the case. This business is changing so rapidly that no-one can say with any confidence what it’s going to be like in five years.

There will be more people reading e-books. Some publishers will probably go out of business. But, there are so many variables that we can’t say for sure if the business conditions for self-publishers will be more or less favorable in the future. My gut says that they will be more favorable, but nobody can be certain.

And maybe my goals will change. But for now, I’m very happy with the path I have chosen, and the opportunities it give me.

In a couple of months, I will release my first full-length work of fiction. It will also be the first time I attempt a higher price point – $4.99.

I think I can justify it. It’s an epic historical, it took a very, very long time to write (in particular, to research), it’s long (around 120k), and I think the genre can handle higher price points.

On top of that, I will have a few other titles at lower price points, so that readers have a cheap “in” to my work. If they like the way I write and the stories I tell, I don’t think they will balk at paying under five bucks for a meaty novel.

If it sells well (at $3.49 royalties per copy), I will move a little closer to the dream of supporting myself.

Now, it may not. It may be priced too high. And there is some evidence to suggest that historical fiction readers haven’t started making the switch to e-books yet. But I won’t know unless I try. And I can always drop the price, because I am in complete control.

It will also be the first book that I do a print version for, which is very exciting (and maybe I’ll try and get it into one bookstore in Dublin, just for kicks).

I know what I want: to earn enough so that I never have to worry about money. Maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky. But I also know what I would be very, very happy with: supporting myself from writing.

Maybe that’s a little more achievable. It may seem far away right now, but I just have to break it down to tangible steps. Like paying the rent by October. Releasing my historical novel before then would help.

It’s written, but it needs work in places (a lot in some). But I think I can get that done in two months. I have a realistic, achievable goal with a clear plan of action. I may succeed, I may not, but it’s in my hands.

What do you want? How are you going to get it?

113 Replies to “What Do You Want?”

  1. Interesting post. I agree with you. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing or publishing. My goals might be different from yours — and even if we have the same goals, how we approach achievement can be vastly different. With the publishing landscape being what it is (in flux, with varying options from JK Rowlings to Amanda Hocking) life is kind of awesome. Because there’s no One Route to Success or even one definition for it.

    Great post. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Short-term goal- I want to get my first book self-published by my launch date and I’d be ecstatic if I could get a few positive book reviews.

    Long-term goal- To publish the whole series and get enough encouragement to continue writing other works.

  3. Just woke up and caught this in my inbox. Fantastic post. I think we have very similar goals. Seeing my name on the bestseller list has never been a goal for me. I want to tell my stories and I want to eventually make a living that way. I have no illusions about it happening overnight, but in the next five years, I think it’s a realistic goal if I keep publishing, keep improving, and keep building my audience.

    I also like what you wrote about practicing in different genres. That’s one benefit of indie publishing that I think more people need to recognize. It all goes back to writing what we want to write.

    1. Bestseller lists, monster sales, publishers wooing me with muffin baskets – those would all be nice things, but they are not my goals because those things aren’t in my direct control. I try and make my goals achievable. I may not attain them, but they are realistic.

      I read all sorts of stuff, so it’s only natural that I would want to write in different genres. I may discover that readers respond more to my science fiction work than my historical novels, and I may decide to adjust my output accordingly. But I lose nothing by trying to write in the genres I want to. In fact, pushing myself can only help me improve as a writer. And I have the freedom to do that, which would necessarily be true if I had an agent and/or a publishing deal.

      1. Muffin baskets! Yesss!

        No, actually, muffin baskets would not improve my look in my author photograph. But perhaps you can afford the extra calories, David.

        This is another of your excellent posts. Not only do writers have differing goals, I think my goals have evolved over the years. I may once have dreamt of a big advance (an auction!) along with my agent buying me lunch and throwing me a chic book release party, but those aren’t my goals now. I think those possibilities are shrinking along with the pool of DTB publishers (Dead Tree Book publishers) and I realize such perks come with handcuffs … whereas you and I are free to wander genres, stretch our experimental literary wings, and price our books where we think they’ll sell, or sell most quickly or in the highest numbers. We can pick our own book titles and stick to them! (A huge plus.) We can design our own covers! We can put in whatever front and back matter we want, refuse to spoil the plot in our jacket blurbs, and most of all… KEEP THE MONEY.

        It’s pretty amazing, the freedom. I had a multi-published friend over yesterday (she’s had 11 books out in the paranormal, fantasy, and romance genres) who is hoping to become an eFitzgerald author–my newly-formed eBook publishing company–and we are thinking of re-releasing her very first title. She was thrilled to realize that she can finally get a cover that reflects her vision of the story, rather than some committee-designed picture with flowing robes, a chesty maiden, and all the “sellable” elements.

        As for me, my first goal was to have people read my book. That’s happening, and it is highly gratifying. They’re buying it, they’re reading it, and they’re liking it. And they’re telling me so! I was thrilled to get a phone call from my former mother-in-law four days after my political thriller “Running” was available on Kindle. She loved it! That made my day, particularly as it came from someone with whom I have a history, and who heard me talk about my writing for decades.

        My next goal is to make enough money writing to be able to live on. That may take three or so years, and several more titles. But I have lots of material ready and much more writing in the pipeline, so it’s simply a matter of getting it out there.

        And after all the years of dreaming of becoming a published author, suddenly–voila!–I am.

        1. I need the extra calories like a hole in the head. I put on weight if I look at a bar of chocolate.

          I think the things you mentioned were goals for you and me (and lots of others) because they were tangible indicators of success – which is itself intangible. But when I broke it down – author signings, being wined and dined by editors – I saw that what I really wanted was to have lots of people reading my books.

  4. Great post. The simple insights are so often the most profound. The trouble is that writing fiction is such an emotionally tangled experience. It’s genuinely hard to know what it is you most want. To express your view of the emotional reality of the world? To be acknowledged as an artist? To make some money? Which one most of all? Are these contradictory goals? Which is to say nothing concerning all the other reasons why people write.

    1. Indeed. And people may have very different goals. They may just want to get their story out there. Or they may seek critical acclaim. Or they may want the validation of a publishing deal. Or they may be excited about working with a publishing house and the collaborative approach that goes with that. They may seek the respect of their peers in trade publishing.

      Those are all valid goals. A different path may be more suitable depending on what your own personal goals are.

  5. Initially I self-published to see if it was possible to make some money from my writing (above the occasional cheque for a short story sale). After nearly 2 months, and realising that young teen fiction doesn’t sell that well on ebooks, I have picked up a lot of very encouraging reviews. It is now more about finishing the trilogy that I have worked on (and off – quite often very off!) for the last 10 years and getting it in the hands of readers who seem to appreciate what I am writing.

    If some money comes after that.. ?

    1. That’s realistic and attainable. I think writers who gaze longingly at the Top 100 are setting themselves up for a fall. And if the focus is continually on the sales numbers, the chances are you will be disappointed. Just to have finished a book is to achieve more than 95% of people that ever flirted with the idea of writing. Just to have published a book is to put yourself ahead of most people that ever wrote one. We should remember this milestones and cherish them.

      Then set new targets. And work towards them.

      1. The thing I have come to realise is that you cannot influence sales figures, which is why it makes no sense to set a target of 100 the first month, 200 the second month, etc.

        I have a paperback version of Changers’ Summer available next week which I think might sell better than the ebook. I have a couple of blog interviews lined up, a KND advert in September and a Goodreads giveaway set up.

        I think it is time to take the summer off promoting and concentrate on finishing the second book…

  6. Everyone’s a winner if we all set different goals.

    Here are my goals, in no particular order:

    To have buyers read and enjoy my books

    To make enough money from writing to live on

    To improve my writing and book production skills

    To establish a community of friends

    To have lots of fun

    To be able to share what I know, not only through books but by talks etc (ideally on cruise ships if anyone wants to book me)

    To help stop people looking down on indie writers and self-publishers.

    Martin Lake

  7. I want ONE BILLION DOLLARS…or at least some money so I can repay some debts. It’s good to set goals and this is a great article. You are doing wonderful for 3 months. Keep up the great work!

    1. Hey Geoff,

      Yeah, paying off the debts is a few steps after paying the rent. But if you want a billion dollars, there are probably easier career choices. Might I suggest banking? If you are really, really bad at it, you could get that billion dollars pretty quickly.

      1. “If you are really, really bad at it, you could get that billion dollars pretty quickly.”

        Oh, bailout humor! When will you ever get old? Great post David. Excellent advice for writers (or anyone who is approaching a career in anything, really).

        1. I think everyone in Ireland who is struggling to get a job at the moment (which is pretty much everyone) should put the following on their CV:

          I own 6 banks and employ 400,000 people in a variety of companies, and have interests in a variety of offshore gas and oil fields.

  8. Great post – this is exactly why I’m going indie. My goals are 1) to write stories that people can read (as in, not sitting on my hard drive) and enjoy, and 2) to make money – enough to supplement a decent retirement would be nice. When I weighed the options I realized self publishing is my best likelihood of achieving this – we no longer need a publishing deal!

  9. David, great post, and very timely. I just sat down the other day and created my Action Plan ™ for the next 16 months. Though it only covers a specific section of my goals (i.e. what I want to have published in that timeframe), I’ve also set myself a “if it happens, I’ll be happier than a pig in you-know-what” goal of supporting myself with my writing by the end of 2012. Lofty, I know, since I haven’t even gotten my first book published yet, but why not try?

    Of course there are more things that go with my goals than just monetary compensation (like you, I once wanted to see my name on a book in a store, but similarly, I think I’m past that — at least for the present), but picking small, tangible goals is definitely the way to go.

    So long as the goals are achievable, even if they’re not met, only good things can from setting them. If I’m able to publish five novels by the end of next year, I’m sure I’ll be selling enough to buy a box of cereal or two each month; I’ll have learned more than I ever thought I would about book production; and my writing will have improved by the very nature of writing so much, and receiving so much critical feedback from editing/beta readers.

    Sounds doable to me.

  10. A very sensible post, Dave. I agree with you especially on one particular matter, and that is don’t focus on goals you have no direct control over. I think writers can make that mistake far too frequently and this is why being realistic is so important.
    My own personal goal is to carry on like I have been doing over the past 18 months. I know that if I work as hard on my future books as I have done on my first, I can honestly say that if I don’t acheive the success I want, it won’t be through lack of trying.

    1. Hi Laura,

      You are right to focus on the work itself. Writing the best possible book you can is the biggest boost anyone can give their chances to being successful.

  11. Great post, David.
    I think that too many people are seeing the success of a handful of writers and then go into Indie writing with dollar signs in their heads. I am always surprised when someone bemoans a lack of sales. I feel just the opposite. I am shocked (humbled and grateful) when I do get great sales numbers.
    Not every movie is a huge hit. Not every tv show makes it beyond the first season. Most bands fail. Most songs are flops. Most businesses fail. So WHY do so many Indie writers expect to have huge sales as soon as they put their book up? Just because Amanda Hocking sold a ton of books, or Victorine Lieske had huge sales numbers, or Mark Edwards, Louise Voss, and J Carson Black just signed major publishing contracts, it doesn’t mean that you will. The odds are overwhelmingly against you if THAT is your goal.
    If you love to write, let THAT be your goal -to spend your life writing. Let your joy rest there. And if you work hard, continue to improve upon your craft, and stick with it – maybe you will achieve great sales or a publishing contract. Or maybe you won’t. It is quite possible that you could write all of your life and never achieve that kind of success. But, if YOU love the books you write, and maybe a few other people do too, isn’t that reward enough?

    1. Cheryl, I couldn’t agree more with your comment. One of my early goals was to make enough money to buy my kids whatever they wanted for Christmas and not have it bankrupt me for the rest of the year. A fine goal. But my VERY first goal when I started self-publishing was, write another book. Forget about everything else and write another book.
      Great post as always, David.

      1. Hi Stacey!

        Sometimes I wish I could write two books at the same time. It might stop all those ideas nagging me to be written when I am busy with something else!

      2. LOVE that goal, Stacey. Because it had nothing to do with you. It was about your kids. And making them happy. Sounds like a fine goal to me. 🙂
        Happy writing Stacey !

    2. Dean Wesley Smith wrote something a while back on all the things that can kill a writers career. They were all myths bar one: giving up. That’s the only thing that can truly kill a writing career. So your first book doesn’t race out of the gates. So what. Write another. And another. You will get there if you stick at it. Most writers give up before they even finish their first book. Many writers give up after a book or two because the sales weren’t as expected. But if you like at the guys who really made it big, most of them didn’t do so until they had written several books and had toiled away for years improving their craft. But the most important thing? They didn’t give up.

      If you set your goals purely as sales numbers, and expect to be racing up the charts with your first book, you are setting yourself up to fail. I think in John Locke’s book he talked a lot about achievable goals. He never said “I’m going to sell 100 books this month”, because that was out of his control. But he did say “I’m going to get 10 reviews this month.” That’s achievable, and THAT will lead to sales. But, as you said, it’s not all about sales. And if you make it all about that, you will never be satisfied.

      1. This has to be the best bit of advice for any writer. Never give up. But identify ‘achievable goals’ that are actually within your control.

        I have to agree that success based on sales would be an illusion anyway (at least at the beginning of a writer’s career), because it doesn’t matter which publication route you take- some writers will just take longer to find their target audience than others no matter what they do. If you give up, you’ll never know if you just missed finding your target audience by just a few more months… *shudder*…

        Good stuff.

  12. David: I would bet money that you are going to achieve your goals.
    Cheryl: Your comment and others reminded me again what a good group of people the self-publishers I know are: hard-working, realistic, grounded, and often very talented, too. Success? We get that on our own terms, too.

    1. Lindsay – I have a friend who always bets on his team to lose. His logic is that at least he can get over the defeat by enjoying his winnings, and that if they win, he will be too happy to care that he lost money. Maybe I should bet you that I will fail, and then I am covered!

    2. Yes, Lindsay. I agree. Look at the recent stories of Mark Edwards/Louise Voss and J Carson Black. They have been writing for YEARS. Very inspirational stuff.
      That is the amazing thing, to me, about the success of so many writers. They kept often kept writing for years with no encouragement or “success” at all. It has always been the same – read about Steinbeck’s early years. He once wrote that he was glad that he was getting so many rejections. At least that was one way of getting his book read. Gotta love that.

      1. Wow, if we get credit for writing without success… hurray for me! I started writing novels in 1992, in August, I think. So I am about to begin my TWENTIETH year writing. I got many rejections, little encouragement, and often felt silly talking about it because nothing happened for so long.

        And here I am. Finally.

      2. Hurray for you Patrice!
        I wrote for YEARS without telling anyone. And when I was published earlier this year, it was the first time my family or friends read my fiction.
        Good for you for hanging in there! Congrats!
        Let’s hang in there together! 🙂

  13. Congratulations on a great blog David.
    As a newly (couple of days) self published author on Smashwords I have found this blog very thought provoking and informative.
    What is my goal?
    It keeps changing. At first it was to write a book, then finish the book, then hope somebody likes it and so on. Having achieved my most recent goal of publishing an eBook, my next goal is to sell a reasonable number of copies.
    What’s a reasonable number – a few more than last week.
    Ultimately I think my goal is to walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelf. No matter how wonderful eBook technology becomes, and I am already converted and buy mainly eBooks, I think we all secretly want our names on an old fashioned paper book even though logic says eBooks are the future.
    Money – that would be nice too.

    1. Hey Eoin,

      You know why your goal keeps changing? Because you keep hitting them. That’s cool. Remember to enjoy the successes. Then aim for the next one.

      P.S. I think that some of my friends don’t really believe I’m a writer because they haven’t seen a print version yet. That will change soon!

  14. I’ll pass on the muffin baskets (I make excellent muffins, if I do say so myself.).

    My first goal is to make back the costs of my first novel. I’ve made 83% back in the first month. And the month isn’t over yet. 19 books to go and I’m making profit, baby!

    My next goal is to get out the next books (It’s coming! August!) and the next and the next. Like you, I plan to write in different genres, but mostly I plan to write in the fun genre mash-ups I love like whoa.

    My third goal is make a living doing this. And I believe that will happen. No doubt in my mind. May take 5 months or 5 years, but it WILL happen. And I’m not talking 6 figures. I’m talking the low 5s. I’m a relatively frugal person, so I don’t need 50K a year to live on. My other half teases me that I’d be happy in a telephone box if it meant I could write full time. He’s not far wrong.

    There was a time I dreamed of seeing my book in print. Of getting that big contract. Or of having my book turned into a movie. And blah, blah, blah. Not anymore. I’m already a writer. Better, I’m already an AUTHOR! People are buying and loving MY BOOKS. My books that I had total control over from beginning to end. And THAT is the biggest goal of them all.

    Okay, I admit, I still kinda dream of having my book turned into a movie. 🙂

    1. Shea,

      That is a stunning first month. Those 19 books should sell pretty quickly. Fantastic. Make sure to make lots of noise when you turn a profit!

      Having another release out so quickly after the first will be really good for you too. You should find that it also lifts sales of the first book – which is great. And new readers who like the first will just buy the second straight away.

      I love hearing stories like this. I’ll have to get you on to the blog some time in August to talk about your great start.


      P.S. A movie would be cool. But I’m not sharing a trailer with J Lo. Never again.

      1. I’ll definitely let out a few SQUEEs when I turn a profit. 🙂

        That was my hope with releasing the second book in the series within two months of the first. My plan is to get out a book every two months until the end of this year. If you’re gonna plan, might as well plan big, right? lol

        I like Moses’s idea for an HBO series. Morgan could totally get down with that. As long as J Lo isn’t in it.

        1. Every two months? Full length books? That’s a killer speed. You’ll be famous by Christmas. Especially if our literary feud really takes off.

  15. We have similar goals! I think it is very attainable for you to achieve your financial goal by October. Especially with your latest release that you wrote about for self publishing. You also write such an informative blog and are probably growing in traffic daily!

    I am like you in wanting to grow in my craft. I’m only 27 1/2. (Will be 28 in November). My debut which will be releasing in a few days is book 1 in a romantic comedy trilogy. A.K.A.-“chick lit” :). But, my husband and I are co-writing a classic love story and releasing it in December. Think Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook meets “A Walk in the Clouds”. It’s our dream/ goal for it to become a film in the future. I take the time to mention this because ten years from now, I want to be writing stellar classics. Think drama, court room, human rights, Pulitzer Prize (one day! Maybe when I’m 60! But that is a dream!)

    They say it takes ten years to become an expert at 4 hours a day. The only way to get better is to write more and more. I know that when I’m 37, I will be substantially better! I want to learn everything under the sun, too! haha. I guess as writers, we are also philosophers. We are communicators of ideas. It’s practically our job to learn. 🙂

    Thanks for this post. Very good! Like I said, I’m confident you’ll reach your goals! Those who set goals are one step closer to success than just aimlessly floating :).

    1. Hey Lacy,

      First out in a few days? You must be super-excited. And you are co-writing a romance with your husband! That’s hilarious. Is he writing the “man” bits and you the “woman” bits or are you mixing it up? Either way, it sounds like fun. Writing partnerships are the new black.

      You are right. The only way to get better is to keep writing, writing, writing (and reading).

      Good luck with your release.

  16. For the most part, I’m not entirely worried about the money part. What I’m really concerned about is the reader base. The fans. The commenters. The critics. The trolls. What I’m saying is: I’ve poured four years into this book, edited it, InDesign placed, and ebook converted, so that I can prove to myself that my overactive unmedicated imagination can do something more then keep me sane for the whole day. Will people like my stories? Can they handle it? Can I be a successful amateur marketer? And most of all, who am I going to piss off?

    But…when that’s not in my mind, then I look at the income. Paying rent would be nice. Buying my first Mac with my own money is nice. Until then, I have to keep writing and find a job to get started.

  17. I’ve thought about this a lot. It always comes down to different levels of goals.

    On a personal/spiritual level, I want to tell the best stories I can and make a significant, positive impact on someone’s life.

    On a potentially realistic material level, I want to be able to write full time with a comfortable income and a balanced work schedule while inspiring my readers and following my own passion.

    On a shoot-for-the-stars level, I want my books made into an HBO series. I’d settle for Hollywood if they’d do a good job with the story. 😉

  18. Hi, David

    Just my two cents, but I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot by pricing your first full-length novel at $4.99. Look at it this way: at $2.99, you earn a higher royalty than you would from a trad-published hardback, and maybe three times as much as you would from a trad-published MMP. Is going for $3.50 rather than $2 per copy really worth the likely huge decrease in the number of copies you’re likely to sell? You’re still in the stage where you should be trying to get more readers. At $2.99 you’ll get a lot more new readers than you would at $4.99.

    1. Hi Robert,

      I’ve thought a lot about my pricing structure. I have single short stories for 99c. I have a 60k non-fiction book for $2.99. I will be bundling the shorts into collections of 5 as I go for $2.99. I’ve thought long and hard about the price point for the novel. The length is substantial, and I think I can make more at that price point. I think if you position something correctly, you can make $4.99 seem like a bargain.

      In any event, the only firm belief I have with pricing is that you should be flexible. I will start at $4.99, and if it doesn’t work, I haven’t really lost anything. I can just cut it down to $3.99 or $2.99.


    2. I hope I didn’t seem dismissive there. You make a good case. I may change my mind on this. But I think I’m going to test my theory that the market can hold $4.99 for this title.

      1. You might be better off doing the opposite. Price it at $2.99 initially to gain new readers, get reviews on Amazon, and so on. Then, after you have a few months of experience at that price, try boosting it to $3.99 to see what happens. If royalties don’t drop, you can then try $4.99. But I’m betting that $2.99 will turn out to be your optimum. Until, that is, you have more of the series (you are doing a series, right?) complete. Then you can price this one at $0.99 to introduce the series to new readers and price the later books at $2.99 or higher.

        1. It’s not a series (I like doing things the hard way).

          You have a point. Vincent Zhandri did just that. He dropped the price to 99c. Once he hit the Top 20, he jacked the price up to $4.99. He fell, but not that fast, and made a hell of a lot of money on the way down. Although he already had an audience. It could work, maybe, on a smaller scale.

          But as it’s not a series, I’m going to go all in. Try the $4.99. If it doesn’t work, I have a lot of room to cut. I have books at the 99c & $2.99 price points. At worst, I’ll learn something new.

      2. I’m really curious to see how $4.99 works. I think it’s a great idea to start there. We’ve got to start raising prices for quality, book length work. I’m keeping mine at $.99 for the rest of the summer to build an audience, but then it’s going back up. Since dropping the price, there’s been an uptick in sales, but not a huge one. I say go with $4.99. The worst that could happen is you give it a few months and move it down a notch.

        I’m with everyone else who thinks you’ll easily meet your long-term goal. Think of how different all this was ten years ago. Now try to imagine what it will be like ten years from now. Getting immersed in this now is going to lay the foundation for a very long career. World markets are going to open up for eBooks during the next few years and he who has a nice virtual shelf of quality books is going to do very well.

  19. “Decide what your dreams are. Decide what’s important to you. Then set a series of obtainable goals – that you can work towards – that will bring you closer to your dream.”

    Excellent excellent advice. I have the dreams down, but I haven’t really outlined the series of obtainable goals. Something to really put some thought into.

    I admit it, after wanting to be a writer since I was 12 (and finishing my first novel at 13), my dreams include breaking records and a writing income that would provide great financial freedom and the ability to travel. On the way there, however, I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction and joy in the response from my readers. I’m beginning to see the kind of fans John Locke was talking about, and it’s amazing (even in very small numbers).

  20. This is a great post. Thank you.

    I’ve always been rather cavalier and secretive about my goals when it comes to this self-publishing gig, but they lurk in my head all the same. The most important one is implied: do my best work. This one tends to stem the panic that arises by the number of books other authors have already introduced and their pending success, especially when I feel so far behind with only two novels available.

    My next goal is to try not to compare the success of others to mine or lack thereof. This goal is harder to maintain. It may not be a goal; it’s more of mantra.

    The next goal is this: try not to let social media and marketing take over my writing life. This is a continual goal.

    Your blog is quickly moving to the top of my favorite list because you cover current events in self-publishing so well and with such a inspirational point-of-view. Thank you for that! Your Let’s Get Digital book is great, by the way. I’ve been through the process of self-publishing already, but truly enjoyed all the aspects you cover including all the author success stories at the end.

  21. Love this post. Definitely spoke to me. My main goal – like you – is to make a living from writing. Actually, my others goals are the same too… Writing lots of good stories, in lots of genres and building an audience who is enriched by my stories. Lately though, I’ve been wondering how much I’m willing to sacrifice to reach these goals. It’s been food for thought to consider alternatives to writing. I can no doubt earn quite a bit of money along the way if I stick to certain careers/industries. This money might/might not be matched by writing; alright, to be brutally honest, writing probably won’t be able to match up with what I can earn elsewhere. And it’s pretty seductive to think of a relatively secure paycheque arriving at my doorstep every month, even if it’s derived from a career that is only pleasantly satisfying.

    But ultimately though, I think that most writers have to get the stories in their head down one way or another – it’s not really a choice anymore, is it, when the story keeps playing around in your head, asking you to write it? And the satisfaction of having readers probably trumps anything most other professions can offer. Oh, and hitting the Kindle Bestseller list of course;) Hmmmm, I thinks we’re all pretty lucky to be writers in this time. There’re so many opportunities to find readers and get your work out there. No matter what the publishing industry morphs into, I think writers are going to have a happy selection of routes to publication. And that can’t be a bad thing.

    1. Agreed. It’s a kind of madness. We need to get these stories out there. Getting paid for it just makes life easier. But not being able to write would drive us crazy.

    2. Isabella,
      I think you’ll find life stretches to include all kinds of dreams. The job and the writing may not be so far apart. I find the more I have to do the more I get done. I have problems with large stretches of nothing to do than a long day to do one thing.

      I hope you find the right balance.

      1. Ug.. I meant.. I have problems with large stretches of a long day with one thing to do than a short day of lots to do. I think that’s right — I’m having that short day today.

      2. Hey Josephine,

        Very true:) Btw, apart from the fact that I too found a cool Zen-like quality in the first version of what you said:), that version was pretty relevant to me personally – have taken time off work for a bit and find I’m actually dealing badly with having large stretches of nothing to do hehe:) Definitely wrote more when I was working full time. Funny… Okay, time to reignite the old work ethic and get things done!

  22. Well, I am (typically) the opposite of the norm. I DO want to sell a million copies! My goal is to sit astride the bestseller lists, casting lesser tomes down at those clawing their way up from below…
    Well, maybe not so much casting. But I really do have ambitious aims – I want to make my genre (travel) much cooler, more accessible to everyday readers. I want to do for Travel Writing what Terry Pratchett did for fantasy – and become a household name in the process.
    But there’s one more dimension to what I write, which unveils a secret desire of mine – I’d love people to be inspired by my books, to travel, to volunteer and to have really amazing adventures as a result. It’d be way cooler to meet someone whilst traveling and find out they’d done it because of what I wrote, than just to meet a regular fan. I’d love to think I could… well, change lives is far too grand a statement and should be reserved for the Richard Bach’s and Jack Canfield’s amongst us, but I’d like to make a small difference.

      1. I hate to say it, Dave, but my money is on Shea. If she can channel her main character’s vampire hunting skills you won’t stand a chance. Of course you have a South American Revolutionary — hmm… Nah, vampire hunter, for sure.

  23. Excellent post as always. :3

    I just like telling stories. I always have. But for a little while I did like thinking it would be neat to see my book in a store. To see it dog-eared and beat up in someone’s hands or bookbag and think, “That’s me they’re reading” and silently smile because I knew I wrote that. I’m giving them a little escape.

    I’m not in it for the money, even though it would be nice to live on. I’m not in it for the popularity (I hate being seen or talked to because I’m a naturally suspiciousnervous type). But I just like to tell stories. I want people to hearread them. That’s all I want.

    And if that comes with money and stuff, that’s cool. XD

  24. I guess my dream would be to have real fans who appreciate my work and come back to read more. I believe it’s very helpful to have a support group.

    Making a living off my writing would be amazing, but I’m barely starting out so I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Right now I’m just releasing all my short stories for free so that I can build an audience. Basically I’m a college student taking things one step at a time, testing the waters.

    I’ve heard that obscurity is one of the author’s greatest enemies, so I’ll be pretty happy if I can at least avoid that outcome.

  25. “Every two months? Full length books? That’s a killer speed. You’ll be famous by Christmas. Especially if our literary feud really takes off.”

    Yep. That is the plan. And so far I’m on track.

    PS. Why do you think I started the feud? All part of my evil plan for world domination. BWAHAHAHA!

  26. I recently read a blog post in which the author spoke about the difference between jobs and work. Her point was, we don’t need jobs. We need to help people find the work they have a passion for, the work through which they can provide value to others by doing something they would gladly do for free if they could afford to.

    That post really spoke to me, because all I’ve ever wanted in all of my long life was to be left alone to do the work that meant something to me at the time. Yes, I’ve put in a few years working a day job–enough to give me a small Social Security check every month. With that, and with the rent money from a little cabin I own, I am fortunate that I don’t have to do 40-hour weeks for somebody else.

    When the proceeds of my book sales surpassed my Social Security payment, I was thrilled! When they surpassed the rent money from my cabin, I was astonished! I’m well on the way to doubling my previous retirement income, and that is quite a significant pay raise for me.

    I believe that the technological changes that are coming thick and fast in the 21st century will enable a lot more people to give up their jobs for the work they really want to do and make a living at it. It used to be that you had to get big to be successful. I’m starting to think that it’s time for us to get small again.

  27. My goals are fairly simple. I hope to be able to write all the stories I have swimming in my head before I die and find satisfied readers for them. When I write YA I imagine some girl growing up a little better and happier for having read a book of mine. And when I write adult stories I picture either someone having a tough time getting a few moments of enjoyment from what I write or perhaps I’ve given them something that makes them think a little deeper.

    I’d like to do this while still maintaining a presence in my family’s life so I’m not that mom who sat holed up in the office staring at a computer screen all day. And I’d like to have real life adventures too (the good kind, not the running for your life kind).

    And yeah, the HBO series when I’m dreaming ‘big’ sounds good too 😉 .

    1. The thought that someone in Egypt or Brazil or Romania has read a story of mine just blows my mind. The thought of any stranger reading a story of mine is crazy. To think I could make them laugh or cry or throw a book across the room in frustration at my muddled prose (admittedly harder to do with an e-book) is amazing.

  28. Great post. Totally agree. Sometimes when some of the big shot self pubbers talk about agents, movie rights, foreign translations and whether or not to take a half million dollar advance from the big 6 I fell like I reading some silly article in a mens magazine about how to get three girls at once. Most of us are lucky to pay a bill or two with our writing, and our great hope is to one day just be able to get by. We also want to write quality works, to connect with an audience, and to do something we can be proud of. As Einstein said, “The rest is just details.”

  29. Thanks, David, another winner of a post.

    Like most every writer I know, I want to be able to have enough time to write my stories, stories which, I believe, need to be written, stories which I believe I am the best one to write, and in the process, become the greatest writer I can be. But I also want to make money, slowly but surely, enough to help support my extended family. Right now I don’t need to support myself totally: I have pensions, earned the old-fashioned way. But I have grandchildren and I’d love to be able to say, here, pick out whatever college you’d like to go to. If my stories can give me that kind of power, I’d be happy. (Alas, the need for more money never goes away.)

    Until a few months ago, I never thought I’d be able to make anything other than loose change. Now I think there’s hope, in large part because of the times we live in, and because of blogs like yours that keep writers like me energized and help us understand our self-publishing options, and because of your wonderful book, Let’s Get Digital. So keep up the great work.

    I feel like we’re just on the cusp of a revolution, on the start of a long road that will have twists and turns. How can it not, since e-publishing changes with every new tablet, every new Amazon e-store opening and marketing change? (Oh, if we only knew Amazon’s Five Year Plan since, as someone pointed out, they own the stream, or at least a huge chunk of it.)


  30. Another wonderful post, as usual, and a lot of great discussion too! My immediate goal is to finish and publish my current project, hopefully before the end of the year. Overall, what I want the most is to write the best stories that I can and have people read and enjoy them, and it would certainly be nice to have it become a source of income in the process. Lately I’ve been feeling especially eager to have other people start reading what I write – I have my own fun writing, but I want to share the experience of the story with others and see how they react (even though that last thought also scares me quite a bit). Of course I’ve got to keep a rein on that eagerness, since I don’t want to push anything out before it’s really ready. But I’m starting to get excited.

  31. A muffin basket? I always thought that was sexual slang. But I’ll have one anyway. I have just turned down a contract with a well-known legacy publisher for reasons I will discuss in detail on my blog. I will also send any of you who are interested a copy of that contract and you can tell me what you would have done.
    My lifelong dream was to write books that would outlive me and that my kids could be proud of.
    That dream was shelved and for most of my life I have earned a good living as a professional
    screenwriter. Over the next six months I will be self-publishing three books.
    Dreams die hard. And self-publishing gives us back our dreams.

  32. I’m very much there with you, David. I used to want traditional publishing; the agent, the million dollar book deal, hobnobbing it with the Big Guns…but that has changed in such a short, short period of time. I self-published my first story in June and have put up five since then. The reception has been wonderful. I’m feeling more validated about my writing than I ever have before, as well as actually writing more than ever, and to me, that’s much more important than getting in with a publisher.

    Like you, my goal is simple: make a living from my writing. I don’t mean get rich and buy a huge mansion where I park my Mercedes Benz and swim in my multi-million dollar pool. I mean, earn what I’m making now at my current (soul-sucking) job so that I can leave it. I call it my Five Year Plan; but how cool would it be if it takes only a year or two? That would be success to me.

  33. Good luck, David! If you want my opinion, I think you will achieve a lot more than just not having to worry about money. I’m betting that you will go much farther than that.

  34. I went out for Chinese food tonight, took my laptop, and read every reply over my eggrolls. What a wonderful discussion. I hope all your dreams come true. And why not? A lot of them are practical.

    My dream is to work on a philosophy degree without taking out a student loan. I would love to earn enough money from writing to return to school part-time. My second dream is to stay home in my jeans, sit on the couch with my collie, and write more stories. I put a tiny ebook online three weeks ago, will put up a sci-fi/fantasy novel this week, and have two more projects that should be ready in the fall.

    Good luck, everybody. I raise my glass to you.

    1. hollistergrant,

      When I read your comment, I wanted to smile. That was basically my dream come yrs back (well, substitute the philosophy with literature, and it’s about right). Managed to work my butt off enough to finance the studies, and it’s been worth it – my bonus is that I’ve also inadvertently financed time off to work on those stories while sitting on the couch in my tattered old jeans:) It’s a great feeling to see your dreams come true, one at a time. I wish the same for you (and everyone else here!). Hmmmm, this is an inspiring post/discussion:)

      1. Thanks, Isabella! You’ve inspired me. I’m glad you were able to take those classes. Here’s to creating stories in those beloved old jeans.

  35. Fantastic post! And congratulations on your book sales!

    My goals in terms of how to publish my books have changed recently. Like you, I’ve always wanted to write the best books I can possibly write and sell enough books to be a full-time writer. However, I used to dream of being published by a Big Six publisher, and now I dream of increasing my sales on books that I self-publish. I first self-published three novels and three short stories for 99 cents each on Kindle in March. My daily book sales have increased 17X, with a tremendous increase in sales this month, actually surpassing my sales goal for this month. I’m finding so many fantastic self-published books by other authors, I now think this is a very cool way to publish. I’m currently working on the final rewrite of a science fiction novel that I plan to complete and self-publish either this fall or winter. Although I hope to sell many copies of this novel, my most important goal is to make this novel the best it can possibly be and then share it with readers. 🙂

    In the meantime, my indie-published short stories are being considered for a possible TV series, including a possible series for the SyFy network, by a joint company formed by my indie publisher and the Executive Producer for THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies. I’ve also been invited by one of the top Hollywood agents who reads work from authors only by referral to submit all my future work to him after he read my novels and short stories. I’d love to have my work turned into movies and TV shows, so even just a remote possibility of this makes me happy. 🙂

    1. Marilyn, that’s fantastic. Good for you. I also know that you don’t sit around and wait for things to happen — you’re a very hardworking person who makes her dreams come true. I remember you wrote on Nathan Bransford’s website about that science fiction novel — I’m glad it will finally be out there for readers.

  36. Another great post, David. My goal is to continue to support myself by writing. I’ve achieved this for 20+ years now and I suspect indie publishing is going to make that easier, certainly a damn sight easier than it was when I started out. I think you are doing the right thing by pricing your novel at $4.99. You don’t need to get enormous numbers of sales to make a decent amount of money and if you are aiming at a potentially specialised audience you need to maximise your return if you are going to have a career. I sold about 35 books in the first few weeks at this price. It does not sound like much but the money is the same as I would get selling hundreds of paperbacks in the US. Yep, I realise everybody around here already knows this but that simple fact absolutely astounds me. It makes the whole process real in a way that nothing else has. I once owned a small publishing company and I know what it would have taken to sell those hundreds of paperbacks even just a decade ago. It’s boggling how easy it is now.

    1. Us youngsters don’t know how easy we have it 🙂

      What did you used to get on a mass-market paperback? 60c a copy? And you can earn 6 times that now if you sell at $4.99?

      Yeah, I’d say things have gotten a little easier.

      35 copies might not sound like much, but that’s over $120 in royalties which would have required selling 200 mass-market paperbacks (and getting the money at least six months later – if you were lucky). You have a lot of readers out there in print. It’s only a matter of time before you find them and they find you. 99% of them probably don’t even know that you have these new titles out as e-books. But that word will spread. And you don’t have to print up any new copies to sell to those guys too. In fact, you don’t have to put your hand in your pocket at all.

      1. Hey Dave,

        Not sure my publisher would appreciate me mentioning the exact numbers but let me just say it is less than the figure you have mentioned (this is for US mass market paperbacks).

        I am totally with you on the reader percentage business. One thing that pushed me into indie publishing was the startling realisation that if one in a hundred of the people who picked up my paperback books bought the ebook I could earn a living from ebooks. It would not be a great living but I have lived on less. (I did my stint as a starving writer in Prague in the early 90s.) In these days of publishing uncertainty, that is quite a reassuring thought.

        Just wanted to add that I have been a long term traveller/expat (coming on 20 years now) and it’s all been funded by writing so I know your plan of writing and travelling is completely doable and I think you are doing the right thing going for it.

        1. Hey Bill,

          I was living in Czech two summers ago myself. Spent a little time in Prague (Zhizkov) before moving to Caslav (near Kutna Hora). Really miss the Svickova and the Gambrinus.


    2. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your experiences. I was telling my traditionally published friend, whose first books came out in the mid-90’s, about my sales to date. My new Kindle novel was available on July 7th — just 22 days ago — and I have already made more (a few hundred dollars) than she ever made in royalties. Of course, she got advances… but those advances were nothing you could live on. Most of them were in the $3,000 range. And because of the realities of traditional publishing [see David’s fabulous “Let’s Get Digital,” available above, for details on how few books ever earned out] her books were often not even printed in great enough quantities to earn out the advance and get her to the royalty stage. Plus, of course, they only stayed on the bookstore shelves for about six weeks. Certainly you know all this by virtue of your publishing experience.

      The world has changed!

      I started out selling my book at $4.99, but I’ve put it on sale at $2.99, because I want to goose the early sales and get the word out. One frustration is that it takes 24 hours for Amazon to change the price! I guess I’m a bit impatient. After all, I’ve been writing novels since 1992, and finally I’m getting one out to readers. But then, that’s why it’s so good, (she says modestly). As described in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” I have put in my 10,000 hours, and learned how to write a riveting story.


      1. Hey Patrice,

        That’s great about the royalties. One other thing worth bearing in mind is that people are actually buying your book. Often publishers pay large advances to authors whose books will never earn out or even sell many copies. Each of your sales is a genuine, non-returnable (in the sense it can’t be cover-stripped) sale to an actual reader.

        A point I forgot to make earlier about selling your book at a higher price is that the buyer is (possibly) more likely to read it. I am as guilty as the next man of buying 99 cent books that I may or not read as an impulse purchase. If I pay a higher price I am more likely to actually read it. I suspect this is true of many people. That said, this may simply be my personal bias,


      2. Not only that, Patrice, but you are also directly connecting with your readers.

        I remember wanting to get in touch with an author of a history book I read, both to compliment him on his work, and to ask him about something intriguing in his book that he only mentioned in passing. By the time I hunted down a working email for his publisher, and by the time it was channeled through several people and passed to him, and by the time he replied and it worked its way all the way back to me, his reply was just seeking a clarification on what I was looking for. At that point (months later), I replied, but it must have got lost along the way somewhere.

        I have my email address and blog address in the back of my books. Anyone can contact me (and they do). I love getting emails from readers. I love hearing what they think of my books (most of the time!). And I’m also sure that building that direct connection means that some of them are more likely to consider buying the next, or at least remember my name the next time they stumble across mention of me or my books.

        In the old days, replying to letters would have been time-consuming, burdensome, and costly. Today, you can fire a quick email in a few minutes. You can also point them to your newsletter if they wish to sign up. Then, every time you have a new release, they will hear about it instantly. Technology has made building an audience, connecting directly with them, and then keeping them interested in your future work so much easier. It’s wonderful.

        And there is nothing nicer than opening your laptop in the morning and getting a nice email from a reader.

      3. Bill – Interesting point about the price indicating value, and thus spurring buyers to actually read it! I definitely agree with that. Then again, once I start a book, I hate to leave it unfinished… even if it’s not very good. I’m annoyed about my wasted time, and, throwing good minutes after bad, I guess, I want to finish the darn thing to find out what happens and see if it gets any better! Which it often doesn’t, but at least I’m not left wondering…

        Dave (can I call you Dave?) – One of the neat things about the opening days of having my book available on Kindle is that friends and acquaintances, rather than thinking — “oh, it’s not a REAL book, it’s just a book by my friend Patrice” — seem to be tickled that they know the author personally. And further, instead of being put off by the fact that it’s an eBook, some of them are very impressed that I am into this chic newfangled way of publishing which they’ve heard about but haven’t experienced.

        Lordy, I’m cool and hot at the same time!


        1. There’s that kind of attention, and then there is the kind of attention when the music stops just as the bartender shouts “Sir, it’s time for you to leave.”

  37. Another great site to come back to and read and learn from. If only there was time! I’ll never get my 9 books written unless I chuck my computer out of the window, but then what would I write with…?!
    Thanks David. Even if I don’t find the time to thoroughly read your site as it seems to deserve, I am now thinking of my goals. And here I totally agree with what you say. Why set a goal to become a best-seller when I can’t do that, ie it is not in my control to do it? But I can set a goal to finish one novel/get it in eprint/set the standard I am happy with etc etc.

    Good work, keep it up!

  38. Um, did you go into my brain yesterday? Cos I wrote a somewhat similar (I’m scared at how similar) post for Carrie Mumford yesterday (http://blog.carriemumford.com/) and it went up today. Just in case you run across it and wonder if I stole your brain…

    I’ll just say that I agree with everything you’ve said and that’s almost exactly how I feel. Wow. I hope you’re on Twitter so we can chat 😀

  39. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

    As for pricing, my two books are at $9.99, except for a short one at $2.99. I have a very targeted audience (people who like Bigfoot adventure stories). So far this month, I’m looking at $900 in sales (B&N and Azon), and my sales seem to be going up about 30% each month. So, having a smaller audience means selling at a higher point might work. So far, I’m really happy about that, as my fly fishing guide business has been slow because of the high waters. And I haven’t seen a single Bigfoot. 🙂

  40. Rusty,
    I think it’s pretty cool you write Bigfoot books. There is a big interest in all those Bigfoot searches right now, so you have good timing with your books.

  41. I for one am a huge fan of Bigfoot stories, and a Sasquatch plays a pretty large role in a book I’ve got on the back burner right now. I’ve just started up a blog for the book I’m currently working on, a political thriller set against an alien invasion. I’m publishing each chapter in rough draft form to elicit responses and criticisms, but I’m just starting out – so far response has been pretty awesome! At the end, I hope to have a roughly 350 page novel that may be the beginning of a trilogy, which I’m planning to take to the Kindle. This blog is great, and an inspiration!

  42. I think my first goal is to pay off my house, the second would be to quit my job. I just sat down and figured out “who much money” that would entail. Hm… lots of work to do… Another great blog! Thanks!

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