Fighting With Both Hands Publishing Writing

The LibertiesThis blog has been quieter than usual lately and I thought I should let you know what I’ve been doing.

I’m going to prattle on for quite a while; you might want to get comfortable (or head off to Tumblr).


It’s good to do a bit of soul searching now and then, to look at what you have achieved, where your career is headed, and to decide if you are on the right track.

My goals and dreams have changed a lot since I started self-publishing in 2011. I haven’t been a big success, but I’ve been able to tick off little career milestones along the way. Some months my sales are wonderful, some months they are terrible – generally a function of how long it is since I released or promoted something. Overall, the good months more than outweigh the bad and I’ve been scratching out a living for a while now.

Dream: achieved.

But the sales maw, as all writers know, is insatiable. So I’ve been noodling ways to take my career to the next level.

I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the publishing/marketing side of things, but I’m still serving my apprenticeship as a writer – especially as a writer of fiction. Non-fiction comes naturally to me. I find it quicker and easier and (much) less of a brain-melting puzzle. Whereas, fiction is much more of a challenge – probably why I find it ultimately more satisfying.

My goals tend to focus on aspects of the craft, rather than some notional sales number. There is always something particular I want to achieve (that’s a euphemism for “work on”) with each book, aside from the general desire to make it better than the last one – and I think that’s something most writers do.

But, perhaps partly because of the above, I wasn’t necessarily selecting my projects with my “career” hat on. I gave an interview to Simon Whistler at Rocking Self-Publishing last September, during the launch of Digital 2 (disclosure: he subsequently became my narrator for the audio edition).

Simon asked why I wrote all over the map: short stories, science fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, and asked if that was something I would recommend to others.

I believe my reply was something like “Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha… no” before comparing it to fighting with one hand behind your back.

If you look at my output since I started self-publishing it’s, eh, a bit of a mess. I first published a pair of short stories which could be classified as literary fiction, or weird fiction, or slipstream, or whatever. Next was a meatier SF short. Then a book for writers. That was followed by a historical novel more towards the “literary” end of the spectrum. Then another book for writers. Next, I spent quite a bit of time on a dystopian project that ultimately got shelved. After that, another historical novel, but this one was more towards the “action/adventure” end of the spectrum. And so on.

The problem (aside from relatively meager output, which I’ll get to) is pretty obvious. None of these projects are linked in any way, aside from the two writers’ books. And, as everybody knows, it’s much, much easier to make money and build an audience through a series. There are plenty of authors who do write across different genres and make a success of it, but they don’t take such a scattergun approach.

I know this is all pretty obvious to most of you. The advice from Day 1 has been: write a series, write in a popular genre, and write as fast as you can. And I’m fully aware this is advice I have given! There’s an element of “Physician, heal thyself” here.

But I think this is a phase a lot of writers go through – maybe it’s something they need to get out of their system. Most seem to do it at the start, before they find their groove, but we’ve all seen successful authors walk away from a cash cow to write something totally unrelated, and then return to the series/genre that was making them money (when the side-project – as is often the case – generates underwhelming sales).

It has taken me a while to reach this point because (a) I’m stupid, (b) I’m stubborn, and (c) I’m a very slow writer. Or was a very slow writer. I’ve been focusing on my process over the last year or so, trying to identify what is slowing me down, and what I can do about it.

And I’m making progress. I published two books last year – which is a snail’s pace for many of you… but let’s just say my first book took me something like four years, on and off. (I’m pretty sure I’ve put the requisite 10,000 hours into procrastination at this point, and I can cry-eat cake like a pro.)

One aspect I focused on last year was the speed I produced a first draft – the major blockage at the time. Two resources helped me greatly:

  1. 2k to 10k cover WRP coverFrom 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron; and,
  2. Write. Publish. Repeat (specifically the section on Story Beats).

(Disclosure: I was in a box set with the WRP guys, but that’s no longer on sale, and my recommendation of that book predates that arrangement because it’s fab).

After digesting those two books (which went a little like this), I cracked out a first draft of Mercenary – around 75k words in 24 days, and writing by hand too. I think it was ready for the editor a month or two later, and I was very happy with the finished product.

One of the reasons I wanted to speed up my writing process (aside from all the obvious ones) is that having more titles enables you to take bigger risks with your marketing, and I think fortune very much favors the brave in the current environment, something I spoke about here.

Back to Mercenary. As I’d produced it (relatively!) quickly, I decided to take a risk with its launch and release it at 99c. My mailing list was something of a FrankenList (see scattered output above) and I wanted to make the prospect of trying my historicals as frictionless as possible.

That part went really well – off the top of my head I think I sold 500 copies in the first four days, which had me salivating about a Scrooge McDuck pile of cash, but it ended up a little more like this.

Sales of Mercenary stopped dead as soon as my readers/platform had bought it, and Amazon’s algorithms never pitched in as expected to help sell the book for me. It took me a while to figure out why, especially as I was somewhat confident regarding its quality.

In short, my idea of getting non-HF readers to try my stuff was a little too successful – the Also Boughts for Mercenary were filled with non-HF books. Because Also Boughts are central to the whole recommendation engine, when Amazon’s system began suggested my book to prospective purchasers, it was the wrong readers (i.e. non-HF readers).

Lesson learned.

After I released Digital 2 in September, I traveled to a writing conference in York and another in Italy, and took some time to plot my next move. I had already started a historical called Rubber Soldiers but I was wondering if it was the smartest move commercially, given that it was another standalone, and not even linked by setting or time period to any existing… [snip].

At least I was aware I had a problem, right?

It was time for a wake-up call, which came in the form of a speech Bella Andre delivered at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, where she explained how she went from kind of treading water in traditional publishing to being a multi-million selling self-publisher.

The fascinating part was that she actually sat down and analyzed the market and concluded that (a) most mega-selling authors had a long-running series, (b) often didn’t hit that crazy breakout level of success until as late as the fifth book in a series, and (c) publishers didn"t like offering longer than two- or three-book deals (and, obviously, cut authors loose if the numbers weren"t amazing, or asked them to start a new series, or new pen-name, or whatever).

Bella Andre concluded, if memory serves, that she was going to write a five-book series and self-publish it. Or maybe it was eight books. Either way, the rest is history.

Her new series was an astonishing success and I think it’s up to ten or eleven books now. Bella also has several other series on the go, has signed all sorts of interesting hybrid, foreign, and print-only deals, and she has probably sold more than 5m books at this point (a conservative estimate). She also happens to be very nice and friendly, always willing to give advice to others, and you get the somewhat scary sense that she is only getting started.

Anyway, I’ve heard uber-successful people speak before, and I’ve read all sorts of books on writing and publishing, as well as lots of biographies of famous authors – like any other writer. And it’s my natural disposition to poke and prod and query and question, before taking bits of the advice that I like, in quite a piecemeal fashion, and then cobble it together into… something else.

This time I decided to try a different approach. For once, I wanted to be the person who just says, “Okay, I’m going to try all of that.”

A light bulb went off (on?) in my head, especially when Bella advised finding the overlap between what you like to write, and what sells. I decided to try sketching out a series that was a little more commercial but still satisfied me creatively. I don’t really mean that in an overly arty sense – it’s more that I can lose focus if I’m not engaged with the idea (see: any number of abandoned WIPs on my hard drive).

I hadn’t been avoiding writing a series based on some high-falutin’ notions – I’d just never actually sat down to try and sketch one out. I’m not sure why, exactly. Perhaps I felt I couldn’t come up with an idea I could sustain over several books.

Anyway, I got over that and started planning. I knew what I wanted to write: a historical adventure with a little more commercial appeal than my output to date. I decided that, over a number of books, I could literally bring readers to my favorite setting (Latin America) by having the hero start in one that’s more familiar (Ireland, Napoleonic-era).

Walking GallowsI read (and re-read) plenty of classics and big-sellers in the genre, watched a whole bunch of movies, and, for the first time, tried to break them down in a structured way and find the common elements. I came up with a sparse outline of something that could work over five books, or more if it’goes well. And then once I had a general idea of the series arc, I wrote a loose outline for the first book and started researching.

That period took longer than expected. Irish history can be… somewhat contentious. I also had a couple of false starts. Even though I was only halfway through research and didn’t have a proper outline, I decided to give Nanowrimo a whirl.

I wrote my 2k or so on the first day, and then didn’t get very much further than that. More experienced writers will spot the problem right away: the outline. I had an inkling myself, and had a few more stabs at it while completing the research, and wasted lots of time with things like moving the timeline back and forward, and so on.

And had a few more false starts.

TakeOffYourPantscoverThen I read a wonderful book called Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker and I finally learned how to properly outline a story. Note: as this is often a hilariously controversial issue, I’m not saying the way you work is wrong, but that I found a method that worked for me for the first time.

Take Off Your Pants! is a great little read and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I could fill a whole blog post on why I loved it, but let’s just say this:

I read it in a day or two, taking some notes as I went. A couple of days later, I read through it again in one sitting, and did what she told me to do at each point, and by the end I had a functioning outline. A couple of days later I turned that into my Story Beats, and then a few days later (i.e. this Monday) I started the first book, and it has been going along at a very nice clip indeed all week. I have no real moments where I’m staring at the blank page wondering what to write, and no real panic about where the book is going. I like this strange new feeling!

While struggling with all of that, I’ve also been looking ahead to the eventual launch. I’m currently planning to write the first two or three back-to-back before releasing the first, with the hope of building more momentum. I’ll work out the details closer to the launch, and there are plenty of options now with pre-orders etc.

At the same time, I’m trying to ensure there are readers waiting for this.

I zipped through Reader Magnets by Nick Stephenson back in November or December and decided to implement his mailing list strategy. Again, I’ll post about this in more detail further down the line, but the short version is:

  • I redesigned my reader website and then made Mercenary permafree everywhere.
  • Mercenary opens and closes with an ad for A Storm Hits Valparaiso, which they also get for free… if they go to my site and sign up to my mailing list. The book is still full price otherwise.
  • This new separate mailing list, hopefully readers in my target market, is up to around ~850 names (over four months or so), and that should be a lot more by the readermagnetscovertime I launch this series – especially if I throw a BookBub at it. And that"s separate from the FrankenList which has north of 2,000 names (new list is growing at 9x the rate, if you are curious).

There’s more to Nick’s strategy and you should check out the book. I can’t say for sure what proportion of these guys will be buyers until I launch something, but Mercenary wasn’t pulling in huge money at the time, so it wasn’t much of a gamble for me, and others have had great results with this strategy.

So… that’s where I am right now.

I’m not saying I’ve invented this cool new thing called The Wheel. I’m sure this is all second nature to most of you, but I hope that breaking down my own struggle with this stuff brings a little clarity to someone else who is fumbling around blindly. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to grasp, or begin to grasp, all this without others sharing what they did and how they did it.

I’m also not assuming this new series will be a success. Not at all. I still have to write the bloody thing, and I’ve only just started Book 1. But it feels like I’m moving in the right direction, like I have a genuine career plan for the first time, and that the creative and wonga-hungry bits of my brain are finally working together.

And that feels great.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

83 Replies to “Fighting With Both Hands”

  1. Interesting story to date, David. Thanks for sharing it!

    And I"m glad to know I"m not the only one wondering what I should be working on, and what strategic path I should aim for!

  2. Good luck with this David. I"ve read all the books you mentioned – and many more besides – trying to find a method that works for me. When I reach the end of each one I think, “Yes! At last” – and promptly slip back into my old lazy ways, or find some reason why it won"t work for my stories (British whodunits/cozy mysteries.

    *Sigh* I shall carry on with the struggle – I have a notion it"s all in the outlining and am working on that – but don"t expect to make the bestseller lists any time soon.

    1. It"s hard to understand why or how something suddenly clicks into place. I"d certainly been getting lots of (great) advice from writer friends about switching to a series and how to approach it, and so on, and I guess I was almost at that place on my own before hearing Bella Andre talk… and then *click* I had a very clear idea of the path ahead.

      It was similar with plotting/outlining. I had read lots of stuff and tried any number of methods. For example, The Story Beat method from Write.Publish.Repeat worked very well for Mercenary, for example, but that was kind of cheating as Mercenary was a rewrite of a half-written, failed book from a year or two before, so I wasn"t starting from zero. More usually, I would flail around in the dark, focusing on drawing up a list of story events or plot points, rather than what I should have been doing: my hero"s internal journey/flaw/struggle etc.

      I tried reading Truby"s book – The Anatomy of Story – which Libbie Hawker"s method is based on, but I just wasn"t getting parts of it. Then when I read Libbie"s book… *click* all this stuff fell into place in my head and I felt like I understood it for the first time.

      Well, almost.

      I had to condense for space purposes, but there was a day or two in the middle when I could understand what Libbie was saying, and was digging the stuff on story structure and character flaws etc., but started to doubt whether *I* could outline that way. So I took my Kindle and a notepad to the pub, and sat there for three hours until I worked through it again and had an outline.

      I had to shut off that little voice that was saying “this doesn"t apply to this book I"m writing because [X]…” and just forced myself to do it. I think it helped that I had read Libbie"s fiction first, and knew she wasn"t all talk. Tidewater is a great book and she"s a really good writer. And it"s HF too, so I had no excuse.

      I can"t see any reason why this method wouldn"t work for cozies/whodunits. None at all. So it might be worth another shot.

      Hope you stumble across something that works for you, either way! I think that, like a lot of things in this game, it"s about persistence (or is that bloody mindedness!).

  3. It"s the old ready, fire, aim problem. I appreciate your analysis and your evaluation of where you want to take your artistic output. Doing a strategic evaluation of what you want to write as well as how to get there is not a lot of fun. But as you discussed, the pay off is enormous. I appreciated your sharing how you did it.

    1. Doing the strategic evaluation (a wonderful euphemism for eating chocolate and watching movies!) was actually quite a lot of fun. As was figuring out the overlap between what I want to write and what sells. Working out adventure fiction archetypes and themes and tropes – all fun. The not fun parts are the false starts, the dead ends, the times when you wonder if you should be doing something else instead of tearing your hair out, and whatnot. I"ve always been the kind of person who has to make their own mistakes to learn, but it was a great help to just let go if my innate skepticism for ten seconds and just say “I will follow these instructions to the letter.”

  4. I think you"re too hard on yourself, David. I too am a slow writer, but at least you have become marketing and promo savvy and have amassed a solid following for when you launch your series. I think waiting till you have the first 3 books written is an excellent strategy, particularly when you are a slow writer ?! Wish I had done that but too late now. Its all a learning experience. Good luck with this new venture!

  5. David, thanks so much for sharing your insights. I"m definitely in the boat of “I need to write faster” so that I can implement some of these same techniques, especially Stephenson"s one. I have some ideas and I"m torn between the passion books and the books that sale. So far, my sales haven"t been great, but my marketing is not stellar. Anyway, thanks for all the tips. We"re all learning together!

  6. David, thank you. You"ve put up a small but powerful beacon in the fog of my (and I suspect others) creative fog. Yes, it"s about focus. It"s also about being true to yourself and your particular muse/motivation. But most of us who write, write to be read and so a realistic approach to our art and its distribution is necessary – no matter how onerous it can sometimes be.

    I wish you all the very best for your future projects. And now I must go and purchase "Take off Your Pants" – worth it for the title-on-the-shelf value alone I reckon 🙂

  7. Amen to that, brutha! Pretty much hit the nail on the head there as far as my thinking goes as well. I reckon I could sum it up in one sentence: “Time to start taking it seriously!”
    Since the beginning I"ve been sort of writing what I felt I had to write, in a genre that isn"t a huge draw, because that is what I had. I paid lip-service to the notions of promoting, getting a Twitter account and leaning on Tweet Adder until it was shut down, running free sales as soon as they were allowed (as in, made easy!) – basically just doing the easiest, most obvious forms of marketing.
    So… I think a lot of writers in our position are now starting to think, “Well, we rode that first wave of self-publishing enthusiasm all the way here! Hm. Where next…”
    And of course, the answer is (as it should be) – to step up our game!
    We"re always working on improving our writing, as we always strive to make each book the best one ever, so that"s a given. The only thing we can really step up is our cleverness with regards to the Industry. All your points stem back to that, I think – market analysis, clear goal-setting, long-term strategy, breaking down success strategies and finding what works, then following that…
    All very different from when we first realised we could self-publish WHATEVER WE WANTED!?!?!
    And still expect to make our fortunes…!
    Well, money, yes, but not security for old age and a villa in the Seychelles…
    So. Time to get serious – for me as well! I"d raise a glass in salute to you, but it would be pointless because it would be empty.
    Damn Canada – can"t even afford the booze here 🙂

    1. Now that sounds like a great reason to run out of the door. 🙂 PS: Great to read someone I look up to struggles like the rest of us. I"m appalling at the whole email marketing do-dar-wotsit. Even though I see how important it is for authors (or anyone selling anything) I just don"t have the stomach for it. Good job I make money ghostwriting, although hearing those books are selling better than my own doesn"t sit well on my stomach either.

      Enjoy the beer!

  8. Best wishes David. Looking forward to your new series. I think your love if history will guide you. I liked your 2 historical fiction books immensely, especially Mercenary.

  9. Thank you, David. This has been an inspiring post for me. I already had Reader Magnets; now I"m getting Take Off Your Pants! I look forward to the reports of your further adventures with this strategy.

  10. David,

    So excited for you. I really think this is going to make big a difference in your sales. Looking forward to when the first book is out to make it a Featured Book on the Historical Fiction Authors Coop website!

    Mary Louisa

  11. Thanks for the heads up on series writing, David. It"s hard to figure out in the first place if your subject matter (e.g., mine is funny military sci-fi) is going to work, but it is also nice to know that the series itself needs to find its feet, like any growing child. At the same time, I did want to know that putting a series of stories together that has people saying "I laughed so hard my face hurt" is worth the effort.
    I"m in an odd spot right now that affords me the time to do a good job of story-telling and create consistent characters, but I can"t advertise much just yet for various reasons.
    It affords me the freedom to create and gain the consistency people want, but then I have to ask: are 5 stories enough? Are 9 too many?
    Is there some point at which the real-world exhaustion factor sets in and the series becomes more like the fanfiction of Star Trek and Star Wars: if those characters were real people and had to do all those things, they"d drop dead of physical and mental exhaustion.
    In regard to series writing and the lives of characters, is it acceptable for characters to age and die, which is real, but the universe in which they move brings in other characters and their stories?
    I wouldn"t worry too much about having slow days. Everybody has that. When that happens to me, and I find myself staring witelssly at the monitor, I go into the kitchen and make cookies and annoy my cats by singing to them. I also have other projects I can turn to, if need be.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. “Is there some point at which the real-world exhaustion factor sets in and the series becomes more like the fanfiction of Star Trek and Star Wars: if those characters were real people and had to do all those things, they’d drop dead of physical and mental exhaustion.”

      I think this is an interesting question, and there are probably multiple ways to address that problem and prevent stretching reader incredulity too far.

      My first HF covers something like 12 years. The second one spans an even longer period. In both cases, I probably tried to cram too much in – certainly in the first. For me at least, I think it was partly because I hadn"t fully figured out what “shape” a story needs to be for it to be naturally compelling to readers, so I was cramming in all sorts of fireworks to try and create that drama.

      One of favorite bits of Take Off Your Pants! is when Libbie talks about story structure and pacing, and she shows how supposedly quieter/smaller plots can be full of just as much page-turning drama if your story is structured correctly and you have a good handle on pacing.

      Now that I have a better handle on that, I feel more confident plotting out something that, for example, takes place over two weeks or a month and/or which doesn"t have to be filled with spectactular or incredible events that threaten the readers" suspension of disbelief – something that might become even more of an issue as a long-running series progresses.

      Or, to put it another way, if the hero saves the world in Book 1, and then the universe in Book 2, you might run out of road before Book 6!

      P.S. WRT your question at the end, sure. Writers do this all the time and there are an infinity of options: continue the series with someone related to the character in some way, with a minor character that previously appeared somewhere in the series, with the same “world” but totally different characters, or then interesting spin"s like showing the story from the perspective of the love interest or antagonist.

  12. This is an awesome email David! Such a saga, and a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing the journey with us, and I can"t wait to read the first book in the series.


    Sent from my iPhone


  13. I"m pretty much at the same point, David, and my plan is similar to yours. Writing faster is imperative and I"ve decided this is my “no excuses” year. My muse has yet to fully cooperate though! LOL

    I"m currently working on book 3 of my niche series, which I"m hoping will boost sales there, but looking forward to getting back to work on my more commercially viable series after that. I have two books drafted in that one and will be working on revising and editing those, then writing the third, with the aim of three quick releases just like you are going to do.

    Good luck!

  14. Thanks for the illuminating update, David. My motto: “Quality not quantity.” Don"t beat yourself up for being a slow–or careful–writer. Even many bestselling authors produce only one book a year. Why should the rest of us be expected to crank out more? As Orson Welles aptly stated in those old Paul Masson commercials: “We will sell no wine before its time.” Best of luck!

    1. Honestly, I think speed has very little to do with quality. Some of the best books ever written were dashed out in a few mad weeks, and there is no end to the amount of terrible books that were written very slowly indeed.

      I know your question was rhetorical, but there is no expectation on anyone to do anything. You are the captain of your ship! I want to get faster for all sorts of reasons. I think I can get faster, so I"m going to keep working at it. The cool thing is that as I have sped up a little, the quality doesn"t seem to have dipped – I seem to have improved a little on that front too. It"s baby steps all round, but that"s okay as long as they"re in the right direction!

  15. Glad to hear you"re taking your own advice on how to become a commercial success. Obviously you"re already a beloved blogger and critical success. I like historicals (and eventually hope to translate that into an alternate history series( and I"ll be buying yours, but the fact that I haven"t bought any of your fiction to date is anecdotal evidence of how genre fiction readers make their decisions: genre first, author second. Only later might readers become loyal to an author and begin to read everything he ever wrote. I only have a few of those on my list.

  16. This is wonderful David and for me extremely timely.
    Thank you so very much.
    I understood the series thing..only because I had so much story in me I really was forced to write a series. But I bemoaned my lack of everything else, especially how to get people to sign up for my mailing list, how to outline and how to promote through social marketing.
    Your posts, guest posts and books have helped me tremendously over the years. This post especially enlightened me that you genuinely are a talented man on the writer"s path … (meaning I can take you off that “writing genius god” pedestal I had you on)
    I say again with much feeling : Thank you David, it is so nice to meet you, thank you for your help and your willingness to share your experience and wisdom.

  17. Hi, David

    I"m so glad Take Off Your Pants was useful to you! Very flattered, too, since I loved A Storm Hits Valparaiso and Mercenary. I"m very glad to help out a fellow historical fiction author (indirectly), especially one whose work I admire so much.

    I"m really looking forward to your new series! It sounds awesome! And here"s to that fifth (or eighth?) book that will tip you over the edge. 🙂

  18. Hi David,

    Thanks for the update. I always enjoy reading about your journey. Your deconstruction process reminded me of Alex Sokoloff"s “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.” She recommends breaking down several books and movies in your genre into acts and scenes to understand structure. I did it when I started a new series that was more suspense than what I"d been writing (cozy mystery). You may have already read it, but if not, it"s another good resource. I"m always looking for tips on plot/structure. Haven"t read Libby H"s book, yet but have heard great things about it.

    Good luck with the series. I"m sure it will do great.

    Take care, Sara

    1. My analysis wasn"t that granular, although I"m sure that would have been helpful too. It was much more of a simplistic overview, looking at common themes, flaws, goals, set-ups, etc. Like, the idea of revenge was one that came up a lot in classic adventure fiction/movies. And the accompanying idea that the hero often chooses – at the last moment – not to satisfy that thirst for revenge and do Some Other Moral Thing instead. Interestingly, often that choice actually killed the hero, but it didn"t matter because he was Healed Inside, and so forth.

      And thanks for the book tip – I"ve heard good things about that one and will definitely check it out. “Save The Cat” is another screenwritery book that pops up a lot in author recommendations. I should grab both of them… after I finish this draft.

  19. You are doing the most important part of being a successful writer — you"re still writing. I lift my bottled water to you and wish you well.

  20. Your situation is similar to mine. My first novel has taken 4 years of writing on and off and then I decided to write short non-fiction my first Active Patience: A Simple Guide to Productive Writing was released in November. OK that was months ago and I haven"t finished the other 2 short non-fiction or the novel that has been going on for years!!! It"s a hard slog but whats the alternative?

  21. I"m also in the middle of reading Take off Your Pants! and its a great book. Surprisingly enough (maybe because I am a plotter and not a pantser) I had already been doing a lot of the things she recommends but I"d never actually sat down and wrote it out the way that she does so I can see how incorporating that is going to improve my outlining, and my speed. Thanks for sharing, David, I always enjoy your posts and I look forward to hearing about the upcoming series.

  22. Dude…you are freakin" hilarious! Love the visuals! LOL

    I just bought all the books you recommended. I have some reading to do and I hope I can write faster, too. Lots of books boils down to multiple streams of income. It all adds up. The more you write, the more you have coming in. 3 books x $100 a month = $300. 10 books x $100 = $1000 and so it goes!

    As usual, you always provide excellent information and advice for those venturing into and living through self-publishing. Thank you!!!

    Arial 😉

  23. Thank you, thank you so much for this post. It"s wonderful and fantastic, and I"m sharing it on my writing message board and on FB.
    I also admire your bravery in sharing this coll, rational, and clear look at your own writing career with the entire world. Your analysis is so helpful and encouraging, even as it must have been painful to make. Also thank you for all the resources (and that python pic!).
    Have a wonderful weekend.
    – Hannah

  24. Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy are terrifying in their output… but if you can"t take a risk with a series yourself, then who will?
    A business plan – even a bad one – is better than no plan at all.

  25. I too love Write Publish Repeat. You might also find David Farland"s Million Dollar Outlines useful. It"s less about how to construct an outline and more about how to construct the story. I"ve been reading it and rereading sections as I work on my first launch.

  26. Interesting how close our reading arcs and thinking processes mesh. Much as I love Take Off Your Pants and Write Publish Repeat, before you jump into all the outlining and plotting and character building, etc., why not go through Dean Wesley Smith"s “Writing in the Dark” blogs (soon to be an ebook I assume) and see what the case is for being a “pantser.” I"m not advocating anything, but I agree with Smith that we all work differently, so we need to look at the ways that suit us best.

    1. I started out as a pantser – it didn"t really work for me. It would be great if I could produce good quality work at a decent clip and have clean drafts the first time around with no outline. However, for me at least, that usually results in long periods staring at the page, having no idea what to write next, or writing myself into dead ends, or ending up with a structural mess, and so on.

  27. Great article David – I"ve been following the same path. Trying to write without an outline because I hate restrictions and forced process only to find myself stumbling along and taking copious amounts of time to write very little. I"ve learnt to address this via advice from the Self-publishing Podcast guys ( & WPR) as well as as Rachel Aaron"s great book but the other two books you recommend are new to me so I"ll definitely check them out.

    I"ve also found that structuring my word targets into small chunks helps loads and having fully fleshed-out story beats isn"t restrictive – it"s freeing.

    Good luck with the series – I"ll keep an eye out for it.

  28. My favorite line: “This time I decided to try a different approach. For once, I wanted to be the person who just says, “Okay, I’m going to try all of that.”” This is a great post and expresses the challenges of applying theory to my individual writing life. Thanks for writing it!

  29. I think your approach and the resulting experience reflects your own intellectual curiosity and nature, David. A more mercenary first-off approach probably wouldn"t have been anyway near as satisfying for you. Good on you for your honesty and "beir bua" for the new "merging" approach.

  30. I think your approach and the resulting experience reflects your own intellectual curiosity and nature, David. A more mercenary first-off approach probably wouldn’t have been anyway near as satisfying for you. Good on you for your honesty and ‘beir bua’ for the new ‘merging’ approach.

  31. I started off with a young adult book that turned into a trilogy, but it was my historical fiction (a novella) that really took off for me. It"s still selling well a year later. I realized from comments on amazon that a follow up was needed so I did just that and now I"m on the fourth book in the series. If you can keep up the momentum it"s well worth your while. I took advantage of pre-orders for books two and three and had a great response. Yours was one of the earliest blogs I followed David, when I began writing my first book, and I learned a heck of a lot from your books, Let"s Get Visible and Let"s Get Digital – a must for any authors who want to self-publish and market their work. Many thanks for your enlightening and very informative blog posts, too. All the very best with your own series.

  32. David…just what I needed to hear today. I, too, write historical — It took me over two years to write my Civil War family saga and another year to edit and make sure everything in the timeline was correct (like the day Lincoln showed up at Antietam–got to have it right. There"s a photo of him in existence).

    I planned to self-publish, but then Kindle Scout came along…I submitted LOVE ME FOREVER (it"s a time travel) and it"s been an interesting ride so far. I have another week on my campaign and I"ll know soon after if my book is chosen. It"s hard to stay on the “Hot” list, but I thought it was worth a try. Have you thought about going the Kindle Scout route? Amazon has been promoting the winners, so it"s great PR if your book is chosen. If you have any questions, I"d be happy to help.

    Thanks again for an excellent post and one I"ll refer to often.

  33. Thank you for this awesome post. As a new indie, having just released my first novel last month, it"s been kind of reassuring to read that even you guys who I look up as successful indies do similar worries about titles that don"t move like you expect.

    It also worries me at times, since I have seen that more and more in indie circles – about writing series. I"m really not a series writer. My books might connect on some loose level (my planned second novel, for example, is set in the same area but has no magic, and only brief easter egg type cameos of a few characters from the first), but there is really only one that could have any potential to be a series and then more likely a trilogy unless I stretched it out.

    For the most part though, my stories tend to be stand alone. Once I"m at the end, those characters move one and new ones come demanding attention. Though I guess in the end the take away is (hopefully) not that you have to write a series, but that it may take a bit to find what works for you for both the creative and business side and that will appeal to readers. 🙂

    P.S. Thanks for the tip on Reader Magnets which I was delighted to find was on sale for free today 😀 Snagged it and added it to my reading queue. Also agree, Write. Publish. Repeat. is awesomeness! Finished it earlier this month too 🙂

  34. “I’m pretty sure I’ve put the requisite 10,000 hours into procrastination at this point, and I can cry-eat cake like a pro.)” It"s so reassuring to know this isn"t just what I do. Now back to that cake. Writing. I meant back to that writing.

  35. David, another great post. I"ve been following you since the beginning, and you just get better and better. I used your link to pick up Libby"s book on your recommendation and I"m now going to give it a read – and even use it!

    Continued Success!

  36. David, So interesting. I am on the same path. I"ve published 1 romance, 1 mystery, 1 psychological thriller, and 2 medieval romances.

    At the end of 2014, I decided to turn my writing passion into a business plan. To that end, I did several things —
    1) Made a list of all the book ideas I have mapped out over the years
    2) Studied the top 100 best-selling novels on Amazon and noted the story themes and genres that aligned with my list
    3) Zeroed in on 2 potential series in the mystery/thriller/suspense arena plus several standalones in the same genre

    Once the "business plan" was done, I decided to rewrite a thriller I had written years ago but just didn"t work. I rethought the concept, sketched out a 6-book series, and outlined the heck out of it. This week I started writing book 1. Since the original book was well over 100,000 words, and I plan each of the books in the series to be about 60,000 words, I only have 200,000 words to go!

    Wishing you great success with your "reinvented" career, which is something we all must do at least once a year!

  37. I started writing a steampunk trilogy in 2012 and published the third book last year, only to find that the characters want me to carry on for at least four more… So that worked!
    I discovered the longer story arc, the difficulty of keeping track of minor characters, and the potential for a spin-off series featuring women airship pilots, plus a few techniques for pacing and dialogue that I might have taken years to pick up otherwise.
    More power to your pen!

  38. Jam packed full of very helpful advice for a newby like me. Thanks!


  39. Another wonderful blog post David. The timing of this article is perfect for me. I"ve spent the last month or so working on “finishing” my Cooper Moon series with books three and four. From the very first spark of the idea for this book, I have imagined it as a four-book series. Now, as I try (and the important word here is TRY) to finish this series, I find another story line creeping into the series. Initially, I fought the story line (it requires quite a bit of research) but it kept rearing its lovely head. It was just too good to let go so I decided to work it into the last two books. But it kept growing. And growing. Before long I started wondering if I had five books in this series. But, no, that was impossible – because this is a four-book series. I already have four covers planned. I already have four titles. So, I"ve been wrangling with this story line – something a kin to wrestling with an oiled python – and mostly losing.
    This morning, I take a break from wrestling and read your blog post. Suddenly (okay after a few months of wrestling is not so sudden) I realize that I"m making a mistake. If the material is there for five books – or six or seven or whatever – just keep writing. I get more email and messages from readers about this series than any of my other books, so I have a waiting audience. And yet, because I have this silly notion of a four-book series, I keep wrestling with that oily snake. As of this morning, my friend, I surrender. I"m releasing my hold and as that snake slithers off into the jungle, I"m just going to tag along to discover where its going.
    Thanks for the moment of clarity. Now, get back to writing. 😉

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