Sunday, December 31, 2017

Konrath's New Year's Resolutions for Writers 2018

Every December I do a post about resolutions for writers, and every year I add more of them. 

You can read the compilation or original posts HERE.

This year, rather than repost them all, I'm going to reflect on all the resolutions I've written since 2006.

This blog began with suggestions of how writers could improve their commercial appeal, find an agent and a publisher, and self-promote.

This blog has prospered through the birth of social media and MySpace (remember MySpace?), the rise of Amazon and self-publishing, and chronicled my own personal journey of legacy deals, into KDP, and back to having print books on the shelf with my Kensington deal and upcoming release of THE LIST.

This blog has lasted so long that I no longer feel the need to blog. I've stated my case, done what I came her to do, and don't have to say much more.

I've taken a lot of my own advice. And disregarded much of it. Here's the breakdown of every New Year's Resoultion I've offered, with my modern take on the adivice:

I will start/finish the damn book

This is still essential. Without this, you aren't a writer.

I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth 

Self-publishing has made this irrelevant. If you're writing shorts, self-pub them one at a time, then compile them and self-publish the collection.

I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers 

I haven't gone to any conferences in years.

That said, I will be attending KILLER NASHVILLE at the end of August. If you ever wanted to meet me, that's your chance.

I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to

If you're still submitting to mags, subscribe.

I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library

Can't hurt. Feedback during the writing progress can be immeasurably helpful. I always discuss books-in-progress with family and friends to litmus test the direction I'm heading, or if I get stuck.

I will finish every story I start

If it gets hard, good. It makes you stronger.

I will listen to criticism

During the creation process, it's key. But reviews are not criticism. Don't read reviews.

I will create/update my website 

Still essential. I make a few hundred bucks a month on Amazon Associates, all from people who check out my website and click on an affiliate link.

I will master the query process and search for an agent

When you're big enough to need an agent, they'll find you. Or they'll take a phone call. Query letters are so 1995.

I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something

Hell yes. Google and Wikipedia and the Internet Wayback Machine are great for research, but they become black holes from which you cannot escape. You can't let the Internet suck you in when you need to put words on the page.

I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy

You will be discouraged, but the only surefire solution is to keep writing, or quit entirely. I spent ten years without making a dime. And now I'm close to selling my 3 millionth book.

I will keep my website updated

I hate going to a favorite author's website and seeing no new news for the last six months. Your fans hate that too.

I will keep up with my blog and social networks 

Absolutely. But I strongly recommend keeping your personal social media (family stuff, political views, liking Caturday) separate from your professional pages. Your friends and family can follow you because they care about who you voted for, and how much you like the Cubs. Fans probably only care about your new releases, and when your stuff is on sale. 

I also strongly recommend Freedom and Anti-Social to block your social media during writing time.

I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner

Sitting and waiting for life to happen isn't a recipe for success. If you're there to get known, make yourself known. If you're at an event and there is no line of fans waiting for a signature and selfie, then get up and mingle.

I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year

Six times a year at most. More than that, and you'll risk losing followers. YMMV.

I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how

It's a good skill to master, and one day you'll need it.

I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's

I was wrong on this one. You should do whatever you can to help, but this is their part of the contract to fulfill. 

I will stay in touch with my fans

If someone reaches out, reach back. Keep it brief and impersonal and gracious.

I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements

Libraries will always be relevant.

I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford

A few is fine, but they just aren't needed like they used to be needed. It's great to meet readers and author authors, but a BookBub ad, which will likely cost less, is a lot better for your sales.

I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion

I was wrong. Use your advance to live on while you write more.

I will help out other writers

To a point. I've become very protective of my time, and I've hit my lifetime quota of helping others. Be wary you don't spread yourself too thin.

I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy

Your race is with yourself, not with anyone else. 

I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic

Good advice for writing, and for life. 

I will do one thing every day to self-promote

You can tweet, blog, Facebook, answer email, update your site, put something on sale, make something free, book an ad... do something. 

Your backlist is like a garden. It needs to be tended, or it will die.

I will always remember where I came from

If you look forward without looking back, you're doomed to retrace your steps rather than get somewhere new.

Keep an Open Mind

It's easier to defend your position than seriously consider new ways of thinking. But there is no innovation, no evolution, no "next big thing" unless someone thinks differently. Be that someone.  

Look Inward

We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don't market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that's the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you're doing what you're doing, and what results are acceptable to you.  

Find Your Own Way

Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it.  

Set Attainable Goals

Saying you'll find an agent, or sell 30,000 books, isn't attainable, because it involves things out of your control. Saying you'll write 20,000 words next month, or update your website, is within your power and fully attainable.

Enjoy the Ride

John Lennon said that life is what happens while you're busy planning other things. Writing isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. If you aren't enjoying the process, why are you doing it? 

elp Each Other
But remember that there will always be people who need help, and you can't help them all. Give what you can, but don't expect anything in return.

I Will Use Anger As Fuel

Life is unfair. That won't change. If you want to succeed, don't dwell on that. Focus on improving your odds by working your ass off.

I Will Abandon My Comfort Zone

Great artists take chances. Successful businesspeople take chances.

This means doing things you're afraid of, and things you hate, and things you've never tried before.

I Will Feed My Addiction 

Life is busy. There are always things you can and should be doing, and your writing career often comes second. So make it come first.

Right now, you're reading A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Not A Newbie's Guide to Leading a Content and Balanced Life.

If you can't devote the time, energy, and money it takes to pursue this career, go do something else.

I Will Never Be Satisfied 

Happiness isn't productive. Mankind's greatest accomplishments are all tales of struggle, hardship, sacrifice, work, and effort. You won't do any of those things if you're satisfied with the status quo. 

Who do you want on your team? The kid who plays for fun? Or the kid who plays to win?

If you want this to be your year, you know which kid you have to be.

I Won't Blame Anyone For Anything

What's done is done, and being bitter isn't going to help your career. So try to learn from misfortune, forgive yourself and others, and focus on what you can learn from past failures.

I Will Be Wary

For a while, legacy publishers held all the cards. Now it looks like Amazon does, and will continue to do so for a while. But the moment you become complacent, you set yourself up for disaster. Ask the dinosaurs. Stay as agile and wary as possible, and be ready to diversify if the climate changes.

I Will Be A Pioneer

I continue to try new things (this year I pubbed some puzzle books and a children's picture book). If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough.

I Will Read Books

Reading, and giving the gift of reading to others, is essential. Period.

I Will Stop Worrying 

Worrying, along with envy, blame, guilt, and regret, is a useless emotion. It's also bad storytelling. Protagonists should be proactive, not reactive. They should forge ahead, not dwell on things beyond their control. Fretting, whining, complaining, and bemoaning the state of the industry isn't the way to get ahead.

You are the hero in the story of your life. Act like it.

I Will Self-Publish

Welcome to 2018. 

I Won't Self-Publish Crap

Just because it's easier than ever before to reach an audience doesn't mean you should.

Luck still plays a part in success. But so does professionalism.

Self-pubbing is not the kiddie pool, where you learn how to swim. You need to be an excellent swimmer before you jump in.

I'll Pay Attention to the Market

If you want to make a living, you still have to understand your audience, and how to give them what they want.

Self-pubbing is not an excuse to be a self-indulgent egomaniac. On the contrary, it's a chance for you to learn what sells.

For the very first time, the writer can conduct their own real-world experiments. By trying different things, learning from mistakes, and constantly tweaking and improving, we have more power than ever before to find our readers.

That means being attuned, not passive.

I Will Control My Fear

There will always be doubt and uncertainty, because luck plays such a big role in success. I know there are writers who are doing everything right, who still haven't found readers.

But don't let fear own you.

It is easy to get frustrated.

It is easy to get envious of those doing better.

It is easy to dismiss the success or failures of others.

It is easy to worry about the future.

It is easy to ignore good advice. It's also easy to take bad advice.

It is easy to make snap judgments and quick dismissals.

It is easy to make predictions without evidence.

It is easy to give up.


What Goes Up Must Come Down

Sales fluctuate, and after being in this biz for almost two decades I still don't know why some things hit and some miss. It's frustrating, but expected.

Here's some things I've learned.

1. Ebooks are forever, and shelf space is infinite. Once you're published, you'll always be selling as long as you tend to your backlist.

2. Ebooks are not a trend. They are the new, preferred way to read, and mankind will always have the need and desire to read.

3. Ebooks are global. Doing poorly in the USA? That's okay. There are plenty of other countries where you can make money.

4. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You're a writer. You're in this until the day you die. As long as you write good books, you'll find readers. This may take time. And it may take some tweaking because the books you think are good need a rewrite, or that cover art you bought at a bargain price of $19 is scaring readers away because it sucks.

The universe doesn't owe you readers. You have to earn them.

Get Over Yourself

Don't use Google Alerts, or read your reviews, or search for yourself on social media.

If you want to be loved, get a pet. The approval of strangers is one of the worst things you can pursue, and it will always leave you empty inside.

More writing, less concern about if the world approves. As long as you keep putting good work out there, you'll find an audience.

Get your real-life shit together

That means:

1. Incorporating and paying quarterly taxes.

2. Creating a will, including a living will.

3. Making sure the will includes provisions for your literary properties.

4. Keeping accurate track of business expenses.

5. Getting regular doctor check-ups so you don't die from something avoidable.

6. Remembering that future goals shouldn't come at the expense of enjoying every single day.

7. Appreciating the people you care about, and making sure they know it.

With luck, we'll all die very old and very rich.

But I've always said that luck favors those prepared. It's very east to get caught up in writing and promotion and ignore the stuff that only becomes obvious when you're in a life-or-death scenario.

Don't wait for the life-or-death scenario. Take care of it now. It doesn't matter if you're 18 or 108, death and taxes are unavoidable. The more you do now to prepare for them, the less painful they'll be.

If you die tonight, will it be with regrets? If so, sort that out immediately. Don't leave loose ends. Don't leave things unsaid. Don't leave a mess for others to clean up.


Write better. Write what you've proven works. Write new things that aren't proven. Write more.

This is the single most important thing you can do.

Joe sez: Those are twelve years of my past resolutions, and my recent feelings about them.

Here are two new bits of advice.

Don't Fear Piracy

There are writers that actually hire companies to send Cease And Desist letters to file-sharing sites.

This is a waste of money.

Pirates will always pirate. Don't sweat it. Your work being shared is not equal to losing sales, and there hasn't been a single reputable study to say otherwise. 

As an experiment, for the past three months, I've been torrent seeding one of my own new releases, to measure if it has any impact on sales. I've shared my own book over a thousand times on Demonid and Pirate Bay and a hundred other trackers, and have seen ZERO correlation between file sharing and sales going down. If anything, sales went up slightly when I began sharing.

While my study hasn't been scientific, it has been enough to confirm my belief that the only piracy worth worrying about is sites selling your work without permission, and only because that can get you unfairly booted out of Kindle Unlimited.

If someone is selling you illegally, do what you can to make them take you down.

But if someone is sharing your work, ignore it. You'll never prevent file-sharing, and there's no real need to. Your bad sales aren't because of pirates. You'll have to look at other factors.

Stop Worrying About Amazon Rank

We all obsess about sales. That's inevitable.

But what's with this recent trend obsessing about Amazon rank?

Rank is a number that Amazon controls, and they've changed the rules several times on how they calculate it.

As far as I know, no one has determined how many extra sales you get by appearing on a bestseller list, and I wouldn't be surprised if the number is minuscule. I just did a BookBub giveaway and hit #1 with 45,000 giveaways on that day.

BookBub works. The day after my BookBub, I did a $120 ad with Kindle Nation Daily, and managed to give away another 6000 copies as the book dropped to #7.

Now, I wasn't expecting KND to have anywhere near the impact that BookBub did. But on the second day after the BookBub, still free and still in the Top 10, I only gave away 2000 copies.

Let's think about that. At #1, I had the most downloads on The next day, supported by a pricey ad, I dropped to #7.

No add, and I dropped to #10, and eventually to #40 by the end of the day before the promo ended.

This is hardly scientific, but that's a pretty dramatic drop in giveaways. If being one of the Top 10 free books for that three day period really lead to a huge increase in visibility, and thus an increase in downloads, I would have expected more downloads, and more staying power on that list. But when the ads stopped, the sales plummeted fast.

In other words, being on the bestseller list didn't account for enough exposure to keep it on the bestseller list.

Which makes perfect logic sense. Unless a book has something behind it (ads, marketing, a promo push, a new release, extreme word of mouth buzz) it has a predictable bell curve. It rises, peaks, and drops.

With tens of thousands of other books also rising, peaking, and dropping, the whole ranking system is a hot mess, and I don't believe it helps sales very much. I've messed around with keywords and had books with similar genres and similar ranks have similar sales, even though one is on a Top 100 list (like Women Sleuths) and one isn't on any list even though it features the same female sleuth.

That extra exposure you get from being on a list probably doesn't amount to much.

Back when KDP was still DTP (look it up) there was a noticeable, measurable sales effect when you landed on a bestseller list. 

These days, I remain unconvinced that rank helps to increase sales. Until I'm shown otherwise, it makes no sense for me to worry about rank. 

Now, you SHOULD be worried about sales. That means figuring out how to maximize the impact your book has by paying attention to the cover art, description, BISEC categories, keywords, price, promotions, and advertising. You want to maximize your reach, and find that sweet spot between making as much money as possible and getting as many eyes on you as possible.

But I strongly suggest you stop worrying about maximizing your rank. Find some other way to gauge your success. I gauge my personal success by how much I'm writing and publishing, and my business success by how much I'm earning. That means I'm always tweaking things, especially price, Countdown Deals, and freebies, adding to my Amazon bibliography and product description, and tailoring ads to link with other similar products (Amazon ads don't help much, but as long as you're in the black on them it's a no-brainer). It also means I may be personally successful in any given month, but not really business successful, and vice-versa.

It also means going all in with Kindle Unlimited and going for KENP. Like it or not, KENP remains a key component in author revenue.

At the same time, don't worry about other authors stealing your KENP cash. It isn't a zero sum amount, and one author having a higher rank than you doesn't mean you'll make less money.

It's out of your control, anyway. Don't worry about things you can't control.

Focus on the things you can control.

That's all I got. I'm out of advice. I hope it helps.

If you appreciated this blog post, check out my latest newsletter. Lots of free ebooks and deals for the New Year.

And after picking up all my bargains, go write something. Make 2018 your best year ever, both personally, and for your writing business.

Happy New Year!


Unknown said...

Great advice. Thanks for sharing. I really like the idea of writing short stories and them compiling them into a book.

Denise Yoko Berndt said...

Thanks for this wonderfully inspiring post! Happy 2018!

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Happy New Year, Joe! Best wishes or a fantastic 2018!

T. M. Bilderback said...

Good overall advice, Joe!

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Patrice said...

Nice to see your typeface again! We've missed you.Thanks for the updates on the advice--it definitely sounds very 2018. Have a great year, Joe, both personally and business-wise.


Anonymous said...

The part about the minimal effect of bestseller lists is interesting. In the olden days, authors made the bestseller lists on their merit, and the lists accordingly had value, and merit.. Today, the top hundred slots are basically sold by BookBub, which has become the modern gatekeeper (remember when authors rallied against publishers as gatekeepers?) How ironic that a new one has surfaced.

The other big change is that Amazon has become a major publisher (Thomas & Mercer, etc.). Amazon pushes their own books to the exclusion of others.

Between these two things, it's become a difficult landscape for self-published authors.

Alan Spade said...

Happy New Year, Joe! It's nice to see how your advices evolved, how being forceful on self promotion while you were a traditionally published author lead you to being a great self-published author, and hybrid author.

I will add my own advice to yours: be wary about your releases.

If you are an unknown author with no money for ads, no contact with any reader, the only way your ebook has a chance to being seen on Amazon is in the "new release" category of your subgenre.

I noticed that my latest book published (in french) in late December 2017 didn't appear in the new releases category of

Be wary. Enquire. Prepare to fight for your work.

Alan Spade said...

If you look at it, the only way to avoid being swayed by the Amazon recommendation engine is to take a look at the new releases category.

Of course, most readers are perfectly pleased by Amazon's recommendations. But some of them don't want to be influenced. Unfortunately, it seems that's this new releases category is also subject to the algorithms, even when you select your new releases by date of parution and not popularity. And some new releases remain invisible.

JA Konrath said...

Amazon pushes their own books to the exclusion of others.

That's an incorrect assumption.

In order to make sure they don't run afoul with DOJ monopoly rules, Amazon imprints are treated as separate companies, exactly the same way as all publishers are. If a Zon imprint wants to do a marketing push, they bid for spots and pay for it out of their pocket, just like all publishers do.

Anonymous said...

"In order to make sure they don't run afoul with DOJ monopoly rules, Amazon imprints are treated as separate companies, exactly the same way as all publishers are. If a Zon imprint wants to do a marketing push, they bid for spots and pay for it out of their pocket, just like all publishers do."

Even is that's true, it's simply Amazon paying Amazon. The interesting thing is that T&M has 1127 titles, most have thousands of reviews, many have over 10,000 reviews, and they dominate the top paid 100 bestsellers and in fact most of the top 1000 bestsellers. I doubt that's happening because T&M simply choose such good books and then lets them sink or swim on their own,.

Mari Collier said...

I'm not looking for an agent. I'm happy with Creativia. That means all will be on Amazon exclusively. My short stories, if I ever write enough again, would go into another anthology. Another Writers Conference isn't in the books either.

Alan Spade said...

"The interesting thing is that T&M has 1127 titles, most have thousands of reviews, many have over 10,000 reviews, and they dominate the top paid 100 bestsellers and in fact most of the top 1000 bestsellers. I doubt that's happening because T&M simply choose such good books and then lets them sink or swim on their own"

Anon is right, and the answer is simple: Amazon First. You must be published by Amazon to benefit from Amazon First. Amazon Publishing (if you prefer, one of the Amazon imprints) put your ebook on preorder for a month. During that time, your ebook becomes FREE for all the people registered to Amazon Prime, and only cost $1.99 for the others.

I think Amazon may also rewards the reviewers on Amazon Prime in some way.

So yes, it's a huge boost. I have looked closely at the charts, and the ebooks are propelled at various speeds to the top. I know authors published by Amazon Crossing who benefited from it. It's not automatic, though, you can be published by an Amazon imprint and not benefit from it for your second or third book.

And of course, as Joe said, the algorithms of Amazon are not as sticky as they used to be, so, even for these books hugely reviewed, it's tough to stay at the top. I would love Data Guy or Phoenix Sullivan to blog about the way these algorithms have evolved.

J.M. Ney-Grimm said...

Thank you for this! I was feeling discouraged, and your list of attitude adjusters was exactly what I needed to wake me up out of the doldrums.