Why do people listen to the advice of those wannabe ‘writers’. I mean they are not even published?
Excuse you? People can still give out valuable writing advice even if they are not published. Besides, not being published does not mean someone is a bad writer.
I assume by being “published” you mean through a publisher and not through self-publishing. Most publishers are for-profit. Meaning they want to make money. However, they don’t like taking chances and spend money on publishing a book that might not sell well. No matter how good of a writer you are, the chances of hearing “Sorry, there is no market for your book”, are extremely high unless you have something to show for it:
Followers on social media, success of your self-published book, email subscribers, website traffic, etc. Anything that shows the publisher that your book will sell increases your chances of being published dramatically. Many times, writers are approached by the publisher!
I have had this conversation with many of my writer friends, and some of them think this is unfair. What you often see is famous people writing a mediocre book and using their fame to have it become a best-seller. Except I don’t think it’s unfair. It’s business. As a writer, you are your own business. Many writers seem to forget this fact!
Let’s take Lang Leav as an example. You might have heard of her as she was dominating the poetry section on Tumblr in ‘13 and ‘14. She amassed many followers on Tumblr by sharing her poetry. She then self-published her book ‘Love & Misadventure” and promoted it on Tumblr.
“How did you get published?
I self-published my first book, Love & Misadventure. As soon as it was listed for sale, my book began to top best-seller charts and caught the attention of two literary agents in New York. I signed up with Writers House and was promptly offered a publishing deal by Andrews McMeel.” (source)
My honest opinion about her work is that it’s poetry for the masses and that she is not necessarily an astounding or great poet. However, her first book has 38,943 ratings on Goodreads (source)
Key to success? Posting her work online, good branding, nice poetry, building a loyal following.
Let’s take fifty shades for example. (YES)
E.L. James used to write twilight fanfiction. Many people loved her Twilight fanfiction so a publisher called The Writer’s Coffee House contacted her, they changed all the names in her work, and the rest is history.
I hope this explains it a little. Publishers mitigate the risk of their investment not being profitable by publishing books that have a high chance of being successful. There are many great, unpublished writers out there sharing valuable advice. Those people not being published has more to do with them not knowing how to increase their chances of being published, rather than being a bad writer.
Currently on a bus from Nice to Paris. It’s a 13 hour drive so I am going to dump a lot of information for people who want to sell a book right now or ten years from now. The sooner you start using this strategy, the more successful you will be.
First of all, if you have a lot of reach (audience), meaning that you have a few thousands of followers on social media, and a publisher contacts you, you always want to ask them if you can self-publish first! Always! If they refuse, you really want to think twice about signing their contract. Why? Because publishers are using your followers to sell your own book to. Self-publishing gives you around ~70% profits. Publishers often offer you a contract giving you 20%. Shady af. I don’t like that shit and I so often see small authors being used like that. Yes, publishers do help with editing etc., but depending on your reach, it’s up to you to decide if hiring an editor yourself isn’t a much better option. So, always SELL to your own fans first self-published if you can. THEN, if the publisher thinks your book has potential beyond your followers, work with them and sign the contract. Don’t let them profit off your fanbase and then leave you hanging.
If you are going to write a book, you need to talk about it! A lot. At least 6 months in advance. Preferably two years. You need to build up some anticipation among your followers. You need people to be aware of it and WANT it. It’s like a book. You don’t just tell your readers the plot in 5 sentences and that’s the book. You need to build up the story. And then BOOM, Karen just turned page 170 and she doesn’t know what’s coming for her, but she’s gonna be shook and love it. Same with promoting your book. Nobody is gonna give a shit if you say: “oh hi, you didn’t know but I wrote a book. You can buy it here”. You gotta talk about it long before you publish it.
Chances are, you don’t have a following at all. In this day and age, social media is all the hype. There is this misconception that you need millions of followers to make a living online. Not true. Let me introduce you to 1,000 True Fans, an article written by Kevin Kelly in 2008. Read it. It’s eye-opening and practical!
“A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”
How to get 1000 fans as a writer (also works for artists)
Your main focus should be on creating content and growing your reach (audience). Focus on building an email list and a simple website. Why an email list? For the same reasons everyone else always asks for your email when you sign up for something: so they can reach you.
Many content creators struggle with two things: algorithms and platforms dying.
Instagram’s algorithm makes it so that if someone doesn’t hit ‘like’ on your content for a while, your content gets pushed all the way to the bottom of their feed. Why? Because IG wants you to stay on their app as long as possible and thus shows people the content they interact with the most first. The second reason is, at some point people are not going to use their Myspace, Tumblr, Wattpad, or Instagram account anymore. Someone might have a million followers on Myspace, but right now, if they update their profile, maybe a thousand people will see it if they are lucky. So, how do you keep reaching the people who followed you in the first place? EMAIL.
Email is fantastic for two reasons:
- There are no algorithms. People see your email based on the time you sent it.
- People do not change their email as much as they do social media.
So, if you ever shoutout your book or art store, you are guaranteed that everyone on your email list sees it.
I recommend MailChimp for sending batch emails. It’s free for up to 1,200 email subscribers, and that’s plenty for small businesses.
But how do you get people to sign up for your email list? Well, there are a million ways to that, but first, we need our website and we need to actually reach people!
Let’s first focus on reaching people
Create a social media account on each platform that makes sense to you. Opt for the same username everywhere to strengthen your brand. Then post your content to each and every single one of these platforms, but add in a call to action. Write a personal caption on Instagram, or write things in the tags on Tumblr. The best advice I can give to writers on Tumblr is to reblog writing prompts and write a story and include a ‘READ MORE’.
- Many people don’t like to make the commitment to read something long without knowing what it’s about. A writing prompt is the perfect intro and increases the number of people reading your story.
- By including a ‘read more’ people have to visit your Tumblr blog. Have a nice bio, and end your story with something personal and a call to action, this skyrockets the number of followers you will get.
Now the problem is: getting people to reblog your story. You could try DMing bigger blogs, but chances of them reblogging your story are slim. DM your followers instead and ask them to reblog your story if they want. If you don’t have followers, go through a tag of your choosing. Filter on ‘recent’ and DM those. You need to hustle a bit. It doesn’t matter if you wrote the story today or two years ago. If you think it’s good content, then you can self-promote it until it gains traction.
For Instagram: Never use popular tags. Avoid them like the plague. I would even go as far as to not use tags at all. But if you use them, only choose niche tags. Why? Bots. There are so many of them. You NEVER want bots following you on Instagram. Every time you post something new, your post gets ‘tested’ in batches of followers. 20% (this is not proven, but I feel pretty confident about this number) out of the first few people who see your post need to like it, or else Instagram stops pushing your content out to more people. Bots never like your posts. If your post fares well and stays above the 20% it gets pushed out to more people, and it will eventually land on the explore page. I don’t have much experience using tags, but if you use them, make sure bots do not target them.
Post your content everywhere. Writing on Wattpad. Art on DeviantArt etc., and always link to your website! All your socials must link to your website, this is key to build your email list.
Also, quick tip for IG, if you want to grow really fast, make sure your content is well received. Most of your post should have a like/follower rate of 20%. In the beginning, the increase in followers is barely noticeable. But once you have 1k followers, it snowballs! Furthermore, some Instagram pages, often businesses, have a terrible like/follower ratio. Less than 1% of their followers like their content. Why do they even bother with Instagram? Only a small portion of their followers see their content since so few people like it, and so it doesn’t get pushed to the feeds of the rest of their followers. Why do they bother? Email. Many businesses, big or small, use their Instagram account as a funnel to get email subscribers. Email is always more important to a business than followers for email lasts much longer and isn’t subject to algorithms, except the spam filter. However, if you are on Instagram as an artist or writer, strive for both: high engagement and collecting emails.
Now that you are having your email list, website, and your social media accounts are growing, it is time to promote your newsletter (email list) beyond the links to your website on social media. We are striving for 1k email subscribers. It’s not a lot. My advice is to message all your followers. Copy paste the same message asking them if they want to subscribe. Make it personal. I want to know who the artist or writer is. I always enjoy someone’s content more if I know the person behind it. I want to know who you are.
But, at this point, you might be wondering: why would people subscribe to my email list? What to send emails about in the first place? Think long and hard, put yourself in your follower’s shoes. If you asked me:
- If you are a writer, I would love to have some bonus material send to my inbox.
- Updates about your WIP.
- An occasional blog post about your life.
- Early bird discount on your book when it comes out.
If you are an artist:
- I would love to know about the art process and what inspires you.
- Read your blog and learn more about you.
- Know when you are open for commissions again.
- Get updates about your art store.
Obviously, not everyone is going to sign up for your email list. But try your best to make something special. The goal is to:
- Build an email list. You will always reach those people. No algorithms or platforms dying (unless email dies, but not in the foreseeable future)
- You can build a relationship with your email subscribers. This is important. By reading about your life, I will become more invested in your writing or art.
You are not selling the cheapest shoes or pens in the world. You sell art and books. Build a relationship with your audience!
I am against using extra incentives that have nothing to do with what you do to have people subscribe to your list. If you do giveaways, then make sure it’s something you sell yourself. Don’t give away a bunch of books you didn’t write or a laptop. You will get people signing up because they want the laptop, not because they are interested in you. Instead, as an artist, do a commission giveaway (people who want your art will sign up) or give a discount for your Esty shop etc., Writers: out of the people who sign up, one person can give you a prompt for a short story, for example. Or give away your book if you have already written one!
(By the way, I see some artists doing amazingly well with commissions on Tumblr already! My advice would be, if you want to keep doing this for a long time, go start your website and email asap. So that ‘if’ Tumblr dies, (at this point I am not sure if it’s even possible for this site to die) you can still reach your audience and keep doing commissions.)
Prioritize your website and email list over your Patreon
Patreon is great. As a creator I love it. However, when does someone become a Patron? For me: first, the rewards need to be good. But second, I need to care about you as a person. You can’t promote everything at the same time. It’s best to focus on one thing for a period of time. I suggest you first build up relationships with your email subscribers, so they get to know you better and give an f, then plug your Patreon.
- Email subscribers are more likely to become Patrons compared to the rest of your audience because they already showed you they want to hear more from you by signing up to your newsletter/email list.
- You get to collect VALUABLE email addresses first. Those are easier to obtain then having someone become a Patron. People need to pay to become a Patron, your newsletter is free.
This might look a bit counterproductive to some of you. After all, you want to go from A (content) to B ($$$) as fast as possible. But I highly recommend you implement this extra step if Patreon is one of your sources of income. You will end up with more Patrons.
Starting a website and collecting emails
You need a domain name. Preferably a .com. Name it after yourself or your brand/store. There are many ways to go about starting your website.
Here are three:
Bluehost: Bluehost uses WordPress. Take the cheapest package. You don’t need more than that yet. Might be difficult to set up for computer illiterate folks. Though GEN Y and Z should have no problems with it.
FastComet: Also uses WordPress. They claim to be the fastest. Might be hard to set up but it’s very cheap.
Wix: You probably have heard of this one. I suggest you choose the Combo package. It’s free to use, but you do want to upgrade in order to get rid of the blabla.wixsite.com at the end of your domain name. Also, do not buy straight away. They send you a ‘50% discount’ by email after you created a website within 2-14 days. Easiest to use in my opinion.
There are plenty of others out there, but these I have used and are reputable. Feel free to add your hosts to this post.
For email marketing automatization I recommend MailChimp. There are many options, but MailChimp is by far one of the most used and has therefore many one-click-install website integrations, making it is easy to set up. By the way, sending 2-4 emails a month to your list is more than enough.
Hope this helps some of you out. It’s simple but not easy. Also, give it time. You don’t get 1000 email subscribers overnight. The sooner you start the better. And, yeh, you have to put in some time and energy. In my opinion, it’s worth it. Spend 90% of your time creating, the other 10% doing the less fun stuff. If you want to increase your chances of success, being published etc, this is a good way to start. My advice would be: Don’t rely on being discovered or going viral. Rather, increase your chances of being discovered or going viral by strengthening your foundation for success.
I just finished reading the first link of the reading material and what stood out is that email is seven times more likely to convert someone into a customer than social media! That’s insane! Thank you, dear person, for posting this. Going to make a website this weekend!