Always dreamed of writing the Great American Novel, but aren’t sure where to start (or don’t have the patience)? Query letters, rejection slips, writer conferences that cost a small fortune to attend…forget all that. Becoming an author who makes money today is much easier than it was 20, or even 5, years ago. But get ready to wear more than one hat. After all, you’re not a writer anymore. You’re a writer entrepreneur. And these 9 Steps to Immediately Launch Your Career and Earn Money as an Author Tomorrow will help you bypass the old guard and earn your creative (and financial) freedom.
1. Write a first draft.
Every great journey starts with a small step. And your first should be writing a first draft. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be good. (And if you’re convinced it is, then you’re setting yourself up for embarrassment.) But you do have to get the words out of your head and on to the computer screen. That takes focus, planning, and commitment. For The Congregation I used timed writing sessions in three 20-minute increments each day and made sure I was writing the whole time the timer was running. This netted me around 2,000 words per day for an hour of work while holding several freelance jobs, paying the bills, and paying taxes. In less than a month, I had a first draft.
2. Read aloud (to yourself).
The best way to know what works and what doesn’t is to set aside a time and a place to read your work aloud. Each time you stumble, focus on the wording and make notes as to what it was that caused you to stop. This process will root out many of the mistakes and story gaps that plague first drafts. Just make sure you’re not reading aloud in the same room with your wife as she’s trying to watch the latest episode of “Once Upon a Time.”
3. Run text through editing program.
You’ve written a first draft and slogged through the oral reading. You’ve made notes, and then changes based on those notes. The book’s ready to publish, right? Wrong. Over time, you’ve grown too close to the material, and no matter how hard you try, there will still be dozens of things—either story- or grammar- and spelling-related—that don’t work. Editing programs can help. My favorite is web-based and requires a membership that’s something like $50 per year. It’s called AutoCrit.com, and it catches far more problems than spelling and grammar. It notes homonyms, Flesch-Kincaid reading ease, number of sentences, number of words per sentence, overused words and suggestions for how to fix, repetitive and redundant phrases, and so much more. All of this is tabbed out in individual sections, making it easy to follow and correct.
4. Beta test.
Now you’re ready to let another pair of eyes look at your work. The good news is, you can do this for no more cost than providing a free eCopy to friends and followers on your social networks. Goodreads and Google+ are the best resources for finding helpful souls willing to tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Inevitably some will enjoy and some won’t. Make two folders – one for the fans, one for the critics. You’ll need these later.
5. Get editorial help.
If you’ve followed steps one through four, then you should be dealing with a fairly clean story. At this point, consider hiring a professional editor to give the book a final review. Review his notes. Make changes if they make sense. Ignore if they don’t. Pay as little money as possible.
6. Design a good cover, and if you can’t do that, hire someone to do it.
With The Congregation, my first, I knew better than to go it alone. I hired a professional designer named Joie Simmons, and was blown away with the results. I found him by posting a forum thread that stated upfront the dollar amount I could afford on the Digital Webbing Talent Engine (free). He responded via email, and from that point forward, no one had a shot. Since then I’ve studied what Joie did to make that cover work, and I’ve been able to cobble together a few efforts that I’m convinced will keep me out of the featured section on Nathan Shumate’s Lousy Book Covers website – a place you don’t want to be, but will deservedly end up if you put out something that looks like this.
Generally, for a cover to show up well on an eReader and as a thumbnail on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you’ll need an original file resolution of at least 600 x 900. Here’s what Joie did.
And here’s one I recently did using legally free images from http://www.sxc.hu/ and free fonts from http://www.1001freefonts.com/.
Even though I’m convinced I’m okay at this, I’ll use Joie again. The guy works fast, and there is a level of excitement and enthusiasm that comes from letting another person create an image based on your vision.
7. Get Scrivener and compile your eBook.
If you haven’t heard of Scrivener, then welcome to the writing profession! The program, which was built for Apple but does have a Windows version, allows you so much flexibility when it comes to organizing your ideas and making order from the chaos that is writing. It also allows you to create an entry for each chapter within the overall project. This is important because when you use the “Compile” feature to convert your project to .mobi (Kindle’s ebook format) or .epub (everyone else’s), it automatically creates a hyperlinked table of contents. Adding stationary images to your eBook is a breeze and compilation takes all of 10 seconds.
8. Proof one final time on actual eReader device.
I have a Nook Color, a Kindle Fire, and an iPhone, and I use each one to make sure my formatting isn’t doing anything wonky before putting a book out there for sale. Additionally, I will choose one of these devices and give my book a final read for enjoyment purposes. Thanks to all the eyeballs that have touched it leading up to this point, the book should read very smoothly. That doesn’t mean the world will love it, but it does mean you can put out a product that won’t embarrass you. One that some folks might even enjoy. (Remember the two folders with your beta-testers’ contact info from Step 4? Get ready to use that again.)
9. Upload to Amazon (and other sites if you choose).
Amazon is a must if you plan on making any cash as an indie author. They base their search results on keywords, algorithms and performance rather than the pay-to-play system of Barnes and Noble and Apple. I do very little marketing work for The Congregation and sell at least one per day compared to one every couple of months at the other sites. Now I’m part of the Kindle Owners Lending Library (Amazon Exclusive) and that has helped even more. Most writers who take time to produce quality work also admit that with each new release the sales of all their books increase. Makes sense. When was the last time a first-time author without New York’s marketing push caught your attention when grouped in with the Stephen King section? Digital is no different. The more you have for sale, the easier you are to find. But don’t compromise quality. This isn’t a fast-track way to financial independence, but it is a way to build your career gradually and responsibly. And reviews help. To get those, contact the people who enjoyed your work and ask them if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review on the Amazon site. Most, if not all, will be happy to.