Before you can truly know how to become a successful author, you need to answer one important question.
What does success look like to you? As an author? For your book?
Is it huge book sales? Recognition of your expertise? Being featured in the media? What about accolades from audiences who have heard you speak? Getting a call from a NY publisher that it wants your book? Being on the New York Times Bestseller list? What?
For authors, we all have an idea of what author success would look and feel like.
To get where you want to be in your vision, here are seven rules to become a successful author:
1. Hang Out with Other Authors
Sounds simple…so where are they? First, don’t practice the writer/author recluse dance. Lots of authors are shy about who they are and promoting their books. Immerse yourself in groups where authors are actually selling books—it doesn’t matter if it’s via the traditional publishing route of the indie/self-publishing route. You want to be where the action is happening, connecting with others who have similar hopes and fears—yet are pushing forward.
When my first book was three months from its June publishing date, I was speaking on a cruise. One of the other speakers had made the New York Times list with her first book. Taking me under her wing, in three hours, I got a listen my new author and you will hear an earful scolding. Oh my, did I get an earful—it was a “kind” earful, not a true scolding. Well, kinda.
My expectations were that all I had to do was sit back and wait when St. Martin’s Press rolled out the book. No, I was told, “You have plenty of work to do the moment you get off this ship.”
And work I did. My takeaway was significant and has been the guiding force with all my book strategies: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
- If it’s to be in media appearances, it’s really up to me.
- If it’s to be in getting book store appearances, it’s really up to me.
- If it’s to be in getting people to buy at book store signings, it’s really up to me.
- If it’s to be in getting speaking engagements, it’s really up to me.
- If it’s to be in positioning myself as “the expert”, it’s really up to me.
Jeeze Louise, I had written a good book…wasn’t that enough? Nope, it wasn’t. I had work to do.
2. Don’t Dibble and Dabble
If your game plan is to publish and be successful, what’s in it?
Have you identified who’s on your publishing team? Book cover and interior designers and editors?
What format will you use for print, eBook, even an audio book possibility?
Do you know how and where you are going to launch your book?
How about blogs and top influencers in your genre and topic—are you following them?
Have you studied the covers and books of the bestsellers in your category? What makes them shine … and what can you emulate to carry to yours?
You can spend a fortune in publishing and you can come in on a short budget. You don’t need a $1,000+ book cover design—but you do need one that can compete with those bestsellers. There are plenty of designers who can make you shine. After all, it’s to their credit that you are successful with a book cover that shouts to any and all, “Pick me up.”
Author success is a series of marathons. There are a few sprints here and there, but it’s a long haul that has crescendos and valleys to it.
3. If Fiction is Your Thing, Think Series
In fact, let the reader world know that your book is part of a series. Commit to creating a backlist of books—instead of creating the 150,000 first master piece, is there a natural split that would automatically kick off your book #2? Launch it in six months. Meanwhile, write-write-write.
Many fiction authors will tell you that it’s not book #1 or #2 that creates the SuperFans—it’s the third that gets their attention. You are not a one book pony; you are an author who is here to stay, one that they will invest their time in, waiting for the next book.
4. Keep on Writing
Your books are the infrastructure of your publishing empire. From them, your blogs, articles, any spinoffs, and all things social media are generated.
Writing keeps your ideas and creative juices flowing. Don’t stop.
In the early days of your author career—assuming your goal is to become a successful author—it’s important to keep publishing. While getting the word out about your books is important, the number one thing that leads to more success and more sales is to publish another book. And in order to do that, you have to write another book.
5. Help Other Authors Out
I’m a huge believer in mentoring. Just showing up at conferences and being present; working one-on-one with a few that you connect with, guiding through the publishing maze; sharing tips—ones that work and the ones that you thought were so awesome and don’t work—are significant guideposts for authors in every stage.
At a recent workshop that I did on how to create a speech around a book. I featured one of the authors I had been The Book Shepherd for. She had brought a case of her books to give away. There was a string attached: if a book was taken, the receiver agreed to post a book review. Speaking to the group about her book for two minutes (it’s all I gave her), 20 hands quickly shot up committing to read and review. Nice.
6. Speak on Your Book and on Your Expertise
After publishing 18 books with New York houses, I broke away and started my own indie publishing house. Learning the business and knowing that the dramatic changes in traditional publishing were generating less and less in royalty payouts, I’ve never looked back.
The #1 thing that sold over a million books for me, that supported my family, paid for my kids’ education, and so much more was this: SPEAK. Crafting a speech and/or workshop around your book and expertise propelled me around the world connecting with millions and was the secret sauce to my success.
Speaking took me down avenues I never thought of. My biggest market and buyer of books and speeches discovered me in a small town in New York. Listening to what I had to say, a group of nurses approached me after I spoke—we need you. Yes they did and I didn’t know it until they told me.
Your words, your mouth, can sell books all year long, year after year.
7. Learn How to Market Your Book and Yourself
Authors need—no must—get over the “I would rather be writing” syndrome that so many embrace. Writing is a small fraction of your book success—it’s the marketing that will seed it, fertilize it, and accelerate its growth. Yes, you may be a superb writer. Do you have any idea how many wonderful books have been written that quickly died before a single shoot could surface? Too many to count.
Book success comes from the author’s commitment to practice the GOYT Factor—Get Off Your Tush. Know where your market is, go to it, and connect. If you are in a writing group, figure out if their goals are the same as yours. They can be great for honing craft and brainstorming. But, if you are surrounded by writers who just love to write, who really don’t care if their work gets published, you are in the wrong group.
Determine what is in your success bubble, and then build it so it floats high and wide.