Live your creative life like a dumpster fire caught in a tornado. -Steve B Howard
That is the cover is the most recent book I’ve self published, a heavily fictionalized memoir titled The Nor. Cali Crash Stories. So far I’ve written 3 novels, 1 novella, 1 memoir, 6 short story collections 1 poetry collection, and 1 novelette. 13 books total. Around 310k words. I’ve probably written another 200k at least on Medium and with the screenplays I’ve co-written in the last two years or so. I’ve also written at least 50k words worth of stand up comedy, oneliners, jokes, bits, and chunks. And that’s just the stuff typed up. There’s at least another 500k or so in notebooks too. More than a million words since 1997. Not much compared to some writers, but still not bad either.
I traditionally published the novella (read about that nightmare here) and have self-published 10 of the other books. Four of them very recently. I know my covers aren’t the best and most of my books could do with at least a pro proofread, but I’m confident my words will reach some people. I know this because I get the positive feedback almost every single day across various sns platforms on the work I publish there. People are reading my shit and many of them seem to like it. Maybe some of them might even like it enough to pay for more of it. I don’t know for sure, but unless I put it out there for them I never will know. So, even though 2020 has been every bit as shocking and demoralizing as 2001, 2008, 2011 (Great Tohoku Earthquake) if not more so, I’ve decided I’m going to get my books out there. I also turned 50 in March, so the tired old saying, “You ain’t getting any younger.” landed hard this year too.
I’ve been fence sitting on whether to to try and traditionally publish or self-publish at least three of my books now for years. Agonizing over whether or not sending out hundreds, possibly thousands, of query letters mostly likely for years and very likely not having anything to show for it when I finally pack it in after receiving the rejection email that breaks me. Or, do I self-publish them all and risk making few or no sales?
I realized it is sort of like like the guys I used to see fly fishing that would spend so much time frantically changing flies trying to find the perfect one before they even made a cast. I did that for about a year until I realized on the most days you are lucky if you catch one or two fish. You can’t catch anything if your fly isn’t in the water. So, why not focus most of your time getting your fly in the water instead?
I’ve been acting the same way with my books when it comes to marketing them and publishing them. I have been spending way too much time searching for the perfect plan, strategy, technique, or sns platform. Like the fly fisherman standing on the bank changing his flies while the trout swim away I realized no one can buy or read my books if they aren’t available.
But at the same time in fly fishing circles there is also something called “flailing over dead water”. This means you are casting your fly to areas where there are unlikely to be any fish. Just like with fly fishing I realized just throwing my books out into the world probably isn’t going to get me very many book sales. As with anything, having a plan is the usually the most effective way to go about something.
The sad truth about self-publishing is that most writers aren’t earning much. There are plenty of “writers” though that will promise to tell you their “secret to success” if you buy their books, take their classes, ect.
I have read about and talked several Indie writers that seem to be doing very well. They all have their own way of doing things, but I noticed that all of them mentioned three things that they felt really made the difference for them in terms of book sales.
The Three Things That They All Mentioned
1. Build an email list of at least 1000 people.
2. Have a back list of at least 20 books or more
3. Write a series in one of the top selling genres Romance, Y/A, Sci Fi, or Fantasy.
I have a small email list of about 60 people. How many of them will actually buy my books is hard to say, but I think at least ten of them are probably true fans that will buy my books because they love my writing. The question then becomes, “How do I get more people like that to subscribe to my blog/newsletter”?
So far the only way I know of building an email list, at least the only success I’ve had is by doing subscription trades/shares with other writers in FB groups. This usually gets me 3–5 new subscribers a week. Another technique that I haven’t tried yet is give books away for free in exchange for people signing up to your newsletter. I’ve been researching different ways of going about it and plan on trying it soon.
20 Book Back List
I currently have 11 published books. 12 actually, but I don’t include the novella anymore since it is effectively out of print. At least the crap version that Urban Farmhouse Press released is out of print now, but still on fucking Amazon for some reason.
I have two more books that need to be edited and proofread, but at least the first drafts are finished. And I have enough material for one more poetry collection, two haiku collections, and possibly another short story collection. Also, book two of my Cyberpunk series Mystical Meat Machines is about three quarters of the way written as well.
If I’m able to finish and release all of these books by the end of the year I’d have 18 books out. And since I’m planning on making the Sci Fi/Cyberpunk novelette books a ten book series that would put me at 26 books total when I’m done.
If my plan to release a new book in the series every 1–2 months works out I’d easily hit 26 books by the end of 2021.
Write a Series in a Popular Genre
As I mentioned, the first book in my Sci Fi/Cyberpunk novelette series Mystical Meat Machines is already available for pre-order. This is another lesson though that has taken me a very long time to accept. I think for most of the two decades I’ve been seriously writing I’ve sort of thought of myself as a modern John Steinbeck, an author of literary fiction. What an ignorant and arrogant twat I’ve been.
There is a reason why four genres of fiction make up the lion’s share of book sales on Amazon, the online book retailer that sells about 70% of all books in the world now. My “literary” stuff is out there too, but when it comes to which books I promote and market, from now on Mystical Meat Machines will be the one I pump first.
And if that ain’t enough I’ve also co-written 2.5 screenplays, one of which that me and my writing partner hope has a lot of commercial potential. Even though the film industry is in tatters right now we still plan on finishing the editing and polishing process this year and try and shop it around to see if anyone is interested in developing it.
So even though for the most part my “writing career” is still a “dumpster fire caught in a tornado” it is one that I’ve at least half saddled and I’m attempting to guide to a more lucrative pasture.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.