fiction writing

1,000 True Fans in 150 Words

If you want to make a living from your art, you should be familiar with this.

1,000 True Fans: Artists can make a living by connecting with 1,000 true fans who spend $100/year on their creations. No need for runaway blockbuster success. Thanks, internet!

The Problem With 1,000 True Fans: But really, who’s going to spend $100 a year every year even on a favorite artist? And even if they did, how much of that money goes to the artist in practice?

5000 Fans: You can also do it with 5,000 fans who spend $20/year on you. And 5,000 still isn’t that many.

The Reality of Depending on True Fans: But it’s still pretty tricky to find and keep that many true fans.

The Case Against 1000 True Fans: Plus (as of 2008) not many people seem to be doing this successfully.

Write. Publish. Repeat.: But (as of 2014) these guys are and they can help you, too.

Cheers!

—Ben

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The Problem of Writers Writing About Writing to Get Readers

Oh, man, guys. Bookshelfbattle just put it perfectly.

Sometimes with all of the blogging, twittering, and social media-ing, I just wonder if all writers are doing are talking to other writers. It’s like we’re all door-to-door salesmen, knocking on a door, “Wanna buy my book?” And the person answers, “No, but do YOU wanna buy MY book?” [link]

This made me so happy! It’s exactly right, with a brilliant mental image thrown in. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially as I’m getting into blogging properly for the first time in a while. I’m already slipping into writing as a writer for writers to attract writers to my writing blog so they’ll read… my… stories? Well, that’s no good.

My real goal is to find a huge band of brilliant friends and fans who love reading what I write and talking about things I’m into and doing cool stuff to make the world a better place. So I start writing about whatever I’m currently obsessed with to draw the people that will align with it. And I’m obsessed with writing, self-publishing, generous marketing, etc. And other stuff, but it’s taking a strange degree and style of discipline to get into other headspaces in the context of blogging.

So I end up writing a blog for writers rather than readers. Which might work out, because writers are mostly thinking people who love great stories and read a ton, so that’s cool. But even so I’m engaging them as writers trying to get better at writing, not as readers looking for a good story.

So then I figure I need to be writing stuff my (potential and actual) readers would enjoy. Not content about creating content. Just…you know, content. Except I write novels, and that’s not great in blog format. So I can write supporting bonus materials and behind-the-scenes stuff.

Tricky bit there is that only a few dozen people are familiar with my work at the moment, so if I give excerpts, backstories, fun tidbits about the story world, character profiles, and that sort of thing, nobody will know what I’m talking about, and if I talk about other stuff it’s a different form of the original problem. I’m just talking to game-lovers about games or communal people about living in community or spiritual people about our invisible friends, and I can occasionally tack on a mention of my books and people might read them, but it’s still not really engaging with readers as readers.

I’m still figuring this out. The easy first steps are to be very generous and to actively be a reader, not just a writer. At minimum this opens up a dicey little quid-pro-quo with you other aspiring writers where I’ll try out your story and read/buy/love/recommend it if I like it, and maybe in a few cases you’ll try mine out too. But I don’t really enjoy that arrangement. Setting aside the fairly low readership numbers it’s likely to garner, it also just feels a little fakey and weird. I love reading peoples’ stories, but I don’t want it to be so they’ll read mine and I don’t want to feel pressure to respond a certain way because I want them to like me and I don’t want them to feel obligations and all. At best, it’s a strange and roundabout way to find one of the aforementioned brilliant friends.

More fundamentally, I want to get better at providing all kinds of cool things that I like and that my aforementioned brilliant friends would like. Sometimes writing, sometimes game design, sometimes kerning or sea monsters or metaphysics. And sometimes my actual stories, either bonus materials or just actual chunks of story. And sometimes exciting announcements that the next book is out or that I have a cool bundle of fun available. (Speaking of which…)

What’s scary about that is it means constantly re-breaking the mold. I’m theoretically all for losing readers rather than redirecting my writing to cater to a perceived audience’s perceived expectations. But already, a few posts in, I find myself hesitant to write posts that are much shorter or longer than what I have, or in a different format, or about a different kind of thing, because I’m already finding really cool people who like what I write about writing, and if I write about sea monsters maybe it will break the spell and you’ll all leave. (Which is irrational, of course, because who doesn’t love sea monsters?)

So all that to say, this blog isn’t going to just be writing tips. Might be a little while before I get it out of my system because the art and business of writing are what I think about for dozens of hours a week. But there might also be tea and mythical beasts at some point. Some of you find that exciting, not disappointing, and I’m really, really excited that you’re here.

Thank you, bookshelfbattle. Really great phrasing of an important situation. Everyone else, do you want to buy bookshelfbattle’s book? I think you should buy bookshelfbattle’s book. (Bookshelfbattle, do you have a book? Blast. Should have thought this through.)

But seriously, at least check out the blog. I’m enjoying it a ton. Finally someone who’s putting out engaging ideas for discussion, not just writing writing tips for writers writing for writers.

Cheers!
—Ben

Measuring Success as an Indie Author

Figuring out when you’ve “made it” as an author can be tricky. Perhaps the easiest measure of success is signing a publishing deal, though in reality that’s far from indicating any lasting literary or financial success. Still, it’s a convenient benchmark.

Unless you have no interest in getting a traditional publishing deal. My goal is to make a full-time living as an author, and, in broad strokes, I’m convinced self-publishing is the best route for that. So I don’t have the convenience of a literary establishment to give legitimacy to my work.

So maybe it’s about sales numbers. But what’s enough? 100 sales per month? 1,000? 10,000? It feels totally arbitrary. There’s always going to be someone selling more than you, and as soon as you’ve sold any books at all you’re in a pretty high percentile among aspiring authors. And there’s such a smooth gradation in between that I don’t think I’d be satisfied by reaching any particular number; it would just be time to bump the number up and start again.

Same goes for income. I do have a specific target income in mind that would allow me to quit my day job and write full time, but even there, how long do I need to sustain that income before it’s justified to make the leap? And who says that means I’ve made it? If I give in and write crappy 30,000-word self-help books with SEO’d titles that will sell like hotcakes and get me there faster have I really won at writing?

Is it enough for my family to barely scrape by on my writing income, or do we have to be marginally comfortable and secure before I’m really successful? Or do I need to be able to buy nice things or rent an office or something? Past a certain point, income is just another number. No, my financial goal just marks when I get to go full-time, not whether I’m succeeding as a writer.

In the end, I have settled on two measures of success. To measure my success as a writer, I always turn back to this:

1. Am I crafting worthwhile stories and ideas that only I can put into the world?

2. Did I substantially add to my word count today?

Writing in Bursts: Quick Progress for Busy Writers

I’m starting to enjoy a new writing strategy: writing in three-minute bursts. Three minutes feels like almost nothing, so it’s completely non-threatening and makes no real disruption to your day. Once you’ve done a handful of them, though, the word count starts building up. If you don’t have large patches of free time to give to your writing, this is one way to keep making progress each day.

I use the Session Target tool in Scrivener to make this even more fun and productive. Session Target is a progress bar that fills as you approach a word count target you get to set. I set it for my three-minute word count record and see if I can beat it in the next burst.

[Edit: Bursts also pair well with this new motivational tool I made for myself: Writing Mission Generator]

Yesterday I peaked at 157 words on my second burst, which is pretty crazy. My usual rate for composing new prose is 10-25 words per minute, so I doubled the high end. I never quite reached that rate again over several more bursts, but it pushed me hard and several bursts hit 120 words or more. Best of all, the quality was comparable to what I usually create.

Short version: I wrote over 1,500 words yesterday without setting aside any major writing time.

Your numbers may be higher or lower than mine; that’s not really the point. A page a day is a book a year. A page is 250-350 words. Even if you only manage 30 or 40 words per burst, that’s 6 or 8 bursts. Three-minute bursts.

You can do one instead of checking Facebook one time. You can do one while you wait for your Pop-Tarts to pop or your tea to brew. Shave 3 minutes off each break you take. Squeeze in a burst between phone calls. Three minutes is nothing. There’s three-minutes-es all over the place. And if you’re pushing yourself to go faster with each one, you’ll be pushing your upper limit. It’s not hard to sustain ridiculous speed for a measly three minutes.

Two things to bear in mind:

1. For this method to work, it needs to be frictionless. Have your writing up with the cursor in the right place, ready to pick back up immediately. Have a three-minute timer easily accessible. I like e.ggtimer.com/3min. Have some idea what’s next in the story; using your first burst to quickly sketch out what you’ll write today may be a good plan if you’re having trouble with this. And being a fast typist is a big help.

2. This method is for busy writers who don’t have the time (or, as the case may be, discipline) to set aside large chunks of writing time. If there’s any way you can manage uninterrupted chunks of an hour or more, do that instead. You’ll build writing momentum and have less overhead to deal with in the form of remembering where you left off and getting your head in the right space.

If you really want to supercharge your writing, I highly recommend Rachel Aaron’s incredible post, How I Went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Part of her strategy is to set aside longer chunks of time for writing. If you want to dig deeper into her method, she’s expanded it into a book as well: 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron.

That said, if you’re not free to go write for hours in a coffee shop, three-minute bursts will keep you limber and, more importantly, keep your word count rising. Making writing bursts a regular habit will also help reduce friction in your writing overall. The more I scatter quick bursts of writing through my day, the more I find myself able to pick up and make useful progress on a moment’s notice, which is an incredibly useful skill for a writer with a busy life.

I also find that it seeds my thinking. The quick dips back into the world of my story leave me attuned to the next story decision, the next scene or moment or action. My brain works on it in the background because it knows that any moment it may need to dive back in and produce at breakneck speed for a few minutes.

Best of all, it’s really fun. It adds a bit of excitement and challenge to my day, and it feels awesome to recapture bits of time I would have just been spacing out or transitioning between activities and turning those useless moments into cold, hard word count.

If you try this out I’d love to hear how it worked for you. Any similar writing strategies you’ve used in the past? Drop me a comment below and let me know.

Cheers!

—Ben