Advice for Writers

From time-to-time readers contact me for advice about writing and publishing. Unfortunately, due to my schedule, I can't personally mentor new writers. However, I do have some advice that I hope will help!

1.My recommended reading list for anyone seeking to become an indie author:

I have read all of these and recommend them because they are actually useful and not a bunch of fluff.

The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing

Let's Get Digital

Let's Get Visible

Email Marketing for Authors

The Hot Sheet by Jane Friedman. This industry newsletter is the NY Times or Wall St. Journal of the publishing world. It monitors trends, reports news and links to content you should not miss. If your goal is to have a long, professional career, you need this newsletter. I read it faithfully.

2.Places to hang out and learn from other authors.

Romance Writers of America (RWA)  (Look for a virtual group/chapter to join)

Author Support Network (Facebook Group)

Wolf Pack Promotions This is my marketing hub for Paranormal Romance, UF, or SF romance. Once you're publishing, come join. I post interesting articles, share industry tidbits and coordinate cooperative promotions that actually sell books.

Also, here's some really great advice on how to be a writer from Hugh Howey.

Don't write romance? Don't worry, you'll still learn a lot from these resources.

3. Places to learn craft.

I've gone to A LOT of workshops with BIG NAME writers/agents/editors and I've read a ton of craft books. To be frank, most of them sucked. This is my list of what's effective and worth your time.

Write Better Faster with Becca Syme: This class uses personality analysis to help you learn to work WITH your strengths to boost creativity and productivity. 

It is an incredible class. I wish I had found it earlier, it would have saved me so much time and angst. It turns out, I don't think like other people so most of the writing books and workshops really don't work with my strengths. Becca helped me sort out what I needed to be successful as a writer.

Anything with Margie Lawson: A clinical psychologist, Margie Lawson blends psychology and craft to improve writing. It's easy to find people who will TELL writers what to do, but to have someone SHOW you, who can reduce what works into 'do this, then that' techniques, is very rare. 

If you can, go work with her in person, but she also has several of her workshops online taught by one of her students.  

I moved mountains to go to her live was worth every hardship and sacrifice. (I'm a huuuuuuuge homebody, for me to be willing to leave my house for a week is a big deal. The second I started working with Margie, I knew I would walk on fire mixed with glass if that's what it took to keep learning from her.)

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass:  Any of Maass' books are good, but they get a little repetitive, so pick one and make it your bible. If you can go to a workshop, that's good, but skip it if you've already read the book...he doesn't bring new content to the workshops (been there, done that). If you read the book, you've done the workshop.

You may find other books or workshops that are useful, but these three will get you up to professional speed the fastest in my opinion.

Note: Syme and Lawson are transformative resources...they will change how you write and work and make you better than you were. Maass is foundational knowledge. Just FYI.

 4. Find your peers.

You need a tribe to have your back. Look for other authors in your genre who are starting out and reach out to the ones who seem savvy and can tell a good story.

5. Just publish. 
You never know what will sell, so don't believe the mean thoughts you think about your work. I've published books that I've hated and thought would never sell only to see them become bestsellers. I've published books that I've loved and believed in with all my heart only to see them flop. If you've written something, publish it, no matter how you feel about it. The market will tell you if you made the right decision or not.

6. Write in a genre that sells.  
If your objective is to make money, avoid genres with low sales. FYI romance outsells every other genre on the planet, so consider starting there. On the flip side, someone has to breakout and be the big seller in other genres and that someone could be you. So try the genre of your heart and see what happens, but maybe work on a few romances as plan B.

7. Know the trends and the industry history.

It's getting tougher every year. You need to be smart. There are more books than ever before, yet the number of readers has stayed the same, and marketing has become less and less effective while the cost has gone up and up.

Some nutshells:

2012-2013: The Golden Era. (Some will say it started earlier or lasted longer, but these two years were the peak from what I saw.) Money came easy. I witnessed dozens of authors become overnight millionaires. Hundreds of authors hit six figures, thousands hit solid five figures and they all quit their day jobs. You saw a steady stream of 'I quit my job' forum posts all over the place. It was an amazing time to be a writer.

2014 was the year of Kindle Unlimited (which has since turned into a cesspool, but we didn't realize how bad it would get back then). This was still a heyday year. Almost everyone was doing well. The big drops in income hadn't happened yet.

2015 was the first year that was worse than the previous year. We didn't know it at the time. We thought we just needed to work harder and get a bigger mailing list, but in reality, this was when the first big restructuring of the industry (which started in 2014 with the launch of Kindle Unlimited) really hit hard and no one could stop it. This is also when smart authors started to up their marketing game. 

2016 was even worse. This was the year readers got tired of newsletters, one of authors' best marketing tools. For the first time, more authors went back to day jobs than quit to write full-time and scamming started to get bad. KU also had major failures...a page flip glitch meant that page reads were grossly under counted. Authors left KU in droves, some have refused to go back since. Everyone was learning FB ads.

2017 was the year of the scammer. Even though the scamming started in 2015, this year it completely gummed up the the point where Amazon finally took legal action to stop the bleeding. Authors who could manage it went back to traditional publishing to stabilize their careers. Everyone was learning AMS ads.

2018 will be the year of divergence. Why do I say that? First, some background on the indie publishing industry...

It's important to understand that an indie career is driven primarily by technology. Publishing has agents, editors, marketing departments and book printing capabilities. Yes, indies have editors and cover artists, but none of that would happen without access to technology.

Why does this matter?

Divergence 1
First, technology has shorter, more vicious business cycles. Innovation is king, so it's constant. Hence, we had KU, then the new version KU1 a year later, then KU2 and now KU3...all making big changes in how KU works (or doesn't as the case may be). Indies must be fast and agile.

When was the last time you read about a brand new publisher making big bucks? Pretty much never.  If anything, a traditional publisher is more likely to go out of business than be the shiny new moneymaker everyone gushes about. But you see the latest tech whizbang in the news every other day, right?

Divergence 2
Second, technology is scammed at a much higher rate than the traditional publishing industry. True, authors have been scamming the bestseller lists for decades, long before ebooks, but technology has meant that any author, anywhere can scam their way to the top. Hence, scamming has grown exponentially over time. Large scale access to technology changes everything, everywhere.

These first two have made indie authors different from the beginning. Number 3 digs into what's coming in 2018.

Divergence 3
Third, technology for ebooks is not modeled after traditional publishing, at least not anymore,...meaning it will diverge almost completely over time. Do you know how the Chinese like to read stories online? You should. There's only a billion of them and they are the origin of many technology trends we see in the US now.

Here's the thing, and why I call 2018 the year of divergence: Indies used to sell in all the same places as traditionally published authors. We had about the same shot at best seller lists that a traditionally published author got. We were more alike than different. 

That is about to change.

The future coming for indies is one in which ebooks are NOT necessarily sold on the same platforms used by traditional publishers and indie book sales will NOT register in the industry like they used to. We will diverge and become more different than alike.

Will this transition be complete in 2018? No. But we will see it develop and make inroads we could have never foreseen back in 2012 when I started in this business.

Think I'm nuts? That Amazon will never lose? Here's the thing, KU's failures have created pressure to find a way to sell books. Because of the scamming, authors are looking for an out. 

Maybe that's not where you are, but I've watched this industry for years, I know authors who are trying to find a better way. Most people see KU for what it is now: A very limited opportunity that cannot build or sustain a career for the vast majority of authors.

(And yes, there are always outliers, but that's why I ignore them. The 1% are not the trend. If you are doing fantastic, that's great, but you are not everyone and much larger numbers are crushed by the current market dynamics at play. Those are the people I'm trying to help.) 

So we have this pressure of 'how can I sell books without the blackhole of scam that is KU?' at the same time different reading models and new technology are coming online. 

Smells like opportunity to me.

Do you know what is happening already in 2017? Authors are jumping into new technology with both feet. They have nothing to lose's not like KU will save them. 

Haven't observed this yet? Don't worry, you will. I can see it because of my's not widely available knowledge yet as of September 2017.

In 2018, we'll begin to see hints of how well up and coming tech is working. If any of it takes off, the big game in town won't just be Amazon anymore.

We could even see another little gold rush, similar to what we had in 2012-14. BUT to cash in, you have to pay attention. You have to know what you're doing. 

Learn, learn, learn. Write, write, write.

My prediction for 2019, as of June 2018, is that it will be the year of reinvention. The market is merciless now. It will force you to figure out how to be competitive or it will drive you out of business. The things we've done the last several years don't work anymore, by and large. We need a new paradigm.

Starting in 2018, authors searched for solutions. Is it branding? Is it marketing? Is it craft? What is the magic bullet? Everyone was looking for the webinar, the class, the workshop to help them figure out how to carve a niche in a crowded market.

And internet marketers did their best to drown us alive in useless webinars. The real information went underground. Authors stopped sharing freely. Partly because the scammers made it hard to know who to trust and partly because dilution is the enemy of all great marketing techniques. 

Why is marketing dilution so bad? The more people do the same marketing thing, the worse that marketing thing performs. Better to shut up and keep it to yourself.

The key going forward is to create an outstanding product at a medium-fast rate of speed (3-4 books a year) and understand branding and how to use various marketing outlets. The faster you acquire the skills to do this, the faster your business will grow.

Cooperative marketing (cross promos, group giveaways etc...) are still effective, easy, and great for beginners BUT also a mine field because the scammers are so pervasive, they get into promos too, and taint everything they touch. The solution is to vet who you work with carefully and build a trusted network of authors...which takes time, it's not overnight.

Nothing is fast now. You need to invest in your knowledge of craft and business to succeed. You can't expect to coast on a good book or good marketing for a mediocre book. It all has to hit hard.

8. Avoid scammers.
My advice on this topic is in this blog post:

Some additional red flags:

1. Any marketing that costs $100 and up...research it like your life depends on it. There are tons of scam marketing services now. At best, they just take your money and run. At worst, their 'services' violate Amazon terms of service and you get in trouble. $100 seems to be the price point at which you should start to be suspicious.

2. Boxed sets have lots of 'organizers' who've taken the money and run. Get references. Be sure there's financial and operational transparency. Don't sign a crap contract.

3. Drama. Anyone who is surrounded by drama all the time is to be avoided. Any hint of mean girl, middle school drama or mind games and you should peace out. These are the people who take the money and run as general rule.

9. Be realistic.
We all want to be the next Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Stephen King, Nora Roberts and James Patterson.

Here's how you figure out your odds of that happening to you.

1. List 1000 authors who, right now, are all household names with movie deals and making more than a million dollars a year.

2. Can't do it? Okay. Sorry. How about 100?

3. Still can't do it? Whoops. How about 50?

4. No? How about 25?

Yeah, that didn't happen either, did it?'s a question: If all those other authors who wrote book after book, hit after hit, aren't Nora Roberts by now, what makes you think you're the one?

Now, you could be. Someone has to be the Chosen One. But Chosen Ones are actually very rare.

What is more common and achievable is this...

Selling really well for a couple years. And by really well, I mean six and seven figures.

The thing is, those sales don't sustain for the most part. Eventually author brands wane.

So the other thing that's common is...hitting bottom again after a big success.

Everyone thinks that the one $500,000 or $1,000,000 year means they've made it, but making it requires sustaining and increasing income over time. You don't make it with the first million, you make it on the first five or ten million. 

Nora was a much bigger deal at the ten million dollar mark than she was at the one million. JK Rowling hasn't topped Harry Potter yet...even Chosen Ones can't produce the same results from book to book or genre to genre. 

You have to last and you have to grow. If that's not happening... you're not the Chosen One.

That doesn't mean you can't make money, but stay humble and be realistic. Assume your income will crash and burn periodically...that way you don't lose your house all the time. And when you're on top of the world? BE NICE. You're going to need friends on the way down.

10.Sign up for my free marketing newsletter. I irregularly send out a marketing round up of links and industry news. No spam. I don't market books. It's strictly an industry newsletter. I do it because it helps me organize my thoughts.  Click here to subscribe.

Happy writing!


  1. Great suggestions Michelle! I'm working on a lycan book. This is my first time at writing anything longer than name. Not as easy as I though it would be. I have a new respect for authors.
    Thanks for sharing with us.
    P.S. I love your paranormal books.

  2. Just found this blog and I believe it still stands true for today!