Wayne Stinnett, Author

Wayne Stinnett, Author

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So, you want to be an author?

For all you folks wondering if your dream of being an author can ever come true. Yes, it can! But, dreaming about it won't do it. You must act. Ben Franklin once said, "Failing to prepare is the same as preparing to fail." He was of course, talking about preparing for war with the British once the Declaration of Independence was signed. But, I've come to realize all those old guys from years ago were probably the most intelligent group to ever live at one time, in one place. Much of the things they wrote can be taken myriad number of ways.

Did I dream about making a better living for me and my family with my story telling? Yeah, for many years. But, I was target fixated. That's when a fighter pilot concentrates so hard on the tango he's trying to shoot down, he completely misses the other one coming up behind him. My target for nearly three decades was getting on the bookstore shelves. I'd never heard of an ebook. Then, our oldest daughter and her husband gave me a Kindle for Christmas two years ago. A few months later, I mentioned to him that I'd been reading a lot of authors I'd never heard of on it. He told me they were probably self published. That's when I learned he worked for Amazon. When I mentioned I'd been trying to get published since the eighties, he explained how self publishing worked and showed me on my laptop how to do it. That was in June, 2013, one year and three months ago.

A month later, I took out those dusty short stories from the late eighties and began writing my first novel based on them. I was determined to do it. My goal was to compile and lengthen those three shorts into two novels and with any luck, I could make enough to buy tools for a wood working shop. I was a truck driver and wanted desperately to get off the road and work for myself, building furniture, cabinets and most of all, boats.

I cranked out my first book, with little or no guidance, in three months and published it last October. I put it out of my mind completely and started on the second one. Though it was 20K words longer, I cranked it out in 2-1/2 months. Mind you, I was working upwards of 70 hours a week as an over the road truck driver and writing in the sleeper of the truck. My first goal was to get both books published before Christmas and that's just what I did, 178K words in less than six months, publishing my second book on 10/23. December sales were only a couple hundred dollars, most of it after the second book. January sales were over $2500. More than enough for all the tools I wanted.

That's when it hit me. I could make a living at this, which had been a dream for decades. Something else hit me at about the same time. The numbers. I realized I'd written 178,000 of my own words in two stories, in 178 days. One thousand words a day. I'd read somewhere that was the key to successful writing. And those two stories earned me $2500 in one month! It wasn't hard to calculate that two more stories in six months would double that income. I hadn't yet learned about how ranking and  exposure caused exponential sales of multiple works. I knew nothing about book marketing, or even proper editing, cover design and formatting. I was wet behind the ears at 55.

That's about the time I found Kindle Boards (www.KBoards.com) and all the writers that hang out in the Writers' Cafe forum there. What a blessing that was. I spent a month lurking and learning everything I could, soaking in the vast expanse of accumulated creative and marketing knowledge that are right there on those boards. I learned what worked and more importantly, I learned what didn't work. Armed with better weaponry, I attacked my first two books with a vengeance and rereleased them as second editions with much better covers, formatting and a marketing plan. Sales climbed slightly and I started on a third book, but without the guidance of those short stories.

I wanted to write about something that I was emotionally too close to, so I sought the help of a young Marine who'd recently left the Corps after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Infantryman. He's the son of a friend and suffered post traumatic stress. At first he was reluctant, until I told him about my own demons. It took us a while, but I like to think we put together a fictional story that might help others to seek out someone to talk to. I published Fallen Pride in early April, 2014. Sales that month were equal to my best month as a truck driver. I was almost there. I could feel it.

From KBoards, I learned a "feeder" was needed, but I was reluctant to reduce the price of my first book, or EGAD, make it permafree. So in just six weeks, I cranked out a 53K word prequel to the others and knowing that my dream was doable and already having a good emergency savings and retirement in place, I QUIT MY JOB half way through writing it. Fallen Out was published on May 30, two weeks before the one year anniversary of the first time I ever heard about self publishing. Since day one, it's been my sales leader, drawing in more and more readers. I intentionally made it a little jerky, to more closely match the pace of my first book.

Last month, I earned more than four times my best trucking month and now KDP wants to reward that hard work by slapping on another three grand? Yes, my friends, dreams really can come true. But, not without sacrifice and hard work. Oh, and planning to succeed. In the Corps, I had a Platoon leader who always reminded us of the "Seven P's", "Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance".

Dream big. My wife and I did this together and then we laid out a detailed plan, in writing, exactly what we needed to do, to make those dreams a reality.

Learn. I was shooting emails back and forth last night with one of my favorite writers, who is now a close friend. Although I didn't discover his work until after I'd started writing my second book and his books were a few years old, we agreed that our works were eerily similar. We both chalked it up to being kindred spirits. He said, "There are no original thoughts, Wayne. Only reorganized ones." There's nothing you can think of doing that hasn't already been done. My dad always told me, "A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of other men." KBoards forums are full of successes and failures. Fortunately, I'd stumbled onto a place where people don't mind sharing both. If something didn't work for other people, why would you try it? Some ideas on there, you can tweak and "rearrange the thoughts" to make it better. It's all there, though. Learn it.

Work hard. One thousand words a day, by habit, will create four 80K-90K word novels a year. You won't make squat with the first one, so hammer out something that'll lure and hook readers. When you have withdrawals because you're not writing that thousand words a day, you'll start to see some success. In some genres, that might happen fast. In others, slower. You might well be a talentless hack. That's okay. Do you honestly think Tiger Woods first game was three under par? Learn and work hard to gain that talent. It's not a sprint. My feeble success was thirty years in the making. That's an ultra-marathon. Sure, there are the very rare few that hit exactly the pacing and many readers happy button and hit it out of the park very early in their career. Odds are you're not going to be one of them. Work toward the future.

Set your prices high. Don't let the market dictate that you should be giving your stuff away cheap. Get that second book out in less than three months. Do a little marketing, so you're part time gig can make enough to pay for itself. Good covers and editing cost money. This will also keep your significant other from screaming that you're squandering the savings.

Keep writing. Hone your craft. Don't be afraid to experiment, there's always a delete button. If you don't like it and you're writing in the genre you like to read, others probably won't either. But, don't let that be your limiting factor. Play around and have fun.

Write what you know. Don't try to write about how beautiful the ocean is if you live in Nebraska and have never seen it. It will show. I'm fortunate. I'm old and have seen a lot more than most. From the islands of the Caribbean to the Columbia River, from the foggy cliffs of Maine, to Rodeo Drive and everywhere in between. I've visited and lived in more foreign countries than most people have visited cities. Write in the genre you most like to read, you already know the pacing of what you like. As a reader, my books are exactly what I love to read.

It's not a dream for the faint of heart. People will call you out in reviews. Friends will tell you it's not possible. I spoke to a guy I used to work with the other day and he asked who I was now driving for. I told him I was still working for myself as a writer, four months after quitting my job. "Ah, unemployment, huh?" he said. "You know that won't last forever." I didn't tell him I'd already made way more since quitting, than I did all of last year as a driver. An easily discouraged person without a plan will sell one copy a month of their one and only book for many years. If a $2 a month pension is okay with you, by all means stop right there. If you want an income stream you can leave to your kids, ignore the nay sayers, think positive, make a plan to achieve your dream and work hard to get there.

But, it all starts with a plan. A dream without a plan is just a wish. And their ain't no dang genies.


  1. Thank you for sharing your insights on the journey to making a career of writing. I found your website through The Passive Voice to your Amazon Author page to this essay.

    I still need to explore more of your website. That said, could you share more on the business plan you and your wife developed (as mentioned in the paragraph which starts with "Dream Big.")? If you have already written on that elsewhere, please feel free to direct me to it.

    Thank you for your service, your service to that younger marine, and in sharing your insights with the writing community.
    Semper Pax, John

    (Second try at commenting...hope this works!)

  2. Hi John,

    Our plans weren't anything earth shattering and we revise them constantly, as situations change. Our first goal was simply to replace my income at 120%, so that I could leave my job and put more time into writing. To reach that goal, we know we had to achieve several smaller goals first. So, we put that goal at the head of a page then figured out the smaller goals needed to achieve that. Simply saying I'm going to replace my income won't do it. How are you going to replace your income? Sell more books. How are you going to sell more books? Write more books. How are you going to write more books? Set aside the time and make it a habit to write every day.

    Replacing my income happened a lot faster than we figured on. The next goal was to do the same for my wife so she could help me at home, with marketing and networking. We followed the same step by step guides, setting small goals and figuring out what we needed to do to achieve each one. Again, it happened way sooner than expected. She's a teacher, so rather than quit the first month of the year, she's staying on until June, which was our original goal.

  3. Writing and marketing plans were different. When I did come home, we'd already decided that to stay visible I needed a new release every three months, until the summer of 2015. Then I plan to slow down a little. That many books meant writing a minimum of 1500-2000 words, five days a week and I set aside the time to do just that. That gives me a completed 80K word to 100K word novel in eight to ten weeks, leaving plenty enough time for editors and cover designers to do their thing. I finished Fallen Mangrove two weeks ago. By the time it's published on 10/4, I'll already be 20K words into my next book and talking to my cover designer. I don't have a title yet, but it's scheduled for release just after the first of the year, with another one scheduled for April, July, and next November. That's 9 books I set a goal for last April, when I'd just published my third one.

    I decided very early on that Amazon and KDP offered marketing tools that the others didn't, so I put my first two books into KDP Select and ran my first Countdown Deal in conjunction with an ad in BookBub, the leading subscription based ebook promoter. Though only two books were published and BookBub has a six month wait between individual books, I marked my calendar for when I wanted to run further ads with them on books I hadn't even written yet. Currently, I have ad campaigns scheduled on my calendar all through 2015, both on books I currently have published and ones I haven't even plotted yet. KDP's new Kindle Unlimited program was like adding another book to my titles. Since it launched on 7/18, I've had consistent daily borrows of all my books that are equal or better than each of my books sales. Without any decline in those sales, too. Between Select and BookBub and the actual implementation of each in conjunction with the other, the other platforms can't even come close.

    To optimize the visibility those BookBub ads produce, I start my Countdown Deals two days ahead and load the day before with smaller, less expensive ads. The result is a rise in rankings from the first day of the CD, which usually results in a hundred or more sales, then boosted by the smaller ads the day before the BB ad, I've gotten into the Top 1000 on Amazon, even as high as #500. From that higher ranking (and the two day historical ranking added to the algorithm), BookBub puts my book into the Top 100 easily. The last one peaked at #15. The visibility from those high rankings, continues to sell a lot of books for many days and weeks.

    I schedule the release of a new book at the same time. The sell through from the ad campaign puts it into Amazon's "Hot New Releases" almost immediately and that lasts for 30 days. My last release has outsold any of my other books for going on 14 weeks now, starting the day after it was published. The first month it outsold any of the others by two to one, every day, for 38 straight days.

    As I said above, success doesn't just happen. It's a simple matter of setting small, easily achievable goals, making a written plan on how to achieve each one and utilizing the right marketing tools. Success breeds success. Achieving one small goal, through planning and hard work creates momentum in your mind. Each goal, once achieved, sets you that much closer to reaching the next one. The Little Engine That Could, comes to mind. Simple, yeah. But, simple ideas and plans work so much easier. There's a reason the United States Constitution is written on a single piece of paper.

    I'll leave you with a simple joke:
    Q: How do you eat an elephant?
    A: One bite at a time.

  4. Hi Wayne,
    Thank you for such a generous response to my question on making a plan for writing success. Your initial essay and your two follow-ups serve as a clinic on how to transform writing/income dreams into goals and from there into measurable progress/success.
    Thank you and Semper Pax, John

  5. Dr. Z,

    I was pretty sure I knew what Semper Pax meant, but googled it anyway. Your blog was at the top of the results. And I was right. Thanks for all your doing to bring light to and help others suffering from PTS. I prefer to leave the D off, thus removing the stygma of a disorder. Anyway, Semper Paratus.