BLOGS

The Road to $10k: An Author's Journey

As a completely unknown author with no big connections and no following (and no income), the problem of becoming a known author with connections and a following (not to mention a steady income) looms over me. So many of the success stories out there seem to boil down to just-so, “and then I got lucky” stories.

Well, I’ve come to understand that luck is mostly a matter of managing you opportunities well. If you develop more opportunities, you have better chances of one of those opportunities being the Big Break. Some people call it “manufacturing luck”.

So, how does an author manufacture luck?

I have no idea. So this author is going to start experimenting.

I’m going to set myself a big, hairy, audacious goal. Inspired by one of my favorite startups, Groove, I’m going to set my goal at $10k of revenue per month. No timeline, because I’m starting at $0; I’ll get there when I get there, and I’ll share what I learn along the way.

To get to $10k/month, at the very least, I’ll need a backlist of books for sale on Amazon and other retailers. Right now, I have no books.

The journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step.

First, I need a story. OK, Star Wars is big in the cultural conversation right now, and the Galaxy’s Edge books seem to be blowing up. Seems like there’s a market opportunity here. I have a short story I wrote a while back that my wife has begged me to expand upon, and it’s in Galactic Empire setting. ✅

Of course, I haven’t written the expanded story yet. I’m still developing my writing habit, so this is going to take a while. But I’m impatient, and there’s a huge risk in taking on a longer project with no built-in audience: will it sell? I simply don’t know. So how about serializing it? It worked for Charles Dickens and Andy Weir, among others. Also, it gives me small, manageable deadlines, and a kick in the pants. ✅

I’m picking a manageable pace: ~1,500 word episodes released weekly. I’ve also built a 12-episode buffer for vacations, sickness, and family emergencies. With my current writing habit, I can manage ~2,000 words a week with low effort, and easily more if I really focus. ✅

Structurally, I’m going to follow what I’ve heard referred to as a “fractal Dent”, that is, a larger story arc built up from individual units following Lester Dent’s Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. Dent’s formula works very well for episodic fiction, because you end up with a twist every 1,500 words or so, and a full arc in 6,000 words. I’ve written several short stories using the formula, and I find that it flows very naturally and results in exciting stories that keep the reader engaged. In setting up my 12 episode buffer, I’m finding that the formula adapts just fine within a larger plot, and forces me to discipline myself and not get side tracked by characters commuting or navel-gazing. ✅

I’m publishing each episode on my own site, https://eykd.net, because I want to start building that up. This gives me full control over the presentation of the story, a canonical location for each episode, and traffic analytics so I can measure my marketing experiments. ✅

Each episode ends with a call to action to join my mailing list to receive updates. Current population: 1 (myself). ✅

1 subscriber out of 100

I’ll publish new episodes each day on a Tuesday, and send a link out to my mailing list. My site lets me schedule posts ahead of time, so it doesn’t rely on my ability to do things in a precise timely fashion. ✅

As the serial progresses, I’ll clean the episodes up and roll them into ebooks and publish those on Amazon, etc. I’ll stealth launch those to Amazon to build my also-bought, then advertise them to the mailing list. ✅

I’m pretty sure all that can’t fail but to make me a real live author, technically. But I still have no audience, so there’s a danger that all of this will end up being just me playing with puppets in an empty room. So what do I do? Experiment!

I was inspired by this article on what’s known as the Bullseye Framework. To summarize, you can’t do everything, so:

  1. Look at the available marketing channels (outer ring).
  2. Pick a few probable channels, set up an experiment in each (middle ring).
  3. Measure and see what works, then double down on what works and jettison the rest (bullseye!).

Here are the probable channels I’ve identified:

Twitter 🐦

While I’ve mostly given up on Twitter, I do have a small following built up over the years, and I’ve occasionally posted interesting links that occasionally get clicked on. No reason not to try this one. Buffer.com lets me schedule tweets, so I’ll schedule a tweet on Tuesday mornings, and then an ICYMI tweet on Tuesday evenings. ✅

Syndication 📺

I’ve identified three sites where I will be syndicating my episodes: Medium.com, Wattpad.com, and Steemit.com, each for a different reason. Because I don’t want Google to penalize my home site’s search ranking because of duplicate content, I’ll post to the syndication sites on Thursdays. This also gives an incentive for readers at these sites to join the mailing list, so they can get access to new episodes two days earlier. I’ve been inspired by the example of Benjamin Cheah who publishes his stories in multiple venues and seems to be doing well.

Medium.com is huge right now. Tons of people write here, mostly non-fiction, but there’s some fiction too, and I like how the site is geared towards getting out of the way of readers and authors. I’m setting up the whole work as a publication, and linking episodes to each other manually. ✅

Wattpad.com is designed for free serial long-form fiction, and has a large community devoted to discovering new authors. There’s no reason not to try this one out. There’s also really good potential for getting good feedback on the story as it proceeds, as the community is fairly chatty by reputation. The biggest downside is that I can’t put links in the text of the episode, so I’m using plain-text links, with the link on its own line for maximum ease-of-use. ✅

Steemit.com is the longest shot in my set of experiments. It’s a weird, quirky website that’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from Bitcoin and an early beta of Medium. In theory, published works on Steemit can earn value in the form of cryptocurrency (long story short, more valuable than Monopoly money, less reliable than USD). In actual practice, Cheah reports significant income from Steemit. I don’t care too much about the income stream, as it doesn’t sound like it’s worth the tax-reporting burden. Right now, this is just a channel for driving readers to my mailing list. The biggest annoyance is that once something’s been posted on Steemit for 7 days, it’s set in stone, no more edits, so I have to be careful URL construction (so that it’s easy to find the next episode). ✅

Road to $10k blog series 💰

You’re reading it right now. 😅 Big hairy audacious goals can make people sit up and take notice. The folks at Groove did something like this and it helped them tremendously when they were first getting going as a startup. Fiction publishing may not be the same as a SaaS startup, but it is a business, and there’s a lot of mystery surrounding it, and a lot of talking heads telling their Just-So Big Break stories. So, this one is mine. 😁

The big problem here is that people who are interested in reading about an author building up his income from $0 to $10k a month may not be interested in reading a Galactic Empire serial space opera. So, this is more of a publicity stunt than anything. I’ll build a separate mailing list, and put less effort into it than the main serial. This will be strictly a “hey, that’s an interesting result” sort of series.

So, that’s what I’m going to be doing. Will it work? Some of it might. Some of it is sure to fail!

Please take a moment to comment below, and tell me: do you think any of this will work? Am I missing anything blindingly obvious?

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