March 18, 2020

Julie Glover

So...Coronavirus.

Whatever we'd originally planned to post today, it seemed like we should take a breather and just admit our current reality: COVID-19 has created unprecedented consequences and challenges.

It's rough out there.

As of this writing, the World Health Organization's latest situation report includes 179,112 confirmed cases and 7,426 deaths. The outbreak map looks like this:

CDC, March 16, 2020

Not to mention that Tom Hanks and Idris Elba have both tested positive. The madness!

Gone from our daily lives are many activities we counted on to provide for, support, and entertain us.

Some of y'all have been seriously impacted with income difficulties, family concerns, and personal anxiety. Here at Writers in the Storm, we want to give you a big, online hug. Socially distanced, of course.

When in crisis...

As Lisa Cron laid out beautifully in her book, our brains are wired for story. We craft stories to make sense of the world around us, learn from our experiences, and form plans for the future.

Stories are powerful.

Go on any social media platform right now, and you'll find people sharing their stories about how things are going. Or making up stories of how's it going, to evoke empathy or laughter. #QuarantineLife was trending on Twitter, as folks shared their newfound realities. And did so with real creativity!

No, I have no idea who those people are, but those are stories about how it's going. And others are intrigued by them.

Then there are those who turn to story to explain what's happening right now. Whether it's studying historical events like the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 or the SARS outbreak of 2003, or finally reading or watching such fictional pandemic stories as Stephen King's The Stand novel or Steven Soderbergh's Contagion film, people look for comparisons. Some comparisons work, some don't, but we use them to help us tell today's story.

It's something to do.

Of course, plenty of people whose lives have been disrupted find comfort in stories as simply something to do.

More people are binging shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming networks. Readers are pulling books off their to-be-read piles and finally diving in or downloading new reads on their phones and tablets.

Someone out there who's been wanting to write a novel since forever is finally putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and turning out a word count they couldn't manage before. If that's you reading this post right now, good for you! After all, in case you hadn't heard, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine.

Though I'm with author Lauren Hough on this one:

It's also a challenge.

But as many people as there are now digging deep into stories, a number of writers just lost their ability to get any work done.

Yes, I see all of you parents who suddenly have preschool or school-aged children under foot. Not to mention those working overtime in healthcare or caring for someone who's sick. And those who got caught away from home when the travel bans hit.

Forget word count. You just want some semblance of normalcy!

Your work of fiction has been replaced by your personal story of upheaval. Believe me when I say the WITS team is pulling for you to have a happy ending.

Whatever your situation, we invite you to tell your story here. That's what we as humans do in everyday life, but especially in crisis: we craft and share stories.

Let us know what's going on since COVID-19 altered your life or tell us an exaggerated or fictional tale that connects or cheers us up in the face of difficulty. What's your story?

Julie Glover has oddly experienced little disruption lately—being a committed introvert, empty-nester, and self-employed writer. As a Gen Xer, she was mentally prepared for apocalyptic events by movies like War Games, Red Dawn, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Though she really thought it would be the rise of the machines, not a virus, that eventually closed restaurants and bars. Anyway...

If you need something awesome to read right now, check out her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, which finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now on sale!

March 16, 2020

Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes

In Indie Publishing 101—Part I, we discussed the shifting paradigm of the publishing world, what it takes to be an independent publisher, and how we produce quality, publish-ready manuscripts. Today, we will look at what is involved in the actual production of a quality indie book.

1. Layout

Pretty books don’t just happen. The visual layout of the book must be designed, paying special attention to font, spacing, and the overall visual aesthetic. We put countless hours into the quality of our content. It is just as important that it be easy to read.

  • Hire someone

Again, ask your author network for references. There are big companies that do this, as well as individuals, and the cost is $200 and upward.

However, I do not recommend hiring out formatting, and this is why . . .

  • Vellum

For roughly the same amount that it costs to hire someone to layout one book, if you have a Mac, you can get a Vellum program and layout an unlimited number of books on your own. To be clear, I am a techno-moron, and even I was able to use Vellum without too much stress. It is user-friendly, and once you get the hang of it, you can format your own books in a few minutes to a few hours.


ProTip: Always save all changes in Vellum to an RTF file. Vellum gives you that option in the dropdown under “File.” If you don’t do this, and your computer dies, causing you to transfer all of your files to a new computer, some of your files might not transfer over unless you have the RTF backup. At that point, you have to re-create the file from scratch. #voiceofexperience


  • Programs for PCs

Online publishing companies, such as Draft2Digital, offer layout services. There are also many other companies out there with layout services for both e-books and print. I recommend a Google search and talking with other writers with PCs about what works for them.

  • Editing

When we do our own formatting, we can make our own changes at will. That means when we update our books or our bios and "Also by," we can go into our published works and make the changes rather quickly without needing to rely on a third party.

2. Cover Art

It may be that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but we can't help it. We just do. A great cover can make all the difference for sales, and the last thing an indie publisher wants a book cover to look like is "indie" in a bad way. There are several options for achieving the professional covers our books deserve.

  • Hire a Cover Artist

Hiring an artist for cover work can cost upward of $200 and usually does. To find the right artist for you, ask your author network, study bestselling indie books in your genre and find out who did the cover art, or look online. If you love their work, your readers probably will too.

Publishing companies such as Kindle Direct Publishing and Draft2Digital also offer cover services. However, I have never used them to say how they are. I recommend checking reviews and asking other authors who have tried them.

  • Buy a Pre-Made Cover

I know. You’re wondering how someone could have already made a cover for your book. I wondered the same thing, but some of these are outstanding. Just search on “pre-made book covers,” and peruse literally thousands of covers that cost $50 and up. Make sure they are only sold once, so that the cover is actually yours if you purchase it. It may not be exactly what you have in mind, but, then again, it might.

  • Design Our Own

Purchase Adobe Photoshop or some other graphic design program, study the covers on the bestselling books in your genre, noting the common colors, common imagery, and common fonts, and make covers that embrace the current fashion. Yes, covers have their own fashion fads. It’s a learning curve to making them on our own, but there are benefits.

  • The cover will be exactly what we want.
  • We can edit and re-size the cover, as well as make business cards, bookmarks, and bling designs.
  • The cost is only the price of the program and any necessary photos.
  • We are rewarded with the instant gratification that comes from making something beautiful after only a few hours of work—the exact opposite of producing a manuscript.

ProTip: Don't make covers in a vacuum. Cover art is just like the manuscript. We need to do several passes, and then, when we think it is perfect, we need input from at least two or three people whose opinions we respect. Then we must set aside our egos and adjust accordingly.


3. ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

Books need ISBNs. These are numeric book identifiers that are unique to each form of each book.

The same book needs a different ISBN for each format. For example, our book Spycraft: Essentials has one ISBN for the digital format and a different ISBN for the print format. When we have the audiobook, it will have a third ISBN. The ISBN for each format is the same across all platforms, so, for example, the digital ISBN for Spycraft: Essentials is the same for Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and all other outlets.

Subsequent editions also require new ISBNs for each format.

One popular place to purchase ISBN numbers is Bowker Identifier Services. The (current) cost is $125 for one or $295 for ten. They have other packages, as well, with volume pricing.


ProTip: If you publish the digital format through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can forgo an ISBN for a KDP-assigned ASIN. However, that will only work for KDP. You will still need an ISBN for other outlets.


4. Copyright Registration

While copyright can be established without technical registration, it is best to register a copy of the book with the US Copyright Office. This will short-cut any lawsuits that arise surrounding the copyright.

Go to the US Copyright Office and follow the instructions to register your work. Read the fine print and do exactly what it says. It’s straightforward, takes about fifteen minutes, and does not require an attorney. Enter your information, pay $55 online, and then upload the manuscript. The Copyright Office will take a few weeks to process it, notify you of any issues that need to be resolved, and then send your certificate of registration.

Copyright registration is not required to publish a book, but it is a good idea. We can register a copyright with the US Copyright Office at any time before or after publication.


ProTip: At the end of the program at the US Copyright Office, it gives you the chance to review everything you have entered. Review this carefully. If there is a way to edit after it goes past that point to the payment process, I have not yet found it.


Now that we have a beautiful layout, stunning cover art, our ISBNs, and our copyright in order, it's time to publish and market our book baby. We will look at that process on March 23 in Indie Publishing 101–Part III.

These articles are by no means a comprehensive treatise on indie publishing. With the constant changes in the publishing world, we must all keep learning to keep up, so I would love to hear your tips and experience with indie publishing.

How do you do your layouts? What has been your experience with layout programs? Where do you get your cover art? If you do your own, what tips can you share? Do you register your copyright? If so, do you register it before or after you publish.

About Piper

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Their latest release, SPYCRAFT: Essentials, is designed for writers. It addresses the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, the spook personality and character, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. It is available in digital format and print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

March 13, 2020

Piper Bayard

“Writing is an art, but publishing is a business.”
~ Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes

That may be a grim thought to us artists, but it is true, nonetheless. We write for different reasons—fun, therapy, journaling, therapy, to master a skill, to be part of an artistic community, therapy, because the stories are hammering inside our heads and must get out. On the other hand, since publishing is a business, we publish for only one reason—to make money.

If you are reading this article, you’ve probably already put seat to the chair and dared to begin that most glorious and yet most horrific of creations, a first manuscript. I say horrific because, while it is an outstanding accomplishment to get to The End, it is also only the beginning. Once we have that most precious brain child, what then?

Well, of course, the top New York agents fight over the chance to make us a star with a publisher bidding war for our manuscript, a record-breaking advance, a publicity team, an art team, and the best of editors who will no doubt congratulate us on being the first author they know who doesn’t need any edits. In fact, they will thank us for the privilege of being allowed to work with us... Well, it could happen, right?

Not on this planet.

On this planet, publishing is less an institution and more shifting sands—like a sandstorm is shifting sands. Only five major publishing houses are left standing, and one of them is up for sale as I write. Countless medium, small, and micro-publishers have sprung up to challenge the Big Five, some with more success than others.

In response to this shifting publishing paradigm, publishing houses have been paring down the number of authors they take on, often choosing those authors based on narrow parameters of style, message, and politics. All of those publishers have sales teams that choose a select few authors, as in three or four, to fully support with publicity, book tours, and marketing teams. The rest of the authors are tossed out into the deep end to sink or swim on their own, doing much of the work while giving up most of the money. In this paradigm, independent publishers and self-published authors have flourished, often doing better than their traditional counterparts.

Wait, isn’t an independent publisher a self-published author?

No. While specifics of that distinction vary depending on whom we ask, generally, the self-published author hires a company to handle their editing, proofreading, artwork, layout, etc., and that company sends the author a complete package in exchange for a hefty sum.

The independent publisher, on the other hand, separately hires their own beta readers, editors, layout artists, cover artist, etc., and has complete control over the final product. Many independent publishers, such as myself and my writing partner, do everything for ourselves except for the beta reading and editing. It allows us to maintain artistic and quality control of our work, and it means any money generated is ours to keep.

The most important word in that last sentence is quality. The primary beef with independent publishers is poor quality. To be successful as an indie, we must be dedicated to producing professional-level publications, no matter the cost to our egos.

What does quality independent publishing require?

1. Education & Practice

While there are no right or wrong stories, there are definitely more and less-effective ways to present those stories. We must learn our craft and the business of publishing to be effective.

Then we must practice. It is said that the first one million words are the internship. I recommend blogging in addition to manuscript writing to get that first million. Blogging keeps us engaged with the world, helps us build our brand and a marketing platform, and gives us something to point to when people ask where they can read our work. It also gives us the instant gratification of completing a product in less time than it takes to produce a novel.

For writing craft, I recommend any or all of James Scott Bell’s several outstanding writing craft books. Also read, read, read. It helps to think about what we love in other authors’ books and how we can incorporate those elements into our own. I also recommend studying the generous advice from the talented authors here at Writers in the Storm, the amazing authors of the Writers Helping Writers site, and Kristen Lamb’s posts and classes.

2. A Publish-Ready Manuscript

  • Completed work

A completed work is more than a first draft. It’s a manuscript we have allowed to ripen with at least three passes over time. Many authors, including myself and my writing partner, do five or more passes before sending a manuscript on to beta readers and editors.

Ideally, we leave it in a drawer and ignore it for a bare minimum of three weeks before we start on the next draft. Many authors prefer to let a manuscript sit for at least a year between the first draft and subsequent drafts so that they might see it with fresh eyes.

Once we have given our all and know of no more improvements we can make on our own, we are ready to share our manuscript for some honest feedback.

  • Beta Readers

Beta readers are not our parents, siblings, or best friends. They are people who usually don’t love us and who have the spine to give us honest feedback on our books. They should be familiar with the genre either through their own writing, their own reading, or their life experience. For example, one of Bayard & Holmes’s most invaluable beta readers for our espionage nonfiction is a former CIA Operations Officer who reads everything his hands touch.

Some beta readers will perform the service for free, and others must be hired. It is up to the author to decide which is best for the book, but both routes are equally valid if they provide the perspective and experience for valuable feedback.

  • A Brilliant Editor

Once we have received our beta readers’ advice and edited accordingly, we are ready for our star editor to come into the process. This is where Holmes and I put our money. There are no great books without great editors, and we earn the opportunity to work with great editors by being diligent with our education, our revisions, and the quality of our rough manuscripts. And every manuscript is rough until it has passed through the hands of a great editor.

To find a great editor, consult your author network or author social media groups for recommendations. Research the editor’s background and check out the books they have edited. Discuss exactly what services they provide, how much they charge, and when payment is due. And gird your loins.

As I said above, publishing is a business. Businesses are about making money; they are not about stroking our egos. Our editors must be able to trust us enough to speak plainly to us. We don’t pay editors to tell us our books are perfect. We pay them to tell us how our books suck and how we can fix them.


ProTip: The only correct response to an editor is, “Thank you,” whether you agree with what they said or not. Never argue. That’s the mark of an amateur. Instead, take what you need and leave the rest.


  • A Meticulous Proofreader

Publishing a book without proofreading it is like sending your child to school in their pajamas. After all of the work we put into our manuscripts, why would we send them out the door looking like nobody loves them? Find a good proofreader by asking your author network and social media groups, and be ready to pay for their services.

Sometimes an author wants to break punctuation rules. That’s okay if it serves the greater purpose of the work, but we know what rules we are breaking, and we should be able to articulate to ourselves exactly why we think our outlaw punctuation makes our books better.


ProTip: The best proofreaders cite the punctuation rule for every change they make to the manuscript. Most use the Chicago Manual of Style.


Once we have put in the time and effort to learn our craft, practice it, rewrite several drafts, and have our manuscript thoroughly edited and proofread, we are ready to move on to the actual book production. We will discuss that next Monday in Part II of this three-part series on Indie Publishing 101.

My knowledge on this topic, like anyone’s in this ever-shifting kaleidoscope called the publishing world, is not the be-all and end-all. We will all always need to learn. I would love to hear what works for you.

What resources have helped you most in developing your craft? Do you hire your beta readers, or are they volunteers? Who are your favorite editors and proofreaders? Is there anyone you would recommend, and in what genre?

About Piper

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Their latest release, SPYCRAFT: Essentials, is designed for writers. It addresses the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, the spook personality and character, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. It is available in digital format and print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

March 11, 2020

Colleen M. Story

Image by Free_Photos from Pixabay

Let’s face it: time management is a must for writers today.

Not only must we find a way to fit writing into our lives, but we also have to figure out how to market our books and build our platforms. All told, writing is like a second job, which means we have to be smart about managing our time.

If you’re still struggling with this part of your writing life, check out the following list. It could be that you’re making some of these mistakes that can be easily corrected.

1. Putting Your Writing Last

It may make sense to write after everything else is done, particularly if you’re still not sure where writing fits in your life, or if you wonder whether your work is “good enough” to warrant a significant investment.

I thought like this early on in my writing career, but then I realized something: as long as I kept putting writing last in my life, I was never going to have a real shot at making my writing dreams come true.

It’s only when you decide that writing is a priority that you put yourself in a position to make amazing things happen.

2. Saying “Yes” to Everything

Are you trying to be superman or superwoman and do everything under the sun plus your writing? It’s understandable, but it rarely works.

If you’re serious about experiencing success as a writer, you have to get serious about carving out time for it, and that means saying “no” more often. If you struggle to determine which projects to say “no” to, try these tips:

  • Listen to your gut. If you feel something negative in response to the activity, don’t hesitate to say “no.” If you’re about to say “yes” out of guilt or obligation, that’s the wrong reason—say “no” instead.
  • Make the choice that’s right for you.Though we all want to be good friends and neighbors, it doesn’t help anyone if you’re going to resent having said “yes.” Make sure you’ll be happy with your decision no matter what the outcome.
  • Gauge your excitement. If the idea of the activity excites you, say "yes." But if you groan at the thought of it, say "no."
  • Avoid people-pleasing. Ask yourself if you’re saying “yes” because you’re worried about what others will think of you. If so, re-evaluate your answer.

3. Failing to Give Some Things Up

Personally, my writing career didn’t go anywhere until I decided to give some things up. Before I got my first publishing contract, I had written several novel-length manuscripts without success. Finally, I realized my dreams were going to require more than I was giving them.

Big dreams require big sacrifices. If yours hasn’t come true yet, it’s time for some self-reflection. Maybe you haven’t given enough?

I looked at my schedule and realized that besides work, the activity taking up the most time in my life was music. I was a musician before I was a writer, so the idea of giving it up, even temporarily, was nearly unthinkable. But there was no other way to make the necessary room in my schedule.

I bowed out of all the music groups I was in and, for about five years, focused all that time on my writing. It worked. I got the publishing contract I wanted, and then another after that, and my career moved forward.

Fortunately, I'm now back in those music groups and enjoying both writing and music for a more fulfilled creative life than ever before. Giving something up doesn't mean giving it up for good, but often it's required if you want to make progress on your writing career.

4. Allowing Distractions

Image by Zwiebackesser from DepositPhotos

As you know, distractions are a big deal these days. We all have information coming at us from all directions, and it’s easy to lose focus on writing because of emails, text messages, and social media feeds.

Thinking you are the exception to the rule is a mistake. Every time you're interrupted, it can take you up to 23 minutes to get back on task. Your writing time is precious, so when you sit down to work on your story, make sure you will not be distracted.

That means the following:

  • Putting the cell phone in another room. (Studies show it is still distracting if it’s sitting next to you, even if it’s turned off.)
  • Turning off the Internet.
  • Shutting off your email program.
  • Going somewhere you will not be disturbed.

5. Multitasking

You may have heard that multitasking is impossible. If you try to write and watch television at the same time, for example, or write and babysit a young child (when he or she is not sleeping), or write while doing anything else, you force your brain to constantly switch back and forth between one activity and another, which means you’ll be less productive on both.

Studies show that productivity suffers most when people try to multitask. Shut everything off and focus on writing for 30 minutes, and you’ll get much more done than if you try to write and do something else for 60 minutes.

6. Starting Your Day Late

This doesn't mean you have to get up earlier, as many productivity posts suggest. The point is to get up when it works best for you, without allowing yourself to start "late."

I’m a night owl, for example, so I get up later and go to bed later than most other folks. But if I get up “late”—meaning, late for me—my whole day goes out of whack, and often, I have to forgo my writing time.

What’s getting up late for you? The best option for your writing and your health is to get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends, most of the time. That way you have much better odds of sticking with your schedule.

7. Avoiding Self-Care

Image by stokkete from DepositPhotos

Speaking of sleep, it’s extremely important to time management. If you’re tired, your productivity will slow down dramatically.

The same goes if you’re filling your body with junk food or failing to exercise every day. Exercise and healthy food give you energy, and you need energy to be productive, especially when you’re working toward your writing dreams day after day after day.

Put self-care first, always.

8. Being a Perfectionist

Studies have shown that perfectionists are less productive than people who aren’t perfectionists. If everything has to be perfect, it will take you twice as long to get everything done.

If you're a perfectionist (and you know who you are!), you must prioritize. Which projects truly need your perfectionist talents, and which don't? It's likely that at least 75 percent of the projects you do every day you could put in the "don't-need-to-be-perfect" category.

For these projects, promise yourself to do them “good enough” and then let them go. Focus your higher-level efforts on no more than three projects a day that are most important.

9. Not Setting Time Limits

This one is a big one, but it requires some strong self-discipline on your part. Research reveals that the time it takes to complete a task will fill up the time we give ourselves to complete it.

In other words, if you give yourself an hour to write 1,000 words, it will probably take you an hour. If one day, however, you have a doctor's appointment and you have to get done in 45 minutes, it will probably take you 45 minutes to write the same 1,000 words.

Take whatever task you have in front of you and set a time limit—and give yourself less time than you think you will need. It serves to focus your mind and encourages greater productivity.

10. Failing to Keep Your Vision in Mind

When you’re working away on a day-to-day basis, it can be easy to lose sight of the vision you have for yourself and your writing career. When that happens, all you can see is what's directly in front of you, which can begin to seem only like work and more work.

Writing is a long-term gig, which is why many people give up prematurely. To prevent that from happening to you, regularly remind yourself of where you want to go with your writing career.

Where do you want to be in five years? Three years? One year? Keep these goals somewhere visible so they stay present in your mind. This can help you remember what you’re doing all that work for, and help motivate you to keep going!

Note: For guidance on how to finish the creative projects you start—including the 5 things you must have to complete your book—get Colleen’s FREE mini-course here!

Which of these time management mistakes have you struggled with? Or how have you overcome one of these time management mistakes?

Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was the gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards (Writing/Publishing 2019). Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018, and her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews' INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others. Find more at these sites:

Writing and Wellness | Writer CEO | Teachable | Author Website | Twitter

March 9, 2020

John Peragine

It is a golden light shining in the distance, that day we can finally say to family and friends that our book is a bestseller. We have made it, right? That's it, the academy award for our hard labor. But what does it mean?

Readers and those in the publishing industry can have different views of what bestseller status means.

For the Reader

For a reader, if a book is deemed a bestseller or appears on a list, it means the book is selling well. Therefore, the book must be good, correct?

Not necessarily. Have you ever seen the list of top movies for the Academy Awards? Have you always enjoyed them? Me neither. There are specific standards and processes that determine which a film gets nominated.

Bestseller books are often the same. Remember, they are called bestsellers—not "best books." And like movies, everyone has their own taste in books. Bestselling books reach that level because they have the best "selling" strategy. There is also a standard and process that goes into labeling a book a "bestseller."

With millions of books on the market, readers can't always decide what to read. They may have a particular genre or authors they love, but even then, they may have thousands of choices.

Bestseller status cuts through the noise a bit, and psychologically we conclude it is worth a try. It can't be that bad. I'll let you be the judge.

For the Author

As authors, we often review that acceptance speech for our book award, or imagine how cool we will look on TV when we are interviewed—or perhaps how many zeros will be on our royalty check.

We get that bestseller sticker on our book, we open our royalty statement, and there are a bunch of zeroes all right. What happened? Once we got the designation, it was supposed to be easy street.

I often tell the authors I work with that if they want to make money on a book, they must commit two things: a great book and a great marketing plan.

A Great Book

What makes a great book? It's well written, well edited, and looks great. That means you took the time to write it, no matter how long that takes, and didn't rush. Taking the time to write a great book gives it an evergreen quality that goes well beyond momentary bestseller status.

If your book was picked up by a publisher, then it will likely go through a developmental edit, a copy edit, and proofreading. If you are self-publishing, then you have found a way to fund a solid edit.

Finally, your cover looks great, as does the layout. Your book's appearance matters so much when people are considering whether to buy. The cover draws you in, and the fonts are perfect. The book looks professionally done and, unless the reader looks at the copyright page, they won't be able to determine whether your book was self-published or created by one of the big five publishers.

If you are self-publishing, there is going to be a cost. However, without the qualities I have mentioned above, your book will struggle to make sales and, therefore, struggle to become a bestseller.

You can do it.

It can take time, and it can mean that you have to ask others for help—but remember, a book is a business. Without some capital, it can be difficult. Many authors are discovering that, even if they are picked up by a publisher, their advances are quickly eaten up with marketing costs.

Great Marketing

Do you need to hire a marketing team or a publicist? It can help, but it's not always necessary. If you have a great book, people will notice—you just need an excellent plan to get it in front of your audience.

You need to be your own promoter. You need to get your book out there and be shameless about it. The competition is high, so you need to work harder than your competitors.

If you don't have a lot of funds initially to market, then educate yourself. WITS is a great place to start. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You can become part of the writing community. We are all in this together, and partnering with other authors can be a great marketing plan.

Book marketing is never: "You write it, and they will come." You must bring your book to the people. Use social media, blogs, and podcasts. The more people who hear about your book, the more people who will buy it, and the closer you will come to bestseller status.

For the Publishing Industry

Those who understand how bestsellers work have a different view. We understand better how books make bestseller lists, and the truth is not always pretty, nor is it always clear.

The big lists like NYT and Publishers Weekly pull their lists from Nielsen BookScan. But is that all they base their lists on? How many books do you need to sell to be on those lists? Where do you need to sell books from to be counted?

These answers can become complicated quickly. If you sell 3,000 books at a big event, why wouldn't they be counted towards bestseller status? The answer lies in where the event bought the books. If they purchased through a local bookstore, then yes, there is a good chance they would count, but if they were shipped directly from the distributor, then no.

Then there is the whole question of the legitimacy of Amazon Bestsellers. There are strong opinions about Amazon, but mine is that it doesn't matter. It is a gamified system in which people can see their book on the top of a list at a particular time. Boom! They are a bestseller. Did they sell 1,000 books, 10,000 books, or perhaps two?

It doesn't matter because it is not about the authors or the publishing industry's perspective of Amazon Bestsellers. It has everything to do with the readers' perception. If they believe that an Amazon Bestseller status matters, then it matters. If it gets more people to buy more books, then it matters.

The caveat, of course, is that a book must have excellent writing and great editing, plus it needs to look great. That is what sells more books than any title of "bestseller.

Word of mouth. Positive, authentic reviews. Professional reviews. People talking about how great your book is provides you the most significant advantage of becoming a bestseller in large publications and guarantees fewer zeros on your royalty statement, unless you are counting those on the left of the decimal.

Bestseller Significance

Does being a bestseller matter? The answer truly lies in you. If it matters to you, then it matters. It can be difficult, expensive, and frustrating, but never impossible. If you have the writing, the editing, and the look, you have a better chance of achieving "bestseller."

If you ask other writers who have achieved NYT Bestseller status whether it helped their sales or increased their future success on new books, you get mixed reviews. Often it comes down to expectations.

If they thought a NYT Bestseller status would win them the Pulitzer, triple their sales, or double their next advance, they could be disappointed. If it was merely a dream, and they were happy to see their name listed, then it could be their greatest accomplishment.

Be brilliant, keep the dream, and write on!

Have you been a bestseller? Do you long to be a bestseller? What does bestseller status mean to you?

About John

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John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMakermagazine, and Writer's Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Pirates, will be released in Summer 2020.  


2014-2019

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