James Scott Bell, Author of How to Make a Living as a Writer - Behind the Scenes
This month we have the pleasure of James Scott Bell taking time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
James started out in law, but came to realize this wasn’t the avenue he needed to take. He turned to writing and through a long career has evolved into not only fiction, but also books to help other’s achieve their dream of a writing career. In addition, he presents seminars on writing at various conferences.
James, in your book, How to Make a Living as a Writer, you share a few secrets for writing success. Would you be kind enough to share some here?
I strongly believe in writing to a quota. It is advice I took seriously early in my career, and I think it is perhaps the biggest single factor in whatever I’ve been able to accomplish. There’s no greater feeling than looking back after a period of months and seeing a full book there.
My standard advice on this is for anyone who wants to write to figure out, within their own schedule, how many words per week they can comfortably write. Then up that by 10%. Make that a weekly goal, and chop it up over the number of days you actually get some writing done.
Try to have a developmental mindset, too. Don’t work on one book until it’s finished and edited. Have at least one other project that you’re nurturing (or sometimes even writing). Have a weekly creativity time, half an hour at least, where you do nothing but try to come up with exciting concepts for a new novel. These don’t have to be full-on summaries. They can be just one line, such as What if a great white shark started feeding on tourists at a popular beach resort?
Soon enough you’ll have a treasure trove of ideas, so many that you can’t get to them all. Your real test will be choosing which ones to actually write.
When doing so, pick projects that have the happy intersection of your own excitement and some commercial appeal.
Repeat over and over the rest of your life.
You stress the importance of a business plan for authors. At what point in their career do you suggest one create a plan?
Right from the jump. A business plan should be reviewed periodically, and tweaked, but it’s much better to have some kind of plan at all times.
What kinds of books do you plan to write? How productive can you be? Where do you want to be in five years? What goals will help you get there? What steps will to take toward the achievement of your goals?
I’ve written monographs to help writers with goal setting.
Some new authors think all that is needed is write the book and readers will come. What are your thoughts on the need to market books?
You’ve heard of the two-drink minimum? I advise writers to think in terms of the five-book minimum. You need five quality books to begin to develop a devoted readership.
There are very few debut hits, ever. So you write your book and do a few marketing things, knowing that marketing is not as important as a book that gets good word-of-mouth.
But do basic things like having a nice, easy-to-navigate website, and a way for happy readers to sign up for your email updates (I don’t like the concept of “newsletters.”)
The most important thing is to produce the work on a steady basis. With quality controls.
If an author is considering self-publishing and doesn’t feel they need an editor, do you think they are making a mistake?
This is one of the quality controls I am talking about. Every writer needs an outside source of editing if they’re serious about making it in this game. A good place to start is with beta readers. These are non-professionals who like to read and will give you feedback on the manuscript.
At some point an experienced freelance editor ought to be engaged. This is the biggest single expense for a self-publishing writer, but one should view it as an educational outlay. And it’s tax deductible, of course. Do some research and ask for recommendations to find the right editor for your needs. Writer’s Digest has a service called 2d Draft that may be the ticket for some.
There is a bit of controversy on which is the best route for an author—traditional publishing or self-publishing. What are your thoughts? Do you think a combination of the two works?
Either way, a writer needs to know the challenges. A traditional house is a good way to get distribution into bookstores, and perhaps a bit of marketing. But these days the contracts can be very one-sided and the advances tight. Writers should work with a good agent and also know what’s going on with contracts. Understand that failure to sell enough books might mean the publishing house drops you, yet keeps the rights to your books forever. Unless you’ve managed to negotiate a favorable reversion clause.
A writer getting a traditional deal should also offer a plan to self-publish shorter works (which won’t violate the non-compete clause) as a way to gain readers. It’s a win-win.
Self-publishing offers instant gratification, but also the risk that you might publish “too soon.” The grinder of submission and rejection that was the norm in the traditional world was also a good way to force you to become better. My advice here is to be really hard on yourself and your writing. A rule of thumb might be getting four out of five beta readers to tell you they absolutely love your book. Then you can consider it for publication.
How important is a book cover? What about the blurb?
Both are obviously important. It’s mainly important not to have a bad cover, which is easy to do. Hiring a good designer with a track record and portfolio is essential. The $250 - $500 that it will cost is money well spent.
And there’s an art to writing the book description. If you’re going to try it yourself, spend a good deal of time studying what big publishers have put up on Amazon. That’ll be an education.
Do you have a few quick tips for authors on how to manage their time?
As it happens, I’ve also written a monograph on managing time.
The key is prioritizing. You have to be clear about your most important tasks, assign them a certain amount of time, and calendar them. Planning for the week on Sunday afternoon is a good idea.
Speaking of time, I know yours is valuable. Do you have any other information you would like to share with us.
No one can tell you not to be a writer. So don’t stop being one. As long as you can type and have stories to tell, you’re a writer. Keep writing and studying the craft, the two tracks upon which success runs.
What’s the best way to keep informed of your upcoming work?
I send out the occasional email to my readers, who are always the first to know about my new books and deals. People who sign up HERE will be entered into drawing for a free book.
You can also follow James on Twitter and Like him on Facebook through these links.
Twitter | Facebook
It's the best time on Earth to be a writer
More writers are making money today than at any other time in history. For centuries few have been able to support themselves from the quill or the keyboard alone.
Not anymore. With the rise of ebooks and indie publishing there are now more opportunities than ever for writers to generate substantial income from their work. And there is still a traditional publishing industry that needs new talent to keep growing.
In How to Make a Living as a Writer, you'll learn the secrets of writing for profit and increasing your chances of making a living wage from your work. Here are some of the subjects covered:
- The 7 Secrets of Writing Success
- The 8 Essentials of Your Writing Business
- How to Reach Your Goals
- Keys to a Winning System
- How to Stay Relentless
- Unlocking Your Creativity
- How to Write More, Faster
- Comparing Traditional and Self-Publishing
- How to Go Traditional
- How to Go Indie
- How to Form Multiple Streams of Writing Income
- How to Write a Novel in a Month
- How to Choose Non-Fiction Subjects
- How to Keep a Positive Mental Attitude
- Resources for Further Study
And much more, all to help you write what you love and earn what you’re worth.
James Scott Bell has made a living as a writer for nearly two decades, and shares with you everything he knows about the best practices for turning your writing dream into a reality.
Columnist Lizzie T. Leaf: Award winning author, Lizzie T. Leaf started life in Kansas, sprung to adulthood in North Carolina, and currently shivers through the winters in Colorado.
Since discovering the fun of writing paranormal, she plays with creating vampires, faeries and other immortals. When she needs a touch of reality, her Contemporary Erotic Romances come into play. Her most recent release is Nordic Heat, available at http://amzn.to/1owng5k
If she’s not creating mischief for paranormal beings, or getting under the covers with her erotic heroes, she can be found exploring the other genres she wants to write. She is a member of RWA and has served as President for the Heart of Denver Romance Writers and VP of Programs.
Lizzie loves to read, spend time with her family and travel with her best friend husband.