Write Your Best Book – Episode 3
It’s your host, Christina Kaye, bringing you Episode 3 of Write Your Best Book. In last week’s episode, we talked with Derek Murphy of The Creative Indie about how you can make money by following your passion and chasing your dreams of being a successful author. And Derek gave us some amazing advice and things to consider. But everything isn’t always sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies, as we all know. We don’t always find success, or find it as quickly or easily as we’d hoped. And it’s easy to get discouraged. But it’s important not to let that natural tendency to get down in the dumps fester and turn into self-doubt. Self-doubt is the biggest enemy of success.
According to The Author’s Guild’s website, writer earnings plummeted from 2009 to 2014. The full-time author/writer was making an average of $17,500 – down from $25,000 per year. The part-timer, was making $4,500 – down from $7,250 per year. With the 2018 Federal Poverty Level for a single person at $12,140, that just about means that anyone who writes for a living full-time is barely making minimum wage. It’s saddening and statistics like this can tend to depress even the most optimistic writers.
So today, we’re going to talk about how NOT to fail as an author. Our guest host today is Derek Doepker.
But first, ask yourself this. What does success look like for me? Is it me selling a ton of books? Is it winning awards or hitting a bestseller list? Is it retiring from your 9 to 5 to focus solely on writing?
Whatever success looks like for you, make that your goal. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. I always told my kids growing up to “shoot for the moon and hope for the stars.” It’s a little cliché, but I meant that there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but set realistic goals to get there.
Let’s dive in with Derek Doepker and see what he has to say about all of this.
Thanks for joining us today on Write Your Best Book. I really appreciate you being part of the show today.
DD: Yeah, I appreciate you having me Christina.
CK: First, start off by telling our listeners a bit about you and how you help authors achieve their goals and follow their dreams.
DD: Sure thing. So, I originally started out as a musician, a rock guitar player, and then got into publishing books back about 2011. I was really into health and fitness and published my first few books. And then in December 2012 had a number 1 bestselling book and since then, I’ve published seven bestselling books that have sold, collectively, seventy-five thousand copies. So, what I do now is essentially take these processes that I figured out for how to sell books and now share it with authors through—I have books, I have training courses, coaching—things like that. Really just what someone needs, nonfiction and fiction, but primarily nonfiction. I think that is where I have a little more specialty and helping authors with their book writing and marketing.
CK: Great! And I see on your homepage and I’m going to direct the listeners to your homepage and your website in the show notes. I see you also do consultations and coaching?
DD: That’s correct, yes.
CK: That’s great. So, all the listeners can pay attention to the show notes and you’ll find a link to Derek’s website where you can book consultations.
So, let’s take me for example. I’ll be the guinea pig here today. While I consider myself a pretty advanced author, and I even won a national book award, got agented, etc., I still can’t seem to find commercial success and break through that ceiling or what have you that’s keeping me from selling more than a few hundred books a year. I think I had one royalty check this year that was less than $5. If I came to you and said, “Derek, help me,” what would be the first thing you would say or ask me?
DD: Well, since you have a book out already, for an existing author, the first think I would look at is “let’s see what your book page looks like.” I’m going to look at everything from your cover, your title, your descriptions, so on. Because, if you think about it, people don’t buy books knowing whether it’s a good book or not. You might have a great book. It couldn’t win awards, but at the same time, people aren’t buying—most of the time like, like they don’t read through the whole book and then decide to buy it. Very few people go to a library and read a book. But most people, they’re going “does this strike me as a book that I would want to read?” So, it’s all about how it’s positioned. I’m probably not saying something new for someone who’s more advanced that your cover’s important, your descriptions and so on. At the same time, there’s almost always going to be something you can tweak or refine there. So I’m going to go “Is there something that is a conversion issue—which is when people who are your ideal readers see your book and see the message. Are they compelled to buy? Do they know it’s for them? Does the cover give the genre? To give an example, I had someone who–she had a book cover and I often do these group calls and I just asked the group “What genre is this in?” Some people are like “It looks like a ghost story” or whatever. Well, it was turns out it’s a memoir. It’s like you got to make sure that’s all congruent. Then the second part is I go “Ok, if that’s all in place, then what are you doing to get your ideal readers onto the book page?” So, we dive into your current marketing. What’s working? What might be missing? What could be tweaked? And that’s really the two things of sales: traffic and conversions. So, is it converting and let’s make sure—let’s look at how to get traffic of which there’s a number of different strategies which we could dive into if we want. But that’s how I’d boil it down in a nutshell.
CK: That’s a great way to start and if I’m hearing you correctly, it sounds like you just said the two things. It almost sounds like it breaks down into the book and the author have to be presentable to the reader.
DD: Yeah, I mean it’s very much based off of perception. And as I mentioned, you have to cover, you have the reviews, you have the description, you have—and again, these are universal now, so fiction or nonfiction. You can dive into more specifics for each genre. For the most part, it’s got to be enticing and also congruent. That’s the point I was making before where you can have a good-looking book cover, for instance—and I might hear some authors say “oh I got a professionally designed book cover. This is a professional who did it.” I look at it and I go, “yeah, it looks good. It just doesn’t stand out from all the other books in the genre” or “it doesn’t look like that genre of book. I’m confused. I can’t tell what the genre is.” So there’s these little nuances that can be challenging, especially for a first time author. With enough experience, or putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, or the browser’s shoes, you can start to get a sense of oh ok, how does my book “compete” with all the other books that are out there? I say “compete” because on one hand, you’re not necessarily competing against a similar author, as you can collaborate, you know people buy multiple books. But, on the other hand, I do encourage this mindset, at least temporarily, of going your book doesn’t exist in a bubble, in isolation, it’s not in a vacuum. So, you can have a description that reads pretty well and a cover that’s pretty good, but pretty good, when there’s maybe tens of thousands of other similar books, might not be good enough and that’s the thing to consider.
CK: That sounds great. So, when we talk about the way the author presents himself, how much of author success depends on your existing platform, followers, tribe, whatever you want to call it? Is it absolutely necessary to have tens of thousands of tribe members or more to find success?
DD: Well, obviously, the more an author has built up their tribe, the easier it’s going to be. At this point, if Stephen King releases a new book, he doesn’t have to do much other than say “hey, got a new book” and people will line up for it. Or if JK Rowling said, “It’s the next Harry Potter book,” it’s going to sell itself. Certainly, when an author has a big following, that makes things easier. At the same time, almost any author who is a big-time author, at one poing, started out without a following, without a tribe. So, the question is, how did they start out? What did they do to get going? And for that I would say you don’t have to have tens of thousands, because this is one of the ways of marketing that I recommend is influencer marketing. So this is connecting with other authors. This is connecting with other people who do have a following—whether that’s podcast hosts, like yourself. You have a following, I get introduced to their following. There’s ways of doing collaborations where it’s more about a few key relationships of people who can get you in front of their tribe and that’s oftentimes the way you start out when you maybe don’t have a lot of people who are following you yet. You go to other people who have built that platform and get on their platform and that’s how you start to grow your platform.
CK: I love that. I love that. Another thing I hear a lot of authors say, “I can’t afford to be an author.” Meaning, they believe that the reason they couldn’t find success is because they don’t have the extra funds available to put into marketing their books. Is there any truth to this line of thinking?
DD: When I published my first bestselling book, I was a broke valet parker. I was sleeping on an air mattress. I could barely afford to pay the rent. I remember some months I’d just basically look around and try to sell something to pay the rent that month.
DD: So, I’m not saying I was living under a bridge. I’m not saying I was “bad” as maybe others have it.
CK: No. But you know what it’s like to struggle.
DD: yeah. I didn’t have tons of cash. So, on one hand, I could say “no, you don’t need a lot of money.” On the other hand, what I can say is what I did do is I still invested. I still invested in training courses and mentorships and getting a book marketed and promoted—like different promotion sites. The way I did that was I would—for instance, I would teach online guitar lessons on Fiverr. Like, if you’re a writer, you do need, practically speaking, some money for marketing, for editing, for cover design, for these things. So, I don’t think it’s practical to go in with like seventeen dollars in your pocket and say I’m going to start a business. You wouldn’t start a McDonald’s franchise; you’d need tens of thousands of dollars to start a business. So, on one hand, yes you need money. What I would say though is if your creative, you might not need as mush as you think. Like influencers or relationships, that’s free. Advertising and promotion, I recommend at least a few hundred dollars in editing and cover design and stuff. But I would go “how can I raise this money?” And if you’re an author, the quicker path to cash is actually through services. So, can you do ghost writing? Can you do editing for people? I’ve had some people I’ve taught the audiobook creation process to, they go and record audiobooks for other authors and narration. That’s just speaking in the writing realm. If you have another talent, like I had for guitar playing, can you do some of these other things on the side to raise some money to then invest in your business? So, the quick answer is yes, I would encourage having some money, but just because you don’t have money, doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to generate money and maybe offer service trades and things like that.
CK: Very well put. I like how you talked about it is an investment. It’s an investment in your dream basically. On the Amazon description for your book, it reads, “Could a hidden mistake be sabotaging your self-publishing success as an author?” Without giving away all your nuggets of wisdom for free, can you give us a hint as to what that hidden mistake might be?
DD: So this is from the book Why Authors Fail?
CK: Yes. I should have said that. Yes.
DD: It is actually ok to give it away for free because anyone listening can get a free copy of it.
CK: I like free. Ok.
DD: It’s not just going to be a pure tease to sell something, but I will sell you on hopefully reading the book, even though you can get a free copy.
CK: That’s the whole point.
DD: So, could a hidden mistake—the question is raised and the idea is I narrow it down to seventeen mistakes in the book—seventeen primary mistakes. So, I wouldn’t say it’s one, it’s just the idea that it could be different mistakes for different people. And I’ll just say this one of the things—one of the mistakes and I don’t even know if I say this explicitly in the book, but I kind of hint around at this idea of what’s good advice for one author might be bad advice for another author. If I were to think of an example for that—maybe like getting on television to talk about your book could be good advice for one author. But there’s actually many people who done that and said “you know what? It didn’t really result in that many book sales.” But, depending on your long-term business goals, that might make sense to do, it might not make sense to do. For someone, it could be just spending a lot of money for travel and doing all this and then they go “that didn’t really do anything for me.” So, that’s good advice for one person, bad advice for another and vice versa. And this is also to say what might be a mistake for one author, might not be a mistake for someone else or at a different point in time. So, I’ll give a real practical example of the writing process. As many creatives have heard, as many authors and writers may be familiar with, there’s this idea that when you’re early on in the writing process, you don’t want to edit yourself. You want to let the ideas flow out. You don’t want to put the brakes on. Just brain dump anything, let your fingers type, let the ideas roll out. That’s a really good approach early on in the process. That’s not a good approach when you actually need to edit your book. At some point, you got to flip your thinking and go—
CK: At some point, yes.
DD: “Now I want to be a little more critical of what I wrote. I want to make it sound good or polished or whatever.” And the point is, you’re not going to drive with the gas pedal and brake pedal pushed down at the same time. You know, you got to know what’s right for one situation or the other. So, all of this is to say—I know we’re getting a little philosophical—
CK: Ah, you’re doing great.
DD: But the whole point of setting this up is to say you can hear a lot of conflicting advice out there. This is why, if you go and you search on forums or read message boards or Facebook groups or different books This one author says they did this, this other author says something completely contradictory. One author says go exclusive with Amazon, this other one says go wide. One person says give away free books, this other person says don’t give away free books because people devalue it. Like what do I do right? It can drive a person crazy unless they realize what might be good for one person might not be good for me. And this is where you’ve got to either –partly some critical thinking, partly some business savvy, and also probably having, in many cases, a coach or a mentor. Someone who can work with you and personalize the advice and personalize the recommendations based off you and your goals.
CK: Ok. Yeah, I like that too. I think most of us are aware that just having a great story idea is not all it takes to become a successful author. But beyond creativity, can you talk about what else an author needs to go along with that great story idea in order to find success with their writing?
DD: A great story idea is not going to be the most fun thing for some authors to hear, just based on my experience.
CK: Sometimes the truth hurts doesn’t it?
DD: You’re not an author who is marketing your story, you’re a marketer who’s got a book. You’re a marketer who’s got a story. You’re a marketer first. That is as soon as you decide you’re in business.
DD: Or you’re a business owner first. And so, I know for myself, going to school for music, I’m like “I just want to write music. I don’t care about the music business side. I don’t like the business, the marketing. I want someone to else to handle that. I just want to do the creative, fun stuff.
CK: All about the art.
DD: And so, I can relate to that as an author. At the same time, what I’ve found—first of all, just out of practical necessity, at some point, if you want to have business success, you got to think more like an entrepreneur who’s got this product called a story called a book that they’re marketing. So that means the marketing mindset is always in there. I’m thinking about how I’m going to market this, how I’m going to promote this, even before I write a book. So, its just partly shifting the order of priorities and going “I’ve got to market this.” I can have the best story in the world, but it’s not marketed well, it’s like the tree falling in the forest and no one hearts it type of thing. Some people would hear that and they’ll be happy. They’ll go “Great! I love marketing.” Other people will hear that and go “Aw man! I really don’t like to do marketing. I wish someone could do it for me.” In which case, maybe there’s a way to do that, but for the most part, there’s certainly services and things that can help you market and promote your book, but I’ve never seen anything that completely removes the responsibility from the author to have some understand of marketing, some understanding of how to position yourself, some understanding of how to speak about your book in a way that gets people excited. So that means learning marketing. Going “I’m a business owner, I’m an entrepreneur.” Again, if that’s your goal. If your goal is to do it as a hobby and you don’t care about book sales, fine. I’m not also saying you got to write to market and not doing any of your art or you got to like compromise what you want to write about. What I’m saying is you got to find that balancing point, that harmony between what is it that I want to say, what is my story, and then also what does the market want and how do I position this in a way that’s oriented toward what other people are asking for, what they’re looking for and delivering that to them. So that when they hear about your story, they go “Ooo, that sounds like something I want. That sounds like a story I want to read.” What I found, though, for many authors is when you understand marketing, it’s an extension of your creativity. It’s an extension of your storytelling. So, for those who consider themselves storytellers— “Oh I got a great story!” Awesome. You’re just going to tell another story, which is the story of why your book is going to be so great to read. And for anyone who had a background in sales, or heard about this, facts tell, stories sell. So, what I find interesting is some of the best marketing comes from storytelling.
I just saw the previews, so there’s the new Top Gun movie coming out next eyar.
CK: You know what? I haven’t heard this.
DD: Yeah and so the movie—When Top Gun originally come out—this is a sales secret from the movie Top Gun. I think it was mid-eighties. What happened is after the movie came out, there was big jump in people signing up for the Navy right, to be pilots and it makes sense. I remember seeing the movie as a kid and thinking I want to be a pilot—like a fighter pilot. What is that? Well, they didn’t have some call to action at the end “Hey, enroll in the Navy. Hey, enroll in the Air Force or whatever.” They didn’t do that. They told a story and then that story persuaded a number of people above and beyond normal to want to go like “Ah that’s the life that I want!” which is not necessarily accurate to what it’s actually like a pilot all the time. It’s not always that much—probably a lot of not fun things you’re doing as a pilot on occasion.
CK: (laughing) Yeah.
DD: But they give you the glorified version of it. So, what’s the point? The point is stories sell and if you’re a storyteller, you have one of the greatest assets and on of the greatest skillsets to be able to sell. So now, you just got to, again, tell the story that sells yours tory. It’s a little bit above metalevel I guess way of looking at it.
CK: I love that!
DD: That should be a confirmation that if you are—if you have a passion for storytelling, if you have a passion for writing and engaging people emotionally and hooking them in, you actually have the main skill set that you need to sell virtually anything.
CK: I love it. I love that so much. That’s a really good point and I really love the Top Gun story by the way because that reminds me of being a kid man. I had such a crush on Tom Cruise at that time. Which, looking back now, –well, anyway, be honest with me. Can anyone truly become a successful author?
DD: My answer is yes and no. the reason why it’s going to be no is because, I don’t think it’s necessarily about something you’re born with type of thing. At the same time, is it going to take perseverance? More than likely, yeah. Is it going to take some work? Yeah. Is it going to take a certain mindset and attitude? Yes. Do I believe that almost anyone can develop that? For the most part, I think there’s certainly some exceptions. But will people choose to persevere, to do the work, to invest the time and energy?
CK: That is a very good point!
DD: The answer is no, practically speaking, no. if you go can, hypothetically, I would say most people, sure. Everyone? No. Will most people? No. Like practically speaking, most people will not. They’ll self-sabotage, they’ll procrastinate, they’ll do whatever it is and maybe it’s not what they need to do anyway. I’m not the type of person that says everyone has to become a successful author. If that’s not the path in life for you, then it’s ok. Maybe write stories as a hobby or you define what success is for you. That’ll be the second part which is well, what is success? Success for me may be different than success for you. Might be different than success for someone else. So, you got to decide what success means to you and then figure out what you need to do to achieve success for yourself.
CK: I love that because you know what you said, especially can they, sure. Will they? Maybe not because that’s what I think—you know, self-sabotaging happens quite frequently. But thank you so much for explaining all this to us today. I think our listeners are really going to resonate with what you said.
DD: Yeah, thank you so much Christina.
CK: Thanks, again, Derek for joining me on this week’s episode and sharing your wisdom with our listeners. It’s been an honor and a pleasure speaking with you.
If you would like to work with Derek Doepker, or if you just want to learn more about him, his books, and his mission to help authors, visit his website at www.derekdoepker.com. On his home page, at the bottom, there’s a box where my listeners can request a FREE first consultation with Derek! And don’t forget to pick up a copy of his book, Why Authors Fail on Amazon today. All links will be in the show notes.
That’s all the time we have for today, folks. Thank you for listening to Write Your Best Book, Episode 3.
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Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!