Writing a successful book takes more than just putting words to paper. In fact, writing a successful book requires you to not only be a writer but to be a researcher, a marketer, a graphic designer, and a publisher – and be willing to invest in the success of your book.
Authors often become authors because there is nothing else that they could possibly do. That doesn’t mean they aren’t working fulltime to pay the bills, but as one author put it, “I write because it’s too painful not to.”
If writing is something you’re passionate about, self-publishing may be the right option. It takes less time in most cases than waiting for an agent to decide to represent you and a publisher to decide to publish your books. It also gives you more creative control.
Laying the Groundwork for Writing a Successful Book
It does take more than writing to be a successfully self-published author. There are several factors to consider in order to help you be successful. It all starts with a little research.
Know Thy Audience (Market Research)
Yes, you can write what you want. But if you’re writing to sell books, you will want to conduct research in order to know what’s popular in your chosen genre. If you’re a non-fiction author, you’re probably less worried about this in some ways, because you’re going to be writing to your expertise and likely, if you’re an expert in something, there’s a market for it, even if it’s niche. But for fiction authors, knowing what genres and topics are popular can ensure that you’re able to find an audience for your books. When asked who your target reader is, the answer is never “everyone.”
Define your genre.
Do you want to write children’s stories? Romance? Historical fiction? Sci-fi? What genre is yours? Then, think about what readers would be searching for to find books like yours. Are their books, movies, or TV shows similar in aesthetic or feel to what you want to write? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you identify who your audience is, and it will also help you position your book properly when you go to market it. Marketing is most effective when you’re talking to the right people.
Identify your primary and secondary audience.
Your primary audience are the main readers who will want to read your book.
Let’s start with a non-fiction example. Let’s say you’re a chemical engineer writing a book about a new process for developing food products. Your primary audience might consist of chemical engineers, chemists, nutritionists, and food manufacturers. But other people may also be interested in the book who fall outside your established readership. This secondary audience might include people who work for non-profit agencies that help feed poor nations. It may also include investors, restaurant and grocery store owners, and others tangentially related to the food industry.
As a fiction author, identifying these primary and secondary reading audiences can be crucial. Take YA novels, for example. A lot of people read YA, but your target audience is likely 12–15-year-old readers who like sci fi or teen romance or whatever your subgenre is in YA. That’s your target, but we also know that the secondary segment for YA novels is 20-somethings and other adults who also like the sub-genre.
Know Thy Competition (Be Different)
Once you’ve identified your genres and subgenres as well as your primary and secondary audiences, you can scope out your competition. Within the writing community, you will actually find a lot of support. Most indie authors lift each other up – it’s not a cutthroat competition at all. Readers read more than one book in a month, more than one genre of book, so the more you can support your fellow authors, the better you’ll be at writing a successful book. Spend time building relationships with other indie authors – they are a great source of information and are often willing to share their experiences and provide guidance.
Differentiation Lets You Stand Out
At the same time, you do need to be able to stand out. What makes you different than other authors in your genre?
Other Authors Are Your Friends
The best way to know how you can differentiate yourself is to study other authors. Read their books. Look at their websites. Read their blogs. Follow them on social media. Learn from them, but also identify how you are different and what you can offer your readers.
From twisting the traditional boy-meets-girl romance into something more to incorporating social commentary (LGBTQ lead characters, damsel, not in distress, saves him, etc), you can offer something unique and interesting. Maybe you are simply more accessible as an author; perhaps your background in graphic design means your covers offer some exceptional aesthetic no one else can master.
Whatever it is that can set you apart, don’t do it just to be different. Leverage the differences that will resonate with your readers.
Know Thyself (What’s Your Expertise?)
That brings us to a critical factor in writing a successful book. You need to know yourself, too. Just because it’s popular to include marginalized characters in books doesn’t mean you should do it if you can’t bring authenticity and genuine representation to your stories. And if you’re a happy, 20,000-word erotica author, tackling a 180,000-word historical fiction romance might bog you down. Know what your strengths are and play to them. This is not to say that you cannot branch out or write in multiple genres, but you will find more success if you know what you like to write, what your knowledgeable about, and what your strengths are.
It’s Not All About Writing a Successful Book – Planning Matters
As an indie author, you’re not only focused on writing. You need to create rough production and marketing budgets, which we’ll get into more detail about later. You’ll also need to collect your team – editors, proofreaders, cover designers, beta readers (if you use them), and more. A minimum budget for a first-time indie author can give a bit of sticker shock (it’s thousands, not hundreds) but the benefit is being able to keep nearly every drop of money each sale generates, instead of the 35-65% you might otherwise receive.
Writings a Successful Book Is Hard
Writing a successful book is harder – and more rewarding – than you might think. And yes, there is an element of luck involved. Many people point to the 50 Shades of Grey series. The books weren’t necessarily well-written, but the timing was perfect. But if you do work hard – not just on the writing and the craft of writing – but on doing all of the steps well, from cover design and pre-marketing to hiring an editor and publishing will help you find success. One thing to keep in mind: your first book will continue to find success with each subsequent book you publish, so think of it as a starting point, not a measure of your totality as an author.