The Best Advice an Author Can Get

May 22nd, 2017

Self-publishing has an ill-deserved reputation for being easy. Sure, you can take a bad manuscript in a Microsoft Word file, skip editing, design your own cover, and upload the mess to Amazon. That’s easy. Doing it well, doing it successfully, is damned difficult. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Though when it works, it can be glorious.

© Jane Friedman

Among the wonderful things that the self-publishing revolution has gifted us is a cadre of dedicated professionals who share generously of their time. They help self-published authors succeed. Jane Friedman, with and without Porter Anderson come immediately to mind. They co-publish a very good weekly newsletter for authors, The Hot Sheet. Jane’s blog is one of the best, not just because of the wide range of topics she covers but because of the simple authority of her voice. You don’t have to read many posts before you realize that she knows writing and publishing from the inside, that she gets it. She should: she’s devoted 20 years to helping authors. Read her impressive bio.

Porter Anderson on his own has risen to be among self-published authors’ best friends. Porter writes very well (his background is as a journalist), and he edits the internationally-focused online publishing magazine, Publishing Perspectives. His writing stands out for two things: His thoroughness in covering all sides of a topic, and the gentle approach he brings to controversial subjects.

I think of Porter just as often for the amazing amount of energy he spends organizing, speaking at and covering book publishing conferences all over the world. I’d hazard a guess that he has the most frequent flyer miles in the independent publishing universe. He does a great job at this task: a lot of people have learned a lot of stuff from attending Porter-related events.

There are many other sites focused on the craft of writing, the craft of publishing, or both. I like The Book Designer from Joel Friedlander and Writer Unboxed. But for my money, far and away the most valuable voice in independent writing and publishing is Joanna Penn. Her output is prodigious, in multiple media, and consistently top quality. And dedicated? On her site launched in 2008 Joanna offers “1000+ text articles and over 100+ hours of audio information.”

Where to begin your discovery of the Joanna Penn oeuvre? Try the “Start Here!” page.  First up is a teaser free ebook, the new (April 2017) edition of Author 2.0 Blueprint: On Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing and Creative Entrepreneurship. If you’re like me you’ve downloaded scores of these things on sites promising salvation and what you receive is a 10-page PDF followed by a barrage of spam. From Joanna you get a 90-page 28,000 word book that’s as good an introduction to self-publishing as anything I’ve read. In the email accompanying the download you’re directed to another free ebook, Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print, available for download from either Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

© Joanna Penn

When you go to Joanna’s author page on Amazon you find out that you can continue absorbing her advice for some time to follow, with other titles including How to Make a Living with Your Writing; How To Make A Living With Your Writing: A Companion Workbook; The Successful Author Mindset; Business For Authors; Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and other Introverts as well as pre-orders for the new third edition of How To Market A Book.

I hear you: this is starting to sound like overkill. Of course there’s some overlap. But the books are consistently rated at 4.5 stars or more, some with hundreds of reviews. Joanna delivers with each book. I think that guides to self-publishing fall partly into the self-help category, like diet books or getting ahead in love and life. You need to keep reading the new ones to maintain your motivation and uncover new techniques.

As a for instance of Penn’s expertise, take a look at her web page for the book How To Make A Living With Your Writing. It’s a study in the craft of successful self-published book marketing: Great copy, a table of contents, reviews (including Goodreads reviews), a sample, multiple buy links (including direct from the author), a sample audiobook chapter…. Talk about practicing what you preach.

Staying with the practice for a moment, you soon discover that Joanna is also a bestselling fiction author, of the multi-volume Arkane series, “thrillers with a supernatural edge,” as well as the London Psychic Series. Stone of Fire, the first Arkane title, has 575 mostly positive reviews. As she’s marketing a series, she wisely offers it for free download on Amazon et al. Crypt of Bone, Arkane Book 2, ($4.99) has over 100 reviews, with a 4.5 average.

But it’s not the dozens of book offerings that impress me the most. It’s her in-depth Creative Penn Podcast. Each episode runs to about an hour and includes a YouTube video, an audio download and a transcript of the show. This she funds with sponsors and through Patreon, where 363 patrons provide her with $687 per episode. It’s money well spent. Look at the recent broadcasts: the topics are all spot-on, covering writing, production, marketing and more. A recent episode, #306, featured the amazing Steven Pressfield talking about how to use your own life story to bring depth to your writing. Another episode considers audiobook production, distribution and sales, featuring J. Daniel Sawyer who wrote Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks.

I’ve chatted with Joanna on her podcasts a couple of times and what always strikes me is both her command of what’s going on in the business and her endless enthusiasm for the future of publishing. She does her homework. Last month we looked at AI, Mixed Reality, Machine Learning And More. Joanna is the only person I’ve spoken with who has a vision of how augmented reality could augment publishing and she shares her thoughts on the topic towards the end of the interview.

Enough. My point: Self-publishing is a complex ecosystem in constant flux. The expert tour guides described in this post are perhaps the finest, but there are many others carrying the torch and leading dazzled authors through the darkness.