Episode 157 – Slow Writing, Souq, and the Amazon Influencer Program

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Question of the Week: Do you feel like a slow writer can succeed in the self-publishing world? Why or why not?

Bryan & Jim started their “senior year” off right with stories about Amazon’s acquisition of Souq, the new Amazon Influencer Program, and the debate about slow vs. fast writing. After thanking their patrons Slow Burn: Zero Day, Divorced Dad, and Vanguard, the “big men on campus” tackled tips on souped-up email signatures, back matter, and audiobooks. News stories focused on Kobo’s latest innovations, Hachette’s new content site, slow vs. fast writing, the acquisition of Souq, and Amazon’s new affiliate program. This week’s Question of the Week: Do you feel like a slow writer can succeed in the self-publishing world? Why or why not?

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What You’ll Learn:

  • How one small change to an email signature can encourage sales
  • Which back matter elements are most effective at increasing sales
  • What challenges one author overcame while recording his audiobook
  • How authors can make the most of Kobo and reach more readers
  • How slow writers can succeed in today’s digital economy
  • What new program Hachette has created to encourage diversity in publishing
  • Why authors may soon be able to sell ebooks in the Middle East
  • What new changes Amazon is making to its affiliate program
Links:
Question of the Week: Do you feel like a slow writer can succeed in the self-publishing world? Why or why not?

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  • Phil Kassel

    A slow writer can eventually be successful if he or she is writing quality material. Yes, readers want instant gratification so want the next book immediately, but once the slow producing author has built a strong library of 5 or 6 or 7 books, they can promote that library over and over again to draw in new, paying readers.

    • Bryan

      Quality beats quantity. I like it!

  • Spider McGee

    I think the best way to be successful in self-publishing is the steady release of new material. It’s very much like the old pulp magazine days, where a writer had to always have something new out there every month or he didn’t eat. Jim and I seem to write exactly the same way…thinking about it forever, then writing it in one big frantic burst of energy. But I haven’t had anything new out there in quite a while and am presently blocked, so if I was counting on this to earn a living I would have died months ago.

    • Bryan

      Don’t die, Spider!

  • Ken Hanson

    Write the best book you can, slow or fast. Understand that you must be patient because it may take a while for your audience to find you, or you them, or both.

    On a separate note, I’m with Jim and Bryan: Kobo—go tender B&N an offer to take over their ebook biz.

    • Bryan

      Here here, Ken!

  • Lavie Margolin

    Sure. A high quality book will stand out above the pack as opposed to churning out 30 99 cent books a year.

    • Simon Goodson

      The two aren’t always exclusive – Isaac Asmiov wrote an insane number of books in his life.

      • Lavie Margolin

        Good point! I was speaking more to a SP strategy for fiction books that had taken hold a few years ago that seems to have lost traction.

    • Bryan

      But what about my 30 99 cent romances!?!?!

      • Lavie Margolin

        I had to stop at #11 🙂

  • QOTW – Yes, but there’s clearly a market for fast and slow written books. Like Spider said earlier, pulp speed-style books, if done correctly seem to sell. Will those same books still be selling in ten years? Who knows.

    There are some ‘slow writers’ out there who are also secretly writing fast and publishing under pen names. Nothing wrong with both.

    The part that has me ‘scared for the future.’ is when I read a book that ranks pretty high, with tons of five star reviews that say it’s amazing when it’s clearly not, by even old school pulp standards. These books and authors confuse me because they could be far better [in the long run] with a good editing. But the authors are rushing to publish to hit a 30 day window and can’t take the time? I guess they don’t understand multitasking and delegation. Someone should make a gantt chart that would show them how they can write one book while someone is editing their other ones at the same time. 😉

    • Bryan

      I really think that when folks get to the point they’ve got bloodthirsty fans, they need a team to help them get their stuff up to higher standards.

  • Thanks again for including “John Hanclick” (clever). Fixed the affiliate too, wasn’t even thinking of that. I think you’re both right. It likely won’t move the needle BUT it is fun. And seven touches and all…can’t hurt. Great episode, as usual. Off to share…

    • Bryan

      Sure thing! Great tip :).

  • The biggest problem I see with super fast production time is a lack of time to let a story sit so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. And the lack of time to get a professional editor do a developmental edit (not just a line and/or copy edit) and the time those edits can require to implement.

    While those authors are seeing a good deal of success, I wonder how much more success they’d see per book if they spent more time focusing on macro AND micro editing. I know a number of the fast writers are only getting line edits or even just copy edits.

    Personally, I think that regardless of how long it takes to smash out a first draft, giving a manuscript time in editing and not rushing through that step for the sake of releasing four+ books a year is going to serve an author more in the long run.

    But hey, I’m still editing the first novel I’m going to release (I’ve written others, they’re just not seeing the light of day again), so I’m probably not the best person to listen to. 😛

    [Edit] My personal goal is to err on the side of faster. I’m a fairly fast writer, I just write a lot of crap that I need to fix so editing takes a while as I slowly get better at writing quality words to start with. So for me, I want to make sure a fair amount of time is given to editing, even as I improve.

    • There’s probably a strategy in there somewhere: write fast, pass it off to your editor, write the next one, go over the edits to the first one, and repeat. An assembly line of writing is theoretically possible.

      • Exactly my thinking! I know that Brandon Sanderson actually uses that method (he’s talked about it on the lectures he does for BYU and on Writing Excuses). He writes a first draft, does a pass to insert all the notes he made through the draft (so as to not stop and get stuck poking around editing instead of moving forward), then sends it to alpha readers. While they have it, he starts on the next book. And he just keeps shuffling things around so he’s always working on projects. Gives nice time for things to sit and percolate without slowing production time down.

      • Bryan

        I’ve done that before with my Ted books, and it works pretty well!

    • Simon Goodson

      I think there’s a difference between writing quickly and publishing quickly – even with my writing speed coming up I always put the manuscript down for a couple of months after all the edits are done, then print it out (I see mistakes on paper I don’t see on the screen) and do a final edit.

      • Agreed. But in the case of this episode, “writing” seemed to equate to “getting a book finished and released,” so I was using it in that sense. A lot of the writers I hear about that write quickly also publish quickly. Whether that’s because they have a production line system going, I don’t know.

        I’m very much in favour of letting a manuscript rest. Though I don’t like printing because burning through that much paper kinda makes me sad, hah. Where I live doesn’t have easily accessible recycling, it’s all just trashed.

  • As a slow writer, your ranks bounce up and down. It takes more time and effort to get noticed, so if you believe in what you write then persevere on and be the tortoise not the hare. Find ways to get noticed. Keep that day job and plug away one book at a time. Know there are many others like you out there.

    • Bryan

      “Know there are many others like you out there.” Very true, JB.

  • Chris Syme

    It’s easier to say slow writing is okay if your income doesn’t need juicing. Fast writing can help you make more money faster but I think fast writing is a skill that is either inherent or can be learned. Some people may never be wired for fast writing. Most authors I know just don’t write enough books anyway–one a year is not going to give you a career unless you write The Martian as your first book.

    • Bryan

      I definitely think people can learn to write fast… but fast writers can learn to be incredible word-producing robots!

  • The truth lies somewhere between James Patterson and George R. R. Martin. James Patterson is making a very good living, but after a long slow burn George has definitely hit the big-time. The gamble is: will quality pay off in your lifetime?

    • I’d be curious to know how Martin would be faring without a yearly season of his book airing on TV that’s keeping it alive in everyone’s mind. It’s interesting though, Patterson and Martin do have something very big in common, they both have OTHER people writing in their worlds. Martin with the TV show, and Patterson with all his co-authored books.

      Maybe that’s something slow releasers could look into, if they’ve got an incredible world that fans rave about, perhaps consider working with a more prolific writer who can write in your world. Two people building one franchise instead of building separate empires. I’m not sure how that would work with email signups, as adding people to two lists (one for each author) might not impress people, but I’m sure a bit of creative thinking could provide a solution.

    • Bryan

      Patterson also has many, many co/ghost writers :).

  • I am a slow writer largely because my stories brew for a while. I often get ideas months into a project that make the book better. I am learning to write faster but I am careful not to rush a good idea and miss out on a chance for it to become a great idea.

    • Bryan

      Good on you, Nathan!

  • ilisa

    Generally speaking, what Jim says about artists stings a bit but is true nonetheless: “It is very hard for artists to sell their work”. But self-publishing is a great way for artists to go directly to the public without gatekeepers deciding about what is and isn’t marketable. I think writing fast is probably a good idea if you are able to do it because ideas get old very fast and people move on to the next new thing.

    • Bryan

      Good point, Ilisa!

  • This question hinges entirely on your definition of success. A slow writer will take longer to build a backlist but may still find those core readers who will buy everything they produce. I guess this means my answer is: Yes, a slow writer can become a success.

    • Bryan

      “This question hinges entirely on your definition of success.” Great point.

  • Simon Goodson

    Everyone needs to find their own way of writing, and it will change a lot. I started off as an absolute pantser but now on my 8th and 9th books I have big mindmaps of the story which has been a huge bonus, though they still veer wildly off course at times which I love. Having those plans means I’m writing a lot faster, but it also means there’s a pause before I start while I work things out (similar to Jim’s long thinking then fast writing).

    Also it can be as much about consistency as speed. If you write 500 words each and every day you’ll do much better than someone who writes 10,000 in a weekend, then is burned out and doesn’t do anything for a few weeks.

    • ilisa

      That’s a really helpful suggestion. 500 words a day. Thanks Simon Goodson.

    • Bryan

      I love me some outlining.

  • I think (I hope) it’s possible. After all, ebooks have no shelf-life so there’s no hard and fast limit. Although the 30/60/90 day cliffs make it harder to market an older book.

    • Bryan

      I hope so too :).

  • I sure hope there’s a market for slower writers! I find that, while I can write fast enough to generate a novel every six weeks or so, it takes me much longer to get it up to a quality that I’m proud of. Granted, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, which is something I’m working on.

    My approach for now is to write/edit/publish as fast as I can without sacrificing quality and hoping that I get faster as I get better at writing (I’m publishing my first book in June, so I’m pretty new). In the meantime, I’m building my list as much as I can since as a slower writer, I’m going to need a larger audience than someone who can knock out a new book every month.

    • Bryan

      Congrats on the upcoming first book!

  • I am a slow writer (1 book a year) with moderate success. I will say that the writers I know with great success put out four or more books a year. Like a pyramid, my back list (and my success) will not be built in a day. I have to look at the long game. That means leveraging all aspects of my writing business towards retaining and growing my readership.

    1. Writing a quality series with an engaging MC that readers want to follow. This means there has to be ongoing character/daily life arcs behind the main plot (Will Cynth and Brent ever get together? When will Peter tell his mother about Lia? What outrageous and politically incorrect thing will Terry say next?) This also Includes high production values: cover, editing, etc., along with a good website.
    2. Back matter with reader magnet to encourage subscribers.
    3. Monthly emails that engage readers and promote involvement and investment. Involving readers in different aspects of book creation whenever possible (surveys, research, beta readers, asking for opinions and suggestions).
    4.Tending to reader relations graciously, always.
    5. Giveaways of quality swag (tee shirts, coffee mugs, pens) that are conversation starters.
    6. (My next step) Targeting libraries.
    7. Judicious advertising choices.
    8. An eye on personal and business overhead – Success is what’s left over after you spend and whether you can live a satisfying life on it. There’s a blog post out by someone who did crazy well a few years ago, built up their machine (hiring relatives, etc.) then blew through their profits. The whole thing collapsed when sales dried up. They are now back at their government job. I drive a 27 year old Volvo and I’m still working for myself.

    • Bryan

      Awesome list here, C.A.! Definitely gotta keep an eye on the business overhead.

  • What does success mean to you when it comes to your writing? A slow writer can ‘succeed’ in the self-publishing world, but probably not quit the day job.

    There have been many articles over the years about the number of authors who write their books to make a living, and the number is very low. Only the most successful trad authors make enough to be full-time authors.

    I’m sure the same is true with indies. But with indies, there’s a choice. You can write fast, in a popular but under-served genre, have a good cover, and a Cohen-Quality™ book description and have a decent chance at making a living. Or you can write more slowly and do okay. Maybe that book will take off. Your odds are more in your favor with writing fast.

    You don’t necessarily have to write fast and loose, however. There’s certainly a middle ground where you can make a living, but still put out quality work for that genre.

    • Even non-fiction writers who succeed in huge ways are doing tons of other stuff than just writing that book. They spend a lot of time marketing the book, engaging with other big authors, blogs, podcasts, and anything they can think of to drive sales and word of mouth. They aren’t usually seeing success just from writing that book (slowly or not).

      On top of that, many of them see the book as one part of their business. The book sells and makes them money, but also gets them speaking gigs, coaching clients, and sells courses. They are often talked about as if they are full time authors, even though it’s not really true.

      • Bryan

        Nonfiction authors have a ton of other options than just writing. Great points.

  • Patrick O’Donnell

    It seems like the trend for the last year or more has been pump out as much material as possible. I listen to this and other podcasts and I’m amazed by the authors who are releasing 20 or more books a year. I guess it’s how bad you want it and how much sleep you can do without.

    • Bryan

      “I guess it’s how bad you want it and how much sleep you can do without.” Ha, good point, Patrick.

  • Congrats on the 3rd anniversary, guys. Like Joanna Penn, I’ve been a weekly listener since episode 1. Keep up the awesome work.

    I’d also like to answer Jim’s “question of the week” regarding Kobo sponsorship.

    While we aren’t able to sponsor the podcast at this time, in celebration of the 3rd anniversary of the show, and of the great value that you bring to the author community each week, I’d like to offer up 3 Kobo Aura ONE eReaders that you can use as a draw to give out to your listeners. (https://us.kobobooks.com/products/kobo-aura-one) Jim/Bryan – I’ll email you directly to arrange shipping.

    I’ll also want to interview you both on the Kobo Writing Life Podcast (https://kobowritinglife.com/category/kwl-podcast/) to talk about your three years for the KWL audience. (I’ve had Bryan on the show and I’ve used clips from Jim on the show, but I think it’d be fun to have you both on to help spread the SMBS info and love)

    And, in answer the the official question of the week from Bryan, yes, a slow reader can certainly succeed in the self-publishing world. It’s the “tortoise and the hare” – Consistency is key. So long as you keep at it.

    I’ve long extolled the virtues of the 3 P’s of Writing and Publishing Success and I stand by them. PATIENCE, PRACTICE and PERSISTENCE.

    PRACTICE: Write every day. Write more. Keep writing. Doesn’t matter how fast or how slow. Just keep working at your craft/you do get better the more you write.

    PERSISTENCE: Believe in yourself and never give up. So long as you keep writing and keep working at getting better, it’s the NOT GIVING UP element that matters the most. So write your next book. If it takes a long time, best to start NOW.

    PATIENCE: Don’t forget that “overnight success” often takes years. Don’t forget that this is a long game, not a “what are my sales and sales rank today?” world. When I started writing, there was no internet. I typed manuscripts, mailed them and had to wait 6+ months for the gatekeepers to reject it only to begin again (not to mention I had to walk to school UP HILL both ways in ten feet of snow). But in the “old days” of publishing, it took even MORE PATIENCE, because it could take 5 years to get your book published. Compare that to now when, in 5 years, so much can change. But I often look back on that patience and compare it to today, where I need not wait for any gatekeepers, but can control my own publishing path.

    • Wow! A friend has your ereader and loves it. He’s even American! 😉 I love seeing Kobo making its mark on the states.

      I’ve always enjoyed the KWL Podcast, too. Even the ones that aren’t in a sexy French accent.

      • Thanks, Roland. It’s always fun to see a Kobo in a Kindle-saturated market-place. While seeing a Kobo is common-place here in Canada, whenever I spot one in the US, it’s a fun moment. When I can, I ask the person how they like reading eBooks (since industry stats show that most people who read still read print books – remember, WE, the indie and digital community, are still at the forefront of this transformation of the industry – it’s easy to lose sight of that) And, of course, I also ask if they write (‘because, you know, I can never really “turn it off”)

        And now that we’ve got two team members with sexy French accents, I’ll try to make sure both Camille and Sandra get some more “air time” on the KWL Podcast. 😉

        • Excellent!

          I read 90% of my fiction as ebooks and about 75% of my non-fiction as paper. It’s still too hard to flip back and forth between bookmarks (referring back to a chart, etc.).

          Notes/note taking is another area where I THINK ebooks could take off, but it would have to be totally different and innovative. I’d love some sort of integration with Evernote, so I could capture my notes (while in the ebook app) and have them automatically update my book note in EN. Then, from my desktop (or wherever) I could follow up, use the quotes in social sharing, book research, etc.

          I might be the 1% who want that, but imagine how useful college students might find that.

    • Bryan

      Fantastic, Mark! That’s awesome and generous. We can’t wait to give these out as prizes :). I remember those days of walking to school UP HILL BOTH WAYS! 😉

  • Tony Walsh توني والش

    Re Amazon & Souq (Bryan your pronunciation is correct) –
    Dubai where Souq is based and the Arab Gulf states (Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE & Oman) have well over 100% mobile penetration & around 100% as smart phone. The GDP per person is amongst the highest in the world (Qatar is number 1) and disposable income is very high. The population until now have had little alternative to shopping in malls etc – the online offering is impacted by poor web-site design and product agency rights that block online selling opportunities.
    Amazon have probably purchased Souq simply for their existing presence in the region over x years, which means that Souq have broken through the very high barriers to entry (probably impossible for Amazon to overcome otherwise why pay 700million for entry) in the form of government bureaucracy. Souq have also overcome the lack of a ‘physical’ mailing address (it’s a Post Box world) for delivery.
    Amazon have been looking at the market for years so I guess Souq offer them a hurdle free entry into the market.

    • Bryan

      That makes complete sense that they didn’t want to deal with the bureaucracy. And I’m so glad I didn’t mess up the pronunciation. Thanks, Tony!

  • avoura

    To answer the question: Being too slow is a disadvantage in the fast-paced world of self-publishing. I took a long time publishing my first novel (22 years) and much less with the second. I don’t think books should be rushed, authors should take their time, but not too long. I started writing a novel last year, not yet finished, but almost there. I think it is taking too long and I should get it done more quickly.

    • Bryan

      It definitely can be a problem in self-publishing. I think if you keep getting 10-20x faster with your novels, you’ll be in good shape soon ;).