I never imagined myself as a fiction author. In fact, I never imagined myself as a writer at all.
The world’s Stephen Kings are few and far between, and even a high school dropout knows that most writers are starving artists.
I didn’t consider myself an artist, nor was I willing to starve. And I’m not the best at being patient, asking for permission, or dealing with middlemen who stand in the way of the things I want to make and the people who want them.
I was an entrepreneur, and I would make my living working my ass off to build a business (or three).
But I turned 40 a little while ago, and in the five years between my 35th birthday and my 40th, I wrote and published (with co-authors) more than 100 books, including theplaybook for self-publishing: Write. Publish. Repeat.
I’m still an entrepreneur. But I’m a writer, too.
I’ve had a lot of help. I’ve written little in isolation. My writing partners, David W. Wright and Johnny B. Truant, have been with me through nearly every sentence of that journey. The argument we made in Write. Publish. Repeat. — that making a living as a writer was now simply a matter of math — changed my life.
I don’t work at a pace dictated by others, ask for permission, or deal with the middlemen.
And I’ve never been happier.
I wake up at or around 5:00 AM every morning, without an alarm. Why would I need one? Even before my feet hit the floor, I’m excited to get started. I love what I do. My neighbors must wonder, Why is that man with the giant nose ALWAYS smiling?
It’s simple: my business is making things I love for people who love them.
That argument that changed my life? It can change yours, too — if you’re interested.
I’ll break it down in one of the steps below (it’s the second one if you want to skip to it, but I don’t think you should). It’s a lot of hard work, especially in the beginning. And there are no shortcuts. Anyone telling you it’s easy to sell fiction is surely trying to reach into your wallet.
But it’s a skill that can be learned.
We’ve published a lot of books at Sterling & Stone, the Story Studio where Johnny, Dave, and I – along with a small family of creative ninjas – “make the stuff.”
To give you a little context, I first set out to write a simple “10 Steps to Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author.” I thought, Sure, sounds awesome. I could share what worked for us and some of the biggest lessons we learned. I budgeted 1,500 words for the piece.
Spoiler alert: this is four times that.
Because I couldn’t shortchange you. Only after writing it all down did I realize how much there was to say.
It wasn’t enough to list “10 things.” There had to be order, there had to be purpose, and there had to be actionable advice for you along the way. But there also had to be room for the story to flow.
This is how we roll. All our stories start with an outline — loose beats for the narrative to follow. We never know what’s going to happen between those beats, but every movement sets up the next.
So that’s what I wanted to craft for you here.
10 steps to making this author thing happen for yourself.
Now, these aren’t in the order that worked for us, because we fucked up a LOT along the way. But the lessons we learned mean you can fuck up a lot less.
So here are the 10 Steps to Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author, in an order I wish I’d known about five years ago, with some of the color I didn’t know I was missing.
Step 1: Decide if Self-Publishing is Right for You
Being an indie author isn’t for everyone. For some, it might be the biggest mistake they could make. Every writer is different, and you should never follow someone else’s path without knowing where that person is planning to go. Heaven for them might be Hell for you.
Ask yourself the following questions:
How much control do I want over the content, editing, and cover design of my book?
How well do I understand basic marketing and funnel design?
How willing am I to learn?
How fast am I able to go?
Is writing a hobby or a business for me?
It’s a common misconception that I think indie publishing is the only way. The truth is I am all-in on indie publishing for me. For Sterling & Stone, it doesn’t make sense to go Traditional. We’ve tried.