This is hybrid-published author Jessie Gussman’s Facebook post on August 24, 2019, reprinted with permission of how she wrote to market and grossed nearly $20,000 in one month. Read her March 12, 2020 Q&A here.
This is a celebratory post and a “how I did it” post. It’s long.
This is what I’ve made in July 2019…
…and what I’ve made so far in August 2019.
Here are a few of my “word logs.” This is what I do to track my word count. I keep a date and the total word count of the document at the beginning of that day at the top of every rough draft. Every once in a while I miss writing it down.
I’ve started this post several times, but I feel like there’s so much I need to learn and so much I don’t know. How can I help anyone, right? Of course, I’m also naturally reticent, and I’m fighting that as well. I’m gonna try, because posts like this were so very helpful to me, and I love reading them. I’ve also been contacted recently by people who aren’t sure what to make of me, so I’m going to try to be transparent.
I’ve been writing seriously since 2013. That’s another story. But that’s my first point.I spent years working on craft and story structure, entering contests and being given zeros on a scale of 1 – 5. I was told to quit, that I’d never make it, that I was wasting my time, that my polished, final copy looked like a rough draft, and on and on. I didn’t quit writing, but I also never quit trying to get better. I am still trying to get better. I have several critique partners, who have been with me almost from the beginning (they read so much awful stuff from me!), a critique group that I’ve been in for years and beta readers. I always ask for hard, honest critiques, and I do not allow myself to get offended or hurt by comments. I take classes and courses, read books, and am constantly trying to improve.
After years of rejection, I was finally accepted – in the same week – by three different small presses. Another long story, but one of them published my first book, a novella, in 2017.
The small press thing wasn’t working out, and at the end of 2018, my husband and I decided that 2019 was the year – I either started publishing and having something to show for all the time I’d been spending writing, or I quit. We have two successful businesses – I work in both, I homeschool, I cook for a large crowd every day, we always have someone living here who needs a place to stay, plus I’m a wife and mother of five. The writing was a distraction that pulled me away from things that needed to be done.
In December of 2018, I finally get enough courage up to hit “publish” myself. It was a small town romance. It had a great hook, but I did most everything else wrong.
In January of 2019, I signed up for Anne-Marie Meyer’s Sweet Authors Ads course, although I didn’t feel I belonged with the heavy hitters that seemed to be in her class. I was writing furiously, determined to make it work, but I knew marketing was a huge weakness of mine. And I was right. I stunk at Facebook ads. I cried. I watched money disappear without anything to show for it, I changed my blurb, my bio, and finally, I changed the cover I loved, but wasn’t on target for small town romance (so hard). But I didn’t quit. And my ads started working.
I released more books in that series. At least one per month. And I started planning my next series. I read The Writing Gals. Watched their videos. Read the posts in the group. I decided I was going to WRITE TO MARKET. : ) I choose cowboys, because I have a farming background, I worked on the family farm through high school and college, baling hay, milking cows, etc., we own and run a farm now, my son has worked out west, I read TONS of western romance, I felt I could write them convincingly (versus billionaires…which I don’t know a THING about, lol) and I felt they were a hot niche. I studied the books that were selling, looked up tropes, looked up popular romance themes, studied keywords, studied K-Lytics, tried to decide what was popular and selling well, then I put my own twist on everything (because I wanted to be successful, but I would absolutely NEVER copy someone else’s work; every word that I have written is mine, influenced by what I’ve read, what I believe, and how I’ve lived, I’m sure, but ALL MINE) and DETERMINED that I was NOT GOING TO MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE AGAIN that I made with my first series. My first series was written from my heart. My cowboys are written to market.
I knew all the successful books were series and were rapid releasing. But I didn’t have time to write a book in a month! I couldn’t. No. Way. But I knew I had to. So, I decided, why not try? I said, Lord, if you want me to do this writing thing, you need to wake me up at 4 a.m. If You wake me up, I’ll get my feet out of bed. Ha. So, guess who woke up at 4 a.m. the next morning? Yeah. The thing is, when you make a bargain with the Good Lord, you kind of have to follow through on your end, right? So, I got up at 4 a.m. and wrote before my family woke up. I did that from about February through June. Almost every morning. I’m not a sprinting kind of writer. I can get a comfortable 1000 – 1500 words per hour, but my rough draft is very close to my finished draft. Sprinting works for some rapid releasers, but not me. I also read a book that helped me understand I am a BIG CHUNK writer. So, I worked hard to write a book in a week. My oldest daughter took on a lot of my jobs for the week that I was writing a book. (I would not be where I am today without her.) One month when I was really frustrated about getting interrupted, my husband sent me to a hotel for several days. I took food with me, didn’t leave the hotel room for four days, and came home with a finished cowboy.
I released at least one book per month from December through July, and in June I released three (one was trad pubbed). Lol I have a book I could release in August, but I’m not going to. (That’s a rabbit trail I’m not going down.) I had hoped to do a beach series and release them over the summer too, but it was too much.
One of the things I really studied when I was writing my cowboys was how to get a reader to go from book 1 to book 2. Read through. I wanted to advertise my first and have the others float behind. With a few exceptions, that’s what I’ve done – advertised my first in series, and let the others sell with read-though. If you look my books up, you’ll see that my cowboys have much better read-through than my first series. To me, that’s key to make money at this. Read through. 😊 I used a tip I got in this group – write the epilogue in the POV (point of view) of the hero or heroine of the next book. It’s worked for me.
I haven’t really talked about my newsletter, but I do have one and I work hard at it. I always put a free chapter in my NL and I always announce my release on release day. I know that’s not the best way to get in Amazon’s algorithms, but I feel it’s the right way to treat my subs. Just my opinion.
I give anyone who wants it an ARC. I don’t keep track of who reviews, and I always encourage honest reviews. I do offer gift card drawings for people who have reviewed. I do try to be reasonably cautious, but I don’t worry about people trying to steal my stuff. God is the righteous judge. Vengeance is mine; I WILL repay, saith the Lord. I believe that and I’m letting everything in his hands.
I advertise. I’ve taken courses. (Anne-Marie’s is the best.) Lots of courses. I’ll continue to take courses. My end goal is not necessarily to make tons of money, but that is a measure of success. My husband and I have been married almost twenty-five years. We’ve owned our own businesses almost twenty-four of those years. He would say, you have to spend money to make money. I concur. I spend money on courses, (I take a LOT of writing courses, too – it’s an investment in my writing career) and I spend money on ads. I’d love to catch a ride on the Amazon algorithms, and maybe someday I will, but currently, I have ads on my first in series. I’m blessed that we don’t need the money I’m making on my books to live on, so everything I make, after the tithe, I can turn and invest right back into my writing business.
I believe you reap what you sow. I believe hard work and perseverance trumps talent every day of the week. I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated. I believe in returning good for evil. I believe in praying for those who persecute you. I believe a soft answer turns away wrath and laughter is good for your health and a lot more fun than fighting or stressing. I’m not always strong enough to act on my beliefs, I fail more than I succeed, I’m afraid, but that’s my aim. I believe my life, and any body of work I have, can be a light in this dark and corrupt world. If I can make people laugh, if I can brighten their day, if I can encourage them, make them think, give them hope, then that’s success to me. I’ll give my books away for free to anyone who asks. And if I can help, I’ll always do it. I’m not very good at posting publicly, but I have done my best with every single person who has ever messaged me asking for advice, or help, or suggestions, or anything at all. I hope there never comes a time when I think doing my work, and my stuff, is a better use of my time than serving someone else.
Lastly, I’ve only been doing this a short while, but I know this business, like every other business, is up and down. There are no guarantees. You might do everything right and still not sell books. You might do everything wrong and sell a ton of books. My books are doing well now, but they might tank tomorrow. Books that aren’t selling today, might start selling like crazy tomorrow. I want to make money, I’m not gonna lie, and I hope there are ideas in this post that will help anyone who reads it to do the same, and I hope I can continue to do so as well, but that’s not the end goal. When it comes down to it, I want to look back on a life well-lived, no matter how many books I did or didn’t sell.