Tractor Big Year: The weird wonderful 21st century world of books

Sometimes my everyday research into self publishing reinforces how cataclysmic the commercial forces operating in 2018 are. One the one hand, nearly everyone around me, in my age group, sees writers as these tortured beasts sporadically spitting out masterworks: just witness the media frenzy over “Bridge of Clay”, the upcoming release by Markus Zusak, who unexpectedly took the world by storm with “The Book Thief,” and then spent thirteen years on the follow-up. At the other extreme, I’m in a closed Facebook group called 20BooksTo50K, based around the concept that if you author twenty books, an annual income of $50,000 should be achievable. Today, I was fascinated by a writer wondering aloud on 20BooksTo50K what she should expect from her first Amazon ebook (hey, just like me!), and receiving the message that “you should expect nothing at all, no attention,” with one commenter exciting me by suggesting this: “I’d be focusing on writing a shit ton more.”

What am I? The endless laborer or the prolific deliverer? Right now, I’m the former but hey, I could be the latter!

Tractor Big Year: So many different publishing strategies

Jane Friedman pointed me to a September 24 article by Hayley Cuccinello in Forbes magazine titled “$400M fiction giant Wattpad wants to be your literary agent.” Here’s another strategy I was essentially unaware of: write tons of stuff on Wattpad, a site for writing stuff on, and if you’re lucky Wattpad notices you and picks you up and pitches you to publishers, with high success rates. The article makes for fascinating reading.

If you’re fascinated by a topic, can I suggest a Big Year?

Three quarters of the way through the year and I’ve spent an hour each day reading and researching self-publishing and modern authorly marketing (that’s my Tractor Big Year, the title being a play on words of my upcoming book’s draft title). I have found it to be a most fascinating and effective educational process. Sure, some days it’s been tough to find time, amidst the press of urgent life matters, to seat myself down in the afternoon to read and take brief notes. But manage it I have and now I reckon I have a decent, rather deep understanding.
Look, I can’t say I’m an expert on this topic I’ve gradually immersed within. Any time I execute part of my strategy, say commissioning a cover, I need to revisit my notes and reading material, but what the Big Year does is give me confidence in my overall grasp. If you are intrigued by something, anything at all, be it Tudor England or robotics or Soviet espionage, do yourself a favor by assuaging the itch in a steady way: set up a Big Year!

100 days to go!

Urgency grips the geek. 100 days! Can he do it? So what if he does?

I’ve reassessed progress and prospects. The picture over the four Big Years isn’t pretty but each has lifted me for the better. Over the next week or so, I’ll reshape the four pushes towards December 31. Call me excited!

2018: Scrabbling back onto the rails

In my experience it doesn’t take much to unscramble one’s determination. Over the last week I’ve been plumbing the dizzy heights and mired depths of self publishing (Deadly Investment, my first crime novel, approaches!). Commissioning professionals to assemble the book’s bits and pieces, trying to think in sales mode, planning detailed steps, all the while struggling with a leg injury . . .  I lapsed. I was laboring hard but all my Big Years momentarily faltered. I got up early but wasn’t drafting my big book (1,000 Big Year). Some hiking, biking, and gym kept me from ossifying but my exercise targets slumped (Freshness Big Year). I even missed a couple of Headspace days (Stillness Big Year). I did keep up the Tractor Big Year research into publishing (in fact that’s all I did). I drank wine and ate chocolate.

Yesterday the usual “why falter” gloom set in but today I’m reassembling my life. Back on track soon . . .

Tractor Big Year: Research is one thing, spending money is another

You read this, Google that, check out what other self publishers do, you take notes . . . daily fun and games, but at some point you move from research to action and then it’s all brand new. Case in point: when self publishing, you need to get a book cover. You can draw it yourself, or buy premade covers out of a catalogue, or you can commission a designer to dream one up for you. The third choice is the best, all your research tells you, because an amateurish cover is a kiss of death, so you roam the Internet for the right cover designer for you. Who has a good reputation? How many $s? Who is available (the best ones get busy pretty damned quick)? All of that is amenable to geeky analysis but one aspect isn’t: who designs beautifully, winningly? You eyeball their website pages with their portfolios of past covers and your stomach lurches. See, you don’t have a visual aesthetic sense at all. What to do? Only one choice: ask those of your friends with design instincts. You give them a choice of two or three and wait for feedback. How nervewracking!

Oh, remember Option 1 above, that of drawing your own cover? Here’s my attempt!

Injury unplugs me . . . need to plug in again

I jogged a couple of days ago, not 10 kms as per my Freshness Big Year, not 5 kms as has been a frequent last-resort action, but only 2 kms. And it didn’t work. My right quad muscle is messed up and it’s time to see the physio. In the meantime all my exercise goals are moot and need to be sensibly revised. My other Big Years also flounder, I’m not sure why.

So, with a quarter of 2018 remaining, let me reorient and recommit.

Tractor Big Year: The puzzle of email lists

Day 245 of this Big Year, of daily exploration into how to publish in 2018, and I’ve run out of general topics to pursue. What’s more, I’m moving closer to self publication of the first of my mysteries. My strategic and tactical choices from this moment onwards will have momentous implications, and I’m not ready to make those choices, so today I’m going to tackle a first big decision.

It’s a given that a self published author needs to self promote, to find ways to be “discovered” amongst the millions of ebooks out there. Social media, in particular Facebook, is a powerful discoverability option, but a vigorous school of thought is that an author’s most potent asset is her email list/newsletter. An email list is a group of people who consent to be regularly emailed to. “Grow your list,” is one strand of commonly perceived wisdom. And yet . . . and yet . . . there are authors who eschew emails yet do well, and there are authors who decry emails as “not my style.” What should I do?

As ever, I prod a decision by reading a book. Tammi Labrecque, a multi-genre author, gets plaudits for her US$300 newsletter course (formerly called Email List Expert, now Newsletter Ninja, find this at but the next one won’t run till January, so the next best choice is to read Tammi’s just-published book of the same name.

An hour a day on this book and then I’ll make some big scary decisions. Wish me luck!

Tractor Big Year: Educating oneself can confuse

Roz Morris is an excellent writer of an eclectic mix of books. I came across this intriguing blog post, “Building readership: a quiet rebellion against three pieces of conventional marketing wisdom.” Use pictures, bribe potential readers with cheapies or giveaways, and find out what readers want . . . like Morris, that’s what I’ve been told in my research. She reckons you do the opposite: use words, engage as a person, and follow your own muse.

Tractor Big Year: Self-publishing means acting like a publisher

Studying how best to self publish involves a repeated cycle of reading and absorbing. I’m much more familiar now on how to make a book, either ebook or pbook (aka paperback). Unsurprisingly the more daunting aspect is figuring out how best to get noticed. BookBub, an ebook marketing group with great clout and a superb business model, just issued its teaser “how to,” namely a blog post titled “Why (and How!) to Reach the Right Readers [Book Marketing 101].”

What strikes me right away is that a self-published author is now expected to act like a mini corporation or business. BookBub’s advice can be summed up as follows: define a narrow target audience by researching the most suitable reader profile; research how such a reader searches for books; nut out comparable authors; identify my book’s most appropriate categorisation on sites such as Amazon; optimise my “metadata” to aid discovery of my book; run ads (of coursing including on BookBub) often with price promos; find and pitch to the bloggers who might best review or feature my book; and pursue free PR (paid PR is too expensive and mostly useless).

Each of these steps involves work. Each involves time away from the pen. Each is scary.