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So much of becoming a successful author, indie or otherwise, is about mindset.
Today I talk to Susan Kaye Quinn about some of the biggest issues we all have as writers: self doubt, fear of judgement and comparisonitis. We also go into branding and tips on organizing your marketing.
In the intro, I mention some time critical info, plus my fantastic night at CrimeInTheCourt – you can see the pics here on my author FB page – the launch of How to Make a Living with your Writing, and the audiobooks of Gates of Hell and One Day in New York. It's been a big week!
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Susan Kaye Quinn is a former rocket scientist now bestselling speculative fiction author and today we're talking about her super book, The Indie Author Survival Guide.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.
- On the journey from rocket science to writing books.
- On making a living as a writer and the indie-author revolution that the mid-listers are spearheading.
- The big lie of traditional publishing and the areas of validation and approval, as well as writers' mission statements, and the personal reasons why we write, which can help with decision making in our writing careers.
- On experimenting with what works for us and what doesn't in our writing careers. Also fear of judgment and how it can hold us back from fully expressing ourselves in our work, and what we can do to deal with that. Susan has a video on dealing with fear on her site here.
- Susan's top recommendations for book marketing including the three key elements. What to do if your books aren't selling and knowing your target market.
- The longevity of writing careers, the long tail of book sales and the possible cycles of sales through a writer's lifetime.
- Using Scrivener for organizing book marketing materials and how this serves to keep marketing in a separate mental space from writing. [I also recommend the Learn Scrivener Fast training for getting the most out of Scrivener.]
- The differences between writing for love or for money. The speed with which writers can now bring new works to market and the gap that is rapidly closing between writers and readers.
You can find Susan at SusanKayeQuinn.com and her books,, The Indie Author Survival Guide and For Love or Money: Crafting an Indie Author Career, on all online stores.
Transcription of interview
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I'm here with Susan Kaye Quinn. Welcome, Susan.
Susan: Thank you so much for having me.
Joanna: Thank you for coming back. I should tell everyone this is our second take because my tech failed, so I'm so sorry. But it was fascinating so we can do it all over again.
Susan: Yes, it was very enjoyable the first time. But my answers might change and I hope I don't get in trouble for that bit. We shall see.
Joanna: Not at all. So just a little introduction. Susan is a former rocket scientist, now bestselling speculative fiction author. And today, we're talking about her super book, “The Indie Author Survival Guide”.
Susan, just tell us a bit more about being a rocket scientist and how you got into writing?
Susan: Well, I wrote when I was a kid, but then I decided I had to get all serious and become an engineer and a scientist, which I did and I got a bunch of degrees, culminating in a PhD. So I ended up doing research, I was working for NASA, and worked on global warming and it was all great stuff. I absolutely adored my work.
But when I had kids, that came along, I decided I would stay home for a little while and I always planned to go back to engineering.
And then a funny thing happened along the way where I picked up the pen again and started writing and was just thoroughly addicted and could not stop.
And it was a very transformational time for me because there was this creative side to my being that had not really had expression. Engineering and science can be creative, but it also has this side to it that is very distrustful of the arts. I had suppressed that. And when it came out, it was like opening up a fire hose, there was no stopping it.
And I've been writing ever since and decided I really need to bring the two sides of myself together, be more integrated. And that's why there's a lot of tech stuff in my writing, but also very much the heart of it. My science fiction is really science fiction with heart because I like the human side of that. So I'm happy with it now. I can't see going back to engineering, pretty much ever. So I plan to die at the keyboard. That's my current plan.
Joanna: I like that. I'm hoping that by the time we are older, if the technology changes, there won't be keyboards. That somehow, there will be a better technology so I don't get RSI anymore.
Susan: Yeah, I vote for that, absolutely.
Joanna: I can see that in our future.
In your book, “The Indie Author Survival Guide”, which is brilliant and why I invited you on the show, so you have this thing which I love. We hear of all the breakout indie stars and the truly amazing sales, and we can't all be Hugh Howey and lots of people in the romance niche, for example.
You say in the book and I quote, “Indie mid-listers are the heart of the indie revolution.” So I wondered if you could explain what that means.
What is a mid-lister for indie and why are they the heart?
Susan: Okay, first of all, my definition of an indie mid-list is someone who's making a living with their books. And a living can vary a lot all over. So I would say whatever the average income is in your area, if you're making more than that, technically, you're making a living.
And I think the people that can do that with their stories are the heart of the revolution because they are the example of how you can actually do it. We can't all be Hugh Howey. We may not all want to be Hugh Howey. And those kinds of breakout stars are very inspirational. Right now, I'm so inspired by Andy Weir and his novel “The Martian” that's being made into a movie. That stuff is great and I love it.
But not everybody is going to be that, just by definition.
And so the question is, can you still make a living at it even if you're not a rock star?
And I think people like myself who are doing that, we . . . I don't have to evangelize. I don't have to go out there and sell people on indie publishing.
The mere fact that I am making a living at it every day is a great example and people notice that. And I think when that actually started to happen is when the indie revolution took off because word got around, people saw those examples. And they were like “Hey, I can do it, too.” And you can.
For the first time in, I don't know, probably forever, there's a real chance for a lot of people to make a living with their art, at least for written art. And I just love that.
I think it's a fantastic time to be a writer.
Joanna: And what about the impatience? I know people think, “Oh, I just put out a book and then, ta-da! It works.”
What can people think about in terms of timing and also the comparisonitis issue?
Susan: Right. Well, there will always be somebody who's going to be better than you at everything – making more money, writing a better book, being more productive, getting more words out.
Any kind of comparison you want to make, it's very toxic because it takes you out of that place where you're actually being productive, where you're actually doing the work.
And I think if you're committed to doing the work, first of all, that's the reward in and of itself. Regardless of sale. It's just the fact that you are actually writing books and putting yourself out there and doing this creative thing. So there's that.
But second of all, you need to have a plan going into this that is somewhat reasonable.
When I first started out, my first objective with my first indie book was to break even. That was my goal and I had other goals beyond that but the first one was breaking even. Because I knew if I couldn't do that, we might have some trouble. And that would be my first guidepost of whether this was even possible to do.
But beyond that, and the second part that I think is actually really important is for people to commit that they're doing this.
Don't dip your toe in with one short story and then declare it a failure because it didn't get you on the New York Times' bestseller list.
I would say I'm exaggerating, but people do have somewhat unrealistic expectations sometimes, and they look at the super sellers, superstars and they think “Oh, I can do that with my first book.” And that's really not reasonable.
But if you commit yourself to writing a trilogy –because series are huge in our business.
Write the trilogy, publish the trilogy, get it out there. Give yourself a year to do that. If you can do that within a year, and do everything that you're supposed to do in terms of having a good book, having a good product, see how it hits the market, you will know.
You will have a good idea after a year whether you can make it in this biz, or at least you will have a whole ton of information about why you didn't.
And then you can decide “Well, this is something I want to keep trying at.”
Because I firmly believe that failure is something we do while we're trying, and success is something we do when we try again.
So you have to decide for yourself whether you want to keep going with it, but give yourself time to find success. Don't give up too soon.
Joanna: And I think those unrealistic expectations of “write one book and make $1 million and then retire” does really come from the dream and the myth of the traditional publishing industry. You have another great line in the book. It says:
“The radical nature of indie publishing is that it shines a spotlight on the big lie.”
So talk a bit about what the big lie is and why that's still something we're interested in?
Susan: There's a lot of pieces to what you just said, so let me unpack that a little bit.
First of all, the big lie is that if you don't get a contract with a traditional publisher, that you're some kind of hack.
And there are indie-published authors on the bestseller list every day demolishing that lie. It is just simply not true that you're no good and you can't sell books if you don't have a contract. It's just simply not true.
It took a while for people to figure that out and it took some time for that to flip over to being just painfully obvious to everyone. So it's the big lie that nobody even really believes anymore. A few people do. If you're not knowledgeable about the industry, if you don't know what's been going on, you might still believe it. But even people in the industry don't believe it anymore. So that's good, I think that's a good thing.
But part of why we wanted to believe the lie is because it gives validation.
What publishers historically have done is dole out that validation. They peddled validation.
If you got that stamp of approval, you knew you had made it.
And part of their process that also fed into this “One book and I'm now a bestselling author, New York Times lister” was actually the way that traditional publishing worked in that they took a big chance on you with your one book that they plucked out of the many, many, and they were going to make you a star. And they were going to do that by having a big push right in the beginning, have you climb up those bestseller charts and hopefully become this overnight success.
That model was built into the expectation of what the golden ring was. If you could catch it, that was going to be your reward.
Now, never mind that for most traditionally-published authors, that isn't what happened. Because either they decided you weren't the star, but they were going to try and publish you anyway, or things just didn't work out. But that still out there is this ideal that perhaps we want to go reach for.
The reality is that publishers don't control that stamp of approval, the readers do.
That's all they ever really controlled was distribution, which they no longer control. And so now, you have writers out there floating in this free market, selling their books maybe, maybe not. And they don't know “Am I any good? I want someone to tell me I'm good.” And that whole need for approval, I look at that as part of the path that a lot of artists go through. I think we start out from that point where we are new in craft and young in craft and we don't know if we're any good.
At some point, as you mature, you develop the ability for self-criticism, self-reflection.
You know whether you're, relatively speaking, good or not good, how or what that actually means. I don't even like having that kind of terminology.
But more importantly, I think you discover that it doesn't matter. Because what really matters is that you're creating. You're telling stories that you need to tell. And you have that creative fulfillment that goes along with that.
And if you're doing that, it doesn't actually matter if people read it or love it or buy it or review it. All of that is a separate process from the creative part. And the people who can stay the most in that, I think, are the happiest with their writing. Then you have to deal with all the other . . . That doesn't go away. But just making those distinct helps with the need for approval.
Not for everyone, everybody is going to have their own approach to this. So hey, if you want approval from a traditional publisher, go for that. Make that happen for yourself because that will make you happy. I'm all for you being happy with whatever it is you want to reach for.
Joanna: Yes, and then when you talked about validation, about what various people might want. I mean, I talk a lot about this definition of success and how it differs for everyone, but you have this thing about the mission statement in the book, which I really like, in thinking about what's important.
Can you explain about this mission statement and how they can put one together?
Susan: Okay. A mission statement for a writer is no different than any other organization. You can Google “How to write mission statements,” but it's just a short paragraph that really distills down your core values.
It might be ridiculed a little bit in business speak because it's been overdone or whatever, but it's an exercise for you as a writer to say, “What am I in this for?”
Because I think, even though we're writers, we don't actually sit down and write why we write. We don't really examine that always. We might have a feel for it. We might be like, “I've always written stories. I'm compelled to write stories,” something like that. But to really define it, really put it into words, I think, helps to clarify our thinking.
And so for me, I actually had several different pieces to it.
One piece had to do with why I write stories and I'll just read a little part it. It's basically to create compelling stories and characters that pose moral questions to readers and make them think. So that gives you an idea that I like thinking stories, and that I'm going to prod my readers to think about why our characters are in these situations, and what the moral choices are there. So that's important to me.
But then I also had other pieces to it, like I wanted every story to be an improvement in craft. I wanted to be a leader and a member of the writing community, that that was an important part to me.
And this book that I've written, all of my nonfiction works–“The Indie Author Guide” plus the one I'm writing right now, “For Love or Money”, those are part of me being part of the writer community. It's not like I'm making a business out of those so much as that's part of my giving back. And that's important to me. It's fulfilling to me to do that, which is why I do it. And it's in my mission statement, so I guess I better.
And the last piece of it was that I wanted to create a large body of works to reach a large number of readers. But I also wanted to leverage technology. The technology piece was important to me. The innovation that comes with storytelling and with form, with serials or novels or whatever. So that piece was important to me to be in my mission statement, so that gives me permission to explore all those aspects.
So I think when you put it together, it gives you a snapshot of who you are as a writer. And it helps when you come and have to make decisions like, “I've got a big publisher coming in asking if I want a contract. Where does that fit in my mission statement?” It's just a tool for writers to use.
Joanna: I know. I think it's a really good one. And just a couple of things in mind, freedom is the one word that I always use as the value guidance. It's like, “Does this give me more freedom or less freedom?” I do print on-demand, I don't have stock books in my house because we don't own anything, that's how I choose to live. That's one thing. And then like you, I have on my wall, create a body of work that I'm proud of.
And another thing on there, and I rarely talk about this, but I did use an unknown pen name for something else, as many of us do. And then I decided I didn't want to do that anymore because I want to have this body of work I'm proud of, that I can put my name to.
So for me, that was a decision, I wouldn't write under that third pen name anymore, so I just use my two big ones. And that was, like you say, it was a decision based on the overarching reasons why. There's perhaps an ego element in there, but there's nothing wrong with ego, right?
Susan: Absolutely not. You should have that.
Creatively fulfilling is another name for ego.
And I think that's a very legitimate part of why we write. And I want to emphasize that I don't care what you put in your mission statement. You put, “Be honest, please” because you are the only one who knows what will make you happy, and if you climb the wrong mountain, that you keep striving for something that you think everybody else thinks you should do and you get there, you'll spend all this time and you'll end up not happy. And I don't want that. I want people to be fulfilled in their work.
I love that you did that experiment, though, where you went and you tried it. Because sometimes, we don't know. So we try something on for size and we go, “No, that doesn't fit me.” And then you're okay with letting it go and you've answered that question now.
You don't have to go back and do it again because you already . . . it won't be always looming out there, taunting you and saying, “You should try this.” I'm a sucker for that. I have to try all the things because that's who I am, I'm an experimentalist. And once I try it, I'm okay with letting it go because it didn't work, or embracing it if it did, even if that surprises me.
Joanna: I think that's really important. And also, we're creating a life, not just another job.
If people do want to leave their day job to become a full-time author/entrepreneur, you have to design the life you want. Not just something that you end up hating because you're writing something you don't love. So I think that's very important.
So one thing I wanted to ask you about was this fear of judgment because it's something that I definitely have. The sort of, “I really want people to like me.” And one of my series, “The London Psychic” series, it was a bit darker and I was very worried what people would think of me, the stuff that comes out of our brains.
You talk about the fear of judgment in your books, so maybe you could comment on that.
Susan: Yeah, I think we have a lot of fears. We have a basket-full of fears as writers. And fear of judgment is definitely one of them and it holds us back because it keeps us from really exploring all the potential that our story has, and that is what really hooks readers. So you've got to go there.
But conquering that fear is sometimes really tough. I'm not an advocate of just pushing through fear because I think not addressing your fears is a way to just bury them and they're going to come back and bite you at the worst possible time.
Deal with them so that you can move forward with confidence and clarity of what you're doing.
I have a webinar, a 30-minute webinar on facing your fears on my website, which I hope people will check out just because I've gotten a lot of feedback from people who are saying that it's very useful to them. But one of the main points in that is that you need to take some kind of action in the face of fear.
Fear is doing one thing. It's telling you that you're probably tackling something worthwhile, and that you're also being vulnerable in the world. We look at other people and when they make themselves vulnerable in the world, we go “Wow, they're so courageous and we're so inspired by them,” but when it's us, we're like “No, thank you because that makes me vulnerable and I don't like that.”
So getting through that feeling of discomfort that comes from being vulnerable, which is exactly what you need to do, is difficult. One of the things that can help is taking some kind of creative action or any action at all that addresses the fear.
Fear is an anticipatory emotion. It's something in the future that we think might happen. So if we're taking action in today, the present, it pulls us back out of the future into the moment today where we're doing something concrete, and that has this really calming effect on the mind.
Especially when we're taking creative action like writing or researching or doing something like that, it really dissolves those fears away. They might come back, it's a constant battle. You're going to have to keep fighting it, but there are tools to fight it.
Joanna: Yeah. And I think with that, you really have to get down to, “What is the worst thing that can happen as an author?” I mean, really. If you get a one-star review or . . . I think we worry most about our family and friends. So my mother-in-law said why can't I write something nice, and my mum said why don't I write like Hilary Mantel who's an award-winning historical literary fiction author. I think we worry about that, the fear of judgment by the people who know us. My number one thing now is don't expect your family and friends to like anything you write.
Susan: Right. And they're not your audience, most likely, right?
Susan: You aren't even actually writing for them. I'm lucky to have a lot of support in my family, but I understand that fear. What we're risking is we're risking our connection with people. That's when we're vulnerable, when we're risking connection.
And one of the people I quote in the webinar was a lady who's now . . . whose name is escaping me, but she was a TED Talker and she was talking about how she did all these studies. And she found that the people who risk the most, who are the most risking of that connection actually had the most fulfilling connections with people in their lives.
So even though your mother might say, “Why can't you be like this person?” you're going to have a relationship with that person that's going to be defined by a whole lot more than the fact that you're not writing the books.
But there's probably some part of her that recognizes that you took a risk to do something that wasn't. And whether they ever actually get to that point or not, your creative work is important to you, it's intrinsic to you. And just as she has her work and it's intrinsic to her, you're not going to judge her for doing or not doing whatever she's doing or not doing with her life.
Those connections are defined by a lot more than just our work. And if we hold back from our work, we're going to be punishing . . . she's going to spend 2% of her life worrying about what you write. But you're going to be spending 100% of your time worrying about what you write and so you need to go there first.
You need to take care of your own creativity and need to write, and not let the fear keep you from doing what you can be as a writer because I can guarantee you that the guy who wrote the literary novel was not holding back.
That guy was going where he needed to go with his work and that's what you need to do, too. So that's what I would say.
Joanna: Fantastic. You're a mature indie now, you have been doing this for a number of years. And you've done loads of marketing tactics as well. You and I both, we just try everything.
After all your experience, what are your top recommendations for book marketing? What should people definitely be doing?
Susan: Well, I hate to make pronouncements like that because it's really individual and there's a huge genre effect.
If you're writing thrillers versus romance versus science fiction, you really have very different markets. But that being said, I use a lot of ads. I do a lot of paid advertising because it's a broad reach approach and I trust it to pull in the kind of readers.
I also use free books. I have two free books right now because they're in different genres. And that's a 24/7 marketing thing.
Since Kindle Unlimited came along last summer, the effect of perma-free is not as strong as it used to be, but it's still cheap and easy and more importantly, it doesn't take any time.
And a lot of your time needs to be doing the one thing that you really can do to increase your career, which is write another book, and get another out in the series, and be cohesive with what you're writing so that you're building a body of works that actually goes together, and you can build your audience that way.
So those are the three big things. I would say ads, a free book and just writing the next book.
Having production, getting your production up are three things that really are the fundamentals. If you don't have at least some of those that you're using at some point along the way, you're not tapping into all of your potential.
Joanna: A question on the series thing. I know some people get worried . . .
Say you have three books in a series and you're still not making a lot of sales, which is happening to some people, is it just that they haven't found the right audience yet, for example? How would you diagnose that problem?
Susan: Actually I'm writing a whole book about that problem right now called “For Love or Money”. When I look at whether a book is selling, say, you've written a book for love. You love it, you love the story, the characters, this is the book of your heart.
But it's not reaching an audience, it's not selling. Why? It's either the appeal of the book or it's your craft. And nobody wants to hear that it's your craft. But it's possible it's your craft. Just because you might have a great idea for a story, but if you can't deliver that in a way that really is going to hook readers in, then they're not going to stick with you to see how it all unfolds.
I'm constantly trying to take my craft up a level, so it's not like you get to here and you're good enough. There's always a spectrum of where you can constantly be improving. So everyone should be doing that anyway. But it's possible you haven't quite reached the level yet where readers are just grabby hands with your book and just can't devour it fast enough. You want to get to that level to really sell.
But a huge part of it, I think, is appeal, and I think people discount that. They think, “Well, I'm writing in a popular genre. It's thrillers,” or whatever. But you may not realize that your idea of what a thriller is isn't what a lot of the thriller readers are looking for. And they have some very specific genre-specific things, types of characters, types of story lines that they want to read. And it's not your fault and it's not their fault. It just is, it is just how the market works.
And so if you have this sort of off the beaten path story, it may not be resonating with the huge numbers of readers. So that means either you can bring your story in closer to the mainstream, that's one option.
Another option is to you're just going to have to work a lot harder to find those readers who really get your story. They're out there, but they're smaller in number.
You're going to have to really think about, who am I actually targeting this book towards? Who is the audience for this book, and then go find them.
So it's more effort, it's more marketing and it's maybe more effort than you want to put in. Because marketing can take a lot of time and it can take time away from writing, which is the thing that we all like to do. Because it's not like we got into this because we like to market. We got into this because we like to write.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. I think you're write. My “London Psychic” series, for example, I have now discovered after ages of like, “Why isn't this hitting the right thing?” They have a subcategory for psychics in print books, but not in Kindle. And this is the thing, like right now, there are some disconnects between where you can put various books in subcategories. For many authors, there isn't a specific subcategory.
But what I think is that over time, more and more, these things will become more granular. So if things aren't hitting as you would hope and you're getting good reviews which would prove the craft point from the people who do find the book, but the sales aren't amazing, give it time, don't give up.
Susan: Right, don't give up. And the whole “Don't give up too soon” thing, I have a whole chapter in my book about that, too. Because you need to let it go through it paces. You need to write the whole trilogy. You need to experiment with free and pricing and a bunch of stuff before you give up on the series.
And I have a couple of series that don't sell as well as my main series, which sells very well because it's pretty well-targeted to the market. And in my book, I really break that down. It's like, “This is why this hits the market. This is why this one doesn't.” It's the same author, and I actually think that the ones that aren't hitting the market are better written because it came later in my career, right? So it's not the quality or the craft necessarily, but hitting the market is huge.
You'll hear a marketing technique that someone is using. You really need to ask, “What genre of book are you talking about?”
Because what works in romance will not work for thrillers. There are some that will cross over, some techniques like an ad or something like that will cross over, a free book. I say those things because they're generic, they work for everybody. But there are specific marketing things, ways of marketing for romance that are very specific to that audience. That audience has a way of interacting with their readers or their authors that is very different than the thriller market.
You have to know more about your market and that's the business side. And actually for the “For Love or Money” book, I'm hoping will demystify a little bit of the market and how it works for people so they can decide where they want to spend their efforts.
Do I want to take a pen name and do something that makes more money? Or do I want to stick with my “For Love” books and just enjoy them, but maybe nudge them a little closer to what the market is looking for? Or maybe I really need to invest in my craft. Maybe I really just need to take that up a huge level because I'm just not delivering the kind of stories that make readers just salivate over.” And we all want that. We want readers to salivate over our books. So we should be constantly trying for that.
Joanna: Yeah, definitely. And we have to keep that creative integrity as well, in terms of if something's burning and you really want to write that story, then write that story. And this is the thing, it could hit in five years' time, in 10 years' time. It's what I love about this game. These books can earn us money for the rest of our lives and 70 years after we die.
I heard Anne Rice, who wrote the “Vampire” books. She said, in her lifetime – she's in her 80s, I think – the vampire craze has come around three times. As in she's made all that money three times so far with the vampire crazes and then maybe she'll get another one before her end. But this is the thing.
Even if it doesn't hit in month one or year one, don't think about that. Think about 10 years' time, maybe.
Susan: Right. Or even the long tail. Because even if it's not hitting a huge bestseller, but it's slowly giving you so much money per month – you make $100 a month off it – well, that's $100 that you wouldn't have had otherwise. And that adds up over time because you're just going to keep writing more books.
And that's the thing – if you do. There's a lot of people that don't. They try their one or their two or three, and then they quit. The only time you actually fail as an indie author is when you quit because then you've stopped the production and you only ever have those books that are out there and sometimes people pull them down. They're like, “I'm done and I'm out” and it's like “Well, okay,” but you're never . . .
Joanna: I think on that, I would disagree that that's necessarily a failure. I used to think that this was the right thing for everybody. But I now realize that not everybody can do this life and not everybody wants to. So I think it's absolutely right to give up if you decide that this is just like a job. But obviously, you and I and a lot of many others love this stuff. We love it, right? We absolutely love it.
Susan: Absolutely and I agree with you. I shouldn't have used that word “failure.” I was pushing that against, like, if you stop trying, that's when you're failing. But only failing as an indie author because being an indie author, you're right, is not for everyone.
There are some people that really need to have that traditional contract because that's in their mission statement, that's in their goals, and so they need to go for that. Or some people really just need to write for themselves and they really don't want to have that interaction with the public. They don't want to have it out there because it's so intensely personal for them. So there's a million varieties of why people write and I want them to do all of them. I want them to do whatever is right for them. So I 100% agree with that.
You have a brilliant post on using Scrivener for organizing your marketing, which I have now stolen. I have just started my Scrivener file on marketing. Can you explain that? Because it's very useful.
Susan: Scrivener is a writing tool, but I actually don't use it for writing. I use it for organizing my research and for organizing, as you said, my marketing.
Basically it just has folders and sub-folders and you can put anything in there, whether it's links or images or text. I use it to keep track of what ads I've run and what their success was. And I've got so many different series going at once because I'm this crazy writer that I write all over the place so I've got all these different genres going.
And trying to keep track of each of those independently – make sure they're heading in the right direction, see how long has it been since I ran a sale or an ad or something in that series, and what can I do to analyze it? Say, when Kindle Unlimited changes their thing from a per-borrow to per-read like they're doing right now, I've got a wide variety of serials and novels and things. So it keeps it all together so I can really, in one shot, open it up, look at it, organize and then put it away.
Because part of what tears down my personal productivity is constantly worrying about the marketing. And if I can segment it out, like I'm doing marketing now and then put that away and then do writing. Keeping those separate really helps me stay on track, and knowing that everything is in one file helps me do that separation better.
Joanna: Yeah, I must say, that's really helped me because I love all the marketing stuff like you do and I love finding all these new things. But the trouble is, as you say, you're like, “Okay, now I should do Pinterest images or now I should do this,” whereas saving all the ideas, as you say, like going, “That's a great idea. I'll put it in my folder,” and then visiting it regularly.
One discovers new websites to do ads on all the time and new things are appearing all the time, and it's really important to keep track of these.
Things like audio book marketing barely started, really, hasn't it? Audio book is so new that that type of thing, there will be more and more. And then per country, there are different blogs in Germany, for example, versus the U.S., versus the U.K. And yeah, I don't know how you've meant to keep it in track unless you organize it as you've done.
Susan: Right. I had an organizational technique before, but it was just much more scattered, and Scrivener is really built for doing that. And it's a very inexpensive program for what it delivers and enables. And some people get very intimidated by it because it has a lot of bells and whistles.
And so in my post, I talked about just do the tutorial. There's like a five-minute tutorial that will get you started, and that's all you really need. And once you've started, then if you really want to dive into all the details about how to use it, there's more tutorials for that, but you don't have to do that. You can get started pretty quick and easy.
Joanna: I agree. So briefly, you've mentioned it a little bit, but…
… tell us a bit more about the “For Love or Money: Crafting an Indie Author Career.” And of course, I've got to ask you, is it love or money for you?
Susan: Well, it is both. It is both. I definitely write for love with my Susan Kaye Quinn books, but I also have a pen name, which I do strictly for money and it was an experiment to see if I could do it. And the money doesn't actually go to me.
I have my little special cause that I give my money to, which has been freeing in a way because I think you can get trapped. Like if you get very successful with your for-money books, it can be very hard to justify going back and writing those other books that don't make as much money, but that you love.
So the book talks a lot about all of that, the full spectrum of everything from how writing for love is so fundamental to who we are as writers, and how it really helps us become the writer that we can be. All the way up to if you're going to go strictly mercenary, completely write for money, and what does it look like to do that.
Now, I did do that and my pen name is doing quite well and she's making a living all by herself, which is wonderful. So it's quite possible to do.
And I learned a lot from doing it. The lessons that I learned about marketing and about different genres and even about myself as a writer were very powerful lessons that I could then bring back to my “For Love” books. So it was a very interesting experiment for me, personally.
The book is very much about those two ends, but also how to find it somewhere in the middle. How to take your books that you've written for love, how can we make them a little more commercial so you can get those sales and hopefully be able to make a living with your craft. Doing things that you love and not necessarily having to do things for money.
I try to break down a little bit of our biases and preconceived notions about a lot of that and really take an honest approach to, “What are your options today?” Because it wasn't always an option to do this.
One of the things that's great about indie is that you can write it and publish it like that. Just do it and it is out. If you've literally got an idea this week, you can publish it next week if you can get it written. There's no limit.
Joanna: It's funny you say that because we're recording in the afternoon. This morning, I just published a new book.
Joanna: I already got the notification that they're off and ready.
Joanna: It's like, “This is crazy.” It used to take four hours or whatever. Now, it barely takes an hour to publish a book.
Susan: It is crazy. And the cool thing about it is that it has turned it into a truly free market. So whatever readers are reading today that love today, if you can write it, you can give it to them.
And it doesn't have to be that sexy romance with werewolves or whatever. It can be a NASA space adventure to capitalize on “The Martian” coming out, you know? Or it can be the latest thriller and to capitalize on whatever the latest thriller thing is. There's a flexibility that comes with having that speed that I think writers are capitalizing on, they're starting to do.
And so it's bringing them closer to the market because there's this relationship between writers and readers that there's nothing else in between them anymore. We can just write it and they read it. And just as fast as I can write it, they can read it. And it's fantastic. I love that part of it.
Joanna: I love it, too. We live in very exciting times.
Joanna: We do. So tell us, where can people find you and your books online?
Susan: Well, all my books are on Amazon, for sure. And I have a website, SusanKayeQuinn.com. It's K-A-Y-E in the middle. And all my stuff is there. I also have a blog which you can get to from my website.
And on my blog, it has a page for writers which has my webinars and a bunch of blog posts that I've written over time because I've been blogging through this whole time that I've been into publishing and there's some useful stuff in there like the Scrivener posts and other things.
There's a lot of useful information for writers and I hope it will help them and I hope this podcast helps them a little bit on their journey. Because it's one of the things I love about the writing community, for indies especially, we're so open with all the things that we've learned and we're always trying to build each other up. And I love that.
Joanna: I love that, too. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Susan. That was great.
Susan: Thank you so much for having me.
Thanks so much for posting the transcript! I’m going to read through a few more times and pull out quotes. And probably buy her books. 🙂
Sara Turnquist says
I really enjoyed this post. Especially what was said about fear and overcoming fear by focusing on creating and what was said about the toxicity of comparison. I’m fairly new to the craft of writing and really needed these insights. Thanks!
Ursula Wong says
This was a useful and interesting interview. I read the Indie Author Survival Guide years ago and still use it as a reference. Thank you both for your guidance and advice.
Tolulope Popoola says
Thank you for this interview, Joanna and Susan. Very insightful and useful.
Fabulous! Thanks for this Joanna and Sue – and for the detailed transcription – the bits I missed due to answering the doorbell 🙂 (Amazon here I come …)
Masoud Hashemi says
I used to live my life with writing, publishing and distribution of my own books in Persian language (farsi) back in Iran for 27 years. I wrote more than 140 books and published and distribute them. But since I came to USA and resided here, I didn’t have any motivation for writing, simply because publisher ask me money to self publish my books and I none of them care about me to lose money or gain money with their offers! But you are telling me with your emails that I can do self-publishing and marketing. Please, Please guide me what I exactly have to do. Please give me some minutes and help me so that I can get on the way of writing again, this time in English. I believe I can write in English as well as Farsi and I am able to write best seller book and I will be able to compensate much more than your expectation when I learn ebook and paper book self publishing. Thank you as much as an oceon
Joanna Penn says
Hi Masoud, you can self-publish for free on all the main sites like Amazon, iBooks, Kobo etc – please check the resources on this page: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/publishing/ All the best.
I love listening to your podcasts which focus on helping indie authors get to the next level and reach their dreams. You say you wrote under a pen name which is really interesting – did you write in the same genre – thrillers, psychic thrillers etc or was it a totally different type of book? I love the Moran Sierra books – keep em coming 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Hi Carole, I tried a bit of erotica but it wasn’t really me – I’m just not passionate about the genre 🙂 and I respect readers way too much to try and write stuff I am not into myself. I’m so glad you like the ARKANE series!
Oooops – not Moran but Morgan – what a lovely Welsh name and it goes so well with Jake 🙂