How to get a book publishing deal

The most common question I get asked is how to sign a book publishing deal with a publisher. I’m talking about a good publisher, too, not one of those fly by night publishers who accept anything. Those are easy to find. In fact, they’ll usually find you and offer the world on a platter. Don’t publish your book through them under any circumstances. They are only offering you a platter of well-disguised bullshit.

This article isn’t about them, though.

It’s about how to find a legit, credible publisher who will be interested in publishing your book. One who has a good chance of making it a best seller. I’ve seen a lot of posts like this before, but none of them delved deep enough for me. I like digging into the weeds, so that’s what I’m going to do here.

I am going to explain everything I know about finding a publisher. This article will take you through the entire process of landing a publishing deal from start to finish. If you follow everything I lay out in this post, you will have an excellent shot at having your book published.

Is it a guarantee? No. Because there are no guarantees in life except death.

Does this mean that there aren’t other ways to get a publishing deal that I won’t lay out here? Of course not. There are exceptions to every rule. Your uncle might be best friends with the CEO of Random House, or you just might be that one in a million jewel that hits it big. It could happen.

The chances of that happening, though, are slim. It’s hard to build a career on a million to one shot. It’s almost impossible to plan for luck. Being at the right place at the right time certainly could land you the deal of a lifetime, but it’s not bloody likely.

These steps, on the other hand, are replicable and consistent among many successful authors with traditional publishing deals. They are highly likely to result in your desired outcome. Life is about taking high percentage risks and while being an author is a risk, this article will help you mitigate that risk.

For ease, I’ve broken this up into sections. I think you should read the whole thing, but if you REALLY want to skip to the second part and focus on the mechanics of getting the deal, I won’t stop you.

Why the wrong publishing deal could kill your career

PART 1: Setting yourself up for publishing success

PART 2: Landing the publishing deal

If you sign a bad pubishing career, it could be the end of your career.

Why the wrong publishing deal could kill your career

The road to writing success is paved with authors who signed terrible publishing deals. I can’t tell you how many people I know who excitedly signed with a publisher only to have their book released to crickets.  They barely sold more copies than they could have sold themselves and often without any bookstore or library distribution.

This generally happens because people think that ANY publisher is better than no publisher at all. That is just not the case. Signing with the wrong publisher can be the kiss of death for your book and possibly your career. For instance, if you are a cozy mystery with a three book deal and those books don’t earn out of your advance (make enough to cover the money that the publisher pays you before the book launches), then no other publisher will sign you as a cozy mystery writer. If that happens, you can either self-publish your cozy mysteries or completely reinvent yourself as a different kind of writer.

That example is not a hypothetical. This really happened to somebody, and they had to reinvent themselves as a psychological thriller writer in order to get a new publishing deal. This is why it’s so important to find the right publisher, who can give your book the best chance for success.

Why do things like this happen?

Well, the book might not have been very good, but the chances of that are unlikely. It’s most likely because publishers specialize in a genre or specific type of book. There are publishers that only publish art books (like Inside Editions) or spec fiction (like Tor), while others are known for romance (like Harlequin). Even enormous publishers like Random House, which seem to publish all types of books, are really just a collection of a dozen or more smaller imprints, each of which specializes in a specific type of book.

Finding a publisher that specializes in publishing your genre gives you the best chance of success. The right publisher already has a built-in audience and distribution to the places your readers already frequent. The places readers buy fantasy books differs from where readers buy romance novels.

So, if you have a romance novel, you wouldn’t want to publish it through Tor books because they don’t have access to the right reader for you. They already have millions of raving sci-fi and fantasy fans who will rabidly buy the book of books, but romance just isn’t their core market.

If Tor suddenly publishes a romance novel, would those fans care? Maybe some would, but probably wouldn’t…because they are interested in SFF books.

Sure, Tor could technically go about publishing a romance novel competently enough. After all, at the end of the day books are just a collection of paper, words, and images.  However, they won’t do as good a job as a publisher that specializes in romance novels and already knows both the customer and the industry.

Your goal then isn’t to find a publisher (which isn’t that hard if you aren’t picky). Your goal should be to find the right publisher. One that aligns with your values, and knows your genre better than anybody else, because that puts you in the best position to have a best seller. Signing with the wrong publisher is worse than signing no deal at all.

The first step to a publishing deal is setting yourself up for success.

PART 1: Setting yourself up for publishing success

Before landing a book deal, it’s imperative you set yourself up for publishing success.

You might think you’re going to finish that great American novel today and get an agent tomorrow, but that isn’t gonna happen, homie.

The average turnaround time for an agent to read your material is 3-6 months. Then, an editor could take another 3-6 months on top of that. After that, publishing your book takes 18-24 months from the moment you sign the paperwork. Publishing success is not a short-term success story. It’s a long-term career path that required thought and planning.

The goal of setting yourself up for success is so that when an agent or editor gets a hold of your manuscript, they don’t have any reason to say anything except “HELL YES! I totes want to work with you!!!”

Make sure your book is awesome before you try to land a publishing deal.

Make sure your book is awesome

I shouldn’t have to start here, but frankly most books are utter and complete garbage. They have terrible grammar, abysmal spelling, and don’t tell a coherent story. There is no way they could compete on the open market with the likes of Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, or Elmore Leonard, and make no mistake, that is your competition.

Before you can get a publisher, you must make something awesome first. What you make must be able to stand up against the best books on the market today. Otherwise, your book won’t get bought by a publisher.

Editors and agents already work with dozens of talented authors who write amazing books. If you want to get in with them, you better knock their socks off.

Are there published books that aren’t awesome? Sure there are, but too many authors compare their work to the worst books on the market when they should compare them to the best books out there. Comparing yourself to the worst books is a great strategy to get motivated and quell your self-doubt, but when trying to land a publishing deal, it stops being effective.

Agents get thousands of submissions a month, and an editor gets hundreds more. Their slush piled never stops growing. So, when they pick up your book, it better blow them away. Otherwise, they are going to toss your manuscript away and pick up the next one. There are too many other books to read to waste time on garbage.

 

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100 rejections a year is a good goal

Even the most successful authors get rejected all the time. Whether it’s rejection of a book proposal, a best seller list, or from a potential reader, authors live with near-constant rejection. There’s a weird thing about rejection though. The more rejection you face, the more success you have at the end of the day.

I remember reading this article, which talked about why 100 rejections a year should be your goal, and it blew me away.

The author decided that she couldn’t depend on success. Sometimes she would send ten proposals and get three accepted, and other times she would get zero. But while she couldn’t predict success, she could predict rejections, because most of the time she got rejected.

So, she decided to focus on getting 100 rejections a year, because rejections meant she was applying, and if she applied enough, she would have enough stories accepted to earn a living.

In the same way, your own career will be built on rejection, so get comfortable with it now. The more comfortable you get with rejection, the easier your life will be in the long run. Rejection is never easy, but it can be like an old friend, reminding us that we are still in the game.

Build a following to help you land a publishing deal.

Build a following

This will be the most controversial thing I say in this post, but you must build a following before you stand a legitimate shot at getting published. I know for a fact this will be the most controversial thing I will say in this post because I’ve been yelled at by countless authors who’ve screamed that their books should be judged on their own merits.

And they are right. I’m not disagreeing with them. Their books should be judged on its own merits…

…but they won’t be, because at the end of the day it’s all about the return on investment a publisher will get from your book. If you can justify their ROI, your book will most likely get accepted. If not, it probably won’t.

Ever wonder why Tila Tequila, Kim Kardashian, and every D list celebrity in the universe has a book deal and you don’t, even though their books are trash? It’s because they have a massive following.

Publishers know that their books will sell even if it’s garbage, and are willing to pay them ungodly sums because it basically prints money for them. Publishing is a business and publishers are out to make money. It’s a cool business, but it’s a business. Now, you can get grossed out by that or use it to your advantage. It’s your choice.

And yes, there are plenty of authors who have broken through without even having Facebook. Before 2004, every author broke in without Facebook, and many have broken through without a mailing list too…but you are not them and this is not 2004, or 1997, or 1826 either. It’s today. And today, right now, you need to build a following before you get that publishing deal.

 

Many editors will say it doesn’t play a factor in their decisions, but I don’t buy that. Editors argue for their books in front of an editorial committee before they get a green light to publish anything, especially anything new. If they can say you have 20,000 people on your mailing list and 100,000 people on Instagram, then they can build a stronger case for why you deserve consideration above other equally worthy books (and trust me, at that stage, they are all equally worthy).

Can an editor make a successful case to publish your book even if you have no following? Yes, of course they can, and do, but go ask one about the best book they’ve never been able to publish and watch their eyes drop to the ground. Every editor has gone to bat for a book and been rejected.

You don’t want that to be you. You want to give that editor, and their editorial committee every reason to say yes. That means you need to build a following.

But more importantly, building a following is the best thing you can do for your career even after you have a publishing deal. It gives you have an immediate connection to a group of rabid fans who love your work. That is the most powerful thing…well, ever.

Meet other authors online

How do you get started building your social media profile and mailing list? By meeting other authors online and helping each other out. Every author already has access to a small group of readers, even if that group is only their family, and when 1,000 authors come together and help each other grow, they can all build a massive following. This is why most successful people know each other, because they all found and helped each other succeed.

This doesn’t have to take a ton of work either. There are thousands of forums you can join without ever putting on pants, in the comfort of your bed, while eating Doritos. Heck, you don’t even have to leave Facebook.

Hundreds of author groups are available on Facebook. All you have to do is go to the search bar at the top of Facebook and type in Authors, books, or writing, and you’ll get a list of hundreds of groups dedicated to authors.

I even have one.

There are ones dedicated to helping authors, and ones dedicated to offering newsletter swaps. Ones dedicated to offering paid marketing opportunities and ones dedicated to meeting other authors. There are a lot of terrible groups out there, I know, but there are also gems, and the more authors you meet, the more you will hear about the best ones.

You’re looking for groups that foster conversation and aren’t just full of people spamming their book promos. Good groups are out there if you do a little digging. After joining them, you can start conversations with other authors, comment on posts, and start your own threads.

Making friends with other authors can help you have publishing success.

Then, when you find somebody interesting, friend them on Facebook, message them, and chit-chat. Don’t be the dick who sends a link to their own projects. You wouldn’t do it at a dinner party and you shouldn’t do it on Facebook, either.

If you do this enough, you will build a nice little friend circle of other authors. Together you can run group promos and arrange newsletter swaps together, thus growing your audience with readers interested in reading your books while helping your friends grow their audiences as well.

If you don’t have ANY mailing list right now, one surefire way to start building up your newsletter fast (If you are a fiction author) is to join Instafreebie or Bookfunnel and join group giveaways. Note, you will need a book completed, or at least a preview of one, and a book cover before you can join in any of these newsletter opportunities. If you need a cover I recommend Go On Write and The Creative Paramita, who both specialize in affordable and beautiful premade covers.

Once you have a completed story, even if it’s just a short story or preview, you can easily build up a few thousand people in a couple of months using Instafreebie and/or Bookfunnel. Then, you can use those new readers to join bigger group promotion opportunities. Note: You will need somewhere to store those emails. MailChimp is a great option because they offer the first 2,000 emails for free, but that runs out quickly. I use Sendinblue now, which is great until you reach the 20,000 email mark, and then you will want to check out services like Mailget or Sendy. While you can skip steps and go straight to Sendy,

I highly recommend you start with Mailchimp, then upgrade to something like SendinBlue, and then go to Mailget because at each level there is an increased difficulty. For example, Mailget and Sendy make you sign up for Amazon SES. If you don’t know what that is, don’t even look it up.

On top of building your list and making friends, an additional benefit of meeting authors is that some of them will already have agents, and they might even have signed a publishing deal. Most authors are open about sharing their secrets if you don’t come across like a crummy asshole who is just using them.  Just…be cool, alright? Remember, these are your friends. How would you treat your friends? More importantly, they are human beings.

publish new content consistently if you want to land a publishing deal.

Publish new content consistently

If you want to go the extra mile, start a blog and start delivering high quality, consistent content to people. This helps editors and agents find your work more easily than if you just have your manuscript, but it’s also a great way to deliver new, fresh content to your readers, who will build a closer bond with you because they are consistently giving them something new to read.

I honestly don’t think this is an extra mile activity. For me, it is mandatory, but enough of my successful author friends don’t have a blog, so I can’t say it’s a requirement for getting a publishing deal or making a living as an author. I can say that it helps a lot though, especially when it comes to getting noticed. Publishing consistent content makes people stand up and notice you as somebody who can meet deadlines and engage readers, and in this world getting and keeping attention is vital to your success.

What kind of content should you share on your blog?

Well, it can be anything, honestly. Some writers dish out chapters of their novel on a weekly basis, like Andy Weir. Others, prefer to do reviews of other books by authors in their genre. Others blog about their personal life and still others focus on helping authors make better books.

It doesn’t matter what you put out there. What matters is that it’s high-quality content and consistent, which you can use to build a connection with readers, agents, and editors. Plus, if you have an impressive visitor count, you can use that as leverage when you contact publishers.

Self-publish

I know what you’re thinking. “I’m trying to get a publishing deal so I don’t HAVE to self-publish, jackass, why are you telling me to do the exact opposite of the thing I’m here to learn? Are you even listening, bro?”

No. I’m not listening…because this is a blog. I can’t hear you no matter how loud you shout. However, I do understand your frustration, but here’s the deal. Self-publishing, done right, is a great way to get noticed by a publisher. Not only that but even some of the most successful traditionally published authors ALSO self-publish their work. It’s called being a hybrid author, and it’s incredibly common.

Why?

There are lots of reasons. Maybe their agent or publisher didn’t accept a pitch but they loved it enough to write it anyway (remember, even successful authors have pitches rejected ALL THE TIME).

It could also be because they are writing companion stories for a series where every book takes years to write and they don’t want to fall out of the public zeitgeist, or they want more control of their careers, or they may want to test out a new genre before they pitch it to a publisher.

Whatever the reason, even Brandon Sanderson self-publishes some of his work, and he’s about as successful as they come.  If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you.

self publishing can lead to success with a publisher.

But the real reason you should self-publish is to have some sales numbers to back up your writing ability. If you can sell several thousand copies of a book on your own without the backing of a publisher, then a publisher can extrapolate that you will sell much more will their help. Suddenly, you have hard data that shows you are a successful author and people are willing to pay you money to read your work.

Remember, this is all about giving the publishing house every reason to say yes to your pitch. When the editor goes into that pitch meeting with their bosses to get the green light for your book, you want them armed with every possible quiver in their arsenal.

There is another great reason to self-publish your books, which I touched on at the beginning of this article.

Even if things go perfectly, it’s going to be 2-3 years before your book hits print. In those intervening years, you won’t have anything to promote if you don’t self-publish and get something out there for the world to see. Self-publishing allows you to build buzz and hype for your work while making some money in the process.

Additionally, if you self-publish your work, you won’t need a publisher. If you still want one, that’s great, but you won’t need one to be successful. Instead, you will treat a publisher as a partner who can increase your visibility, instead of a necessity to get your work seen at all. When you can go into a meeting as an equal instead of as a subordinate, it changes the conversation and a whole new range of possibilities open up to you.

However, don’t self-publish just to self-publish. If you fall flat on your face and don’t sell any books, it’s going to turn people off from offering you a publishing deal. Only do it if you are willing to take it seriously and do the work to make your book successful.

Landing a book publishing deal.

 

PART 2: Landing a publishing deal

Now that you’re thoroughly exhausted doing weekly blog posts, setting up your Twitter accounts, and self-publishing books, it’s time to actually land that book deal. By now you should have a decent-sized following, a great book, and some sales figures to back up your pitch. You have set yourself up for success!

Now,  let’s get you that book deal!

 

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Go into bookstores and libraries

If we can agree that the right publisher is everything when it comes to making your book a success, then the first step to finding a publisher is to figure out who publishes the types of books that write.

There are several ways to do this, but my favorite is to get my butt off my computer and go to a bookstore or library. Yes, it is very easy to find books on Amazon, but if you just wanted Amazon distribution you could do that yourself using KDP or Draft2Digital.

One of the best parts of traditional publishing is that they can distribute your books to libraries, bookstores, and schools. Without that benefit, I don’t see why you would sign with a traditional publisher. So, if you want bookstore distribution, you need to see what kinds of books store carry, and who publishes them.

I recommend going into both bookstores and libraries because they use two different ordering systems (Ingram for bookstores, Baker and Taylor for libraries). While bookstores and libraries do have access to both systems and sometimes order from both, this usually stick to what they know.

Bookstores are also more likely to carry paperback books because of their cost, while libraries are more likely to order hardcover book because of their durability. So, they might also have a different selection of books.

Another reason to go into both is because publishers not only specialize in certain genres, they also specialize in publishing specific formats, meaning the hardcover publisher may not be the same one who publishes the paperback edition.

Go into book stores and libraries to help plan for your publishing deal.

While you should go to both, I would start at the bookstore, as they usually have their books arranged into sections, while libraries have their fiction section arranged by author (if you are a non-fiction author this is not the case), which can be a big headache unless you are like me and enjoy spending whole afternoons in the library.

When you get to the bookstore, head over to your genre’s section, pick up as many books as possible, and find the publisher.

Usually, the publisher will have a logo on the spine and the back of the book, but you need more info than that. Flip open the book to the copyright page in the front (usually before the title page). It will tell you all the information you need to know about the publisher, including their address and website.

Make sure to bring a sheet of paper with you to write down all the information you find inside the book (note: A phone camera also works). While you are working, tally the number of books each publisher has on the shelf. Some will have many books, while others will have just one. Also, write down the name of the book and author because you will need them for later research.

Then, rank the books from 1-10 based on how much you think you will enjoy the book based on the information you have and how much you like the design of the book.  If you have the time, read a little bit of each book.

Read books by the publishers

When you are done at the bookstore, buy the books that seem the most exciting to you. I know spending money is ugh, but the store just performed a great service for you. The least you can do to say thanks is pick up some books you’ll probably love. Besides, you’ll need these books for more research.

Why? Because you need to read books made by the publishers before you send a query letter to them. This is for three reasons. The first is that you want to make your communication personal and gushing about their books is a great way to warm somebody up to you in a hurry.

The second is that you want to know if the books are good or not before you query anybody. If the publisher doesn’t write books you like, they probably aren’t the right publisher for you. If the author doesn’t write books you like, then you shouldn’t query their agent, either. It saves you a lot of wasted time in the long run.

The third reason is that you want to know if the tone of the books meshes well with the tone of your books. You might write mystery novels, but a hard-boiled detective novel is much different than a cozy mystery.

Before you query anybody, you should always read books they were involved with to make sure they are in alignment with your own books.

Find the publisher’s website

It’s time to go home and check out the publishers you found during your trip. Start by going to their website. If they didn’t have a website listed in their book, just type their name into Google.

You want to start with their website because it will show you at a glance if the book they published in your genre is a fluke or if they have a lot of other books that fit with your specific genre. Additionally, you will be able to beef up your list of books to research. You will also see if they are still in business and get a peek at their submission policy. If their submission policy is on their website, make a note of it.

Do your research if you want to land a publishing deal.

Head to Amazon

Now that you have your list of publishers, head to Amazon. Whether you love Amazon or hate them, they have the best data about books, and their information is updated hourly.

Once at Amazon, type in the name of each book you found. See where they rank currently, what year they were published (if you don’t have this already), and scroll down and see also boughts (in the middle of the page where Amazon shows what other things people bought when they purchased that book).

Researching the also boughts deepens your data and gives you even more ideas for publishers and authors to research. Just because you went to one bookstore does not mean that they have an exhaustive list of all publishers. Amazon DOES have an exhaustive list of all publishers, and now is the time to exploit it.

You won’t be able to see a historical sales rank on Amazon, but you can use Novel Rank to see an estimate of book sales over time. This isn’t 100% accurate, but it will give you decent data of how a book performed over time.

If you run a search for 5-10 books from the same publisher, you get a sense of their average book sales through at least one channel.

Ask around

Once you have a good list of publishers from your research, ask around to your newly acquired group of friends for personal insights. See if they’ve had any experience with the publishers you found. You aren’t using them to get an “in” with a publisher. You are simply trying to make the best decision possible and cut any publishers off with a negative history. Who knows, you might even get some new publishers to target by asking around.

Talk to your peers if you want to land a publishing contract.

Find the right agent

At this point, you should have a comprehensive list of publishers in your genre. Now, you just need an agent to send your manuscript off on your behalf since most publishers won’t accept unsolicited submissions (note: if you found any that do take unsolicited submissions make sure to keep that list handy).

Just like publishers, agents specialize in specific genres and book types, so it’s as important to find the right agent as the right publisher. Luckily, there is a way to find the perfect agent for you.

Along with your publisher research, you should have written down the name of every author whose book they published. Which means that along with having a comprehensive list of publishers that publish your genre, you also know the authors who publish in your genre as well.

If you knew who represented those authors, you would know what agents handle your type of book, right? And it’s possible to find that information with very little work. All it takes is opening your browser.

I prefer to use Google, type [author name] + agent, and let the algorithm do the work for me. However, if you can’t find it that way, then Query Tracker is a great search tool that will tell you any author’s agent they have in their database.

Query Tracker isn’t always up to date though, which is why I prefer Google or simply looking up an author’s website. Most authors have the name of their agent on their site in case a somebody needs to contact them for work.

Once you have the agent’s name, you can look them up on Google, through Facebook, or on Twitter to see their submission policy, and whether they are open or closed. Some agents make exceptions during special times of the year or during Twitter pitch contests (note: This is a list of 2017 contests) which happen throughout the year. Or, you can find them at writer conferences. If you want to see an in depth look at how somebody went about getting their again, you can check out this article. 

Attend conference if you want to land a publishing deal.

Attend conferences

I have tried very hard to keep your costs down in this article. You can do nearly everything in this post for free or with very little monetary investment. However, I do recommend you attend at least one writer’s conference a year, and that does cost money.

Writer conferences are a great way to meet with agents and publishers. They are also a fantastic way to meet other writers and become friends with people you’ve only known online.

I made some of my best contacts at writer conferences because people have their guard down. Most conferences post their guest list months before the conference, so you’ll be able to see if any of your targeted publishers or agents will be at a conference months before you book your attendance.

Just note, sometimes schedules change and guests cancel. This might happen to you, but it is still a chance worth taking. If they don’t cancel, then any guests of the show will likely accept pitches at the conference as a condition of being booked as a guest. However, this information will also be available on the conference’s website. I speak at the Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Conference at least once a year, and they always have pitch sessions with agents and editors.

If agents and editors are accepting pitches at the show, it means that you’ll have a chance to sit down with an agent or editor, look them in the eye, and talk about your book with them. This is huge. Meeting somebody in person humanizes you.

Instead of being a nameless face in the crowd, you are an actual human with hopes, dreams, and ambitions. This should be enough, along with a stellar pitch, to pull you out of the slush pile and give your book a fighting chance.

You don’t have to go to dozens of conferences. Just pick one or two a year that give you the best chance of success.

Make sure your query letter is personalized if you want to land a publishing deal and and agent.

Send a personalized query letter

Once you have your list of agents and publishers who accept unsolicited submissions, it’s time to write personalized query letters.

In your letter make sure to gush about the books you read that they were involved with and why you think they would be a good fit for your book, along with a quick blurb about your book and yourself.

I’m not going into the mechanics of a query letter here. I wrote an article about how to send a query letter without sounding like a crazy person. If you don’t want to turn people off with your query letter, I suggest you read it.

Submit to anthologies

Once you send out your query letters, it’s going to be a long time before you hear back. Some agents and publishers might respond in a couple weeks asking for a full or partial read of your manuscript, but you might not hear from others for months. Even after you send off your manuscript for review, it will be months before you hear anything back.

This isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. There are still plenty of things to do so you can increase your chances of getting published. The first is to submit to anthologies. Many publishers put out anthologies throughout the year to find new authors and introduce newly signed ones to their audience. It’s not a big money maker, but it is a perfect proving ground for new talent.

Anthologies are a great way to make in-roads with a publisher. If you are accepted, you’ll immediately become one of their published authors and work with one of their editors on your story. If you do well, they will be much more receptive to hearing your book proposal in the future. There are Facebook groups like this one whose only job is to post open calls for new material.

rotate your submissions to improve your chances of getting a publishing contract.

Rotate your submissions

While you wait for answers to your first queries, you can build a second and third list. Then, start rotating in new pitches to your original list every few months. World Fantasy Award Winner Tim Powers talked about this strategy in an episode of my old podcast, The Business of Art, which blew me away.

If you do this correctly, you can stagger your submission throughout the year and be developing new pitches consistently.

Hire a good lawyer

Congratulations! You have a publishing deal!!! Woooooot!

Don’t get cocky, though. You still need to hire a lawyer to comb through the finer points. Yes, your agent is great and will negotiate for you, but before you sign on the dotted line, consult with a lawyer. Make sure it’s one that specializes in publishing, not your cousin Frank who’s a mediocre divorce lawyer.

I’m sure Frank is very competent and doesn’t smell much like an old yak, but somebody that specializes in publishing deals will know the ins and outs of your deal. An agent is great, but a lawyer knows the law, and if you don’t want to get screwed, you need them both on your team.

You can't get a publishing deal if you don't start now.

Get going

I know this is a tremendous about of information, but the best thing you can do is get started today. Maybe there are some parts of this article you don’t like… and that’s cool.

Luckily, this piece is very long and hopefully comprehensive, so I’m sure there is something you can get started on today. The best time to get started was ten years ago. The next best time was yesterday. This third best is right now.

I hope you enjoyed this article. It was my goal to make this the most comprehensive guide to landing a publishing deal that has ever existed. If you think I missed something, let me know. Or, if you think I did a good job, let me know that, too!

 

 

 

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31 Kickstarter tips to help crush your campaign goals

I’ve been running Kickstarter campaigns since 2014, and backing them since way before then. In fact, I just realized I joined Kickstarter all the way back in 2011, even though I didn’t run my first project for 4 more years.

Since I started running campaigns, I’ve raised over $70,000 across seven different campaigns from children’s books, to novels, to comics, and worked with dozens of other creators on their campaigns.

Across all the years I’ve been working with Kickstarter, some common tips stand the test of time, and that is what I’ve compiled here. Below are the thirty-one best tips I’ve ever heard about Kickstarter across 4 years and 7 campaigns, which have collectively raised over $70,000.

Start Kickstarter planning early.

Tip #1: Start Kickstarter planning early.

You should be building your audience for at least three months before you launch a campaign. You can’t be successful in crowdfunding without a crowd.

That means showing off your project, starting a Facebook group, beefing up your social media presence, making press contacts, and building a newsletter.

The more time you have to build your network and prep them for a Kickstarter project that’s coming, the more likely they will be to back your campaign when it’s time.

Tip #2: Send individual thank you notes to backers.

When somebody gives you their hard earned money, it is only polite to say thank you. It’s easy for us to treat our backers as money, but they are humans and adding the human touch will improve your connection.

On top of being the right thing to do, it will also stem the loss of backers toward the middle of your campaign because you are making a connection.

Tip #3: Stretch goals should always make your core Kickstarter product better.

Tip #3: Stretch goals should always make your core Kickstarter product better.

Most people have terrible trouble with stretch goals. Once a project funds the backers fall off because there’s nothing more to keep their interest.

You can change that by making sure your stretch goals always improve the quality of your project. For instance, if you have a book that is a 100-page softcover comic, you can add extra pages at the end as a stretch goal, you can add an extra story, you can make your soft cover a hardcover, you could make your book a bigger size.

Meanwhile, the original backer is still paying the same amount for their pledge, and they are getting a better product. Nobody cares about the bookmarks and prints. They just want the coolest project they can get.

Tip #4: Keep your Kickstarter rewards simple.

There is no need to add multiple options for similar items. Each reward should be targeting a specific buyer, and have enough space in between to clearly delineate the right buyer for that product.

I recommend you start with a $1, $10, $25, $50, and $250 for a standard book. Obviously, certain products will not fall into this range, but for a publishing product, these five categories should be your base. You can always add later.

Tip #5: Make deposits into the Kickstarter goodwill bank.

Tip #5: Make deposits into the Kickstarter goodwill bank.

Goodwill is a finite resource, and you will use it up when you run a campaign. In order to make running a Kickstarter palatable to your audience, you need add value to people’s lives for months and months before you ask them to pledge to your campaign.

This could be from a web-comic, or free pages from your book, or a podcast helping them fix their biggest problems, or anything you can do to help add value to your audience’s lives. The more value you add, the more trust you will have with your audience and the fuller your good will bank will become.

You can’t be a take with Kickstarter, you have to give 10x more than you ask. You should be delivering 10x value to your audience so they will gladly give you money. In fact, they will consider it the least they can do after all the help you have given them.

Tip #6: Don’t overextend yourself on merchandise.

Especially once a project is funded, creators generally go crazy offering all sorts of merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, and other very high priced items. The problem is that they are eating into their own profit margins and eventually end up in the red.

Merchandise is unnecessary in almost all instances until you have a well-known product. Just focus on making a great single product (unless your product is incredibly high priced like many tech products are). If you must make merchandise, don’t make anything with multiple sizes. Also note that if you offer merchandise you can no longer ship your product media mail.

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Tip #7: Keep your video under three minutes.

Your video is a commercial, and nobody can stand a commercial for more than a couple minutes, no matter how amazing the commercial. You can say everything you need to say in under three minutes.

Yes, you will have to edit yourself down. There are plenty of free programs like imovie which can take out all the ums and ah. You need to make your case clearly and succinctly so people don’t tune out.

Tip #8: Add lots of images.

The average successful Kickstarter has 11 images in it. Even if you have something with a novel, there are plenty of images you can add besides your cover. You can add a photo of yourself. You can add some quotes from your book overlaid on top of a royalty free image. You can add silly memes. You can have somebody draw some illustrations of your book.

In whatever the case, your book needs images. Humans are visual creatures and picture help improve the quality of your page and make your project look more professional.

Tip #9: Keep your text concise.

People on Kickstarter love to use huge blocks of text, but that is ugly to the eye. They also love to muddle their paragraphs. Remember in school where we learned how to write a paragraph?

You have a main sentence, 2-3 sentences that support the main sentence, and finally a concluding sentence that ties together everything you said. The same thing is true with paragraphs. You have a thesis paragraph with your main point, then 3-5 supporting paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

You don’t need much in order to get somebody to back, you it does have to make a compelling, clear, and concise case.

Tip #10: Send updates often.

Throughout the campaign you need to update your backers at least once every 3 days. The average successful projects have given more than 10 updates. These can be raffle giveaways, or stretch goal announcements, or just a great day that you had. I like to offer weekly challenges on my campaigns, so every week I upload a new video for backers.

The point is that the backers need to be involved in your campaign throughout.

Tip #11: You don’t have to do a Kickstarter for your dream project first.

Tip #11: You don’t have to do a Kickstarter for your dream project first.

If you’ve never raised money on Kickstarter before, then don’t expect to raise several thousand dollars, especially if you have no network. You are much better served doing a project you can complete and fund, even if it’s only $500 or less. Then you will have a baseline of your audience and be able to build from there.

Your goal is to get your feet wet and learn the ropes. It’s not to stress yourself out chasing an impossible goal. You have an entire career to build up to your dream project.

Tip #12: Pledge to other Kickstarter projects.

Kickstarter is a community, and people want to see that you are an active backer before you launch a project. Additionally, if you do back a lot of projects you can then email them during your campaign and ask them to introduce you to their audience. It might not work, but you are almost buying their time to consider your offer.

Tip #13: Consider your Kickstarter category carefully.

Tip #13: Consider your Kickstarter category carefully.

Some categories have a much more active community than others. Tech, design, and comics have very active communities. Publishing does not. You want to make sure you get a sense of the community

Tip #14: Start your Kickstarter on a Tuesday. End on a Thursday.

Studies show that Tuesday is the best day to begin a campaign. However, Wednesday and Thursday are very close to Thursday. So much so to be within the study’s margin of error. However, Thursday is far and away the best day to end a campaign. Thursday blew all other days of the week away by a statistically significant margin.

Tip #15: Post more to social media than you think necessary by a factor of 10.

Only about 3% of people see your Facebook posts. Twitter has a shelf life of 15 minutes. So the people you think you are going to annoy probably haven’t even seen your post. You need to post all the time in order to get the word out about your project.

Post when people back your campaign. Post when you’ve hit a milestone. Post everything, but make sure to keep changing your imagery so it doesn’t get stale. It’s the same reason McDonald’s has 1,000 different billboards. The same image drowns in the background. People need new stimuli in order to keep engaged.

Tip #16: You need to raise 30% of your Kickstarter funding in the first 48 hours.

If you think you can raise $1,000, that means at least $300 needs to be raised in the first 48 in order to guarantee success. If you raise under 20% then your project will have a tough uphill battle. If you raise more than 50% it means your target was too low. 30% means you hit the nail on the head.

Tip #17: Convey the why of your Kickstarter campaign.  

Most campaigns are pretty good at describing what their product it. Some can even clearly discuss how they are going to bring it to market. Almost none convey why people should back their project or why they are uniquely qualified to bring the product to market.

The why is what makes people back, though. People are much more likely to back an unfinished product with a compelling why than a finished product that has none. The why is different for every product, but if there is no why you will suffer much fewer backers and risk your campaign not funding.

Tip #18: Bring the passion to your Kickstarter campaign.

Tip #18: Bring the passion to your Kickstarter campaign.

If you can’t show passion for your product, then nobody else will show passion either. You need to show extreme passion for your product to motivate others to get passionate about the product as well. Your passion is contagious, as is your lack of it. It needs to come through in your word, your social strategy, and definitely in your video.

Tip #19: Make sure to calculate shipping for your Kickstarter carefully.  

Almost 10% of successfully funded products fail to deliver. The number one culprit in that failure is shipping. Sometimes rates go up, but sometimes it’s because stretch goals change the weight and size of the box. Still other times it’s because a product that was once media mail can no longer be shipped that way because certain incentives prevent it from being shipped in that way. Other times it can be because they didn’t properly check shipping rates to all countries, and international shipping ate into all their costs.

You need to be very careful with shipping. It can add an undue burden on the unprepared creator. However, with some planning you can make sure it doesn’t destroy your campaign and send you into debt fulfilling rewards.

Tip #20: Kickstarter takes 10% off the top.

Kickstarter takes 5% for their fees and 3-5% for all processing fees through their credit card vendor. Take this into account. Add 10% more buffer to your campaign to prevent failing to raise enough money.

 

Tip #21: Transparency is key to a successful Kickstarter campaign.   

If something is going wrong, or right, tell your backers. If you have something to say, say it. Don’t hide anything. People are very forgiving if you are honest.

Tip #22: Schedule posts before your Kickstarter campaign begins.

Buffer, Hootsuite, meet Edgar, Tweet Jukebox, and many others allow you to schedule a baseline of social media posts before your campaign begins. You will have other things to post as well, but you want to make sure you get the bulk of your updates out of the way early so that you aren’t fretting about them when your campaign is live.

Tip #23: Double check your Kickstarter rewards.   

You can’t change your rewards when your campaign is live. If you accidentally charge the wrong shipping price, or you need to change the tiers in any way once even one person backs, you can’t. This often leads creators to create new tiers in order to fix what they screwed up. An ounce of preparation is priceless.

Tip #24: Give an early bird perk to your first-day Kickstarter backers.

The first 48 hours is critical to the success of the campaign, so reward those people who back early. It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe the first-day backers get a free wallpaper, or maybe they get the digital rewards before anybody else. It doesn’t have to be much, but that little gesture will help push people over the edge to back early.

Tip #25: Make your Kickstarter campaign a spectacle. 

Tip #25: Make your Kickstarter campaign a spectacle.    

Kickstarter is the closest thing to an online comic-con that I’ve ever seen. You should be treating it as such by offering super cool, exclusive perks, doing live chats, engaging with your fans, and giving people something they can’t get anywhere else. You could offer daily giveaways through raffles, or weekly videos.

You can do a google hangout, or an AMA, but the simple fact is that Kickstarter is an event and the more you can treat it as such the more success you will have.

Tip #26: Set up launch and close events for your campaign. 

You can do this at your house, at a local comic book store, at a park, or a restaurant. The key is not to spend a bunch of money on the event, it’s to get people excited about your project. If you are an artist, you can hold a show at a local gallery.

If you are a filmmaker you can hold a trailer screening at a local theatre. You should hold these events the first and last day of your campaign to help drum up the more fervent enthusiasm possible during the most crucial times of your campaign.

Tip #27: Build press relationships early.     

Emailing press contacts the day your campaign launches is too late. The press may have up to a six-month lead time on getting articles into their pipeline. However, if you aren’t building your contacts well before then then the press won’t even write a story about you.

You need to be fostering these contacts for months or years before you launch. Offer to do articles for them, meet them at cons, find them on social media, and treat them like humans just like you would for anybody else. The real question you need to ask is “how can I provide value in their lives?” When it’s time to email about your project, then you need to make it easy for them to publish.

Tip #28: Your Kickstarter backers will be mostly people you know.

No matter how many emails you send to the press or how many cold contacts you make during your campaign, most people that back your project will be people you know for months or years before the campaign launches. That means you need the biggest network of energetic friends and fans before you ever hit the launch button. Remember, you can’t be successfully on crowdfunding without a crowd.

Tip #29: Kickstarter pledge levels should include rewards from all previous tiers.

You don’t want people hesitating about backing a higher tier because they don’t want to miss out on something they really wanted from a previous tier. You want it to be very easy for them to increase their pledge level.

Increasing existing pledges is a crucial part of the middle campaign lull, and any hesitation will prevent you from getting that extra pledge money.

Tip #30: Model other Kickstarter success.

Tip #30: Model previous Kickstarter success.

Hundreds of other campaigns have done Kickstarter better than you in the past. They’ve succeeded and failed thousands of times. Use that to your advantage. Look through them all and find the points of commonality between them. Make sure to take note of the words they use, the imagery, and the reward levels that are consistent among the highest performers. Then, you can model that in your own campaign for the highest chance of success.

Tip #31: The right title is critical for Kickstaerter success.

With hundreds of projects to choose from, you only have a second to catch a backer’s eye. With the way that Kickstarter is set up, you basically get an image and a title to make a backer click on your link.

So you want to make sure your title is catchy AND that is uses all 60 characters to fully explain the reason somebody should click on your project. Almost all hyper-successful projects use a colon after the name of their project to state what the project is about. Make sure to utilize all 60 characters in order to give yourself the best chance for success.

And that’s it. 31 tips to make sure your next Kickstarter goes off without a hitch.

12 lessons from launching four Kickstarters in a year

In September of 2016, I wrapped up my fourth Kickstarter campaign in 12 months. Katrina Hates the Dead ran from September until October 2015. Then My Father Didn’t Kill Himself ran from February to March 2016. Then I Can’t Stop Tooting: A Love Story ran from April to May 2016. Finally, Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs ran from August 2016 to September 2016.

Along the way, we also launched Gherkin Boy and the Dollar of Destiny activity book without Kickstarter, but for the most part all our launches this year have involved a Kickstarter, and I learned a lot.

So what lessons did I take away from four Kickstarter in one year?

You better be damn well sure you have an audience who likes you and will buy your stuff before you plan a Kickstarter every quarter.

You better be damn well sure you have an audience who likes you and will buy your stuff before you plan a Kickstarter every quarter.

There’s a big difference between putting together one book a year on Kickstarter and doing multiple books a year. When you are doing one book, you can get a lot more money raised because this is your only book. However, if you are doing a bunch of books, people will just wait for the next one. You segment and fragment your audience, because everybody knows the next one is coming along soon. So instead of raising $10,000 on one book, you may find yourself raising the same $10,000 but on a bunch of books.

If you want to do a bunch of campaigns, you must build an audience consistently that works their way down you funnel so that you can raise money consistently on each campaign

Just because somebody likes your comics doesn’t mean they’ll like anything else you do.

This goes for anything, whether you are a fine artist, or a novelist. When you move into a new genre of format, most people won’t follow you. We opened up into novels and kid’s books this year, and saw our total backers drop considerably from 294 with Katrina down to 155 with My Father Didn’t Kill Himself and finally down to 65 at our lowest, before rebounding back up to 75 with Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs.

With our comics, we could count on 200-300 backers, but by expanding into other genres and formats, those numbers went down considerably because people that knew me from comics didn’t trust me to make a quality novel.

A higher backer count does not mean more money.

Our Katrina campaign raised $8780 from 294 backers. Between the other 3 campaigns we ran this year we raised $7459 from 295 backers. Logically, you would assume we would raise almost the same amount from the same amount of backer, but we came up with a $1321 loss from roughly the same backers.

This also goes back to our previous discussion about splitting your audience. In 2016, we raised less than we raised in the entirety of 2015, from almost the exact same number of backers, but we raised it on three projects (MFDKH, SBNR, and ICST) instead of one (KHTD). This is a perfect example of how you can segment your audience into three projects but not make more at the end of the day.

You need to give your audience enough time to read your work.

You need to give your audience enough time to read your work.

It takes about 6-9 months for somebody to read a book they bought. I have people who’ve had my books for over a year and haven’t read them. If you want people to back your new work, you need to give them time to fall in love with your last work. One of the main failings of the Spaceship Broken campaign was that we didn’t give people enough time to enjoy My Father Didn’t Kill Himself.

This goes in tandem with allowing people to build a fervor for your books by dripping out information over time, giving people samples, and generally talking about your projects for enough time that interest is built. You can’t just drop a book, even to your existing audience, and expect them to froth at the mouth for it immediately.

You better be really good at marketing your books.

When you start doing multiple projects, you will be hitting your audience a lot. For the month leading up to the campaign you will be building hype, for the month of the campaign you will be slamming them with information, and for the month after you’ll be doing wrap-ups. That’s a three-month cycle for every campaign. If you launch 4 books a year, that means you are continuously in a launch cycle.

So you have to get really good at providing value to people, building your hype without it coming across as begging. You need to know your audience down pat.

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You can’t assume everybody will buy from you.

When you launch one product a year, you can assume more people will back your project, even if they aren’t jazzed by it.

When you are launching multiple books a year, though, you have to become okay with people backing what interests them, and not everything you do. This is a huge mindset shift for most people, because they are used to a massive swell of people backing their only Kickstarter for that year.

Not everything will be a rousing success just because you made it.

Just because you made it, doesn’t mean it will resonate with your audience. Maybe you made something that is a super niche, like Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs. Or maybe you wanted to test out a new market and it didn’t work, like I Can’t Stop Tooting. Or maybe you were trying to break into a new medium, like My Father Didn’t Kill Himself.

No matter what it is, you can’t assume that it’s going to be a breakout hit just because you made it. It’s the same with all mediums. Jared Leto isn’t going to get the same reaction to Suicide Squad as he does to his indie movies. Your products won’t be any different. Some will surprise you. Some will disappoint you.

And some will completely change the landscape of what you do.

Kickstarter is just one way to launch a product

Kickstarter is just one way to launch a product

I launch products on Kickstarter, but I also launch products at shows. I have launched products right to Amazon. Kickstarter is good for certain products, but it is certainly not the only way to launch a product. However, the principles of Kickstarter hold true on every campaign, from pricing to videos to sales letters, Kickstarter is a microcosm of how to launch any product. What you learn there can be expanded into everything you do.

Kickstarter will hamper your live show sales.

When you have multiple products, Kickstarter can stop people from buying books that already exist on your convention table. You are basically exchanging immediate sales for the potential that a product will launch successfully in the future. That’s a high risk gamble.

When you have several products already, those become the focus at live shows. You have tangible products that can be sold, which becomes the focus of your table. Kickstarter works against you in that scenario, because you forego sales of your existing properties to make money for your launch.

That is just swapping operational money for launch money. All your money goes into the same pool at the end of the day. If you are exchanging convention sales for Kickstarter sales, it doesn’t net you any more money at the end of the day.

Kickstarter fatigue is a very real thing.

Kickstarter fatigue is a very real thing.

Even though you can launch products all the time if you want, there is fatigue that sets in with both you and your audience. With Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs, I was already aware of this fatigue. I wanted to avoid yet another burnout from my audience, but the failure of my Kindle Scout campaign made launching my third Kickstarter of 2016 a certainty.

If you launch multiple products in a year, it’s best to vary your launches and do some on Amazon, some on Kickstarter, and still other straight from your site. The less you can rely on one platform the less burnout you will receive from your audience.

A campaign that didn’t raise much money might still work on your table at shows.

None of my campaigns from 2016 have burned up the charts, but My Father Didn’t Kill Himself and I Can’t Stop Tooting: A Love Story both found audiences when I put them online and on the con table. Just because your campaign doesn’t do gangbusters doesn’t mean you can’t sell your books.

Kickstarter must integrate into your business.

Kickstarter has to integrate with the other aspects of your business.

Kickstarter is a great way to build and maintain and audience, but it’s only a piece of your marketing and business strategy. It has to integrate with your con strategy and your Amazon strategy too. You can’t focus all your energy on Kickstarter to the detriment of the rest of your business, nor vice versa. You need to find a balance.

While Kickstarter still has a big place in my business, it’s becoming a smaller and smaller piece of it. As retail, Amazon, and my con table takes but a huge slice of my revenue, Kickstarter has become a way for me to amplify important projects and reach people who don’t live near me. It provides me with a base of funds for projects and allows me to get pre-orders to fulfill my print minimums.

Kickstarter is an essential piece of my business. However, it is now only a piece instead of the whole thing. In 2016, we made almost $40,000 in revenue. $7,459 is a massive piece of that, but it’s only 25%.

Which shows that while Kickstarter can be a piece of your business, it can’t be the whole thing.

7 steps to a great query letter

Query letters seem like they should be easy, right? After writing a script of several thousand to a hundred thousand words, writing a one-page email should be cake.

So why do so many people have problems with it?

It’s because they don’t really understand the purpose of a query letter. A query letter is not designed to tout your greatness, it’s to interest other people to become part of what you are doing.

Most query letters are junk because nobody ever takes the receiver’s needs into account, but that is the purpose of emailing somebody right? To get them interested in your project? And the only way to get them interested is to show how your project can help them in concise, tangible terms.

So today I’m going to show you the keys of a good query letter, and then I’ll show you a template I use to query people effectively.

This process can be used for querying artists, writers, editors or publishers.  First, let’s talk about some of the keys to a good query letter.

It’s all about what you can do for the them

Any artist that is good enough to help sell your project with their art has several other ways they can make money without working with you.

They might be contracted to work on a project already. If they don’t any work at the time they can make money selling commissions and prints. Or they can make creator owned work to build their own product line and residual income stream.

If you are looking to hire an artist, you have to convince them that your project is better than all of the other project they could focus their time. What makes your project great? What makes it stand out above the rest? Why is their sensibility uniquely qualified to work on your project? What value to do you bring to the table above just giving them a check?

Most creators think they are doing a favor for an artist by hiring them, but in reality it is a symbiotic relationship. You have a vision for your project that you cannot carry out by yourself. Which means that if an artist does not agree to work with you, your project cannot be completed. They are essential to the process of you having a sellable project.

When I contact artists I speak about my convention schedule, my distribution chain, my payment history with artists, and my ability to finish projects and release them successfully. I give references if they don’t know me and make sure people know I am pleasant to work with and that I can help further their career.

I didn’t always have a track record of success, so at the beginning of my career I made up for it with passion and enthusiasm. I was willing to pay a large deposit upfront (though that’s not always recommended) and kept encouraging them as a partner during the production cycle so they wanted to keep working with me.

My goal has always been that when an artist looks back at their career, they name our project as their favorite work.

You are the business owner.

If you are querying an artist, you are a business owner looking to hire a freelance consultant for work. If you are querying a publisher you are looking for an investor in your IP. Either way, you are the business owner.

This is why when a writer who is trying to hire an artist says “I think we both need to get paid”, I cringe.

Yes, it is important that eventually you are both paid. However, business owners are not paid in the same way as employees. Business owners do not collect salaries. They make money on the long-term success of the product over time, not on the immediate paycheck for completing work.

It is also essential to think about this when querying publishers. Why would that company be a good fit for investment in your business? Why would your relationship be mutually beneficial? Remember, if you make a bad mistake with your partner you could be left with nothing except a hefty bill from your artist.

How can you query if you don't read?

Construct your emails professionally.

Emails need to be professional at all times. They need to be spellchecked thoroughly for grammar and spelling. There is a free program called Grammarly that can help you spell check all your emails.

They also need to be polite and energetic.

You need to keep the query email short. There is no need for a novella. You can get the same information conveyed in 500 words as you can in 5,000. A longer email is going to turn busy people off from working on your project. A one sentence email is just as bad. Be like Goldilocks; not too long and not too short.

Remember, this first email is a simple introduction. You wouldn’t give your life story at a cocktail party to somebody you just met. Don’t give it on a query, either.

Also, make sure your paragraphs themselves are readable and relevant. Most query letters smash together multiple thoughts into one paragraph.

I hate that.

Make sure every paragraph has a main point, the next sentences support that main point, and the concluding sentence validates that main point, just like we all learned in school.

read everything when you query

Read websites thoroughly before emailing your query.

There is nothing more grating than receiving an email asking for my submission guidelines. They are on my site. When I receive such an email I automatically know that person is lazy. I never want to work with a lazy person.

Most artists and publishers have some sort of submission guideline on their site. Look for them thoroughly before you submit.

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Make sure they are a good fit before emailing.

Most artists have a favorite genre or type of project. Some only want to work for hire on anthologies. Others are only open for pin-ups. You must know what the artist specializes in before emailing them, and let them know why you think your project would be a good fit for them.

That’s not to say if an artist specializes in fantasy that you shouldn’t email them your horror script. They might be looking for a project like yours. However, you will only intrigue them if you can make a compelling case why they are a good fit for your project.

Unless asked, don’t send any attachments in the first email.

An attachment is a commitment. It’s like asking somebody to marry you on the first date. Sure, you can do it, and sure it might work one in a million times, but everybody else is going to be turned off by it.

slow down before you send off a query letter!

If an artist or publisher doesn’t respond right away, don’t flood them with emails. Slow down.

Just because somebody doesn’t get back to you right away doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. Maybe their nose is down on a deadline. Maybe they are on vacation. Maybe they only answer emails once a week. Give people time to get back to you. If you are querying an artist give at least two weeks. For a publisher give it at least a month.

You should always end your emails with an expectation to follow up. Here is an easy one that isn’t pushy. “Please respond so I know this didn’t go into spam. If you don’t, I will email you next week just to make sure you got it. I don’t want to be a pest. I am just really excited to work with you.”

Alright, so now we’re talked about some of the finer points to a good query letter. Now let me show you a good template to use.

  1. Introduce yourself. Give your name, company, and a link to your past work so people know you are legit. This is not an excuse to send them to your script. It’s just so they can get a taste of who you are and what you do.
  2. Say something nice about their work. This isn’t kissing ass. It’s an honest appreciation of work. If you want to work with this artist or publisher tell them why you were drawn to their work in a quick sentence. You also want to include a quick bit about why this project is a great fit for them. Not too much yet, just a taste.
  3. Introduce the project with a logline. This is just a quick one sentence about the project, the length, and the format.
  4. Give a one paragraph introduction of the synopsis. Make it short and sweet. One paragraph does not mean 50 sentences. Five sentences max.
  5. Talk about why this project is a great fit. Now you can get into a very short reason why this is a good fit. You can’t say “I feel this is a good fit”. You need to provide research behind your data. For instance, “I see you do genre books but don’t have many fantasy books. I think this book would fit your aesthetic because of x reason.”
  6. Talk about the scope of the project in slightly more detail. Include timeframe (if you have one), budget, and your plan for marketing. If you’ve finished an ashcan let the publisher know the timeframe for finished production. This is where you can get into some detail, because it will help the publisher or artist know if your project fits into their timeline. For artists it will also help them price their work. If you have a tight deadline and require all their attention, they will charge more.
  7. Sign off with a follow up expectation. Tell them how much you look forward to hearing from them, set an expectation to follow up, and say goodbye.

With this, you should be able to interest artists and publishers with a lot more ease and they will thank you for your brevity and professionalism.

8 ways to make more sales at shows

“I’m going to stop doing shows.”

It’s a statement a lot of artists have thought, but more and more people I know are committed to stopping shelling out big money on shows when they aren’t even making table fees back.

I used to hear rumblings about it once and a while, but I’ve heard it a couple dozen times in the past few months, and at least 10 times in the past week alone.

Artists say they are sick of going to shows, getting people to browse the table, and not making a purchase. The funny thing is, none of them want to change what they are doing. Sure, they’ll do some new prints, but they are stuck in a dying mindset. The old way of selling at shows is dead.

You see, there is a fundamental shift in the way business works today.

There is a glut of product on the market. Unlike ten years ago when buying prints at shows was the only way to find cool stuff, people have social media now where they can check out cool stuff easier than ever before. Additionally, there are just more shows than ever which fractures the already thin audience for prints.

Additionally, there is parity like never before. There is great art everywhere. In order to win over fans, artists need more than something cool. They need to provide an experience.

Studies show that 99% of people’s buying decisions are based on experience. Whether it’s a hotel, a book, a restaurant, or a piece of art, there is so much great stuff that the best doesn’t rise to the top.

Or more accurately, there is so much stuff at the top that buyers need another reason to buy your art than just it being great. The only way to separate yourself is by the experience you give to your customers.

Remember what we always talk about? That having great content puts you in the game?

This is true now with art more than ever. Just having great art used to move you ahead of the game, but now there is so much great art the only way you can stand out is through experience. If you can give somebody an experience they connect with, then they will want to buy from you; maybe not today, but eventually and for a long time to come.

However, I still see most artists drawing with their head down. Even when they engage with people they look like they are being bothered. Even “nice artists” don’t bother to smile at people.

So bitching about miserable con sales is great, but how do we fix it? How do we sell more at shows? How do we make more money?

If you have to draw at your table, make it a spectacle.

Shows are for meeting new fans. It’s not for doing art. We get it, you are a great artist, but a show is for engaging with new people. If you absolutely must draw, schedule that into your con time and make it a spectacle. Advertise on your table that there will be a live drawing from 1-3.

Then ask people what they want to see and crowdsource the drawing. Have people vote on what they want drawn, and then they can come back to watch it happen, or live stream it, or find it on Youtube by following your channel. Then if they aren’t at the show they can connect with you even from thousands of miles away.

This will keep your audience engaged and make you stand out. If 30 people watch you draw a Joker, and keep telling you the colors they want and poses, do you think those people are going to be more interested in buying that print afterwards? Of course, because now they have an experience they will always treasure.

It’s not enough to just say hello.

I’m sorry, but saying hello isn’t enough to engage people. You have to ask open-ended questions. You have to ask a lot of them. Saying hello, even for me, garners ZERO sales. The only sales I make is when I connect with the audience and more than hello.

You don’t have to ask them to buy, you can say “What’s your favorite part of the convention?” or “Do you have a room that you’re looking to fill today?” or “Who are you buying for?” If you ask open-ended questions you are interested in them and they are more likely to buy b/c your recommendation will be thoughtful.

Ask people what your next print should be.

Here is another great way to involve people. If they come by and ask for a print you don’t have, tell them you are trying to find the next print. Instruct them to put their name, email address, and print suggestion on a sheet of paper and stuff it in a jar.

Then, afterward you can do a live stream at home of the print and crowdsource it on social media, so you can get all the engagement from the con at home and get more people to buy your stuff. In addition, you have their email addresses to continue marketing to them.

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Frame your prints and give suggestions for where your customer could hang it.

People buy based on emotion. They want to envision where they can hang what they purchase when it comes to art. So to make a sale, you should show them how your piece would look in a frame. Super Emo friends does a great job of this. They have their best pieces framed so customers can see how they would look through the glass.

Additionally, you want to ask people where they would hang their prints, what they are looking for, the color scheme of the room. Maybe you could make a sale if you changed the colors of the image to match their palette. Again, by asking questions you’ll narrow down and have the best chance of making a sale.

Even if they don’t buy, ask what they are looking for in order to make your table better for next time. Maybe they want something bigger. Maybe they want a gift. Maybe they love your style but they really love Donatello and not Raphael.

In fact, maybe you have what they are looking for, but it’s buried in a crate and they don’t have time to look for it.

You have no idea if you don’t ask.

Target your work to the right buyer

Most artists want any buyer to buy their work. That’s why they spray the world with prints and hope something sticks. But by going for everybody they end up attracting nobody.

Businesses are more successful when they niche. What is your ideal buyer?

Are you looking for a piece to be hung in dorm rooms? In art studios? In living rooms? Is your main clientele women, boys, or teens?

Each of these people likes a different aesthetic, and if you can narrow your focus to just one of those then you will be able to get the right work in front of the right people and they will buy more at your table. They will also be likely to make additional purchases in the future.

Look at the greatest artists working today, they are all directing their art to one type of person, and by doing that they are able to resonate and sell more work for more money.

Set up your table to guide the eye.

Most artists set up their table to look pretty, but we all know some artwork sells better than others. We all know some pieces are meant to catch the eye and lead the customer to your better selling items.

Knowing that, set up our table so the bestselling items are front and center with the eye-catching items so people have the best chance to make a purchasing decision. If you don’t know what these items are, then you need to find out quick.

Ask for the sale.

You lose 100% of the sales you don’t ask for in the end. By just saying “What do you think?” or “Would you like to get one?” You will increase your sales massively. Even just saying the price of the piece will get people to think about buying it. Remember, it’s about triggering their buying instinct. People want to buy.

Don’t think of it as a loss if they don’t buy.

Just because somebody doesn’t buy, all is not lost. There is a funnel that happens in sales. First somebody has to know you. Then they have to like you. Then they have to trust you. Then and only then will they buy from you.

It’s great to get people to buy at a show, but it’s equally important to get people as far down the funnel as possible as quickly as possible. Just by being at a show you are meeting and connecting with your right kind of buyer. So make sure you get all their information so you can market them cool stuff later, so those people will buy next time. If you keep building your base of buyers, then your sales will increase with every show instead of decrease.

At the end of the day, a con is about the experience. People want to be entertained. I know that as artists we want our work to speak for itself, but it just doesn’t.

Your work isn’t enough anymore. Nothing speaks for itself. You have to stand out from the crowd by offering something specific to the right person and making sure to get the contact information of everybody you can so you can grow your business.

You can mope about it. You can fret about it. You can deny it, but it’s the truth. If you want to sell more you have to get over that hurdle. That’s the only way to rebound because all of the business is having a paradigm shift. Not just art, but everything from fast food to diamond rings.

The quicker you can adapt, the quicker you can thrive.

8 Ways I keep going in the depths of depression

I suffer from massive depression. Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed. Some days moving physically hurts.

I’m not alone. Almost everybody I know suffers from some form of depression. It feels like this is an epidemic in my generation. Even though we have access to everything, our brains eat away at us. Even though we can do anything, our bodies fight against us.

I read a lot and depression. Some of it helps, most of it doesn’t. Sometimes I find a tidbit that turns me around. I never know what’s going to help in the moment, but I know right now I’m cycling in a bad way.

So I want to tell you how I keep going even on days when I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a guy that deals with my own fight all the time.

1. I remember what I do has value. 

I don’t mean monetary value. I mean it has value to the world. I remember that my life has value to the whole of humanity.

Even if that value is to help only one person for the rest of my life, that is enough value for me to continue, because if I don’t then I can’t help that person and they will suffer needlessly.

Chances are I will help more than one person, which means my life has exponential value to the world. If I can help a million people then my suffering is worth it, but even if I can only help one it’s worth it too.

2. I set a project for myself. 

The hardest thing to do when you are depressed is anything. I want to lie on the floor and go catatonic right now, but instead I’m writing this article.

I force myself to do something. Even if it’s just write an article or draw a picture. It’s something. I sit myself down at my desk and work away until it’s done. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes it takes a week. But in the end I finished something.

I find that just releasing those creative energies helps my mood immeasurably. A lot of my depression comes from helplessness and completing something proves I have control.

It’s hard at first to do this. Your body will fight against you. But over time it gets easier. Now, I barely have to fight to keep going.

3. I remember life is long and there’s always time to turn it around. 

Life is long. I’m 33 now and I feel like I’ve been here forEVER! Statistically, I have more than double my life left.

Even if I’m bankrupt today, tomorrow I might be the presumptive Republican nominee for President. A couple of years ago I had a great job, and now I’m running my own company.

Are there skids along the way? Of course. But there will also be a chance for greatness. There will be loss, but there will also be time for love.

There is always time to turn it around. Always.

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4. I know my emotions ebb and flow.

I charted out my emotions and found that I am almost always depressed on the first of the month (when my mortgage is due) and the 20th (When I pay my credit card). I found that I’m happiest on days when I’m speaking and about half of that joy bleeds over into the next day.

I have about 2–3 bad days and 4–5 really good days a month on average. Once I knew that it became about maximizing the good days and riding out the bad days.

 

5. I remember that people love me. 

It’s hard sometimes when you are in the deepest parts of depression to remember people love you. When you are in a spin cycle of depression it’s all you can do to breath.

It’s easy to think about how much easier people’s lives would be if I was gone. If I was gone then my wife wouldn’t be saddled by my business, after all. My business has good months and bad months, but it is never steady and stable. It would make life so much easier for her never to worry about money again. It’s easier to think about the positives to your death when you are depressed.

But there is also a crippling emotional cost that comes with my death. There is love and support that my wife and I give each other. There is her happiness to think about, which outweighs our finances by a country mile. There’s always time to make more money.

I never want to hurt her, so by extension I must stay around. When I’m depressed I desperately want to see all the things that would be better if I was gone, but I force myself to see all of the things that would be worse.

6. I accept that it’s not logical. 

My depression isn’t logical. It comes when it wants. Sometimes it comes on the good days. Sometimes it comes when I should be elated.

My depression colors everything I do. It makes me think my work sucks even when it’s good. It makes me think meetings went terribly even if they went well. It makes me think everybody is against me even when they are helping me.

So since I know that, I try not to let myself get caught in the cycle. I try not to make decisions depressed. When I have to make decisions, I understand they will be colored by my emotions.

7. I never cancel meetings because of my mood. 

I know that my body wants out of human interaction. I know that it wants to dig into a hole and disappear. I know that it doesn’t want to see people, but I force it out anyway.

If necessary I will tell people the truth when I see them, but it almost never comes to that. If anything my mood improves. I find myself happier when I get out.

I can easily cycle when I’m by myself, but seeing other people prevents me from doing that. It’s hard to think everybody hates me when I’m hanging out with a friend who clearly likes me.

8. I talk openly about my depression. 

It’s hard to start the conversation the first time, but when I openly told people I suffer from depression things got so much easier. Just saying it out loud made me unashamed of my condition. A huge part of depression for me is shame, and talking about it took that shame away.

It puts everything I’m doing into perspective. It doesn’t make it better, but at least I took some control of my depression. At least I have some power.

That’s how I survive. I work within the confines of my depression. I complete projects so that I don’t seem helpless. I see people so I don’t feel alone. I understand my triggers so I don’t do anything stupid.

When I recognize my depression, I have a sort of mode that I enter. It’s like power saving mode on a computer.

I know that my work probably doesn’t suck, it’s my depression saying it sucks. I know my life isn’t horrible. It’s my depression saying it’s horrible. Even though I can’t turn depression off, it allows me to still function, because I know it will pass.

I know that I will live and that I should live.

Every way I ever found money for my business

This is a story about money, and how to find it. It starts with a story set in my lean years when I just went to press on a new print run for Wannabe Press’s two most popular books.

We spent $8,500 to get 3,000 copies total: 2,000 copies of Katrina Hates Dead Shit and 1,000 copies of Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter. This is not something we did lightly. We agonized over buying more books, but the truth is that we were spending too much and needed to reign in book costs. This was the only way to do that in the long run.

Since we’ve gone to press I’ve been telling people about my decision and the reactions have been consistent across the board. I’ve heard things like “I wish I had $8,000 to spend just on books,” or “I don’t have $8,000 to spent on books.” To which I always responded; “You think I have $8,000 to spend on books?”

Newsflash: I didn’t have $8,000 to spend on books. I didn’t have $8,000 to spend. Period. I worked on very low margins and every dollar went back into growing it. 

Product sales is an industry where you can be defeated by success. Every time I sell out it’s a hollow victory because I just have to turn around and buy more products.On top of that books aren’t cheap. I spent $6.00 a book on a short run of 100 books and sold them for $20.

I was ordering books every couple weeks. I spent $3,000 buying 500 books. I was constantly in the hole. Every con I was pissed off when I did well because it meant I needed more supply.It sucked and was unsustainable. Something had to change.

I decided to make an investment in myself and move from paying $6.00 a book to paying under $3.00 a book by ordering a larger print run. Not only does this save me money in the long run, but the books are a much higher quality. I was able to get better paper quality and a hard cover version of the book for less than half my original costs.

Now I can pay $3 and sell a book for $30. That a much healthier profit margin and sustainable for the future.

But should I have done it?

I don’t know. It’s certainly a risk for my company. $8,000 is 10% of projected revenue this year. But that same investment can net me $90,000 if I sell out at full price. So it felt like a good risk.I haven’t always made good risks, but I’ve always taken risks. Heck, owning any business is a risk and I’ve owned six. Four crashed a burned. One folded after less than two weeks. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur most of my adult life, for better or worse. I’ve always needed capital to grow and sustain my companies. Capital is always a problem. Right now I have a little working capital in my business, and I did have money to pay cash for this print run (even if it ate into most of my profits from this year).

This wasn’t always the case.

I want to take you back to the origin story; back when I had nothing, and tell you all the times I should have thrown in the towel but didn’t, and how I got capital to invest when I didn’t have a pot to piss.

Note. I’m not telling you to do any of these things. In fact, please god find a better way. 

The time I went $40,000 in credit card debt to buy gear

When I graduated college I wanted to be director of photography for movies and TV. I had a decent job doing live shots on Capitol Hill for Fox News, CNN, and others, but I wanted more. I wanted to shoot narrative films.

There wasn’t a ton of narrative film going on in DC, but I wanted to get in on the small scene that existed. I tried and tried but nobody wanted to hire me.

Why?

I didn’t own gear. I was constantly losing work to people that owned their own gear. In order to get in the game, I had to buy gear. I figured that if I owned gear (audio, video, lighting) I would get more gigs, and they would pay a kit fee for the gear I owned. However, gear cost $40,000+ that I didn’t have.

I really believed in myself though, and it just so happened that I was approved for a high limit Costco Amex credit card, which I signed up for and promptly went on an epic spending spree

Eventually, I ended up with a video camera, lighting, audio and editing equipment. I also owned $40,000 in debt. If you’ve never been $40,000 in debt let me tell you it isn’t fun. I was making just enough to pay my half of the rent and make minimum payments to my cards. I wasn’t eating down my debt, but I was breaking even AND shooting stuff for my resume. I was getting gigs all the time and because I owned the gear I could undercut other companies and get business. On days I wasn’t booked I could shoot my own stuff because I owned the gear.

It was the first time that I had an asset. I used that asset to be hired on non-profit documentaries where I worked on shoots with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, and narrative films where I was flown to Denmark to second unit DP a movie for a month. I shot student films and small indie productions.

I also created my own web series which I wrote, directed, and executive produced which you watch here. I learned about editing and graphic design. I still own the editing and graphics packages I bought back then to this day.

But it couldn’t last. In the end, the minimum payments were so crippling that I had to take out a debt consolidation loan to get that nightmare under control. We ended up taking on tenants for our second bedroom to help make ends meet. My dad stayed with us for a while before he retired and my best friend did too before we moved out. Was it weird to live with somebody else while my future wife and I were learning to live with each other? Sure, but we did it and we made it out the other side.

In the end, I didn’t stick with that career. After a bad accident I couldn’t lug around the gear anymore, and frankly, I was never very good at shooting stuff. That company was a bust, but I did end up with a tangible asset; the web series I made (even though it wouldn’t be out for years afterward), and the connections with other people in the industry that I’m still in contact with today.

More importantly, it gave me my first tastes of real business, owning both RPN Photography and BNS Media Group. I previously owned an idea house called Insert Name Here Productions, but that folded relatively quickly.

These were the first companies I owned for a while. It was in their failures that I was able to pivot to where I am today.

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The time I used my settlement check to fund my first graphic novel

Between 2008 and 2010 I kept my head low. We were in the worst financial crisis of my lifetime. I couldn’t get steady work. We were still reeling from all the credit card debt from my failed company and accident.

I also couldn’t get anywhere as a writer. I had a couple of projects optioned and pitched around town, but mostly I was writing for my wall and my manager. It was a very demoralizing time for me.

I no longer had gear, so I wasn’t valuable to anybody. I was also new to LA with no contacts, so nobody took me seriously. Even my web series Connections was stuck in editing and wouldn’t make it out into the world until 2013. I had nothing and it sucked. Well, that’s not true. I had something; crippling debt. It was a struggle just to survive. Then we got a settlement from my accident and that all changed. Instead of massive debt I actually had a little money in the bank. Woohoo! Most people would invest that money, but we decided to make something. I knew I was either going to get something out into the world or I would never be a successful writer.

It was at this time that my manager brought me back into the world of comics, which I hadn’t read in years. I fell back in love and decided to do an ashcan of our first book, The Wannabes. Now, this was relatively cheap by my current standards, but the book was going to be about $600 to create and print. Not a small investment for anybody.

But I couldn’t give up.

I ate into the settlement money still left over from my car accident and took a leap. My career was stalled, and either I was going to try something new or give up. I don’t like giving up, so I tried.

And I failed.

Nobody wanted my comic book when I pitched it at San Diego Comic Con 2010. It was demoralizing. I went back home with my tail between my legs. Now remember at this point, I just dug myself out of a $40,000 hole with my only tangible assets being a web series (which wouldn’t come out until 2013 and an eight-page comic book which was unsalable.

So what did I do? I doubled down on books and made ashcans for two more comic books; Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter and Paradise. That was another $1,000 investment with what little money I had left.

The time I funded a graphic novel with an IRA

After making the Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter ashcan and shopping it around, a publishing company came along and offered me a contract to publish Ichabod!

Yay!

I was in the money, right? Oh yeah, except not at all. They would publish the book, but they weren’t going to pay for any production costs. Which meant I had to either find the money for production or turn down the only contract I had ever seen. I couldn’t turn it down. I had to move forward. So I cashed in an IRA in order to fund the production costs. I paid the penalty and everything.

In the end, I made Ichabod happen; 4 issues, epilogue plus back matter content. In total it was about $8,000 for production costs. Not an easy pill to swallow for somebody barely making $20,000 a year.

Today, Ichabod has more than doubled that initial investment in four years. That’s today though. Back in 2011, I cleared -$8,000 on my taxes.

The time I used Kickstarter to fund my first print run.

It was a long and strange road, but eventually I got back the rights to Ichabod from the publishing company and decided to print it myself. With no money, it wasn’t going to be easy. So how did I do that? Kickstarter. I figured if I could raise enough money through Kickstarter, then it would be a good proof of concept and allow me to buy all the books I needed to start my company. This is the first time I ever used any outside funds to generate money for my business.

Luckily, it worked! We made enough for Ichabod and to cover the costs of starting Wannabe Press. More than the money, this gave me a boost of confidence that people wanted the thing that I made.

The time I used my salary to fund the rest of my first slate of books

Around this time I also had 13 of 22 pages of Paradise #1 finished, a kid’s book with a publisher, a middle grade fiction novel with that same publisher, and needed to edit my next novel while getting a cover done.

I wanted to finish the final nine pages of Paradise #1, buy back the rights to both my kid’s book and novel, and pay for editing services/cover design for my new book. This would be the foundation for my company, Wannabe Press, which publishes graphic novels, traditional novels, and kid’s books.

However, it would cost me $2,500 in order to make all that happen. How did I fund this?

I dipped into my salary. Around this time both me and my wife had jobs and I used what little remaining income there was to fund this $2,500 extra expense. Total return to date is over $7,000 BTW, and it grows every month.

The time Wannabe Press started funding itself

by 2015, it was time to debut our first slate of books. I didn’t want to be an online only company. My strength was in face to face sales and that meant going to shows. Lots of shows. Shows cost anywhere from $35 for a very small show up to $1,000+ for the big ones. We didn’t have a slush fund put aside for things like this, so I paid for the first cons and print books out of my own pocket.

I didn’t have to dip into my own wallet for long. Almost immediately those shows started paying for themselves AND turning a profit. People bought Ichabod. They bought my novel and they bought my kid’s book. The books were now paying for the shows and giving me enough left over to let me invest in new shows and products. After we launched our second slate in 2016, revenue at shows doubled! In 2017, we doubled our sales again. 

So there you have it.

I have funded my company in almost every way possible. I funded them with credit cards, with a settlement check, and with my salary. I used renters to lower my bills and crowdfunding to print books. I even cashed out an IRA to make things happen. I am proof that there is always a way to get money if you are passionate enough and crazy enough. The only question is how willing you are to take a risk on yourself. It’s not always easy. In fact, it’s never easy, but the question is this…how bad do you want it?

Setting SMART goals for yourself

When I started setting real, tangible SMART goals in 2015, my career saw hockey stick, exponential growth. Before then, I had a set of goals that I wanted to attain, but they were usually either too easy or impossibly hard to achieve. Most importantly, there was no way to measure success so I usually abandoned my goals before too long.

Now that I use SMART goals to set realistic expectations, I’ve been able to hit almost all of my goals in the past two years.

So what are SMART goals? SMART is an acronym for goals that are:

S-SPECIFIC

M-MEASURABLE

A-ATTAINABLE

R-REALISTIC

T-TIME BOUND

Before I tell you my goals, let’s talk about each part of a SMART goal and explain why they are so important in determining your success. For this example, let’s assume your goal is to finish the first draft of a novel by the end of the year. We’ll take each part of the SMART goal separately and break out why it’s so important to make that goal happen.

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S- SPECIFIC

Most people don’t put much thought into creating their goals. Their goals might be as simple as I want to write more in the next year. This is a big problem,because MORE is not very specific when it comes to goal setting. If you have no data from last year, you have no idea what MORE means or how you can accomplish writing more in, nor can you motivate yourself to just write MORE.

However, if your goal is “I want to finish the first draft of a 70,000-word novel in by the end of the year” that is a very specific goal. You can always look back at this goal and see whether you are moving toward or away from it.

M- MEASUREABLE

The second part of a SMART goal is that the goal is measurable. We talked about this above, but as my friend Tyler James says, “what you measure you can manage”. I would add to that by saying what you manage you can attain. Going back to our example above, you can measure the goal of completing a 70,000-word novel.

That is a very measurable goal. You can make a plan for each step of the goal and know exactly how much you need to get done each month, each week, and each day to stay on track to accomplish your goal.

A- ATTAINABLE

The third part of a SMART goal is that it is attainable. For me, this is the most important part of making a SMART goal because if something isn’t attainable you become discouraged and give up on it. So let’s take our original goal. Is it possible to finish a 70,000-word novel in a year? Well of course. Many people have achieved this goal before. Maybe writers compete in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is a month dedicated to writing the first draft of a 55,000-word novel. So yes, finishing a 70,000-word novel is a very attainable goal. However, writing a 200,000-word novel might not be in the realm of possibility for your goal. That’s why it’s so important to make sure these goals are attainable.

R- REALISTIC

The fourth part of a SMART goal is that it’s realistic for you to achieve. While attainable deals with whether the goal is possible, realistic deals with whether you can accomplish your goal. What is realistic for you might not be realistic for somebody else. If my goal was to run a 100-mile ultramarathon this year, that would be unrealistic for me because I can’t even run 1 mile without getting winded. However, running a half marathon might be a good goal, depending on my fitness level. That doesn’t mean I won’t make running one of my goals for the year. It just means that I need to be realistic with my goal based on what I can achieve.

Going back to our goal, writing a 70,000-word novel is something most people can achieve in a year, as it is less than 200 words a day, or about the size of a long Facebook post.

T- TIME BOUND

The final part of a SMART goal is that it’s time bound. If you want to write a 70,000-word novel eventually, that isn’t something that can be measured. However, if you set a goal of one year to do it, then you can work toward that goal.

Does our goal fit?

Let’s analyze our own goal and see if it’s a SMART goal.

Is finishing the first draft of a 70,000-word novel by the end of next year a specific goal? I would say so.

Is it a measureable goal? For sure.

Is it an attainable goal and a realistic goal? Yes and yes. Many people have done it in the past which means you can too.

Is it a time bound goal? Again that’s a yes because we’ve given ourselves a year to accomplish it.

Therefore, it is a SMART goal, and much easier to measure and manage than the standard “I want to write MORE next year” that becomes the goal of so many writers.

A SMART goal can be used for anything, though. You can use it to lose weight (I want to lose 25 pounds this year by going to the GYM three times a week and only eating one piece of candy a week), or you can use it to establish a money goal (I want to save $300/mo by removing alcohol and eating out from my budget). SMART goals can be used to accomplish any task.

 

Stop randomly adding people to Facebook groups. It’s not just annoying, it’s also bad for business.

Adding people to Facebook groups has recently become the new, cool thing to do since Facebook changed their algorithm yet again.

People latched on to the idea that while pages will have limited engagement, groups will be a land full of rainbows and puppy dogs, where everybody blows smoke up your ass and begs to give you money.

That’s ridiculous, but it happened, and quickly.

I used to get 100 page like requests a week. Now, I’m being added to groups left and right. I have to spend way too much time leaving groups. I had a feeling this would happen once Facebook’s policy changes came out a couple days ago, but I didn’t think it would come so quickly.

Let me be clear, creating a group is a fantastic way to grow your business and interact with your fans. However, y’all are doing it WRONG. The last thing you want to do is add somebody to a group without their permission, especially if you don’t know for SURE that they are interested in the thing you are making.

This is because Facebook judges ENGAGEMENT as their key metric.

In his announcement, Zuckerberg even said that engagement was the metric that drove their new changes, and what their new algorithm will focus on optimizing in 2018. But when you add people to groups without their permission, you won’t have good engagement.

 Within good groups, engagement is high because they are filled with like-minded people who want to talk about the same thing. Usually, they are in the same profession or at least share similar hobbies. This is what makes groups so powerful; the idea of connecting with like-minded people is compelling for any business.

But when you fill your group with EVERYBODY you can find, it totally negates this advantage. If you do this, then instead of the group being filled with like-minded people, most of them (see: all of them) won’t give two shits about your group…

…and they won’t share similar interests…

…which means they won’t engage with your posts…

…which means your overall group engagement will go down…

…and then people won’t see your posts…

…making your group worthless.

Then, you will say that groups don’t work, but it’s because you are focused on the quantity of your group and not the quality of it. I started two groups in the past 6 months.

Authors and Creators Making Money Selling Books (1130 authors all wanting to market their work better and sell more units)

and

Russell Nohelty Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Book Club (178 readers all from my mailing list who want to engage with me more)

Both of these were grown organically and have excellent engagement because people self-selected to be there. Do you see how that’s different?

I know who these people are and they all have similar interests. I know it because I didn’t fill them with random people, so I can market to them better when I launch something and tailor posts to their interests between launches. When people self-select, it means they WANT to hear from you, which means you can plan your groups better, and monetize them more easily.

Does it take more time? Yes, it does, but at the end of, the day you will have an engaged group filled with people who want to hear from you, which is the end goal, right?

It also means that your group members will refer others to your group because it fills their needs and it helps improve their lives, instead of doing nothing for them, which is what happens if you randomly add people to groups.

It might make you feel good to suddenly have 1,000 people in your group after a week, but at the end of the day your will be useless if you do what you’ve been doing, so stop it.

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Please remember that the current is relentless

I try to remember that it’s much easier to tell somebody to do something when you are already upstream in the calmer water and they are fighting against the current, but I think most other successful people forget how hard it is to fight against the unceasing water crashing down upon you at the beginning.

As I try to figure out Amazon and course sales, I am constantly reminded how easy it is to say things like “you should curate down your mailing list and only focus on buyers”, when you have 20 books out and an ungodly number of followers on Amazon…

…or how easy it is to tell somebody to do a webinar when you have already built it into your life and don’t have to carve out 10 hours a week to prep for one…

…or how easy it is to tell somebody to do Facebook ads when you’ve already spent months split testing ads to get your audience dialed in and don’t have to waste thousands figuring it out again.

Do successful people remember how much money they wasted on ads when they got started? Or how hard it was to get Amazon subscribers for their first dozen books? It’s fucking impossible.

I tried to never do that with Kickstarter, even when I got upstream a bit. I always tried to give practical advice anybody could use. But now that I’m downstream again I hear the same stuff I used to hear, that show a complete lack of understanding of what it’s like to be downstream, struggling to breathe. I don’t always succeed, admittedly, but I try to make it simple, and give people impactful wins cheaply that don’t take a ton of time to implement…because that’s what I was looking for when I started out in this game.

I look at people and go “do you remember being me, with zero Amazon followers and a much smaller mailing list than you have now?” and “Do you remember when nobody went through your courses, and so people didn’t trust you with $297?”

Cuz it’s a lot harder to get upstream than I think you remember.

Yeah, there are currents to follow to make it easier, but you still gotta get upstream and the current is trying relentlessly to carry you away. You still have to trust the money you are burning through is going to return something at the end of the day. You still need cash flow to carry you until things start picking up. You still must create something out of nothing.

You still gotta get the followers and the mailing list people to notice you AND convert into buyers before you have them as buyers. You still must pay for split testing ads and burn through a lot of money. You still must get the subscribers by hook or by crook and beg them to give you a shot.

That’s just the truth. It was true with Kickstarter and equally true in every business I’ve ever started, successful or not. No matter how talented you are, it still takes time and money to get upstream. At the beginning, every business looks successful. Yet, 90% fail in the first few years.  So, for the love of God, please just remember that when you give advice to people. They aren’t you. They don’t have your knowledge.

More importantly, even if they have all the knowledge, they haven’t gotten upstream. Even if they see the path, they are still struggling to move even an inch. We are working and trusting in our knowledge, but we aren’t there yet. I am blessed that many people I know aren’t like that, but way too many are, and it’s upsetting every single time.

 

 

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Longer is not better

One of the most idiotic things about the book industry is our obsession with book length.I have never, not once, read a great book and bitched about how much it cost afterward.
 
Ever.
 
However, I’ve often bitched about books that are too long, or too boring, for me to finish, as if torture is a necessary requirement for reading. I personally think that any book over 300 pages is too long and that the perfect book length is 200-250 pages. I get in this argument a lot given my reading preferences and that all my books are under 75,000 words (which is about 300 pages).
 
My new books are around 40,000 words each but tightly packed with awesomeness.
 
I love reading short books, and I love writing short books. If you write long books, that’s awesome, but my point is that length shouldn’t matter. Only quality should matter. So why do you think readers are compelled to judge a book by its length, instead of its quality?
 
They pay $5.00 for a coffee they drink in 20 minutes and then complain about a great, short book that cost $2.99 and still took them hours to finish. More importantly, why do we, as authors, play into it, and allow the conversation to be about quantity instead of quality as if books were nothing more than Costco value pack cheese?
 
It does a disservice to everybody to treat our work like bulk cheese. No matter the length, our focus should be on quality, and our message should be about the quality of our books.
 
We can do better.
 
So in 2018, I encourage you to start talking about the quality of your books and not the length of them. Animal Farm is one of my favorite books ever, and it’s 150 pages. 1984 is around 250 pages. Before the 1980s, most genre books were around 50,000 words. Pulp novels could be even shorter than that, yet people still bought them. Books don’t have to be long to be great. That is a fallacy driven into us that we have embraced. We do not have to embrace that fact anymore.
Longer is not better.
 
Better is better.

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Where do you want to go?

Once, I was on a flight and met a model and host who you would recognize if you saw her face, but maybe not if I said her name. She is the kind of minor celebrity you meet all the time in LA. Like all minor celebrities, she wants to take the next step in her career.

We talked for the hour flight from Vegas to LA, and eventually I asked her who she wanted to be. Without blinking, she said Guiliana Rancic, a host on E! who interviews celebrities. That’s what she wanted to be, an interviewer and host.

That might sound like a pipedream, but for somebody of her status and celebrity, it’s not that big a leap from where she was to celebrity interviewer, especially when you take into account that she knows lots of celebrities from hosting events at night clubs and around the world.

So I asked her. “What are you doing to move from where you are to where you want to be?”

She was stumped. It’s not uncommon, most people don’t even know where they want to be, let alone are making conscious choices to get there. Luckily, I had a couple glasses of wine in me and I was feeling pretty good about life, so I broke it all down for her, the steps to go from modeling and hosting club events to interviewing celebrities and hosting television shows on a massive scale.

And since I only have one day to record this between flying in from Vegas and out from Awesomecon, this feels like the right topic to cover for you. So here it is, the step by step guide to getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Step 1: Decide where you are

Most people don’t take this step seriously, but it’s really important. There are skills that you currently have that will serve you well in wherever you are going. Whether it’s logistics, or budgeting, or writing or something else. You need to make a list of your hard and soft skills that you currently have.

Step 2: Figure out who you want to be

The next step is deciding the celebrity avatar you want to embody. Every celebrity has a different thing. Tony Robbins is a very different celebrity than Rachel Ray who is a very different celebrity than Bruce Willis. You need to pick a specific celebrity that you would be like if all things were equal.

Step 3: Make a list of all their hard and soft assets, then compare them to yours

Next, we are going to compare their hard and soft assets with yours. Some of them might be internet celebrities. Some might be great on camera. Still others might be great on radio. You need to know where they are strong and where they are weak. Honestly, this does two things. First, it shows you what you need to work on and what skills you need to acquire in order to be your ideal.

Second, it shows you if your celebrity ideal is reasonable. Look, I’m not going to be Rachel Ray for many reasons. I don’t know how to cool. I’m not folksy. I’m not great explaining things on camera. I could be Anthony Bourdain though, because I love to travel, eat weird things, and talk with people.

Even though those two celebrities are both foodies, they are very different in hard and soft skills.

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Step 4: Plot Their celebrity career path

Now that you have their strengths and weaknesses plotted, you need a direction. So it’s time to get in front of a computer and plot the career trajectory of your celebrity avatar. You need to see where and when they make their moves, so you can make a plan in order to make similar moves.

Step 5: Work on the skills you need

This is probably the hardest part, because you will need to make a list of the skills that you need (along with those you already have) in order to get where you want to go. You might need to learn how to cook or take an on camera class. You might need to take writing seminars. Whatever it is, before you move on to step 5 you need to acquire some base level skills.

Step 6: Exploit every skill you have in order to boost your recognition

Now here is where you bring your skills to bear. If you are a great coder you can make a killer website. If you are amazing at marketing, you can bring people to your site. If you have celebrity friends, you can use them to help promote your product (or be in your show).

Step 7: Keep working toward that goal

By having a celebrity goal in mind, you will be able to make a road map for success. You will be able to know what projects to follow and which projects to move away from. Remember, most of these celebrities have multiple streams of fame, but they broke in with a very specific niche. You need to follow that initial niche until success.

The great thing about this method is you can pick any celebrity, from Steven Hawking to Mark Zuckerberg to Kurt Vonnegut. It’s better to pick somebody more current, but since knowledge is ubiquitous you can make it happen with just about anybody from today or the past.

I will say that you will need to make changes. This won’t necessarily be a straight line. You might find another celebrity fits you better. You might find that a different field fits you better. However, you don’t need it to be perfect to get started. The first three steps of this exercise take a couple hours of reflection before you can get started and move forward.  A good plan executed is better than a perfect plan unrealized.

When should you abandon a project?

I’ve been working on a project for a long time now, over a year. It’s been a year of developing characters, story, plot, and actually writing an 80,000-word novel. It hasn’t been my only project, but there have been several hundred brain hours devoted to this project. Now I’m wondering, should I abandon it?

The thing is…I’ve never really loved it. I mean I loved it in inception and concept, but it hasn’t been something that I fell in love with like some of my other projects. I’ve always thought about abandoning the project in full and moving on, but the further I got along the more I didn’t want to abandon the project. The more investment I had and the more I need it to work.

The problem, though, has been that the further I got on with the project, the more I disliked it. So my desire to monetarily finish the book was diametrically opposed to my desire to finish the book.

I should mention that nearly everything that I do comes with certain amount of hatred in the actually writing phase. I have always hated almost everything I’ve written until it got a lot further along. However, the hatred for this project has been stronger than most.

And I thought it would be interesting in this episode to talk about the reasons I didn’t abandon the project, which might inform whether you should abandon yours.

This is a very different format than I’m used to, and I’m trying to train myself to write some more commercial books.

So the first reason I didn’t abandon the project is because I knew it was my most commercial project in the novel space. Katrina is very commercial in many ways, but this is even more commercial. Since it was commercial, and not an intimate character study, it was a very different thing for me to right, and I really wanted to get through it to see whether I hated it because it was a bad book, or because I just don’t normally write things like this.

So this one is really a business reason. I want to get more readers to read my more intimate books, and I have to pull them in with a more commercial book. Actors and other creatives do this all the time. They will do a studio movie, then go and make a random art house movie nobody watches.

I’m all about modeling what works, and if this is a functional model I need to make sure I’m writing a commercial work in order to fuel my other work.

I saw a viable place for it in the marketplace, where I could put my own spin on some common tropes, and I thought that could be fun.

Another business reason. I found there were some common tropes being used in popular genre sci-fi, specifically YA, that I wanted to play with and enjoy. I generally like reading things like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and Ender’s Game, and I thought it might be fun to play in that space and put my own take on it.

This goes back to point one, as well, where I was looking at trends in the marketplace and seeing what I could do that would also be successful. I’m not saying this book will be successful, but I wanted to try this new thing. If I didn’t like it, there was no need to write more…but I had to finish one.

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I want to test out a new delivery format for my books.

On Amazon I’ve been seeing a lot of books that are a series, but really they are just one book broken down into four 20,000 word sections, and then bound as a full book for print. Since that’s EXACTLY how comics work, and pretty much my exact business model for Wannabe Press, I wanted to see if I could write something that was really good, was broken up into 20,000 word segments for Amazon, and then bound in a print edition for the whole book.

Again, this is a business call. This wasn’t anything to do with content. And that’s really why I went about finishing this book. If it had just been creative, I would have probably abandoned it 20,000 words in. However, this book is doing several things for me on the business side, and because of that at every step I wanted to see if it was going to succeed as a proof of concept.

After a time I passed the point of no return

When you are on a flight, there is a thing called the point of no return. That is the moment where fuel-wise you must continue to your final destination. This is the same thing that happens in creation. I had sunk so many hundreds of hours into this book over the course of a year that my sunk operational costs were more to abandon the book then they would be to continue. I value my time at a specific hourly rate, and I knew that if I didn’t finish I would be out a specific amount of dollars, and if I kept going I would be out a smaller amount. So I kept going. This is the same reason many projects come into being, because the cost to finish them outweighs the cost of abandoning them.

If I finish the book, it can make money for me forever.

If I abandon the book, it would sit on my computer making no return on my investment. However, if I finish the book it can make money for me in perpetuity. This book is supposed to be the intro to the rest of my library. A tiny cost to get people buying my work and enjoying it, so they buy more. And the thing about books is, you make money off the back catalog. The more robust it is, the more ability for me to monetize it. So not only does this book (or 5 books really) generate income for me itself, it also helps get people to buy more of my work over time.

So those are some strictly business reasons why I didn’t abandon this project. I could have. I probably should have, early on, but now that I’m in it there is no business reason why I should abandon it…especially now that I’m 2-3k words from finishing the first draft. If you are interested in the artistic reasons why to abandon your project, it’s simple:

It doesn’t feel right.

I’ve abandoned dozens of projects because they don’t feel right, I got bored, or I lost the passion. Those are all super valid reasons as well, but I wanted to bring business reasons into the light today.