I Answer Your Questions!

You asked. I answered.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on hiatus for the past month or so. That’s because my wife and I welcomed our beautiful baby daughter into the world in March, and I needed a little bit of time to adjust to a new schedule. Today, though, I’m jumping back in and answering a bunch of reader questions you guys sent in during my time off.

We’re covering quite the smorgasbord of questions in this post: everything from how to start your mailing list to ways to beat writer’s block. Let’s jump in!

Starting a Mailing List

How do you start a mailing list? I have the usual list of friends and family but I have no fans other than a couple old high school friends. All my sales are online and they don’t reveal names of buyers. I also have never received an e-mail from a reader.

To really get a mailing list off and running, you need to give people a good reason to subscribe. For authors, one of the best things you can do is give something away for free in exchange for signing up.

But it goes deeper than that. Many authors are giving something away, but their problem is visibility. You need to make it really, really obvious where a reader can sign up for your mailing list. Make sure there’s a button that says something like “Subscribe for Updates” in plain view on your website. Adding a pop-up to your website offering the free item is a great way to make your mailing list more visible. And you should mention your mailing list and the reward item in your books so you can capture people who are actually reading.

Once you’ve made sure your website is clear on how to sign up for your mailing list, you might try this strategy: See if you can get some guest posts or interviews on other blogs, making sure there’s a link back to your website in your bio or a note about signing up for your mailing list. That will spread the word about you and your books to a new audience, giving you a chance to reach people who might be interested in signing up. My mailing list here on Fix My Story has grown by leaps and bounds ever since I started submitting articles to a blog carnival for self-publishers. Maybe you can find something similar.

Author/Editor Relationships

I want to know about the relationship between an author and a paid editor. If we send, say 3,000 words it is supposed to take about 1 hour, but how soon can we expect to hear from the editor? Two weeks, a month, two days?

This one is difficult to answer because it’s really going to depend on the editor. You could be hiring somebody from Fiverr, for example, and you might not get an answer for weeks. It gets even more complicated when you consider that there are different kinds of editing. There’s story editing, technical editing, and proofreading. And then there’s the fact that some editors will give you an opportunity to pay a rush surcharge to get the book turned around fast.

The best answer I can give is to send you toward my good friends at Penoaks Publishing. They offer various editing services and estimate a turnaround time of 5–10 business days for most projects. Read their full page on editorial services to get a good idea of what to expect.

Starting with Only E-books?

I was wondering is it best to start only e-books then go paperbacks or do both together?

Probably the biggest reason to take this approach is that you can typically get an e-book off the ground for a lot smaller initial investment than you can a paperback. Even with CreateSpace’s inexpensive print-on-demand service, you’ll still have to buy at least one copy of your book as a proof before you start selling it. Plus, it’s typically more expensive to get a cover designed for a paperback, and there’s yet another layout and formatting step to accomplish since the paperback’s interior will almost certainly be different from your e-book’s innards.

Even with all those reasons to go with just e-books at the beginning, I would still recommend having paperbacks when you launch. Why? First, because if you have a paperback available on Amazon alongside your e-book, they will treat your paperback price as the list price for the e-book. That means your e-book price will look like a better deal. And then second, paperbacks are great to have around for book signings, giveaways, reviewer copies, and that sort of thing. There are plenty of situations where you will want to have physical copies around and it’s worth it, in my opinion, to go the extra mile to have e-books and paperbacks available simultaneously when you launch.

Writer’s Block

How does one fight writer’s block?

This is another question that’s tough to answer to everyone’s satisfaction. That’s because some people claim there’s no such thing as writer’s block, while others say it exists but can be fought. My experience is that writer’s block comes down to one of two things: Either you’re being lazy and need to admit it, buckle down, and just write; or you haven’t let an idea simmer long enough/haven’t done enough research to give yourself material to work with.

So how to you fix those problems? Well, in the first case, a lot of people find it helps to set a deadline. In my own experience, that’s what I need to do. If I didn’t commit to doing these articles every two weeks, they would not get done. Also, I’ve personally worked with a group of writers on a film project I produced where my story team and I gave everyone a week to finish a draft of a short screenplay—and we kept that schedule for a month during which everyone did three or four drafts. At the end of the writing period for the project, we had very polished stories from everyone and the scripts all came in on time. It sounds harsh, but honestly, a lot of writer’s block is just plain laziness. Putting yourself on a schedule and having somebody keep you to it is a great way to fight it. Remember all those college papers you had to finish on time or fail the class? Same idea.

On the other hand, if you haven’t done enough research yet, your block might just be a lack of material. So do a deep dive into the world of your story or the topic of your book. This is what Pixar does for their films, and if you watch the bonus features you’ll hear them say that ideas for some of the key elements of the story came from when they were researching for the project. You’ll know the research phase is over when you have so many ideas that you can’t help writing.

And if you’re just starting out writing, you can feel like there’s a block because you aren’t satisfied with your own writing. If that’s the case, this video is for you:

Best Marketing Tool

What is the best tool to market books?

Give something away to encourage people to sign up for your mailing list. People love free stuff and it’s a great way to attract new readers to try you out. With a good-sized mailing list, you own an audience of readers eager to hear about what you have, which means you don’t need to go find them to make a sale. I wrote an article about how to take advantage of the power of free stuff and I’ll direct you there for all the details.

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