The Remix: Eight Tips to Evolve a Successful Writing Career

I recently read an article by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, about growing a successful start-up company. In it, he outlined eight tips to take your startup from fledgling to fabulous. While the tips were general and were basically geared toward true business models (e.g., noncreative fields), I found that the tips were especially relevant to writers, given today’s publishing landscape. Without further ado, here are those eight tips, modified by me to directly address my fellow scribes:

RICHARD SAYS: Believe in your product: Believe in your product: Buy into your own vision and don’t waiver it just for a pay check. You know your vision better than anyone else, and if you lose sight of it, the world will too. “It is your vision that will give you success, not your venture capitalist’s vision.”

Tiff says: Believe that what you write will sell. Don’t let what’s currently on the shelves,  bestseller lists, or Goodreads buzz shake your confidence, or the “numbers” quoted by a publishing executive make you doubt  yourself.
RICHARD SAYS: Produce something of use: Build the best product you can, and make sure it has long-term value. This is something we’ve always focused on at Virgin – if you get into business solely to make money, you won’t. If you try to make a real difference, you’ll find true success.

Tiff says: Write what you want to write. It is very easy to look at what’s hot, sales-wise, and think that’s what you should be writing (especially since most writers want to ideally be paid by their craft). If that’s not your flow, though, trying to write what’s popular (e.g., writing what seems to be making authors money) is only going to end up making yourself miserable. 

RICHARD SAYS: Invest in what’s going to scale your business: Identify exactly what you need to grow your company. Is it technology, engineering, infrastructure? “Don’t put people on the ground for that sake of putting people on the ground.”

Tiff says: We are in a very different publishing age, with the increasing evolution of technology and social media. What used to work in order to get a book out to the public doesn’t really apply. You can’t do the same things and expect different results. Adaptabilty is key to longevity, so figure out how to plug yourself into today’s literary landscape. Do you need a social media manager? A manuscript editor? A website designer? A personal assistant? There is nothing wrong with figuring out what is needed to make you the best author you can be. You are a brand (and this publishing age is even bigger on branding), whether you like it or not. Protect your brand like you’d protect your reputation (which are pretty much one and the same, for business purposes).


RICHARD SAYS: Hire the right people: “If you get the input right, the output is far easier to manage.” At Virgin, our people are at the heart of everything we do, and are crucial to our success.

Tiff says: Choose your team wisely. We, as authors, are more prone to cut corners in an effort to get our books out there; this includes attaching people to our projects who end up doing more harm than good.  Professionals are more expensive, but they are worth it. Besides, our job is to create, and we can’t create when we’re trying to do everything else. We are only as good as our last book and if we want longevity, we have to come out of the gate strong. The public is fickle and unforgiving, especially with the rise of social media, and it’s a lot harder to get a second chance to prove ourselves.


RICHARD SAYS: Give everybody equity: Shared stewardship leads to collective responsibly and increased passion. If you empower your employees to believe in the company like it’s their own, it’s hard to fail.

Tiff says: Engage your readers. People are more likely to purchase from people with whom they are comfortable, and this means that they feel as if they “know” you.  Solicit comments not only from trusted people who read drafts of your pre-published work (and that means finding people who will give you the unvarnished truth, and won’t tell you that every word you write is a masterpiece), but also your reading audience. They are the ones who will be spending hard-earned money on your work, so make them feel invested in that work. A good way is to do polls on your website about different things: which book should come next in a series; which cover design do you like best; or even contests, where the winner gets a character named after them in an upcoming book or can pick a title. Remember, it takes a village. 


RICHARD SAYS: Think globally: Ensure your product is world-class and can compete with any competition, anywhere. But don’t just go global for the sake of it.

Tiff says: For writers, this speaks to distribution. Yes, it’s great to list your books on Ingram for worldwide distribution, and that’s the de facto assumption in mainstream publishing (and even in some indie publishers). But is that really necessary? Perhaps it will be in later stages of your writing career but when you’re just starting out with your first or second book, it may be better to keep it local (within your country of residence). Don’t bite off more than you can chew in the early stages of your writing and publishing career. Hopefully, you plan on being at this for a long time, so be a marathon runner, not a sprinter.


RICHARD SAYS: Decentralise: While it’s necessary to centralise your business structure in the beginning so that you can run a tight ship, it’s not scalable if you want to be global. To be successful in different markets your company needs to work on local time, understand local geography and culture, and attract the best local talent.

Tiff says: This piggybacks on my above comments regarding worldwide distribution and marketing. Marketing to different demographics requires skill and knowledge of the demographic you are targeting. Even within a country (or even a state), you may find that certain marketing tactics are different for different parts of the country. If you are unfamiliar with a certain area of that country, you may want to reach out and find someone who is, and who can give you some pointers on how to best reach your audience in that particular area. Likewise if you live in one country and are seeking to expand your writing presence to another country. For example, if you write erotica and are seeking to expand your writing wares to an area known for a strong religious presence, you may want to work with someone who can help you navigate any minefields that may pop up and identify potential channels through which to sell your work.

Folks, remember: you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, as long as you have the smartest person in the room working for you. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by.



Scared Money Don’t Make Money: Investing In Your Writing Future

This blog was inspired by a recent conversation with a potential publishing client. During our initial phone conversation, when she described what she needed to bring her book to fruition (and it was a lot :/), she made a comment that she was looking for someone to work with her so that both parties can succeed together. Or, to use a more descriptive phrase, she wanted one hand to wash the other, and both hands to wash the face. To put it more plainly, she didn’t have a lot of money and wanted stuff done for free, in exchange for a future cut of royalties.  In short, she wanted to allocate her funds to areas where she thought they were better served, and things like editing and book layout weren’t among them.

When I was a full-time editor, I noticed that a lot of my self-published clients cut corners in order to get their book out into the public eye. As I may have mentioned before, self-publishers don’t have the luxury of an advance upon which to fall back. Sure, we reap all of the benefits but before that happens, we have to pay all of the costs up front. Self-publishing has indeed gotten easier, and in some ways less expensive, but there are still costs involved. It’s tempting for independently published authors to skimp in certain areas in order to have the funds for what is deemed most important: the final product, the book, that commodity that is to be sold.

This is not the move.

I learned the hard way that when I cut corners, it came back to bite me in the assets (literally and figuratively). I’ve also seen this play out in the literary lives of others. The main place I see skrimping is in three areas: professional editing; website; and book covers.

Professional editing is more than making sure every word is spelled correctly. Yes, grammatical and typographical errors are addressed, but so are story flow, fact checking, punctuation, etc. An editor will go through your manuscript, line by line, and find out what is wrong, and tell you how to fix it; this is called content or line editing. The process is rather involved and time-consuming, and most professional editors have some professional training: certification by a reputable body and/or  valid industry experience. Your high school cousin who got straight As in English isn’t going to have the requisite training to polish your gem of a book; reading a book on self-editing isn’t going to get you what you need either, especially if you don’t think that anything is wrong with your work (which is a failing of many authors; we are too close to our “babies” to notice anything wrong).  i strongly urge writerss to holler at Evette Porter, who is a dynamic editor and will get your book public-worthy.

Next up: websites. There are a whole lot of “free” websites out here, that are more on the do-it-yourself (DIY) tip. Weebly and Wix are just two popular services that offer people the chance to establish a web presence for free. I can see why they get a lot of business, when a professionally designed website can run at least $1,000 (and usually around $2,000 and up, depending upon how many bells and whistles you’d like).  Again, you get what you pay for. Now here’s a caveat: I have seen one author’s site, done by Wix, and it looked pretty decent. This is more the exception, and not the rule. Websites are how the world sees you, before they even buy your book, so make it count. You don’t necessarily need a Flash intro, music in the background (unless you are a musical artist), lots of video, etc. But you do have to make people want to stop by your site and hang around for a while. Also, in this age of social media, connection through various platforms is key for helping get the word out about your project. Don’t forget e-commerce, if you are selling your book through avenues other than Amazon or Barnes & Nobles (Nook). To include all these things, It’s usually best to let a professional handle it (I recommend Cix Designs. Ask for Micah.). If you really want to make your presence known on the cheap, then start a blog.

“Cheap” is a word that should not be used when pursuing your publishing dream (or anywhere else, for that matter); this goes double for book covers. Your book cover is your calling card; it needs to make people want to pick up your book and want to take it home (please note that a good book cover is worth nothing if the content of your book is not up to par). I strongly suggest that authors avoid the free covers offered via publishing packagers; they are deliberately terrible in order to encourage you to spend more money to hire designers to do a custom cover. Since this is the case, why not just hire a graphic designer off the break? A good designer will not only have experience in doing covers (both e-book and physical book), but will also align your covers with your book visions and growth. Two folks to check out are Ad-Lib Designs (ask for John) and The Little Orange (ask for Diana).

Investing in yourself, your business, and your brand are extremely important. As a self-publisher, you are all three, so act like it. If you want people to take you seriously, then you must first take yourself seriously. You have to figure out if you are an author who has a day gig, or a ____ who does writing on the side. The answer you choose will determine the trajectory of your success, since we put our energies into those things which we most value. If you don’t value  yourself and your work, and how both are presented to the public, then no one else will.

Thanks for stopping by.