Category Archives: writing

Twenty Percent Activities

Are you an author entrepreneur (someone who writes and tries to make a living off of their writing)? As an authorpreneur, you have to be very careful time management. In this way, you’re no different than any self-employed individual. However, there is one aspect which is unique to our time-consuming activities, and it’s vital that you understand it.

Over my short career as a writer and self-publisher (with six published books to my name) all the while, balancing the management of another couple of unrelated businesses, I have learned that all your author activities can be categories as one of the two following types:

A 20% Activity, or an 80% Activity.

In other words, you should be spending 80% of your time on one type of activity and the other 20% on the other type of activities. To be successful, you must determine whether an activity is one of those which belongs in the 20% basket or 80% basket.

So how do you determine this?

There are all sorts of formulas suggested by others to apply to and categorize each activity. But they complicate what should be a pretty simple process. I constructed this graph to make it simple:

How’s that for simple?

“Well,” you say, “what about ___(Fill-in-the-blank)___? Surely that’s not a 20% activity, is it?” The answer is, “yes!” Everything which doesn’t involve, writing/editing/and publishing your next book is a 20% activity. This includes: conversing with your cover artist, promoting the launch of your new book, even corresponding with your readers (either directly or via social media).

In other words, all activities except writing your next book, are less important (overall) than writing your next book.

Why is this so important?
It’s so important to identify and be aware of which is which, because it is so easy to reverse these two numbers: spending 80% of your time on non-writing activities. In fact, writing this article is a 20% activity, and it chips away at my limited time to write & publish my next book.

The most crucial point is that, writing your next book is your highest earning activity. You could literally hire others to take care of all of your 20% activities for you (some successful authors do), but you cannot hire out the writing of your next book, unless of course your name is James Peterson.

How much are you worth?
I sat down and punched the numbers–I’m a bit of a numbers nerd, and I found out that my Writing Wage is between $50 to over $100 per hour, depending on the success of the book I’m writing. Can you say you’d earn anything similar for any of your 20% activities? You see, other than promotional activities, I’m guessing none of your 20% activities actually earn you any money. But writing your next book will.

How to calculate your Writing Wage?
First I calculated my total number of hours to write my last couple of books (based on my very low average of 500 words per hour). That is the total amount of time to create my first draft, to re-write a second time, then to re-write again after sending to my betas and my editor, then the final re-write after the proofreader, and finally compiling to book form for upload. I took this number and divided it into what each book should be worth in one year’s time in royalties. I estimated $10,000 on the low side and $20,000 on the high side (after costs of editing, covers, etc.). This gave me my “writing wage.” What’s yours? Go ahead and calculate it.

To review, the next time you start into an author activity, as yourself, the following questions:
1. Is this a 80% activity?
2. Will I earn the equivalent of my Writing Wage (as much as $100 per hour) to do this activity?

If your answer to both of these is “No!” then don’t do it. Instead, shouldn’t you focus on your 80% activity instead?

I think I’ll take my own advice and get writing!

Why most authors live in the land of obscurity

I was recently asked by another author who read my books how I went about publishing. Really, what I believe he wanted to ask me is, “How did you sell all those books?” In fact, I believe most authors would argue, that selling books is the hardest part of making it as a writer–I hear this point made by authors in forums all the time. On this point, I would disagree!

Let me explain.

To me, writing a great book is the hardest part of being a writer. You can learn the skill of creating sentences, but it takes natural God-given talent to craft a story that grabs a reader’s attention, affects him to his/her core enough to want to read more of your writing, and more so, motivates him to tell the world about you and your writing.

Marketing on the other hand is a skill that can be learned, and yes it takes some effort. Let’s compare it to being a brain surgeon or an accountant. They werem’t just born that way; they had to learn their skills over many years and become expert in them. Of course, they had to have some talent (i.e. brains, proclivity towards higher level thinking/learning, passion for that field, etc.), but 99% of the reason these professionals achieve success in their vocations was due to their investing the time to learn the skills of their profession—and some perhaps even excelled to the point that they created or perfected skills that no one else had yet crafted before them.

The skill set of selling novels is thankfully not as difficult to learn, but it’s just as necessary to achieve success as an author.

There is one word for an author (Indie or traditionally published) who doesn’t understand and chooses to not embrace marketing: obscurity!

I have met and corresponded with many writers who are obscure, even though they have far more talent than I will ever hope to have. Almost all of them live in this world of obscurity–as if it were some warm place to live, that you pridefully chose, “Hello, I’m a writer. Come visit me in my land of obscurity.”  I say that they chose to be obscure because they are apathetic to marketing part of their vocations. There are exceptions to this of course; we read about these folks all the time: Hugh Howey, AG Riddle, and others. But for the average writer, if you expect your books to be found by readers among the 3 million+ on Amazon, and you don’t have a following, you have to get good at marketing.

One more point that is really important to understand. You do not have to be a great writer to be a successful author. But, you do have to learn the skills of being a good enough writer and a good marketer. I know other authors who write okay books, but sell the heck out of them. Why? Because they learned the skill of writing good enough–people still have to like their books–and they learned how to market their work to a specific audience which clamors for their books.

So are you an author who knows this world of obscurity well, and you don’t want to live there anymore? If you are, it’s time for you to learn a thing or two about how to market your work. “No way,” you say because you’re holding onto the hope that you will be found and published by a big 5 publisher and then you don’t have to worry about this marketing crap: “My publisher will handle that and I can focus on the art of writing,” you say? Well, I have news for you, unless your name is Andy Weir and you write the next break out hit (there was a little marketing there too), you better plan to move into that world of obscurity full time, because it ain’t goin to happin!

Most publishers, even vanity presses want known commodities. They are like Hollywood who typically only bankrolls the big names and franchises that already have an enormous following. Think Fast and Furious, Part 100 (only a slight exaggeration). The modus operandi of most publishers today appears to be approaching self-published authors who already sell well, have a following of avid readers and have a platform where they market their work. So, if you want to be published, unless you have a friend of a friend in the big 5, you better get started learning that dreaded activity known as marketing. Seriously, find out what other authors are doing which has brought them book-selling success.

So, before you launch your next book, learn a little bit about marketing. As Hugh Howey has said, “You can market your books at any time, just keep on writing.” (that’s a paraphrase). However, unless you are Hugh, you better plan staying obscure until you understand marketing better. Here are a few resources to help you get better at marketing:

Once you have the marketing down, you can focus on mostly writing. That’s because you will have crafted a plan for marketing from that point forward. Just follow your marketing plan–making slight modifications along the way, and your books will sell. In fact, once you fee comfortable with marketing, it and other writing activities should never be more than 20% of your author activities (80% should always be writing). Another author friend of mine, now spends 95% of his time writing and only 5% on marketing and his work is always an Amazon best-seller. It’s not an accident folks.

Come back here to these pages as I plan to unpack how I’ve marketed my books—both of them best-sellers. In addition, you might try following me on Google+ (

Best wishes on your writing (and marketing). Hope to see you on the best seller lists.