The Prolific Author: How I Published 4 Books in 12 Months (and You Can Too)
Would you like to be more prolific as a writer and author? Would you like to get more published titles out into the world in a more efficient manner? This article should help you do just that …
Since 1993, I’ve written and published 20 books (12 paperbacks and eight separate stand-alone ebooks). Even though I’ve also produced at least a dozen additional audio programs and online courses during that same period, I’ll limit the scope of this discussion to ebooks and physical books.
Twenty titles in 23 years equates to about one book every 1.15 years. That’s a respectable level of output. But during one 12-month period alone — January 2015 to January 2016 — I managed to publish four of those titles (three paperbacks and one ebook).
Without a doubt, it was my most prolific year so far.
When I recently realized this, it surprised even me, because it wasn’t exactly a premeditated goal. In attempting to determine for myself how I accomplished this, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to share my discoveries.
In case you don’t know, my primary subjects over the years have been music marketing, book promotion, and self-empowerment for creative people. Some of my titles include Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook, 55 Ways to Promote & Sell Your Book on the Internet, and Unleash the Artist Within.
Only two of the 20 books I’ve written were published traditionally; all the others I published myself.
First, I’ll give you a quick overview of the four titles and when they were written and published. Then I’ll give you my top insights into how I managed to pull off this level of output — and how you can too.
The Five-Minute Music Marketer
I wrote the majority of The Five-Minute Music Marketer in the last three or four months of 2014. It was published in ebook format in January 2015 and as a paperback a few months later in May.
This was my bestselling title in the Amazon Kindle store in 2015. It was written for the time-starved, self-promoting musician.
I think the strong title and my track record on the topic helped keep it consistently in the Top 10 of the Music Business category throughout most of the year.
The Empowered Artist
In mid 2014 I did a successful fan-funding campaign for a new book called The Empowered Artist. The subtitle explains what it’s about: “A Call to Action for Musicians, Writers, Visual Artists, and Anyone Who Wants to Make a Difference With Their Creativity.”
This title is obviously geared toward creative people of all types. And more so than my other books, it dives deep into the mindset, work ethic, and timeless best practices of successful artists. I honestly feel it is one of the most inspired books I’ve ever written.
I wanted to finish The Five-Minute Music Marketer first, so I didn’t start writing The Empowered Artist until late January 2015. I worked pretty consistently on it for the next three months. The ebook was published in April and the paperback in June.
Unraveling the Book of Secrets
In the fall of 2015 I published my first-ever book of fiction, called Unraveling the Book of Secrets. It’s a story about a journalist who interviews a gorgeous rock singer and gets thrown into a thrilling adventure of murder, mystery and romance.
I’ve been dabbling with fiction off the radar for about a dozen years. In 2015 I decided to choose one of the stories I had started, then finish it and publish it.
After writing nonfiction exclusively for two decades, it was a nice challenge to explore a different style of writing — one I found I really enjoy.
About half of this 40,000-word story was written in prior years, so I had to commit to writing the other half at various times last year. Both the ebook and the paperback were published in November 2015.
The 9 Irrefutable Laws of Music Marketing
It took me a little more than two months to write my latest music marketing book, The 9 Irrefutable Laws of Music Marketing, and publish the ebook version in January 2016.
My goal with this title was to identify nine timeless principles that propel marketing no matter what technology is in use.
With each law, I give well-known examples of successful artists and personal stories from my own life in music and marketing, as well as action steps to implement each law.
So that gives you an overview of the four books I published in the span of one year. What follows are the best practices that allowed me to accomplish this level of output. I encourage you to embrace the ones that resonate with you.
DISCLAIMER: With articles such as this, someone almost always leaves a comment along the lines of “You didn’t say anything about the writing quality. What about hiring a good editor?”
I get it. Yes, your writing needs to be the best you can make it. You shouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed. The point is well taken.
Just know that this is not an article on the craft of writing or the role of an editor. There are many fine resources available on those topics. The scope of this article is strictly on how to be more prolific as an author. Cool?
Six Ways to Publish More Books in Less Time
1) Start with a solid outline
Like you, I’m a creative person. In addition to writing, I also play music, teach and perform improv comedy, and do acrylic painting. Like a lot of artists, I don’t like restraints. I enjoy the freedom to create.
However, when it comes to writing a good book, having a roadmap to guide you is crucial. So before you dive into the meat of writing your book, create an outline.
For nonfiction, that means determining the scope and tone of your topic. What aspects will you cover? How will you divide the information into chapters, and in what order will you present them?
For fiction you’ll want a firm handle on your main characters, as well as the basic story arc and plot structure. The good news is, this outline (no matter what the genre) is not set in stone. My outlines always get amended as I write the book. But having a scope and an outline to begin with allows me to focus and avoid going down unproductive rabbit holes.
You’d be wise to create solid outlines if you want to publish more books!
2) Commit to a writing schedule
Believe me, if you want to publish four books in a year (heck, if you want to publish just one book in a lifetime), you must make a commitment to the process. That means the actual work of writing isn’t something you get around to whenever you find free time. Nope. Books don’t get written because you set a goal to publish a book on such and such date.
Books get written when an author commits to a writing habit … and then makes the behavior a consistent routine.
I haven’t got this down to a science. Not by a long shot. Some weeks I’m more productive and focused than others. But over the years (and particularly in 2015) I made regular writing sessions a priority.
Let’s get a little geeky and analytical and take a quick look at my word-count productivity …
The Empowered Artist clocked in at just over 37,000 words, which I wrote from start to finish over a three-month period. That equates to nearly 3,000 words written per week. For the 22,000-word 9 Irrefutable Laws of Music Marketing book, my average was closer to 2,600 words per week.
The last time I tracked it, my average output was about 700 words per hour. Based on this and the previous word counts, I spent only four hours a week working on book content. Of course, that’s an average. Some weeks I dedicated 10 hours to writing, while other weeks I did next to nothing.
Note: 700 words per hour and 3,000 words a week is not a monument amount, depending on what measuring stick you use. I’m amazed by authors who claim to write anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 words an hour. That’s impressive, and good for them. I tend to massage my words as I go, so my numbers are a bit lower than the speed demons.
What I hope these numbers reveal to you is that you can be productive when you simply chip away at it and carve out little chunks of time devoted to writing. And that your overall, ongoing commitment to making progress on a title does pay off. If you’re distracted for a week, just get back on the writing horse the following week.
The key is having a strong desire that keeps pulling you back to the behavior that allows your book to come to life!
3) Choose your writing tools and environment(s)
When it comes to developing a writing habit, there are three important ingredients:
- Making the time to do it
- Choosing or creating the space to do it in
- Having the tools to capture your words
We just covered the time aspect, so let’s focus on the other two ingredients.
Your writing space
Where will you write? What environment will allow you to focus and be the most productive? For some people, that means creating a writing space at home — the kitchen table, the dining room, or a spare bedroom turned into an office.
Ideally, a space at home should be an area that is already set up where you can quickly get down to the business of writing. If you always have to move things and take time to prepare the space, you increase the chances that you’ll put it off for a more “convenient time” — a faery tale circumstance that rarely materializes.
You should also choose a space and time where you have few if any distractions. As I’m sure you know, pulling your attention in and out of a writing project can be aggravating and unproductive.
Even though I am self-employed and have the freedom to work from home, I find I am most productive when I get out of the house and go someplace for the single purpose of writing. Some of my favorite spots are Panera Bread, coffee shops, and the public library.
You may find that your ideal writing space changes over time. You might start out at home and shift to writing someplace else. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Your writing tools
Obviously, when you write you need to capture your words in the most effective way possible. For some authors that may be a desktop or laptop computer. For others it could be a yellow legal pad or an old-school Smith Corona typewriter. Some writers choose to speak their words into dictation software.
There is no wrong answer here. Choose the tool that works best for you. However, some tools lend themselves to certain environments more than others.
For instance, if all you have is a bulky desktop computer, going to Starbucks to write is not the most convenient option. The same thing applies to using dictation software. You’ll probably want to use that at home.
My writing tools of choice are highly mobile. I use an iPad Air 2 with a small Logitech wireless Bluetooth keyboard. They’re quick and easy to transport, set up, use, break down, and go. I write using the Pages app on the iPad, then save as a Word file to Dropbox at the end of every writing session.
That’s what works for me. Your job is to find the best tools that work for you.
4) Write a series of shorter books
Another thing that allows me to get more of my books written and published is a decision I made a couple of years ago. That was to create shorter books.
The longest book I’ve ever written was Branding Yourself Online, which clocked in at more 100,000 words. The latest edition of my most popular title, Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook, runs about 66,000 words.
The four titles I published in 2015 ran from 22,000 to just over 40,000 words each. For me, I’d rather have a larger catalog of shorter books on specific topics and themes.
Not only does this make the writing process less daunting, but one of the keys to sales success these days is having at least three books in a related series. When someone discovers the first book in a series and loves it, they will often purchase some or all of the others.
So, if you write nonfiction, do you really need to write “The Complete and Total, Comprehensive Guide” to your topic? Or can you take the broader idea of your topic and break it down into separate, shorter books that each cover specific aspects?
My friend Maria BonDurant wanted to publish a book of family recipes. Instead of including everything plus the kitchen sink (pun intended), she chose to cover only appetizers in her first book, with other types of recipes to be included in future books.
With fiction, you can take a similar approach and write a series of books using the same characters, setting, or theme. The bottom line is, shorter books (within reason) allow you to be more prolific with your output.
5) Create a publishing system through repetition
The first time you self-publish a book, there’s a definite learning curve you must navigate through. If you choose to publish a second book (and once the first one is out, most authors do), you’re much more familiar with the terrain. It becomes less intimidating.
In other words, the more you publish, the more familiar you become with the steps, and the easier it gets. Ideally, you’ll develop a system that allows you to move more titles through the pipeline.
I’ve been at this self-publishing game for many years. Even though I’ve cranked out a lot of books over the past 20-plus years, the steps I took with each book have evolved immensely — and they continue to.
Every year or two I experiment, discover and try new technologies, and find the best ways to write and edit my words, format ebooks, design covers and interior pages for print books, etc.
Even though these steps change over the years, at any given time I have a current go-to process. And I’ve found that the more often I publish, the more familiar I am with the system I’ve created.
On the other hand, if I published a new book only every two or three years, I’d need to remind myself of what I did with the previous book, then do research to see what the latest developments are. The process would be much slower.
When you increase your publishing frequency, you hone your publishing system, which allows you to be far more prolific.
In case you’re wondering what my system is, I’m a little hesitant to share it. Not because I want to hide my secrets; but because it’s not a system I really recommend for other authors. Plus, if I detail it here, it may be outdated by the time you read this.
But since you asked (you did, didn’t you?), I’ll give a quick summary. Just know this is a system that evolved based on my unique circumstances, and it probably won’t work for many.
My current publishing tools
I format my ebooks on a PC using Microsoft Word (saving the file as an older 2003 .doc version instead of the newer .docx). Formatting for an ebook — which I always do first — is much different than formatting for print, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years figuring out the differences.
Once the ebook is published, I take the text and put it into a separate Word file template that is set up for the print version, with the proper margins already in place. I spend a lot of time formatting the content so it looks good in print.
(Professional designers will tell you to never use Word to format your print book interior. That is good advice. However, through years of hands-on experience, I’ve learned to wrestle with and tame the Word beast. So it works for me.)
Over the years I’ve experimented with many ways to create book covers (for both ebook and print versions). I’ve hired designers, used an old version of QuarkXPress, bought specialized cover design software, used online services like Canva, and more.
In recent years I’ve successfully used a common tool that few people ever think of using for book covers: PowerPoint. Seriously!
Even though it’s known as a presentation program, you can adjust the dimensions and size of the slide to whatever you want. You can pull in images and manipulate text. And, you can export the file as an image, PDF, and many more formats. I find PowerPoint to be a great design tool!
However, please note: These are my current tools, and they probably won’t work for most authors. If you ask me a year from now, I might have a completely different process.
Your best bet is to hire an experienced editor and a separate seasoned book designer. Got it? Good.
6) Develop a habit (and make it fun and creative)
As I emphasized before, if you’re going to be a more prolific author, you’ll have to commit regular blocks of time to the act of writing, editing, designing, and publishing.
I suggest a minimum of four to six hours a week (which was about my average with some of the books I published in 2015). But if you can find 10, 15 or even 20 hours a week, all the better.
Your goal is to stay at this schedule consistently throughout the year. Of course, life happens and your circumstances will change week to week. The key factor in being more prolific is to continuously return to your writing schedule and not let distractions permanently derail you.
Your odds of maintaining this work ethic will be greatly enhanced if you actually look forward to your writing sessions. (What a concept!) So do whatever you can to make the process fun and creative.
However, at the same time, don’t wait for inspiration or a visit from “the muse” before you write. Professional writers work and play with words regardless of how much they feel like writing.
I love this quote from photographer and artist Chuck Close:
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
That idea might not appeal to some writers. Perhaps you have negative connotations related to the word “work.” I can understand that. But I’ve learned to embrace the writing/publishing habit and the commitment required to get more books out into the world.
I may not always “feel” like writing at the beginning of every session. But I know once I start, loosen up and get into the groove, the joy and the creativity come — almost without fail. I know from years of doing this that priming the pump always leads to a flow of words and ideas.
In fact, when I sat down to write this sixth step to being a prolific author, I didn’t know exactly how I would express it. My pace was sluggish at first. But as words got committed to the screen through my open mind and typing fingers, a structure formed. More ideas and details came. I tuned out everything around me and got lost in the creative experience.
The result was a nearly completed article, which I have since polished and published. And now you’re reading it! That’s the beauty of the writing and publishing process and how authors get their ideas and stories unleashed into the world.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into how I published four books in 12 months and had my most prolific year as an author. When I started writing this article, I had no idea it would turn into a 3,400-word epic post. I must have been inspired to share my journey with you.
In fact, now I’m thinking of fleshing this out even more, adding more details, and turning it into into a short ebook. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, be prolific. You have information, ideas, and stories that can benefit a lot of people.
Don’t keep them all to yourself!
Originally published at fulltimeauthor.com on February 6, 2016.