14 Habits Of Highly Successful Authors

I just returned from Romance Writers of America, which is a conference dedicated to all genres of romantic fiction. I love going to these events, because it’s a great way to connect with authors who are really kicking tires and lighting fires when it comes to book promotion. This group is made up of some of the savviest, most successful authors I’ve ever known. And though their book marketing tactics may vary from author to author, there is a core set of beliefs and strategies that all successful authors adhere to – regardless of the genre. You may not embrace every single one of these 14 habits right now, but it’s worth your time to adopt as many of them as you can, as soon as you can.

  1. Knowing the Importance of ROI vs. Readership Growth:This is a big one, many authors who come to us for promotion will say, “What’s my ROI going to be?” And I tell them candidly that I have no idea. Even in the best of circumstances, when you have a ton of books out and a faithful fan base, ROI is tough to predict. One book might have a great ROI, and the next just doesn’t take off as quickly, so keep in mind that your efforts are cumulative and results may come when you least expect them. A lot of authors that haven’t hit their stride yet live and die by ROI, as in, if it doesn’t bring in money right away, they won’t stick with it – this will kill your success.ROI is a nice goal, but a terrible master. So what should you focus on instead? Readership growth. In fact, anything you do should be about growing your readership. Any other focus is a waste of your time and honestly not easy to accurately assess anyway. ACTION ITEM: Establish a plan and calendar for tracking readership growth.
  2. Be adaptive and self-reflective: Adapting to a changing market, or new trends, or something in the news that may tie into your book is a good skill to have and hone. Successful authors adapt and are self-reflective in that, if something didn’t work – instead of playing the blame game, they figure out what happened. Maybe the ad wasn’t the strongest one you could have run, maybe it was a bad time to run an ad. Maybe your book cover could be stronger. Maybe readers are getting tired of a particular kind of hero profile. There are a lot of factors that go into a book being successful and a lot of changes in marketing that happen almost weekly. Adapting to changes is crucial to your success. ACTION ITEM: Make a list of what isn’t working for you, why it likely isn’t working, and what you’re going to do to rectify it or what you’re going to replace it with.
  3. Write what people want to read: This may seem like a ridiculous statement, but it’s more true than you think. And while you should always write a book you want to write, you should consider what your readers want first. Writing to a genre means knowing that genre and its specifics. Writing to a small business market is different than writing to a big business market – these readers have different needs. The same is true for genre fiction. I see this a lot in mystery in fact, authors who want to write a “cozy” mystery because they know it’s hot right now, but don’t really understand what that genre demands. Get to know your genre and what readers want and write that. Writing what you want is important, but writing what readers want will actually sell books. ACTION ITEM Find at least 5 books in the top 100 for your genre that strongly compliment your book’s topic, theme, etc. to prove that you’re writing something people are already interested in. Can’t do it? Consider updates you may have to make to ensure you have a saleable product.
  4. Own a Genre: Not every book will be the book of your dreams. I know an author who likes to write across different genres and she writes quite well in all of these, the problem is that fans won’t follow her across genres. I heard one author, at a recent Romance Writers of America conference say: don’t try to sell a cat to dog people. And I think that’s a great analogy. Stick to one genre because if you keep switching, you will lose readers. That’s the reality. One step forward, two steps back. Remember this is a business, if you want to write a children’s book, after you’ve spent years writing genre fiction or non-fiction, that’s fine, just don’t expect your readers to follow you. We tested this theory with an author we’ve worked with for years who writes in contemporary romance. She decided to write a time travel romance and several of her fans on her mailing list said: “That’s nice, but we’d like to have more of your other series, please.” And none of them bought her new series. ACTION ITEM: Name your genre and then write down a list of topic and storyline characteristics, common character profiles, topic or storyline trends, cover features and design approaches, where most of the top authors successfully connect with their readers online (maybe your genre prefers Facebook and Instagram over Twitter), and then when you’re done you’ll feel like a master of your genre. You should be able to teach a class on what your genre demands!
  5. Hope Is Not A marketing plan: Don’t release your book and pray it does well. Have a plan, an actual, executable plan that you know you can work…Every. Single. Day. Hire someone to help do the stuff you can’t, or don’t want to be bothered doing. Know what you’re good at and what you need to outsource. ACTION ITEM: Develop your marketing plan, ensure it goes out a full calendar year and ensure it includes at least one more release during that time, if not more.
  6. Being Broke: If you’re strapped for cash and want to bootstrap your book marketing that’s fine, but know that writing a book is like starting a business: it requires an investment not just of your time, but an investment of cash. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, I’m not talking about a $15,000 investment. But invest something because if you don’t, you’re back to point #1 and being a slave to ROI, which won’t happen on your first book. In all my 18 years in business, I think I’ve seen only one book from a first-time author become crazy successful right out of the gate and she already had a platform of almost a million and a mailing list nearly the same size from her other career. Be smart, be business minded, and be ready to invest. ACTION ITEM: Figure out what you can really budget, both in money, and time, on a monthly basis. And then do the research to figure out what you can do with that money and time, and make it happen, hold yourself accountable to giving your book as much as you can.
  7. Write Often/Write In A Series: When an author tells me that they want to write one book and ‘see what happens’ I can almost guarantee they will fail. It’s hard to build a business with just one product, unless of course you’re Apple and even then, look at how many products Apple has now to keep that train moving – they know they have to keep delivering, or they’ll lose customers. If you write one book, you severely limit your audience. Why? Successful authors know that your second book helps to market your first, and your third book helps to market your first and second and so on. The other piece of this goes back to a point mentioned earlier: it’s better to stick to your market. Even if you write different books that aren’t necessarily a series. My books are all marketing, addressing various aspects of marketing. None are a series per se, but could be considering a book marketing series, I have a lot of return buyers who want to continue to hone their marketing skills. Readers, especially fiction readers, love a series – and by love a series I mean love a series. If you’re trying to launch your career the best thing you can do for yourself is write often and write in a series. ACTION ITEM: Plan out a publishing schedule. Even if the dates aren’t set in stone, giving yourself a goal and something to work toward is still 1000 times better than winging it.
  8. Understanding The Importance Of Covers: You should like your book cover but you should never fall in love with it, because when you fall in love with it you lose the perspective needed to make good judgement calls. The more books that are published, the more covers become crucially important to all of your book marketing. I’ve seen a lot of books fail because of very bad covers, even marginally bad covers won’t cut it. Sometimes authors will tell me, “But if the book is good, the cover doesn’t matter.” If the cover is bad, no one will ever know how good your book is. ACTION ITEM: Look at the top 10-15 books in your genre. Make notes on similarities you see in the covers, it could be imagery, font size, font style, colors, tone. You will see patterns. Does your book fit the mold? If not, start talking to designers.
  9. Find An Editor Who Makes You Cry: People always laugh at me when I say this, but it’s true. My editor is amazing, sometimes I kind of hate her, sometimes she makes me cry. She pushes me to be better, to write better and she’s objective enough to know she can push the heck out of me because that’s what I need. If you get your book back from an editor and he or she says they “loved everything about it” you need to find another editor. No one is that good of a writer that their writing doesn’t need some work. Any bestselling author will tell you, their first draft is always crap. Find someone who will push you past your limits. Like a personal trainer who forces you to do those last 10 pushups, even when your shoulders ache and you feel like punching her. It’s that little extra that often reaps big dividends. ACTION ITEM: Do an honest assessment of your editor. If you’re less than enamored, don’t get trapped by this pitfall! Instead, start interviewing someone else to do your next book. Sometimes you don’t know how much better you can be, until you give a different editor a chance. Until you consider yourself a success, it has to be business, not personal. Sticking with an editor because she loves her dog and you love your dog, isn’t a solid business decision.
  10. Connect with your Reader: Success leaves clues and if you talk with successful authors, you will hear one thing repeated over and over: your readers are gold, treat them as such. By connecting with your reader on a personal level, you are inviting them into your world and inviting them to be a part of your journey. One author I spoke to said that her readers help insure that she gets 50-60 reviews within two weeks of a book launch. That’s what readers do. Readers want that connection, in fact many crave it – that personal touch from an author they love goes a long way. And it can be in any medium, including social media! I spoke to one author who said she actually tracks all of her fans birthdays and remembers to wish them a happy birthday. If she sees someone posted a note about a sick family member, or a death in the family, she writes them a note. Yes, this may seem like a lot of work and you may say “Can’t I just run ads?” Sure, if that’s how you want to spend your time and your money, but trust me when I say, spending some time each week connecting with your readers will pay bigger dividends than any ads could possibly offer. ACTION ITEM: You guessed it, connect with at least one reader a week and make it personal. You’ll notice that it becomes much more natural and your entire online presence will shift in very positive ways.
  11. Try Different Things: I often speak with authors who say “Well, I tried XYZ book marketing tactics and they didn’t work.” And when I ask them what else they did, they’ll often say they did nothing else, because the first piece didn’t work and it was discouraging. Yes, I get that, but much like starting a business not everything you try is going to work. And not everything works the first time, you can’t assess something on a one-off attempt. And maybe what worked for book one doesn’t work for book two. Again, be prepared to adapt. ACTION ITEM: Create a calendar or other tracking method for what kind of   promotion or marketing you’re doing, and when you tried it. Have you given each a solid shot at working for you? If not, try again. Keeping a calendar is a great overview of your efforts and tells you whether or not you’re doing enough.
  12. Read Reviews: When was the last time you read a review on a competing title? Reviews are a great way to gain insight into what readers loved and what they hated. Even one-star reviews can lend insight. Pay attention to what readers love, as well as what they hate. This insight is golden and you could glean a lot from this, as well as some ideas of what to do and what not to do for your book, or future books. Fiction specifically follows trends, and reading reviews can give you a lot of insight on which trends are fading and which are picking up. For non-fiction reviews tell you what holes still need to be filled for your topic. Being a successful author is about being strategic! ACTION ITEM: Start reading reviews from top and bottom books in your genre and create a list of trends, demands, stellar compliments, etc. as a way to develop inspiration for your next release. Even choosing just two books a week, one great one and one not so great one, is better insight than you had previously.
  13. Focused Network: When I was first in business, I went to a lot of networking events and ate a lot of dry chicken, shook a lot of hands and passed out a ton of business cards. At the time it felt productive, but was it really? Probably not. These days I’m more focused on less is more when it comes to networking. You should have a tribe that you can count on, authors in your market to act as a sounding board, to run ideas by, and to maybe even collaborate with for promotional ideas. ACTION ITEM: Find an author network you feel comfortable utilizing. You may already belong to one, but do you use their resources? Do you contact other members? Make this valuable tool work for you, don’t just pay the dues and consider it a win.
  14. Remember Your Micro-Influencers: A lot of authors talk about super fans, and by definition, super fans are readers who are crazy about your work. But the funny thing is, you don’t need a lot of super fans to make a difference. Micro-influencers are becoming a big thing these days. While it’s seemingly attractive to have a Twitter account with a million followers, how many of them are actually seeing the content you share? When it comes to super fans, less can really be more. Having a tribe of as few as 5 super engaged followers who are sharing all of your stuff across their pages and actually buying your books (because people who don’t buy don’t recommend to their friends) is so much better than thousands of followers who never even like or share one of your posts. Make it a goal to connect with 5 readers this week. Consistently engage with them, get to know them and once you’ve done that, move on to the next five and so on. All successful authors built their village of supporters one fan at a time. ACTION ITEM: Start building your superfan group. Aren’t sure where to start or what you need to do once you’ve identified potential groupies? Send us an email, we’re rolling out a really affordable, fool-proof DIY plan soon and if you let us know you’re interested in advance, you’ll also get a discount code you can use if you choose to try it out. It’s a win-win!

Being a successful author takes work. It takes patience and persistence and a strong focus on business. With 4,500 books published each day in the US, adopting these habits for success is no longer optional, it’s crucial to your success. So start digging in and working these areas and I promise you’ll quickly start to see a change in the trajectory of your book.

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