You need commitment to succeed


I recently wrote about how difficult self-publishing can be in my post 5 self-publishing truths few authors talk about, and that it wasn’t automatically a road to fame and riches. It hit a nerve, with over 3000 views in less than a week – the equivalent to 2 months worth of views at my normal rate – and many of you who commented spoke about how the post represented your own experience.

One point raised was that it felt as if I was trying to put people off self-publishing and telling then not to try. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I would encourage anyone to write and publish a book. While I too haven’t had the fame and riches I’d hoped for (but not expected), I have no regrets about starting out on this journey, so much so I’ve published two books and am currently working on my third. The main purpose of the post was to make people aware of what they are facing. However, that doesn’t mean you just have to sit back and accept that fate.

Last week I spoke to Heather Hill, author of The New Mrs D, and she kindly sent me through a list of everything she did on her path to becoming an Amazon bestseller. As you can see, not everything she tried worked, but it is a great example of what you can achieve if you have the commitment to succeed, put the long hours of work in and refuse to take no for an answer. It also nicely mirrors the message from Kameron Hurley and the effort she put in to turn her writing career around.

  1. I started a blog, after gaining a decent following and wonderful feedback from my comedy twitter ramblings. It gathered momentum, people were reading me! And it was good.
  2. I bought ‘The Writers & Artists Yearbook and read everything in it that applied to my writer style and goals.
  3. I began writing my book. I did not stop to edit, I just kept going. Even on days when I felt like everything on the page was nonsense.
  4. I followed experienced authors through various social media channels; I observed them. I looked at them as a potential reader NOT as an author in training. I was picking up on the elements of their online persona that attracted me as a reader.
  5. I attended a few signings and talks from literary agents, getting real advice.
  6. I reached a halfway crisis of confidence. Got advice from a good friend to read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. Best move ever!
  7. I shared my writing with three friends that I knew would give me honest feedback and then did several rewrites.
  8. I employed the wonderful editing services of Flora Napier at Blueprint Editing.
  9. I rewrote again.
  10. I read three books on submissions to agents. They were Sex, Lies & Book Publishing by Rupert Heath Literary Agency, ‘Dear Agent’ by Nicola Morgan and ‘From Pitch to Publication‘ by Carole Blake
  11. I submitted to a total of thirteen agents after thoroughly researching the type of books and authors they were representing already. After six weeks, I was signed by an agent.
  12. I rewrote again, with suggested changes from my agent.
  13. We received thirteen publisher rejections. I gathered all of the editor comments and picked out the common themes – then rewrote again.
  14. I paid for a full manuscript report from, got the report back, gave myself a few days to digest all of the advice and rewrote again.
  15. I decided to publish with agency assistance via the Amazon White Glove Programme.
  16. I made a list of everyone I knew personally and everyone I networked with in order to announce the release of the book via a one-off email. I explained that they weren’t on some circular mailing list; just that I wanted to share my good news with them all and thanking them for their support thus far.
  17. I blogged regularly via my WordPress site and shared my entire experience with followers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Stumbleupon.
  18. I sent contacted 29 book bloggers asking for a review (only 5 said yes) and 23 to Amazon reviewers (only 2 responded). I also contacted a number of women’s websites. Only 1 responded – Britmums, who agreed to an interview & feature but then stopped responding to my emails without a word.
  19. My book was launched on 4th July 2014, but hit the Amazon Best Sellers List two days beforehand… on pre-orders.
  20. A Kindle Daily Deal promotion on Amazon Australia rocketed my novel to no1 overall bestseller on the site in August 2014.
  21. I produced a hard copy of the book via Createspace and wrote to every major bookstore in Australia and some in the UK hoping they would consider stocking it. Everyone (eventually) declined – distribution problems to Australia and the UK were a major barrier. I had failed to realise Createspace only distribute to the US.
  22. In November, for personal reasons, I left my literary agency, who promptly and without warning unpublished my original ebook sending it crashing out of the Amazon chart and in to obscurity.
  23. In December 2014, I placed my book in a Kindle Free promotion for three days. In preparation, I entered news of the promotion to as many free Kindle book websites as I could find and applied for a BookBub promotion. Luckily, Bookbub accepted me, although I went with one of their smallest, cheapest genre lists. My book went to no4 in the Free Kindle chart overall in the UK and no 7 overall in the US during the promotion. It was downloaded 29,000 times in that three days. 17,000 of these downloads were on day one – the day of the Bookbub email.
  24. It is still in Amazon UK and US best sellers lists at the time of writing.

It would be very easy to read this list and say “well, it all came down to a BookBub promotion,” but that would be missing the point. Everything Heather did, the continual revisions to write the best book possible, the mailing list to get that initial exposure, sending out to bloggers to get good quality, neutral reviews – all provided a foundation that made her book attractive enough for BookBub to accept her submission.

So what do you think? Is there anything you’ve tried that worked for you and is not on the list? I’d love to hear from you.

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18 thoughts on “You need commitment to succeed

  1. Thanks Dylan, just to add I’ve read a lot of post and comments on BookBub with people speculating on why they do/don’t accept you, so just to clarify for everyone, I had about 10 reviews in the US and 21 in the UK before the promo – and a professionally made cover by The cover is a major selling point ; well worth proper investment. Good luck all! Xx

  2. A great list – interesting to see the number of rewrites too. Heartening.
    I found this really useful thank you. Distribution abroad is a problem for me too (selling fine in Irish bookshops although it has slowed down) which is why I’m researching agents at the moment. Plus, I feel my book needs an editor’s imput to know whether to make it more or less Irish for my target market of farmers in America, Canada and Australia.
    One thing for sure, it’s an interesting learning curve!

    • It really is a learning curve. Getting a paperback into bookshops is one of the biggest hurdles for indie authors and one I’ve not crossed. I’d be interested to know how you managed that successfully for your home market. Was it a case of contacting each store individually or did you find another way?

      • I contacted a couple first and then contacted wholesalers. I’d sold 750 myself in the 3 weeks before Xmas and had got a few national radio interviews which helped.
        In hindsight, book should have been out in Sept and in shops for Xmas purchases but I only thought of book idea in May and just went with it.
        In Ireland, Easons and Argosy are the main wholesalers

  3. I suspect you forgot to include a title next to the Carole Blake’s reference. Perhaps it was this one?
    From Pitch to Publication: Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Novel Published

  4. The message I take away from this is that we don’t just need commitment, as in being prepared to rewrite according to what trusted beta readers tell us, to pick up ideas about style and tone from writers in a similar genre, and to show readers we can write by keeping a blog/website that proves it, but we also need to be able to throw money at our project. Professional editing services, agency revisions, more professional readers, highly paid book advertising, cost big bucks.
    I did get good editing for my books without having to pay for it (because I don’t have the means). People tell me my book covers are attractive (did them myself). I didn’t have to ask for most of my reviews, they were volunteered. I keep a good blog and my short fiction and poetry is getting about. But I can’t pay for book reports, or editorial services, and bookbub is just out of the question. Does that mean I am not commited enough? Or just not rich enough?

    • Hi Jane, thanks for your comment. I can understand where you are coming from but I’m not sure if that’s the message I’d have taken from the piece. Many of the activities Heather did were free (contacting book bloggers, websites, reviewers, book shops etc) but involved a lot of hard work and perseverance. She only used BookBub after building up momentum and sales through these means.
      Investing money up front is one way to publish but not the only way. As you have said yourself, you have the talents to produce your own book covers and are lucky to have friends or acquaintances to provide the editing. Having read one of your books, I know what a great job you’ve done.
      That said, if a writer doesn’t have the skills or the contacts to help produce a high quality book, then I would highly advise they get help. Whether that is investing heavily at the beginning of the process or doing what they can afford at the beginning and then investing profits later on, is up to each individuals needs and circumstances. BookBub is expensive (if you get selected) but it’s popular because most authors get a return larger than the money invested. And there are many, many free promotional services out there which, while not having the same reach as BookBub, can still help spread the word and increase your visibility.

      • I think Jane makes a good point here, and while I am bowled over by the amount of hard work Ms. Hill did in support of her self-pub’d novel, I think it’s disingenuous to attach such importance to the 23 other things she did on this list and dismiss the BookBub promotion. According to Ms. Hill’s guest post on this site ( 29,000 out of a total of 32,000 downloads came from the BookBub promo. Selling 3,000 copies of a self-pub’d book (or any book!) is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m not diminishing her achievement, I just think we need to recognize the BookBub promo as the factor that it is, and Jane’s question about the title of this post–is Ms. Heller’s success due to commitment or financial investment?–is a good one.

        While Jane (rightly, IMO) questions the word “commitment” I’ll take issue with another one: success. What is the definition of success for a self-pub’d author? Is it to make a living (or at least a profit) off your writing? Is it to sign a contract with one of the large publishing houses? Is it to get your story in front of the most readers?

      • Thanks for your comment, Karen. It wasn’t my suggestion to dismiss the BookBub promo, so apologies if it came across that way, it was more to point out that by doing the many items beforehand made her book more attractive for BookBub to promote, and also that the money she’d earned in that initial phase was what was ploughed back into the promotion.
        Many indie authors treat publishing like a start up business, investing some money as first and then re-investing any money they make until they (hopefully) get to the point where they make more than they need to invest.
        The other point you make, the definition of success, is a good one, and the straight answer would be all of the above and none. Success for a self-published author will be different for each individual and will often change as their writing career progresses. For example, when starting out my definition of success was writing a book. Then it was getting it in front of readers, and for people who don’t know me to read it and like it. My ultimate goal is to make a living from writing fiction. Some people will start out with that as their goal. So yes, maybe the title could have been sharpened up a little, but explaining it further would have made a very long title 🙂

  5. I hope I’m not overstaying my welcome, Dylan, and you have said some lovely things about my book, and I haven’t read Heather’s book, but I do think there has to be more to this than commitment. The only thing that differentiates my efforts with Heather’s is the financial aspect. All the free stuff, I’ve done. I’ve even written what most readers have agreed is a good book, and gone on to finish the series with books that I believe are better than the first, and I have a lot fo great reviews. BUT on no scale ever invented could I be considered a success. Yes, there are a number of free promotion possibilities, but because they’re free, everybody uses them so you end up back where you started. What separates the sheep from the goats is the paid stuff. Those are the big differences, and for people like me they are insurmountable.
    Once you’ve paid for all these services to get your original ms as good as you can, then you hook and agent, then you pay for advertising, I don’t think you can put down any success you have to simple perseverence. I have 0 budget for promotion and marketing and my sales show it, which is why, if I want more than a few dozen people to read what I’ve written, I’m going to have to find an agent or a publisher. I have gone down the commitment path, but alone, it’s a lost cause.

    • Hi Jane, no, you aren’t outstaying your welcome and I’m more than happy to have people challenge my assertions. I think there is more to it, and money is certainly one part. Another part is writing something that catches the zeitgeist, or writing in a popular genre, or just simply catching a break. Hugh Howey often says that not enough successful indie authors – those making a good living from their writing – give enough credit to luck as part of that process. The other part of this process is time. Sometimes it just takes time. Whether that’s quick enough for your needs or hopes is another question.

      • Don’t listen to me. Well, not all of it anyway. I am suffering the agonies of souls in torment with a torn muscle in my back.Can’t get comfortable anywhere and it’s having a dramatic effect on my usual sunny personality 🙂 Keep doing what you’re doing—it works!

    • Can I overstay my welcome on this post as well to chime in that there are no guarantees that spending lots of money making your novel “the best” guarantees success either? It’s possible to crunch the numbers (if you have access to that info, and lots of self-pub’d authors share it) w/r/t any “successful” self-pub’d book and get an idea of the ROI.

      • Of course it doesn’t. You can’t make a bad book good by buying editorial services for it. But we’re comparing like with like here. A ‘good’ novel can become a much better novel if it has professional editing. Once it’s an even better novel, if you can afford it, there’s always the option of buying advertising for it. It’s inevitable, otherwise why would authors bother? All I’m saying is that you stand a much higher chance of being successful if you can afford to spend some money on your project.

  6. Well I’m almost out of breath just reading that. I mean the efforts she has made are just breath-taking, and she has certainly had some results, but I’m just wondered what the “Time to Marketing Success” ratio is, and if she has another job, and how you keep you morale up through all that and the attendant setbacks. She deserves every success without a doubt. I can’t speak for the books themselves, as I haven’t read them. I got reviewed a fair number of times on Amazon and through Blogs but it made very little difference. I am not downhearted as such, but I have quietly put that Bentley brochure behind the glasses cabinet and expect much smaller sales from my second book when that comes out.

    • My Aston Martin brochure was put away a while ago, Peter 🙂 I think the time to marketing success ratio is likely to be different for everyone. What I found compelling about Heather’s story was her perseverance. Again, that doesn’t mean if you keep persevering it will eventually happen (although I know that’s Heather’s belief) but it certainly increases your chance of being noticed.

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