I love hearing stories about authors’ writing journeys — how about you? I’m even more interested in authors’ writing adventures as I get closer to writing my last chapters of Blasted from Complacency. I’m trying to heed their warnings, and if I make a mistake along the way, well, at least I know they were my creative screw ups.
Penn Wallace, spoke to us about his writing career. He is an author who actually lives off of his earnings. As an author, this is no small accomplishment. He has a couple series, an autobiographical account of a fishing trip with his father, as well as a Christmas satire – not for the eyes of little ones if you ever want them to believe in Santa again.
Was his path to success as an author smooth? Of course not. Each book will lead you on its own trek.
Penn started with asking us why we write — admitting that one benefit is it’s quieter than playing the tuba.
Why do you write?
- Passion – I have to write
- Must tell a story
- To satisfy ego
- To Make a Living
I know for me, I write because I recognized that I’m a storyteller. I’ve always loved to talk to people about experiences I’ve had — putting my own twists on phrases or something I find amusing. Writing the words gives me time to cogitate about my intention and phraseology.
If you’ve read my blog before, you’re familiar with my book I’m writing, Blasted from Complacency and our adventure in Israel, in July 2014, while on a family vacation — when we found ourselves at war. The missiles exploded close enough to blow apart my world as I knew it.
My belief system says everything happens for a reason. I believe I was there, at that time, to find my life’s purpose — perhaps cliché but true.
I write my book, my blog, learn and share my writing experiences with my writer’s support group, Writers4Writers, and ultimately will speak with a passionate intention to work toward Peace — Peace within yourself, and regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Yourself first, because you need to find Peace within, to be able to share it with the world. Not that I believe I’m completely there yet — we’re all works in progress, but every day I work toward finding more Peace.
Penn another writer enamored with story-telling, confided to us how thrilled he was when recently his lifetime fantasy came true. Now calm down, this is an author’s 20-year fantasy about being recognized as an author. He admitted that “There’s nothing more fun than getting fan mail,” and since this was a dream come true, it was fulfilled with an even higher level of satisfaction…
He was at a meeting listening to a talk about the damage to the human body when a .50 caliber hits their chest. Hmm. Not my cup of soup — I grew up on chicken. Thankfully, he has many fans that like gruesome details.
He was doing research for his book. One of his characters is a private investigator — splattering body parts, a fun fact that would be helpful for him to know. After the meeting when he was exchanging cards with the speaker, a woman overheard Penn introduce himself.
The woman said, “I just bought two of your books.” Like a bullet, the statement pierced Penn’s heart, as he heard heralding angels trumpeting in the background. Kudos to him, and I added his experience onto my author’s bucket list.
He’s also always been a storyteller — entertaining his relatives, when he was three years old, finishing his father’s tales. It seemed, the propensity ran in the family.
In 6th grade, he was given a writing assignment with the classic prompt: “How I spent my summer vacation.” Although his English teacher asked for two pages, he turned in a 35-page novel.
Writing and sharing your work, is not for the faint of heart. I know every author I’ve spoken with has horror stories of being eviscerated by editors…
Penn’s first book was, “Blue Water & Me,” stories from his larger than life father’s career as a fisherman. He began writing his book, while recovering from a fall off a roof — not recommended for your To Do List.
Although he felt it was, “one of the world’s great works,” he decided to show it to a professional editor. Ouch! He was crucified. Fourteen drafts, lots of reading about writing, and taking writing classes later, he crawled out from beneath his inexperience to write a much better manuscript.
I believe everything that happens in our lives are learning opportunities — patterns and stepping stones to be used later. What some might label as a failure, can be attributed to the Universe saying, not yet.
Penn had two previous careers — one growing up in the back of a Mexican restaurant, and the other in Information Systems. He had taken personal experiences and woven them into stories, and sometimes created entire books.
During Penn’s time at the software company, tragedy struck and he lost his wife to cancer. Although he enjoyed his job, he made the decision to leave — one of life’s profound turns. He spent the next 2 ½ years sailing in Mexico.
Writing is what Penn does for a living, so he was excited as he told us that “This is the best time in history to be a writer.” He told us nearly 400,000 books are published each month and Amazon has 5 million titles.
He advised — regardless whether you are traditionally published, or independent, you are responsible for your sales.
In today’s world, anyone can publish, but Penn says, you have to find a way to “stand out from the buffalo herd” by writing a good book, finding your niche and marketing the hell out of it.
Penn’s next book was also infused with love from his past — a culinary memoir. The story of how his family came to America and recipes for all of the food described in the stories.
He took it to an agent who said, “There’s no market for cookbooks.”
Penn is a great role model who believes in his work, and is impressively, tenacious.
He decided next to write something commercial. When Penn started, traditional publishing was your only choice. You had to have an agent, do query letters — and survive the whole heart-crushing experience of rejections.
The journey of a book to get published traditionally is like running a gauntlet of obstacles: first the author has to be anointed by an agent, to be worthy. Then the agent presents to an editor — if the agent can find one interested. The editor does a business analysis. Which successful author writes similarly, and how much money would the publishing house expect to make? She takes it to the editorial council, who has a powwow and decides: to publish or not to publish, that is the question…
Selling the published book to book sellers is another threading of a needle. The editors twice per year will get the opportunity to give a 20 second pitch to the big book selling companies like Barnes and Noble. The pitch better be tightly written, with a big hook.
Penn’s encounters with agents has been a roller coaster ride. Insure they enjoy your work, mutually want to work together, like to sell in your genre, and ultimately for the relationship to thrive, they have to be able to sell your book. Admittedly, that last one is a crap shoot — any authors out there have a crystal ball?
One dreadful story had Penn receiving a notice “We’d love to publish your book,” followed by silence. After repeatedly following up, he was eventually told “I’m sorry I don’t work for that publisher anymore and I forgot to pass along the book to someone else.”
He was lucky and found another agent that loved his book. Agents get thousands of query letters. His agent presented it to New York publishing houses and twenty-seven refused it. A bit of salve to his wounds, twenty-four liked it, but felt it didn’t have an audience.
Penn’s agent also took his story to be considered for Hollywood — they all said when it sells one million copies, come see me. They want a bestselling book, with an established audience.
Penn believes in hanging out where other writers do — so you can learn. A plug from me to you — come join us at Writers4Writers. Our next meeting is October 21, 2017, and our speaker will be Teri Rider, owner of Top Reads Publishing. She will be presenting the “Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book” released by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) in March 2017. If independent publishing is a consideration, her talk is filled with essential information on how to make your self-published book indistinguishable from a traditionally published book.
At a writer’s conference, Penn heard another author speak, who had written a similar book to his, about his father. Penn queried the publisher and they liked it.
Penn decided to write what he felt would be more of a commercial book. He wrote, “The Inside Passage,” the first in his Ted Higuera thriller series. He got the idea from reading a story he saw in the newspaper. Some young adults, all with PhD’s, planned to blow up The Parliament and kill the Prime Minister.
When he completed it, his current agent said, “I’m not doing fiction anymore.”
Another obstacle to traditional is, it takes up to eighteen months to get it published, they control your book and the opportunity to earn money is far less than indie-publishing. However, in indie publishing, you pay your money up front and bear the risk. You coordinate the work of the traditional publisher, often with freelancers for editing, interior and cover design.
Or you might choose a hybrid publisher — a blend of the two. With a hybrid, you pay upfront as if you are self-publishing, but they have their own staff to help with what you would have had to coordinate with freelancers. Some even have distribution which is essential to disperse your words of wisdom.
When you’re published, you then have to peddle your book, which is the same for traditional.
Finally, Penn’s present to himself was writing “Christmas Inc.” Listening to Christmas music, the story came into his mind fully developed, and he “Just had to write it down.”
Once again he couldn’t get any publishers interested so he decided to self-publish. He released it in November. At last, SUCCESS! It hit #1 Best Seller and #1 Best Political Satire. BRAVO!
In 2009, independent publishing surpassed traditional publishing and in 2015, sold more than all of the big five publishing houses combined.1
Penn believes you shouldn’t publish your first book, until you have written your third. He sold 100 eBooks for every paper copy and decided to publish only eBooks. He waited three months between releasing each of his three books in the series.
He follows a daily schedule. He spends two hours every morning marketing, and then writes until six at night. He answers each piece of fan mail. He learned from his years in the restaurant business — please the customer, and they’ll come back for more.
Marketing is a constant if you want to be commercially successful. He has 7,500 people on his email list. He sends out a newsletter and he runs promotions. He posts on Facebook, belongs to 130 Facebook groups and sends out Twitter blasts.
One of the most helpful authors that he met along the way was Jinx Schwartz. He spent a morning with her talking about marketing. She is a successful mystery writer. She is on BookBub, and she said if you can get on it, “You are golden.” Penn calls BookBub the “Holy Grail” of book marketing. Jinx does 20-30 give aways. She’s targeting her audience. If they like her give away, chances are they will buy her other books. Following her lead, you can make back the money quickly.
Penn recommended not using more than three types of social media — otherwise, when would you have time to write your books?
Write a 5-Year Marketing plan and follow it. He expended lots of time, energy and money learning how to emarket and feels like he “Tried just about everything.”
He shared with us his 14 steps of his Marketing Pyramid:
|1. Define your target audience||8. The rollout|
|2. Build your author brand||9. Cross promotions|
|3. Join writers’ community||10. Email list promotions|
|4. Connect with readers||11. Get 5 books on Amazon|
|5. Choose cover theme||12. Amazon marketing services|
|6. Write a good book||13. Track your sales|
|7. Choose how to publish||14. Never give up|
Penn is a strong believer in collaboration amongst authors to cross promote. He networks with authors and even shares putting other’s first chapters in his books and vice versa. He sees other authors as partners, not competitors. He did an anthology with six other self-published authors — a collection of nautical mysteries. They each promoted the book to their fan base and everyone benefited.
I was pleased to hear that after I wrote about him in my monthly article in the Publishers and Writers of Orange County’s newsletter, his web traffic went up 150%.
He warns, always be sure you define your target audience and later verify that you were correct. He did a survey of his fans, found out they were 60% female and older than fifty and he changed his writing to appeal to them.
He recommends developing your author brand. Don’t build your website only for your book, you are selling YOU. He has built a very specific persona — Happy-go-lucky, Hemingway-esque personality.
Penn says you need at least 5 books on amazon before you can quit your day job. You have to track your sales daily. If you see sales spike or drop, figure out why. Check out if your promotion is working — proceed if yes, stop if no.
He shared with us a quote from Stephen King, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration the rest of us just get up and get to work.”
He closed his informative talk with a reminder that successful people, routinely do things they don’t necessarily like to do. He gave us words of encouragement and told us the bottom line…
- Never give up
- You have to blow your own horn — no one else will do it for you (I believe Steve Bannon had a similar philosophy : )
- You can’t wait for your market to find you
- Hard work and elbow grease
- Don’t ever stop trying
- You control your own fate
As always, I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…
1 “Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped,” Publishers Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publishing-and-marketing/article/42826-self-published-titles-topped-764-000-in-2009-as-traditional-output-dipped.html (accessed September 4, 2017).