I was trying to sleep, but it’s just not happening. I said I’d write a post about my decision and what led to it.
Today I put in my two weeks notice. After six months of strong sales, it just makes sense, and perhaps more importantly, it feels right. If I’m to reach my next stage of success, I’m going to need all 24 hours of every day to do it.
First of all, I am amazingly happy and it’s a dream come true. I tried to make sure I have the highest possibility of success. I feel insanely lucky, because things definitely could have gone the other way.
I mid-2012, I was in a tough spot in my life and could find little motivation to get out of that situation. I’ve since learned that when you’re in that state, the best thing you can do for yourself is to change your situation. Make some drastic life decisions, or develop some positive new habits to incorporate into your life.
Changing my habits was the beginning of everything. Without those changes, I wouldn’t have written five books since that time, and I wouldn’t be where I am now. I believe anyone can make changes in order to achieve their dreams.
The changes I made was pretty simple. I drastically cut back on video games and TV, and decided to read and write more. I also started exercising – mainly running. I don’t know why, but exercise and creativity go hand-in-hand for me. In mid-2012 I started to run around the block. A couple miles at first, but soon I was running seven to eight miles on my longer runs.
Meanwhile, during my breaks at work, I’d write on my iPhone and email myself the story. Writing Apocalypse started like that. I’d also go home and work on it. I hoped that writing would work out, but it was so far away and remote.
Apocalypse was composed in three parts over six months or so. The middle was written first, then the end, then the beginning. I had a friend do the cover art (which has been a HUGE reason for the series’s success), and formatted the book as best as my limited knowledge allowed.
Then, on December 5, I hit publish. I went through KDP, or Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s the system that allows anyone to self-publish a book to Amazon’s Kindle store. I had no idea how successful or unsuccessful the book would be. All I could do was hope that some word of mouth got going and that sales would go beyond family and friends.
It did okay – a little better than I’d expected. Apocalypse sold 56 copies in December 2012, the month of its debut. There was no advertising or anything, just one book out of thousands that were published that month. But at 56 sales, I could rest assured that at least of few of those people weren’t family. I think this was helped by the good cover and the fact that I wrote in a hot genre that is still pretty good these days – YA post-apocalyptic.
I’d always wanted to read a book about an apocalypse that was caused by a meteor, so I wrote that book. Every movie or book you see about the subject has the heroes stopping the meteor before it hits Earth. I really wanted to explore the idea of what would happen if the meteor hit Earth – and what if that meteor had an alien virus inside of it. Don’t know why, but that idea took a hold of me.
Anyway, I soon got to work on a follow-up, Origins. I was inspired to keep working, and this is where I made another big change in my life: I started waking up at 5 in the morning. I know, crazy, but it’s probably the biggest secret to my success. It’s actually not that bad, once you get used to it. I really look forward to the morning because it’s where I work best.
In early January, I was laid off from my job and it was seriously one of the very best things to ever happen to me. I wasn’t making any money, but within a couple of weeks I had a job working at the Hobby Lobby warehouse.
The hours were long and it got hot as hell in the summer. There were days where I’d get in at 7 and leave at 6, and this isn’t a sit down kind of job. It’s heavy work, lifting and walking for miles. After I got off, I’d be too tired to do anything. I’d grab some food, watch a little TV, and crash, sometimes at 7:30 or 8. I’m pretty amazed that I wrote two books during my time there – Origins and Evolution. It’s only because I was willing to wake up at 5 and do my writing.
I ended up leaving the warehouse in late July to start a new job where I am now (for the next two weeks, at least). I got the job through a college friend and I’m really grateful for it because it would give me the time and energy to write more.
By the time I was working at Midlands, I’d just published my third book in The Wasteland Chronicles. The series was picking up a little steam by this point. August had been my best month ever, at 211 total sales. I’d been waiting to have three books out, because this was my chance to try a strategy that had been successful for so many other indie authors – making my first book completely free. My logic was, if people didn’t really know who I was, why would they take a chance on buying my book? If I made it free, then there was no risk to the reader. If they read it and didn’t like it, at least they only wasted their time and not their money. But if they did like it, they could go on to the next ones.
I fell in love with this idea, but I didn’t want to do it until I had three books. So, when the third was published, I made some changes to my model: I published everywhere I could, not just Amazon. This included Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo, a Canandian ebook retailer. I also made making paperbacks for each book a priority. No matter how many copies you sell, there are some people who just won’t believe a book is a book until they can hold it in their hands. I did this through CreateSpace, Amazon’s print on demand imprint. All of these tools are available to anyone, you don’t have to pay any money except for what you do to produce your book (like cover art and editing). Later, I also published to GooglePlay.
I made my first book free on all these vendors. If it didn’t work, I could always go back to charging for the first one, as I had before. I had reason to think it might work. It worked for big time indie authors Hugh Howey, Russell Blake, Joe Konrath, Lillianna Hart, among others. I figured there was a chance it could work for me as well.
Apoclaypse finally went free on Amazon sometime in early September; it took a couple of weeks to get Amazon to price match it. The first book was downloaded for free approximately 100-150 times a day. Those results amazed me. Again, I think the cover/concept of the book had a lot to do with those initial downloads, since I write in a fairly large genre that has a lot of interest.
After the book went free, the series started to pick up a little steam. Apocalypse was free, but I still charged for Origins and Evolution. The sales on the sequels more than made up for what I lost by not selling Apocalpyse. I was easily selling about 10-20 copies a day, which equates to about $20-$40. Taking the middle number, $30, and multiplying it for over a year, equated to $10,950 a year, so I was thrilled with those results. Things were looking up. Origins broke the top 10,000 Kindle books for the first time, which was a ceiling I’d been trying to break for a while. It got up to 9400 or so before falling back down in the rankings.
But everything…and I mean everything…changed mid-September. I applied to be promoted by BookBub almost on a whim. For those who don’t know, BookBub is a HUGE email list where readers can sign up for specific genres. They have close to two million subscribers. BookBub sends out an email every day of deeply discounted or free titles in genres the reader picks.
I applied to be featured by them. A few days later, they got back to me and said they wanted to run my book on September 21. I remember getting that email at work and not believing my eyes. I’d read on a writing forum I frequent about the crazy amount of downloads BookBub can generate. I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was probably going to get quite a few downloads, but I didn’t know how many, or if there would be any staying power.
The ad ran on September 21. I refreshed my sales report for my total downloads for Apoclaypse. Within the space of a minute, it went from 2,000 to about 3,000. I kept checking all day, and it was always the same. Every hour showed about another 1,000-2,000 downloads. By the time I went to bed, there were about 17,000.
I kept getting downloads throughout the month, until I had about 31,000 by the end of September on Apocalypse. I also had a ton the next month, and at is highest point, Apocalypse was ranked #6 in the Kindle store. It was ranked #1 in science fiction on Apple for a long time – almost a full two weeks.
This is where it started to get crazy.
As people finished Apocalypse, they went on to Origins. Origins shot up to about #2500 in the Kindle store. It was getting something like 70 downloads a day, and Evolution was getting about that as well. My mailing list exploded. I made a Facebook page and started getting fan mail from everywhere…as local as Oklahoma, as far away as Vietnam, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and other places. People started to comment on my blog. For the first time, I started to realize that people actually liked my book. That meant more to me than all the downloads. People were finally reading my story, and liking it.
By early October, I had my next book, Revelation, ready to publish. It went live, and it just fed the fire. I had over 3,000 sales in October 2013.
This was the point where I was like…what is happening? It was like a switch flipped and I wasn’t ready for it. I was prepared for the long haul, to write at least ten books before ever hoping to go full-time. I estimated that I’d be going full-time sometime in 2015, maybe late 2014, if I was lucky. But I got insanely lucky with BookBub, and I can’t discount that.
I released Darkness, my newest book, in early 2014, making January my best month for sales ever. It was at this point where I thought: yeah. This is probably here to stay. So I began to think of how best to quit my job so I could write full-time.
I decided that I wanted to be 100 percent sure of what I was doing before I did anything. It’s always been one of my principles to not depend on a partial feeling, especially when making a big decision. I asked around, of friends, and especially of my parents. My parents painted a very conservative picture which was a great counterpoint to me just wanting to go for it right then and there. I asked some writers what their opinion was, and got a host of opinions. I thought about it for a while, and in the last few weeks, I’ve been leaning more toward quitting sooner rather than later.
I signed up for health coverage through Obamacare – I had to do so before March 31 – so that clinched the deal. I put in my two weeks notice today, so now, I guess I’m officially a full-time writer. Or at least, I am starting next Friday.
All I can say is – it’s been a very crazy journey. So much of writing is luck. It’s with me right now, but it’s a fickle thing. I could fall on hard times later. But that’s a risk I’m okay with to pursue my dream. If I fail, I fail..
So, this is my shot to try and make it. I think I’ll succeed, or at the very least, I’ll make a good run at it for a few years before I do something else. If there’s one thing I know, the future is impossible to predict. I could have never predicted that I’d be where I am now a year ago – only in my wildest dreams.
Luck was a big part of it, but I also worked my ass off. I decided that video games and TV (my kryptonites) were less important than reading, writing, and researching the publishing biz. Instead of playing video games, I’d be reading Joe Konrath’s blog or looking at KBoards Writer’s Cafe. I’d watch the successful authors, see what they did, and emulate them as best as I could – which is a lot harder than it sounds. I’d wake up at 5 in the morning and write, and have 1,000-2,000 words down before I was out the door for the day. Often, I’d write more.
The point is, anyone can make sacrifices to achieve a long-term goal. It isn’t easy, but the secret is to think more about the journey and less about the destination. Be ready for the long haul for anything you do in life. When you read about what other people do, don’t think “I wish I could do that.” Take inspiration and know that if theycan do it, you can, too.
Well, that’s the story. Of course. I’m leaving a lot out, but this is already too long, and it’s already too late…so. Yeah. That’s it. I just feel insanely lucky to have such great supporters. So many things had to go right, and then by some miracle, they did. By my estimation, success in writing is a combination of hard work, talent, and luck. You can control the first two, but all it takes is a random dash of luck to get the ball rolling. I fee lucky to have the opportunity to pursue my dream and I hope to never take it for granted.