Write More Books or Create More Content?

This article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

I remember feeling liberated after publishing my first novel on Amazon and Smashwords. Almost miraculously, within the first hours of release a few sales happened. This came after years of investing time, effort and money to get the novel written, so those initial sales exhilarated me enough to share the news with anyone who would listen.

During a phone call that evening, my dad said, “Now you can sit back and watch the orders roll in.”

He’s right, I thought. Those books are going to sell themselves.

I’ve been wrong countless times, but that moment was a milestone in the bad assumption department as I later realized a continual marketing effort would be required to sell my book, even in discouraging amounts. It’s not enough to write a great book, unless yours is so hypnotically contagious that everyone insists it’s a must-read. You will also need to market well or suffer the author’s greatest fear: obscurity.

Eventually advice from writing sages enlightened me of the secret to selling books, and I was not thrilled to hear it: write more books!

Um, okay, easier said than done, especially when the first one took several years. Anyone who’s written a full-length book knows how taxing it is. Those three little words, write a book, roll off the tongue with ease but performing the task can be a Herculean effort. An author may feel spent after producing one, two or even three books, and then she is told to produce another. Is there ever an end to it?

ebook growth chartUnfortunately the rule of thumb says no; an author must continue to write new content. This has always been the case, but the advent of digital publishing has taken it to a higher level. Every year the total number of authors and books grows exponentially while the number of readers remains primarily the same. To stand out from the crowd, an author needs a larger platform and more books. Reminiscent of the cliché, best of times and worst of times, Dickens’ opening paragraph for A Tale of Two Cities perfectly illustrates the indie author dilemma.

But wait, there is some good news or at least advice that’s more pleasant, and a clue exists above. Instead of only focusing on writing more books, think about creating new content. While I agree that having multiple books is paramount, creating new content is a close second and has hidden benefits. Let’s discuss some less intimidating projects to accomplish that goal.

Here are some non-full-length-book examples of writing new content:

  • short stories
  • blog posts
  • guest blog posts
  • articles and essays
  • novelettes and novellas

And hey, if you have more books aching to be expressed, by all means go ahead and write them. But you may want to mix it up, do other projects simultaneously that are faster and also help you market existing titles while the next book comes together. Think of it like an athlete cross-training to get stronger overall, even though he excels in one sport.

Most authors have short stories that were written years ago. If you have a few and they’re just sitting around doing nothing, those shorts are wasted opportunities for content and marketing. Why not get them on Smashwords and then Amazon for free? Ebook readers download freebies far more often than they pay for books, and when readers discover a good author they often pay for the next book on the menu. I don’t have many short stories on Amazon, but the free ones I have there get downloaded in bunches, and sometimes those readers buy my other books. At present time, Amazon won’t let you set a price for free (the minimum is 99 cents), but they have a price-match guarantee. Since Smashwords does let you price a book for free and distributes to Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc, then Amazon will price-match your book to free as well. (You may have to ask a few people to click the Tell Us About a Lower Price feature at Amazon to get the switch made, and still it might take a few days or longer but usually works.) All you need is to format those shorts stories and get a simple cover made. The results may be a pleasant surprise.

Blogging is a fantastic way to create new content. Blogs provide a venue to write about anything, and you can update them whenever you have time. I’ve written more words in blog posts than in all my books combined—they’ve been the driving force for strangers around the world to find my articles and then books. Blogging also gives literary freedom. Many of my successful posts have been on topics that aren’t my specialty, like things I find interesting about the National Football League. However, for topics that are a specialty, like self-publishing on a budget, a blog is ideal for regular articles. Perhaps the subject matter of your books could be the foundation of your blog. The other nice thing about blog posts is that people will find you via search engines for a range of new keywords.

If maintaining a blog feels like too much commitment, write “guest posts” for other people who have blogs on similar subject matter. Or you can submit articles and essays to online publications like Ezine Articles or Technorati.

What are novelettes and novellas? They’re longer than short stories and smaller than novels. Novelettes are usually 8K to 20K words, and novellas go from there to around 50K words. It’s all subjective, but many readers prefer shorter works these days as reading time is scarce. Amazon has created Kindle Singles where authors can submit these shorter works for review and price books between 99 cents and $4.99.

It amazes me how often authors forget to do this—for all of the content you create, remember to include:

  • links to your website and/or social media
  • links to your paid books

Whether you’re writing more books or creating new content, procrastination will still creep in. It’s an odd thing: have you ever noticed how hard it is to start writing, but once you’ve begun it feels wonderful? The timer sounds reminding you to get going, but you may find yourself cleaning doorknobs, rearranging a closet, doing anything other than sitting at your desk. At moments like these remind yourself, I always feel better as soon as I begin writing—it’s the starting part that is so hard.

I make an effort to write new content one hour a day—that’s it. Not a lofty goal compared to most authors, but this is actually a mind-trick to get the juices flowing. One hour is mentally easy to commit to, and once the hour has passed I usually keep going. And even if only one hour of writing happens, it’s amazing what comes together by the end of a month. If you have another day job and a tight schedule, make a goal to write for 20 minutes. That amount can lead to surprising results in just a few months. A mountain can be climbed one step at a time, even with baby steps, and books can be written a few paragraphs at a time.

Tips to help with creating new content:

  • Write content that supplements your books especially in a blog.
  • When writing on other subjects, use keywords wisely.
  • When releasing new content, let readers know via your social media channels and email subscribers.
  • Encourage conversations. Pose questions, even if it’s aimed at broadening the topic in a humble way. What have I missed? Please share your input.
  • List all of your books in the beginning and at the end of your books.
  • The digital versions should have working links, especially the Amazon Kindle version. For other retailers, you can link to your website, blog or social media page. Make it easy for readers to find your books with one click if possible.
  • Include the first chapter of the next book in a series at the end of your book, and also include a link to purchase.

What are your ideas on this? Share them in the comment section.

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14 Responses to “Write More Books or Create More Content?”

  1. Catana Says:

    It’s nice to hear that I’ve been doing the right thing all along, without knowing it. I just haven’t been doing enough of it to make much of a difference. That’s changing, and I hope to see some improvement in sales over the next few months.

  2. Lisa Grace Says:

    I write adult history mysteries, and YA Supernaturals based on the Bible. Both require research time. Writing faster has become a goal for me as word of mouth from those who have read and liked my previous novels is by far the best advertising. I would add write series if you can as it gives your established reader base something else to buy. Plus, add hashtaged keywords at the end of every article and keywords in your book description.
    I’ve also noticed Google is only referencing results from the last year. It used to be most of your history would show up in a search, but the turnover time on relevance has shortened greatly. Being disciplined to release regularly and on current relevant topics is extremely important for discoverability.

  3. savvystories Says:

    Can’t argue with the facts, Jason! I think creating more content is what most writers would prefer to do instead of working on marketing; I wonder if the word “writers” should be changed to “content-ers” instead now, to reflect their expanded duties?

  4. Kathy Hebert Says:

    Dear Jason: You are probably the only person I read and enjoy on a regular basis. You are the gift that keeps on giving. Got my book onto People Reads as per your advice. Thank-you so much!!! – Kathy

  5. M. L. Doyle Says:

    I wrote a companion short that sold a suprising number of copies. I also wrote a series of four novellas and combined them into an omnibus. I published them all in ebook format only except for the omnibus which I also published in paperback. I had a goal of publishing the third book in a series by this spring but I’m not going to make that goal. It might be work it to do another companion short just to hold people over until the next book comes out.

  6. jgersbeck Says:

    Jason, great stuff as always. Personally, I am trying to balance both as I am keeping a blog and nearing the finish of my E-Book. Please check out blog.70sbaseball.com and facebook.com/70sbaseball to let me know how you think I am doing. – Joe

  7. Victoria Says:

    Helpful suggestions as always, Jason.
    I’m just starting my third book in a series. Whether they sell or not, it’s fun and challenging to write. Thanks for the encouragement.

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