When It Comes to Selling Books, Be a Planner

The hard truth is that when it comes to selling your books, regardless of whether you are independently or traditionally published, your success or failure is in your hands. It’s totally on you.

When it comes to craft, the subject of “planner” vs. “pantser” comes up when discussing the best strategy for plotting or mapping your story. Planners tend to meticulously (or perhaps even loosely) outline or create a story arc before writing a single word. Pantsers, on the other hand, write as they go, trusting that the story will come to them along the way, perhaps having a general idea of its direction. There’s no right or wrong way, and one is not better than the other. I’m all pantser—I tend to at least know what the next scene will be. I feel more constrained if I try to plot or plan beforehand.

I like being a pantser.


What I have learned this past month—and forgive me if this is a well, duh revelation—is that the pantser strategy doesn’t work when it comes to selling books.

In The Writer’s Habit book, I talked about the importance of knowing what you want and then making a plan to attain it. I used such examples as whether you wanted to independently publish as opposed to finding a literary agent and seeking a contract with one of the Big Five, or setting a goal to write a dystopian series that would be so popular they’d get movie and merchandising deals.

In some ways I think I missed the obvious. Because once the desire to “get there” is fulfilled, a new desire takes its place: stay there.

I think it’s long been understood that the work of an author doesn’t end when the book is written and published. In fact, the work has just begun, because now comes the marketing, promoting, and networking, and it never ends. I have known this. I have lived this.

What I have learned upon reflection, however, is that I haven’t done it very well.

I could chalk it up to my pantser nature. I could also chalk it up to underestimating the scope of what’s truly involved in staying on the mountain after you’ve gotten there. One thing I had taken for granted is that indie authors are ferocious when it comes to this work. And I bow down to them for that. I think I had been once. And I think complacency set in after I had a run of good fortune, first as an indie, and then as a contracted author. It’s not that I thought the work was done; it’s that I thought more of it would be on autopilot.

Man, was I wrong.

The hard truth is that when it comes to selling your books, regardless of whether you are independently or traditionally published, your success or failure is in your hands. It’s totally on you. And if you want success (in this case, I mean if you want your books to sell, and sell well), then you’ve got to make a plan. Plot it out. Outline. Use your calendar. Set goals.

I feel foolish for having realized this so late, but the good news is that it’s never too late to start.

Everyone’s plan is different of course because everyone’s goals and desires differ. But here are three areas in which you can begin to assess what you want or need and plan from there:


Your mailing list

I’m going to be writing about this more extensively in the near future, but your mailing list is like a valuable piece of real estate that needs to be used properly. Think if you owned a corner lot and built a store on it but then didn’t stock it, or stocked it with the wrong kind of product, used the wrong signage… you get the idea. It took me way too long to realize how much of an asset a mailing list is, and it’s only these past few weeks that I’m learning how to make it work for me. It’s not enough to have a list and send out messages here and there with no consistency or purpose or strategy. As I start to apply the tools I’m learning and am able to measure results, I’ll share them with you.


Your launches

In my early years as an author, I had thought a bunch of social media blasts and bookstore readings/signings were enough to drive a successful launch. When my novel The Second First Time launched, I had completely dropped the ball and focused solely on setting up and promoting in-store appearances. Part of my thinking was that, as a new Montana resident, I wanted to cultivate relationships with the local independent bookstores and community. On that level, my strategy was successful. However, I ignored the ebook side of things, which is where 98% of my readership and sales are. There were also personal factors involved in my failure to properly plan, which I mention not as justification, but explanation. I take responsibility for the consequences of that launch’s many shortcomings and disappointments.


Your maintenance

We put so much time and effort into launches that we sometimes forget about our back catalogue day in and day out, mentioning them only if there’s a price break. A successful marriage is all about the maintenance. The same can be said for a successful author career. It’s important to plan strategies for maintaining a healthy sales quota of your catalogue that don’t involve pushy selling (a goal to aspire to no matter where your book is in its life cycle). I hope to be sharing some ideas in the near future.


Discussion: What has worked for you in any/all of these areas? What do you struggle with? I would love to hear from you.


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What Does Success Look Like? 4 New Viewpoints to Change Your Success Landscape

When you see yourself, your work, or anything else through the lens of fear and failure, you’re not exactly creating a pathway of abundance.

I have a confession to make: I’ve not been feeling successful lately, especially this past year.

Book sales took a tumble. My novel The Second First Time face-planted out of the gate. I spent this past year trying all kinds of things to revive my sales and attract new readers, only to feel as if I were throwing any ol’ thing against the wall to see what stuck. And nothing was sticking, dammit. I was growing despondent. This whole writing thing wasn’t as fun as it used to be. And yet, every time I asked myself whether I wanted to be doing anything else, the answer was a definite no.

Turns out I’ve been looking at this success thing all wrong.

I’d had a narrow definition of success—make a sustainable living writing novels full-time. That was about it. Oh, and write bestselling novels too.

There’s nothing wrong with that as a goal. And three years ago, I’d achieved that goal. Problem was, when the books stopped selling and my livelihood was in jeopardy, I began to panic. Worse still, I was feeling more and more like a failure.

When you see yourself, your work, or anything else through the lens of fear and failure, you’re not exactly creating a pathway of abundance.

I knew this too, which made it even more frustrating when I couldn’t seem to get out of the loop.

My favorite Wayne Dyer quote is this:

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

For starters, I discovered I was looking at what wasn’t there rather than what was—every time I looked at sales totals, all I could see were the thousands of units that used to be on the bottom line. Worse still, I’d looked less at readers and more at numbers. I could only see what I so desperately wanted—to reclaim that success I’d had three years ago, and anything less than that was bad. Worse than bad. It was embarrassing and shameful.

And then I read this game-changing quote:

You are tied to things you do not like. You cannot leave something until you love it.

The epiphany followed:

Rather than trying to enthusiastically expand or reinvent my writing livelihood, I’ve been frantically trying to save it, thus clinging to it for dear life.

If I wanted my situation to change, I needed to not only change the way I looked at it, but also the way I responded to it.


So here’s what I’ve been practicing…

1. Letting go.

I’m no longer trying so desperately to reclaim a past status. Now I’m exploring ways to have fun again. By releasing the tight grip, my mental hands are now ready to receive whatever the next thing my writing life has to offer me. I’m now open to ideas not as a way to desperately win followers or convert Likes to sales, but as an opportunity to reinvent my writing life, and reclaim the joy instead of the accolades. And my experience has been that money follows enthusiasm. Especially when you’re tuned into the flow.


2. Making peace with where I am now.

I’m no longer looking at my writing career in life in terms of where I was or where I want to be; I’m looking at where I am now, and choosing to bless it with love. I bless every one of my books with love. I bless every book sale with love and give thanks for it, regardless of the numbers. I bless the booksellers with love. I bless every reader with love and every review, positive or negative. I bless my publishers, editors, agent, and all those who played a role in getting my books into the hands of readers. I bless my work-in-progress with love, and am not sweating word counts or how many hours per day or days per week I’m writing (or not writing).

It feels so good to do this because a) it’s easy, and b) it’s tapping into the abundance rather than the lack. Presence rather than absence.


3. Seeing success everywhere I turn.

This morning I woke at 6:00 a.m. (if you know me, you know this is a success in and of itself), wrote Morning Pages (see The Artist’s Way), walked 3 ¼ miles on the track at the Y (I’m going to write a future blog post about the effect walking has had on me these past few months), made a delicious breakfast when I came home, spent time with my husband, and spent the afternoon addressing packages for contest prizes to winners and gifts to those who helped spread the word about Big Skye Littleton in the weeks leading up to launch, as well as during and after launch week.

In short, I accomplished quite a bit today, including this blog post. I realized that when I think of success, I think of accomplishment. And so rather than looking for big successes like hitting best-selling lists or trying to recapture the royalties of yesteryear, I’m looking at the seemingly ordinary accomplishments, as well as the accomplishments I take for granted. I published a book! Heck, I’ve published 10 books! In multiple languages! And people other than my family and friends are reading them! And they like them! I wrote today! Maybe not contributing toward a manuscript, but I wrote privately. I wrote a blog post. I jotted down an idea for another book. I read something inspiring.

When you change how you look at success, you find a lot more of it.


4. Serving

When I was a teacher, I always sought the best ways to serve students. Throughout the writing process, I’ve thought about how best to serve readers. When I revised my website, I kept readers in mind then as well, especially new readers.

But oddly, when I was trying to attract new readers and raise my royalties, I didn’t think in terms of how I was serving or what I was giving. Instead, I now realize I was too focused on what I would be getting. And that’s not joyful at all.

No wonder nothing was working.

So I’ve made more of a conscious effort to think about ways I may be of service not only to readers, but also to fellow authors, those who help bring my books to fruition, friends, family, and humanity in general. It’s not always in doing, or giving something material, but it includes forms that go beyond gratitude and appreciation.

The very intention to focus on service has come back to me multiplied. Today I went to Office Max. Not two minutes in, an associate offered to assist me. Not only did he help me find what I was looking for, but what I needed was on sale.

Success! And service!


The results: After a year of angst and uncertainty, I feel good about where I am. What’s more, I am embracing the possibilities rather than worrying about the unknown. I am embracing the essence of success—a feeling of accomplishment—rather than demanding that it take the form of increased readers and royalties. I am giving more than I am getting. And it all looks pretty damn good. The joy is returning. I feel more like a writer today than I have all year.

Oh, and guess what: sales of The Second First Time are up.

As Wayne Dyer used to say, It’s all green lights from here.

For discussion or reflection: What does success look like to you? If you were to change the way you look at success, how would what you looked at change?


wayne dyer quote

21 Affirmations for Writers

“What you choose to think about yourself and about life becomes true for you. And we have unlimited choices about what we can think.”

As a writer, I’ve been quite fortunate in many aspects.

Seven years ago, I self published a book that went to the top of the Amazon bestseller list, and landed me a contract six months later. Two years after that, I was able to resign my teaching position and become a full-time novelist. And two years ago, I met my literary agent through a chance meeting at a cocktail party.

Life wasn’t always so rosy, especially during my teens and early twenties. My parents’ divorce had really shaken me, and other issues/people tore at my self-esteem. By the time I was 20, I’d dropped out of three different colleges and became involved in an extremely toxic relationship. I floated from job to job and couldn’t decide on a career. Writing was one of the constants in my life, but the belief that had been ingrained in me was that I was never going to make money as a writer. I also didn’t believe I was any good as a novelist.

I wrote in my memoir about how Duran Duran’s song “Ordinary World” became a sort of lighthouse for me. But I didn’t mention the book that had changed the course of my life: You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay.

In the early 90s, I had been working in a salon as a manicurist when one of my clients recommended the book to me. She must have seen that despite my liking my job, I was in a dead end in other ways. I bought the book, and was instantly riveted.

Louise’s message was this:

What you choose to think about yourself and about life becomes true for you. And we have unlimited choices about what we can think.


At the time I had never seen a book like this before. And throughout years of therapy, no one had ever offered such seemingly simple advice: You can change your life if you change your thoughts. And the way to do that was by positive affirmations.

It seemed too far-fetched at first. You mean all I have to say is “I approve of myself” and life will get better?

And yet, that is exactly what happened. Literally.

I started with I approve of myself. This was quite an effort at first, given how low my self-esteem was. I had actually believed that toxic relationship was the best I was ever going to have, that I didn’t deserve better. He used to be so manipulative and controlling that he would actually tell me how to dress and wear my hair.

Little by little, I started to believe the affirmation.

The more I said, “I approve of myself” (it would run through my head like an endless ticker sometimes, the more assertive I became. One day I insisted on wearing what I wanted. He tried to shoot me down by telling me I wasn’t beautiful anymore, said I looked “nasty.”

“On the contrary,” I replied, “I’ve never looked better.” I believed it too. More than that, I knew at that moment that I would be leaving that relationship for bigger and better things.


Opportunities and people came into my life that opened me up, raised my self-esteem, and sent me in a positive direction.

I went back to school, and this time came out with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. While in school, I used affirmations to attract a love relationship, and two weeks later I met a man on campus and we dated for several months. The night before an exam, I would send love into the situation. And so on.

Any time I found myself desiring something—a new apartment, to publish a novel, my dream car—I offered affirmations and surrendered the outcome. Things and situations didn’t always work out so perfectly overnight, and sometimes I struggled a great deal, but in some cases the results were even better than anything I’d visualized.

In my latest novel, Big Skye Littleton, I even passed on the affirmation “I approve of myself” to Skye, who needed it as badly as I once had.


Louise Hay passed away last week—she was 90 years old—and I was more affected by the news than I’d expected to be.

This past year I’ve been challenged with lower royalties, and a novel (The Second First Time) that launched almost one year ago had been a major commercial disappointment. I also found myself adjusting to married life (not that that was unhappy) and at times I was overwhelmed.

Upon hearing of Louise’s death, I transported back to the first time I had read You Can Heal Your Life. I pulled the book from the shelf—my copy is over 20 years old, and it is well worn (see photos below)—and held it lovingly in my hands. And I wondered: What thoughts had contributed to the situations I’d been finding myself in lately? I’ve spent the last year making a gratitude list every morning, but when was the last time I’d used affirmations like a mantra? When was the last time I’d said “I approve of myself” and meant it?

I began to read the book yet again—each time I read it, I either connect to something in a way I haven’t before, or discover something completely new about myself. I realized that I’d spent much the year blaming others for the novel’s sales failure. I’d also spent a lot of time focusing on thoughts of being overwhelmed rather than trusting that the change was good.

Thus, I wrote new affirmations. I changed my thinking about The Second First Time, and the dip in royalties. I did more than express gratitude.

Sure enough, in the last four days, sales of The Second First Time are the highest they’ve been—they’re nowhere near the bestsellers list (yet!), but seeing the uptick has been so delightful… I’d forgotten how much fun writing and reciting affirmations could be.


You know how at the beginning of every episode of The Simpsons, we see Bart writing on the blackboard as punishment of his latest mischief? That’s what I do with my affirmations.

I write them five, ten times in a row (sometimes even more!) followed by repeated recitation of them—but they’re far from punishment.

And so, in honor of Louise, I decided to offer writers some affirmations to try. You can choose one or two of these that you connect with, or use them as inspiration and/or motivation to write and recite your own. Write them five or ten times in a row, and recite them five or ten times as well. Do this as often as you can.


If you’re struggling with writer’s block or are having trouble getting started, try one or two of these affirmations:


Divine Intelligence gives me all the ideas I need.

I relax and let life easily and comfortably provide me with everything I need. Writing is for me.

I trust in the writing process and my skills to compose and create.

My creativity is ever flowing. I go with the flow.

I attract the right words, sentences, and paragraphs at the right time.

Writing is a joy. Writing is fun!


If you’re struggling with being too self-critical (and what writer hasn’t struggled with that?), try one or two of these affirmations:


I approve of myself. (I recommend this one in any or every situation.)

There is plenty of talent and creativity to go around.

I love and accept myself and where I am right now. (Also good for writer’s block.)

I lovingly forgive myself. I am free.

I see with love and understanding. I hold all my experiences up to the light of love.

I recognize my own true worth.


If you desire to make writing your career, want to revive your writing career, or are fighting old beliefs that “there’s no money in writing,” try one or two of these affirmations:


My unique creative talents and abilities flow through me and are expressed in deeply satisfying ways.

My books attract plenty of readers.

I earn good money doing what satisfies me.

My work is a joy and a pleasure.

I have within me all the ingredients for success.

I establish a new awareness of success and prosperity.

I am worthy of success as a writer, and I accept it now.

I am making good money as a writer.

My good comes from everywhere and everyone.


You may feel resistance when you say some of these affirmations. They may even feel like outright lies. Acknowledge and work through those feelings. Remember: “What you choose to think about yourself and about life becomes true for you. And we have unlimited choices about what we can think.” Continue to say them until they are more than beliefs—they are truth for you.


30-Day Activity: Choose one or two affirmations from any or all of these categories, or use them as inspiration and/or motivation to write and recite your own. Write them five or ten times in a row, and recite them five or ten times as well. Do this for 30 days straight.