How to become a successful author

I’ve been a professional writer for 30 years (Wow! Seeing that number applied to something I’ve done freaks me out a bit.), and I’ve done a lot of different types of writing. My first novel was published in 1996, and since then, I’ve been trying to improve my writing and sell more books.

In all that time, I’ve finally started to recognize some things that work consistently in selling books. (What can I say, I’m a slow learner.) I have found that some of these things have a cumulative effect like a snowball rolling downhill and growing and growing.


  1. Write a good book. This should be obvious, but I see lots of books being published that are thrown together haphazardly. They might sell well initially because the authors do the other things I’m going to mention, but the books don’t have staying power. Plus, I just would be proud to call some of those books mine. Many of the authors don’t. They use pen names.
  2. Write more than one book. I’ve now written 19 published books and a few e-books. This has really helped by sales. I look at the number of books that I sell at a festival, and if I was only selling one book, I wouldn’t be able to make back my costs. Now, with 19 books, if I sell two or three of each book, I will have made a decent income from the festival. Also, if you have a series, you can use the first book in the series as a loss leader in your promotions to hook readers into the series.
  3. Have an author platform. This is why celebrities get book deals. They might not have much to say, and they probably use ghostwriters, but people know their name and follow what they do. That’s an author platform. For writers, you want to have Twitter and Facebook followers, subscribers to your blog, a large e-mail list, and people who turn out to hear you talk. The more you have, the stronger your author platform is, and the more attractive you will be to publishers. If you go the indie publishing route, you will be able to sell more books quicker. I wish that I had started compiling my e-mail list years ago because it would be huge now and making my selling job easier. Start building you author platform now. It will be a continual activity that you should do all through your career.
  4. Market, market, market. Writers want to write, not sell. Sorry to tell you, marketing’s part of the job. Even Nora Roberts does book signings. Part of your marketing efforts fall into building your author brand, but other activities will be book specific. I still give talks about books that I wrote years ago. Plan on doing as much marketing as you do writing.
  5. Try new things. While it will be tempting to stick to things that work, you can’t be afraid to try new things with your marketing. You don’t have to dedicate a majority of your marketing budget to new stuff, but plan on a portion of it going to try new things. I’m always looking for new shows to sell books at, new groups to talk to, and new methods to reach new readers online. I keep what works and don’t continue what doesn’t work. The more I do this, the more effective my marketing efforts become.

Writing is a great career, but to make it great, you are going to have to work at it. Be willing to go outside your comfort zone and reach for new heights. You might not succeed each time, but you will probably do so more than you would guess.



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7 Elements of Historical Fiction

I know that a lot of us write historical fiction. Here are some great points to consider as we do that.

A Writer of History

Apparently, more than 10,000 people have read this post since I wrote it in March 2015. Who would have imagined? As it seems to be so popular, I thought I’d repeat it today. Enjoy!

All writers of fiction have to consider seven critical elements: character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict, and world building. While every story succeeds or disappoints on the basis of these elements, historical fiction has the added challenge of bringing the past to life.

Since I work best by example, I’m developing an explanation of the seven elements in the context of historical fiction.

Character – whether real or imagined, characters behave in keeping with the era they inhabit, even if they push the boundaries. And that means discovering the norms, attitudes, beliefs and expectations of their time and station in life. A Roman slave differs from a Roman centurion, as does an innkeeper from an aristocrat…

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The decisions you need to make before you start writing your book

Making ChoicesHere is another set of slides from a presentation that Gettysburg Writers Brigade founder, Will Hutchison, made to the group. This one involves some of the choices you need to make as you set out to write your book.

You can click on the link below and download the slides from one of these lessons about creating a story.

Before you begin to write your novel, you need to make four choices:

  • Who are your characters?
  • What is your setting?
  • Who will tell the story? (What’s the point of view?)
  • How will your story develop?

This session from Will also looks into how to go about outlining your story and creating a synopsis of it.

The slides are packs with lots of information and examples, but you will get much more is you can actually make it out on Wednesday evenings to join in our group discussions. This week we’ll be talking about getting your manuscript ready for publication.

We meet every Wednesday at O’Rourke’s Eatery and Spirits at 44 Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg, PA. We meet in the second-floor dining room at 7 p.m. Come find us.


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Let’s Meet at O’Rorke’s Eatery & Talk About Writerly Things – September 6

Happy Labor Day! I hope you are enjoying some time with your families so I’ll keep this short.

Come on out and join the Gettysburg Writers Brigade at our meeting this week. If you’re a published writer or a new writer looking for some advice and encouragement, you’ll find it at our weekly meetings. They’re fun and informative.

  • Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    7:00 PM

O’Rorke’s Eatery & Spirits

44 Steinwehr Ave, Gettysburg, PA (map)


We meet at O’Rorke’s Eatery & Spirits, on the second floor on each Wednesday at 7:00 pm. See attached maps for parking, etc.

44 Steinwehr Ave, Gettysburg, PA (map)

You might also enjoy these posts:
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Why I decided to indie publish


The Man Who Killed EAP

I have started writing under a pen name. Here is one of my new novels.

We talked about indie publishing at last week’s Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade meeting. We have both indie and traditional authors in our group so we were able to get insight from both sides.


I’m an indie author, and I love it. I used to be traditionally published, but two things led to me making the jump to indie author.

The first thing is that I didn’t make a lot from my traditionally published novels. For instance, my first novel retailed for $9.95. I was paid a royalty based on what the publisher sold the book for. I can still remember that I earned an average for 50 cents a copy. During the three years the book was in print, I earned $5,000. You can’t make a living on that.

The second thing that to me making the indie jump was that when I decided to write a historical fiction novel, I was going to have to find a new publisher. It had taken me a long time to get a publisher for my YA novel, and I wasn’t looking forward to the search.

I knew someone who had been doing indie publishing in the 1980s and used the income to put his kids through college. As I talked to him about what he did, I realized that the only part of the of the process that I couldn’t do myself or hire someone to do was the distribution of the book. At the time, I had no clue about how to get the book into bookstores. However, I realized that the primary markets for my novel were places that I could drive to and talk to bookstore owners myself.

So I took the jump into indie publishing, and I loved it. As I learned more about the process, I became better at it and was able to expand the markets for my novels. Also, I can now earn a living as an author.


My first indie published book. It is still one of my favorites.


That’s not to say that I wouldn’t jump at a contract with a $100,000 advance, but now I have a knowledge base and an author platform that makes it more likely that a publisher would offer me that type of deal. I don’t go out looking for one, though. I enjoy

I don’t go out looking for one, though. I enjoy being able to control what my books look like. I like the fact that they are all still in print even when they are 10 or more years old. More importantly, those older books continue to sell well as I learn more about how to market them.

Yes, indie publishing is a lot of work, but if you believe in your book when no one else seems to, it might be the path for you.

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How to find your story

Untitled.jpgI’m trying a different type of post today. The Gettysburg Writers Brigade is a group of writers who both support each other and learn from each other. Our group’s founder, Will Hutchison, usually moderates discussions different topics. He also teaches more formal lessons from time to time.

You can click on the link below and download the slides from one of these lessons about creating a story.

Would you like to know how to structure a novel? The slides will give you tips from Will and famous writers on how to find your story and develop it.

Let me know what you think.

And if you would like to participate in the group, we meet every Wednesday at O’Rourke’s Eatery and Spirits at 44 Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg, PA. We meet in the second-floor dining room at 7 p.m. Come find us.

Story Story Story

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Tighten your writing and make it sharper

belly-2354_1920.jpgAt the meeting of the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade last week, we talked about cutting the flab from your writing. One of the first things Will Hutchison recommends is searching out each word that ends in –ly in your writing and see how the sentence reads without the word. You will be surprised to find that the sentence will probably read fine without it.

We also had lists of words that should be avoided, and if possible, cut from your writing. Here are some of the word:

  • Really
  • Very
  • That
  • Just
  • Then
  • Start
  • Begin, began, begun
  • Rather
  • Quite
  • Somewhat, somehow
  • Dialogue tags – said, asked, replied (You will need some of these to clarify who is speaking in dialogue, but writers often overuse them.)
  • Down, Up
  • Wonder, ponder, think, though
  • Breathe, inhale, exhale

You can search the web to find other words that add flab to your writing. Smart Blogger and Diana Urban’s website both have excellent articles. Sorry, I don’t have the links, only copies of the articles. You will find instances where these words are necessary, but they are often unnecessary.

Don’t worry about cutting the flab while you’re writing the first draft. The important thing to do for that draft is to get everything on paper. It’s during the later drafts when you are self-editing that you should look for ways to tighten your writing.

You’ll find it reads better, which will please both you and your readers.

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