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The Reinvented Writer – 7 Steps to Publishing Success

From Article Writer, to Published Author, to School Teacher, to Indie Bestseller - and all the Steps In-Between

 

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THE ROAD TO SUCCESS IS…

…”paved with failure”. Or, “A successful person is just someone who never gave up.” Or, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

I forget where these quotes come from. So maybe I’ll just claim them as my own. But the truth is, it’s easy to read words of wisdom like these and just nod your head sagely, before going back to whatever it was you were doing before.

To really understand what it takes to grow a successful author career, it’s important to learn from others who have been through the worst of it, and come out the other side stronger.

After all, in just the last few years the publishing industry was turned on its head with the arrival of KDP, and then turned on its head several times more since – with changes to algorithms, policies, lawsuits, and emerging technology.

The fact is, the publishing industry is more fluid that it’s ever been. And to build a career today is both easier than it’s ever been, and more difficult to hold on to.

So, what do you do when life turns your ambition upside down? Do you give up, or find a way to adapt?

That’s what we’re talking about today with fiction and non-fiction author Amy Shojai.

Amy built herself a career as a traditionally published author before the Kindle hit the shelves – spending years submitting articles before getting her big break.

Over the years that followed, Amy transitioned from full-time author, to school teacher, and back to publishing as an indie author – while watching the publishing world change dramatically around her.

Here’s how she adapted – and reinvented herself along the way.

Take it away, Amy!

THE REINVENTED WRITER & 7 STEPS TO PUBLISHING SUCCESS

By Amy Shojai

I didn’t set out to be a writer. I’m where I am due to a perfect storm of pet-love, frustration, boredom, and lack of funds. *s* Oh, and luck, a whole lot of furry good luck.

When I was a kid, Mom told all her friends, “When Amy grows up, she won’t have babies—she’ll have puppy dogs and kitty cats.” Mom was right.

THE ACCIDENTAL PET WRITER

My publishing career began when my husband and I moved to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. You never know where a “real” job will lead.

With few opportunities in the small town, I applied for a position with a veterinary hospital. The interview happened during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the doctor handing me puppies to resuscitate while I answered his questions. I got the job, maybe because I didn’t faint!

I fell in love with veterinary medicine and became fascinated with cat and dog behavior and care. Part of my job included translating the doctor’s “medicalese” techie terms in language pet parents more easily understood.

In my spare time, I read voraciously, and—like many readers—was inspired to write.

I submitted personal experience stories as a vet tech to pet magazines, and collected a boatload of rejections (remember Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy and Dog World magazines?). Finally, an editor took pity on me, and explained what I’d done wrong—and done right (er, write?), and I sold 8 stories in a row to her magazine. All I can say is, doG bless mentors!

 

 

#1 Tip. Be a mentor! They’re the heaven’s gift to starry-eyed hopefuls and can make dreams come true. Help others, because a rising tide lifts all boats—you’ll benefit as much as anyone.

After selling dozens of personal experience cat and dog stories, I graduated to assignments that required interviewing veterinary experts from all over the world. Telephone-tag interviews (this was before email) took place during lunch hours and after work. I wrote until 11:00 pm every night and all weekend.

Little sleep, lots of work, but the JOY of it remains addictive, especially, when the work reaches someone and makes a difference or even saves a pet’s life.

And then it happened—a New York editor called me to write a book. Mee-wow!

 

 

BOOKS, BOOKS & MORE BOOKS!

A New York editor read my Cat Fancy magazine articles, and phoned to offer two book contracts. Those titles, published in 1992 by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell, launched my book publishing career.

My third book came after I lost a dog-writing contest. The editor liked my writing, and asked me to write a kitten book for a Simon & Schuster imprint. And my fourth book publication happened when an editor read and liked my Dog World articles, and asked me to write 16 chapters in a massive Rodale Press pet care book.

I quit my day job to write full time, and continued to produce 30-50 articles and columns a year while pursing more book contracts.

#2 Tip. Include bio-notes and contact information in everything you write. Make sure editors and agents can reach you (do you have easy to find CONTACT INFO on your blog?) You never know where that can lead.

 

 

LITERARY AGENT—OH BLISS, I’VE ARRIVED!

I broke all the rules to get my agent. She’d turned down my fiction before (drat!) but had expressed interest in my nonfiction background. When her name turned up as a speaker at a writers’ conference I planned to attend, I (gulp!) took a chance and faxed her my pitch.

My relationships with experts in the pet products industry granted me permission to use an impressive imprimatur on two proposed book projects.

Within 30 seconds, she called me back, and I had an agent.

#3 Tip. Leverage your expertise & know when to break rules. What you do in your “real life” when incorporated in your writing work can potentially bring you closer to your personal brass ring goal. Look for opportunities and be bold—worst case, they say “no.”

My book publishing career pounced forward with my agent’s sale of the PURINA ENCYCLOPEDA OF DOG CARE and PURINA ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAT CARE hardcover titles with Ballantine. Together we sold another dozen or so pet care titles, including two more Rodale Press book that I’m very proud to say has saved many pet lives. THE FIRST-AID COMPANION FOR DOGS AND CATS continues to be one of my best sellers.

 

 

PUBLISHING DIES—I’M SCREWED

In addition to the books, I became a spokesperson for Purina, offering cat-training and behavior demonstrations around the country and writing a popular online column. I even made TV appearances on The Today Show, and Animal Planet as a pet expert.

But after September 11, everything changed including my career. News became more serious (rightly so), with warm-and-fuzzy TV pet segments no longer welcome. People asked Dr. Google for cat and dog advice (much of it bad or dangerous), rather than reading books.

My book released one month after September 11 tanked, and the 4-year spokesperson tour I’d taken for granted was cancelled.

Publishing went “ker-flooey” (a tech term *s*). My agent explained that editors no longer wanted pet books, because they wouldn’t sell (again blame Dr. Google). Several of my titles went out of print, so I got the rights back, but hadn’t a clue what to do with them.

The one bright spot was my friend Dr. Marty Becker asked me to co-edit Chicken Soup for the Cat Lovers Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul. After that, out of sad desperation, I took a job teaching high school choir.

I believed my book career was over.

 

 

WRITING CAN SUCKETH—BUT DON’T QUIT!

I loved teaching, but discovered I’m no longer suited to the restrictions of a “real job.” My frustration poured out in a pet-centric thriller story I’d always wanted to read. I returned to my beginnings, writing in my spare time before work, during lunch, and until midnight or on weekends.

#4 Tip. Creativity breeds creativity. What other creative avenues feed your muse? Writers paint word pictures, composers sing symphonies of sound, and actors bring it all to life. Nourish your creativity. If you can’t write all the time, find other creative ways to feed your muse.

A weight lifted once I gave notice prior to the end of the school year, although I had no writing prospects. This leap of faith paid off within three weeks of leaving school when a book offer came my way (The American Pit Bull Terrier). As soon as I delivered that manuscript, a colleague invited me to write online behavior content for cats.About.com, which also led to me creating the entire puppies.about.com site.

#5 Tip. Be flexible. Dreams come to those who see the reality within the sparkly vision.

Poetic justice, eh? The Internet stole my book writing career, and once I stopped lamenting and fighting the injustice, I took back control by creating my own online content. My Bling, Bitches & Blood Blog took off, an E-newsletter was born (thanks in large part to Your 1st 10K Readers), and I planned new ways to leverage the out-of-print books I still owned through social media and advertising.

 

 

THE REINVENTED WRITER

I was one of those twerps who foolishly considered self-publishing to be VANITY PRESS stuff until my eyes opened, out of necessity. Scary to admit you’re wrong, and jump off the self-publishing cliff with little to no preparation.

Ebooks revitalized my publishing career. I left my agent (OH MY HEAVENS, HOW SCARY!). Rather than be ruled by an agent and acquisition editors deciding what merited publishing, I listened to my audience and gave them what they wanted and needed. Amazingly, my royalty percentage earned far more than any New York deal ever had.

Here’s just one example. I wrote KITTEN CARE FOR DUMMIES, and turned it in to my editor. The editor accepted the manuscript, and then two weeks later the “Dummies” brand sold to a new publisher and the book was cancelled. Oy!

Rather than screaming, I simply explained that (per the contract) I expected my full advance since the manuscript was accepted, AND that I wanted rights reverted. Done and done.

Then, I offered the manuscript (revised of course) to another editor, and it was published by New American Library. That book won three prestigious awards. Later, when the book went out of print and rights reverted again, I re-published under my own Furry Muse imprint. Complete Kitten Care has 9 lives and is my Indie best seller!

#6 Tip. Look for opportunities in the disappointments. If my books hadn’t gone out of print, I’d never have gotten back the rights, which enabled my re-birth as an Indie author.

Initially I partnered with a small independent press to release updated print versions of my back list books, as well as new nonfiction titles. Together we launched my fiction career with LOST AND FOUND (now perma-free), the book I wrote during my teeth-gnashing choir teaching days, followed by more in this pet-centric thriller series.

Attending professional conferences helped me network with established thriller authors like James Rollins, J.T. Ellison, Jon Land and others who actually (SQUEE!) gave me cover quotes for my thrillers.

I leveraged my nonfiction audience with dog and cat theme stories, so that many also “adopted” my fiction books.

#7 Tip. Ask for help. Just as it makes YOU feel awesome to be a mentor, graciously accept such gifts from others. Connect with and build a support group of others who share your goals and experience.

In January 2017, I parted ways with the small press indie-publisher and by May 2017 had updated and reissued all my books under my own imprint: FURRY MUSE PUBLICATIONS. That has allowed me to better plan marketing campaigns, schedule updates, and take control of pricing and income factors in my business.

 

 

9 ADVERTISING TIPS from DIY to PAY-TO-PLAY

My Pets Peeves newsletter (several different segments) keeps me connected with readers. The fiction subscriber magnet is my first-in-series perma-free title, while the cat and dog lists receive nonfiction Quick Tips guides. Each lists also receives a series of posts introducing fiction readers to my individual titles, and nonfiction readers to chapter-by-chapter samples of my big books. I use Aweber but there are many services available.

AD TIP #1: I’ve found that many of the nonfiction subscribers go on to purchase the entire book, rather than have it piecemeal in the installments. This works well for fiction, too.

AD TIP #2: In each Ebook, I include a “note from the author” with links to subscribe to my newsletter and other relevant books. Having it in the front matter (right after the TOC) makes it visible in the Amazon “preview” so browsers may click-subscribe even if they don’t purchase the book.

AD TIP #3: My blog has additional tip sheets as lead magnets (I use LeadPages for delivery but there are other options) to entice additional newsletter subscribers. I’ve identified my top 6 blog posts (puppy diarrhea tips is #1, LOL!), and focus on those.

AD TIP #4: I purchase lead-building multi-author promos every six months. Doing this, I’ve grown my list by 200 to 600 with each promo, with few unsubscribing and most becoming highly engaged readers. Note: I’d much rather have only 100 engaged subscribers, than 20,000 who never open the newsletter!

AD TIP #5: I don’t purchase Facebook advertising, as it’s not been successful for me. My blog integrates with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, as well as Triberr.com (1+million reach). It’s hard to measure direct impact, but is important for “google juice” to continually stay interactive on the social media platform you love. Only choose platforms you enjoy—or you’ll waste time, pluck your head bald and hate your life for no reason. *s*

AD TIP #6: By having my fiction published “wide” (on all Ebook platforms), I’ve gotten three BookBub feature deals (pricy but effective) that proved instrumental in promoting the fiction titles. I’ve experimented with AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) advertising campaigns for my fiction, which has worked well only for my 3-book fiction bundle, but not so much for individual fiction titles. I’ve also received translation offers on some titles.

AD TIP #7: For well over a year, I left my nonfiction in Kindle Unlimited. With the exception of my CAT FACTS and DOG FACTS titles (each well over 500-pages), I earned only nominal page views, so I have recently pulled all nonfiction from KU. I’m in the process of publishing these titles “wide” with the hope a future BookBub feature may work magic. Besides, now KOBO’s partnership with Walmart, Google Play launching audio books, and iBooks gearing up for a bigger visibility push means potential benefits for books widely available.

AD TIP #8: Although my fiction AMS sponsored product advertising hasn’t been great, it’s knocked my nonfiction titles out of the park! I’ve noticed increase sales on Ebooks, and also a big bump up on nonfiction print books! I suspect that’s because it’s much easier to target pet-centric words and phrases universal to pet lovers. Also, readers appear to still prefer nonfiction books in physical copies. As a result, my print book sales quadrupled over the holidays, and continues to hold steady well into February.

AD TIP #9: Currently, I only have 6 of my titles published in audio formats (2 thrillers and 4 nonfiction titles). In another life, I’m a professional actor and have my own recording studio, so am able to record the VO myself and publish with ACX.com to Audible and iTunes. Interestingly, the nonfiction titles outsell the fiction, and each time I promote an Ebook, I see increased sales in audio. It’s worthwhile to investigate this fast-growing segment.

 

 

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE

I’m where I am today because I know—truly without reservation—this is what I was put on earth to do. I no longer doubt myself. I write what I want, publish when and how I wish, revise work when breakthroughs emerge, voice my own audio books in my home studio, make up fiction stories infused with facts that instruct as well as entertain, and interact with my audience—awesome pet enthusiasts no different than me, who simply want the best for their cats and dogs.

My royalty income continues to grow during a time when “traditional” publishing asserts pet books won’t sell and that Ebooks are in decline.

The difference, I truly believe, is that I listen to what pet parents want, and provide that info-tainment with respect for their needs.

I’m no different than anyone else. Other than hiring an outside editor, I can’t afford to pay others for work I can do myself. Besides, nobody cares as much about the end product as I do. So I learn from publishing and marketing experts, just as I learned from veterinary and pet products experts over the years.

It’s all on me—the writing, the formatting, book design, webinars, you name it—I have to get it right (write?) for the pets. That’s how I got here—asking the question, how can I help pets? May it always be so.

I’ve had to reinvent myself a few times, and probably will again. But now that I’ve got a firm grip on that shiny brass ring, I’m not letting go. Today, there are many paths to publishing, and no “right” or “wrong” way to get there.

I hope these tips help you reach out and capture the shiny dream that’s close to your heart.

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 30+ nonfiction pet care titles and her fiction, Thrillers with Bite! Find more about Amy at http://www.SHOJAI.com

 

 

 

And now we want to hear from you: how have you dealt with big changes in your publishing career? How do you see things changing for authors in the future? Leave a comment!

23 Comments
  1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

    Hi Nick, thanks for the opportunity for the guest post.

  2. Martha Conway says:

    Amy,
    Thanks for sharing these experiences. You are an inspiration. Question: What are AD “lead-building multi-author promos” and where do you purchase them?
    Thanks,
    Martha

  3. Ken Haedrich says:

    Hi Amy – Thanks for a great article. I was flabbergasted by the similarities in our stories; it was almost uncanny. I published my first 5 cookbooks, traditionally, starting in the early ’90s with Bantam/Doubleday/Dell…all the while writing articles and columns for a dozen consumer magazines. I went on to publish 6 more books, traditionally, with other publishers…preceded, very early in my career (the mid-80s)…by a stint as a self publisher. (I actually printed the books and bound them by hand, schlepping them all over New England on my days off from full time cooking.) Only about a third of my titles are still in print and, like you, I managed to get rights back on most titles. At long last, I’ve self-published my first ebook – PIE HERO TO PIE ZERO – which has been holding down the #1 position for pie books on Amazon for almost a month now. More ebooks are on the drawing board, as well as companion video courses. It’s been a crazy thing, watching the way publishing has changed so much in the last 30 years. Anyway, I’m inspired by your story and look forward to learning more about your work and career. I think Nick is a font of great e-publishing knowledge, too, and will stayed tuned to him for plenty more. Regards, Ken Haedrich

    1. Ken Haedrich says:

      My bad: my new ebook is PIE ZERO TO PIE HERO, not the other way around. Oops!! We wouldn’t want you heading in the wrong direction, and I doubt I could give THAT title away! Ken

      1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

        Hi Ken–I love pie! Congrats on the success. Yes, our stories do sound similar, and I love it when success triumphs. Will check out your books and the video series sounds promising, too.

  4. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

    Hi Martha, Thanks for the question. There are a number of group author promotion sites currently available. Basically, a group of authors in a similar genre put together a promotion (often a give-away of a free book), to entice readers to sample new books and often to subscribe to the various author’s newsletter list. So–for instance–a group of 20 thriller authors offer 1 free book each–and agrees to share the promotion across their individual contacts lists. Readers who enter get 20 books in exchange for subscribing to all the author newsletters. And each of those 20 authors shares the promo with their own lists/social media contacts. This way, instead of one (1) single author giving away 1 books to his/her contacts, that same author’s book gets shared with the contacts of the whole group. BookFunnel.com now has ways to set these group giveaways up, and there are Facebook groups that do this. I’ve used a number of them–from authors putting things together themselves for free, to paid services that set up give-away pages and more.

  5. Rosalinda Morgan says:

    Amy,
    Thanks for the wonderful post. I have only been writing since I retire in 2011. I’m now 74 and have published three historical novels. I’m about finished with a nonfiction and hoping to publish by May. No matter how I slice it, I am not going through the traditional publishing route. I had two rejections and two no-replies on my first book and those did it for me. I have not stopped writing. I have three more fictions that need editing. You inspire me to keep going. Thanks.

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Oh wow, good for you Rosalinda! Congratulations on your published historical novels. So many folks talk about “someday when I get enough time….” And my Mom always told me–“If it’s important to you, you will find the time.” You inspire me, Rosalinda, thanks so much for the reply.

  6. Thomas Neviaser, MD says:

    Hi Amy: Your article has a lot of good information. I’m a retired orthopedic surgeon and have self-published an orthopedic guide for the layperson describing 90 common orthopedic conditions, their anatomy, mechanisms of injury and inflammation, and available treatments (THE WAY I SEE IT: A Head-to-Toe Guide to Common Orthopaedic Conditions). I have tried many avenues to promote my book, some of which you have covered, with minimal success. I even give orthopedic lectures in hope of promoting my guide. I have also self-published a psychological mystery with 36 good to excellent reviews on Amazon (YOU DEAR SWEEY MAN), but again, the marketing has been difficult. I haven’t quit yet, but I can see how easy it is to do so. I’m guessing no agent wants a old man, age 77, as a client since I’ve contacted well over 100 agents over the past 2-3 years regarding both books without any acceptance. Your article has given me an impetus to continue on, so if you have any other tips, please keep publishing them.

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Hi Dr. Neviaser, Your orthopedic guide book to me sounds like a great help for people. If you’re lecturing to other ortho-specialists, though, that wouldn’t appear to be the target audience (or perhaps I misunderstood?). I love the cover (looked it up!), and if you published the book on Kindle, perhaps you could take advantage of the AMS advertising. That’s worked really well for my nonfiction. On the fiction book, it’s very difficult to get traction and attention with a single book. Mine only began to take off once the 3rd in the series released. You might also think about changing up covers–once I changed my covers, the fiction took a leap forward. In fact, I’ve since learned that covers go in and out of style and that older books often are updated with new covers. Continued good luck–keep writing!

  7. Lynda Filler says:

    AMY! WOW!
    Thanks so much for your step-by-step process. I came into the industry in 2015 with JET Kindle Worlds and that remains my best-selling series because Amazon promotes it. The industry had already shifted and not having the background connections is a challenge. I appreciate your words, your insight and the tips to moving forward. Best of luck on everything and thank you for sharing.

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Hi Lynda! I only recently discovered Kindle World opportunities when Toby Neal invited me to write in her world. It’s a great way to experiment, cross-promote with other authors, and find a new audience. The Jet KW series is hugely popular, congrats!

  8. Tracy Krauss says:

    What a very inspiring story! (Even though I’m not a ‘pet’ person!) Your tenacity is one of the things I find most admirable. Instead of crying over the ‘spilled milk’, you looked for other ways to maximize your business. I am no where near the success story that you are, but I, too, chose to leave my agent in favour of an indie career. The freedom and autonomy are so worth it.

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Hey Tracy! Believe me, I did my share of teeth gnashing along the way. In fact, I have a head-shaped dent in my wall from head-banging angst while deciding to leave my agent, LOL! Congrats to you on your Hybrid Author journey. May it continue to bring you more satisfaction every day.

  9. Margaret Evans says:

    Hi Amy. This is wonderful material. I’m a long-time pet owner – horses, dogs and cats – and I’ve been a writer for 45 years writing non-fiction, short stories for children, articles, features and editorial columns. I have to say that all of them support each other in that material for a non-fiction book can provide leads for a fiction story as well as commentary in a column or editorial. I’ve published books with a conventional publisher, under contract, and as an indie publisher (which I loved the best). Everything you say is right on and I found it all very helpful and insightful. It’s amazing how much the publishing industry has changed and how much better it is today for the independent writer. Congrats to you for all you have achieved. Keep up the great work!

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Hi Margaret! I agree with everything you say. I’m passionate about sharing good info about pets, so the fiction (and the musical plays, and webinars, and and and…) are all additional ways to reach a wider audience. I love research so much, I can get lost down rabbit holes, but these tidbits spark plot points for fiction and more. So my research for articles about HCM in Maine Coon cats found its way into my fictional cat character, and off-label drug issues in pets (and kids) also struck a chord, My readers seem to enjoy the “Fact Or Fiction” afterword sections of my thrillers, where they find out what’s true and what I made up. *s* I think that’s also why my nonfiction audience has crossed over to the fiction books (and vice versa). Fiction readers in reviews say, “Now I understand why my dog/cat did that!”

  10. Chris Brooks says:

    I love thi post. It gives me hope for my dog rescue books 🙂

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Hi Chris– Oh my doG, by all means, keep the faith for your dog rescue books! There is an audience out there, and sometimes it requires a bloodhound to sniff ’em out. But once found, they are loyal as any canine could be. Good luck!

  11. Jeanne Felfe says:

    I’m saving this one where I can get to it. There are some great ideas. I’m curious how well they might translate to someone who only writes fiction?

    Thanks,
    Jeanne Felfe
    Author of The Art of Healing – A Novel

    1. Amy Shojai, CABC says:

      Hi Jeanne, I think a great deal of these tips translate to fiction writing. Some work better in nonfiction than in fiction–and vice versa–but since I write both, I’ve tried everything for all my books. One tip not included (that has proven VERY helpful for my fiction) really ramps up the readership engagement. I hold a NAME THAT DOG or NAME THAT CAT contest with each book, for one or more new “pet” characters intrinsic to the story. Readers get to nominate names, including descriptions (often of their own pets), and then a top ten list is chosen–and a poll created for readers generate votes for their favs. The winning names and descriptions are incorporated into the story, and the back matter of the book also includes the reader’s name–AND they get an autographed copy of the physical copy of the book. I think that could work for a variety of fiction stories, as well.

  12. Julie says:

    Wow great story and lots of value filled tips. Thank you.

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