One school of thought in indie publishing says that the path to profitability is to write as many books as you can, as fast as possible. Once you write 20 books, you can make $50,000 a year, or so the argument goes. Indeed, that strategy can work for some indie authors, particularly romance writers. But strategies that work for a few authors may be disastrous for most authors.
In a previous episode, we discussed the risky strategy of rapid release.
It works for a handful of authors, and they proclaim their success loudly. Their volume and insistence give others the impression that rapid release is the only path to success.
But we haven’t discussed another downside to rapid release: Rapid release changes the way readers read books.
For every author who successfully writes 20 books for rapid release, many more burn out. Burned-out authors rarely finish their series, which leaves their readers feeling frustrated and betrayed.
Burnout is particularly bad in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, where even traditionally published authors, like Patrick Rothfuss and George R. R. Martin, not only fail to stick the landing but fail to even attempt the landing.
Author burnout has created a phenomenon that some call “battered reader syndrome.” This “syndrome” takes root when a reader has been burned by so many unfinished series that they put off reading the first book until the entire series is completed.
This reader hesitancy can undermine profitability, particularly for beginning authors.
A reader’s hesitation to even begin your series is a problem for you and everyone writing in your genre. “Battered reader syndrome” is particularly prevalent in fantasy and sci-fi because those genres tend to save the satisfying ending for the final book.
It’s less of a problem for romance writers because if you’re slowly marrying off everyone in your small fictional town, failing to get the youngest sister married is less of a problem.
An ancient fable describes a race between a tortoise and a hare. The hare gets a big head start but loses steam and eventually loses the race to the tortoise, whose slow and steady pace prevails.
In this article, I’ll outline an alternative to rapid release. Think of it as an antidote for author burnout related to rapid release. I call it the Tortoise Release Method. If you adopt the Tortoise Release Method, you’ll publish more books, reach more readers, and make more money.
Rapid release can work for authors with the following credentials:
- They write genre fiction.
- They can write quickly.
- They’ve already built a readership that eagerly anticipates their upcoming books.
Some authors fake rapid release. They’ll write all the books in their series and then release one every few months. After they’ve released all the books they’ve written, they stop releasing books for several years as they recover from the intense sprint out of the starting block.
During that burnout gap, they lose readers and potentially undermine their whole genre.
The standard rapid-release pace is to release a book every three months. In the first month, you draft the book. During the second month, you revise and edit. You produce, publish, and launch the book in the third month.
Some rapid-release authors can release a book every one or two months, but that strategy doesn’t work for most authors because they can’t maintain the pace.
A Novel Marketing listener recently asked this question:
“I’ve read that only a tiny percentage of authors make it to their sixth book. There are so many roadblocks. It’s hard to keep going. How does a mid-career author keep going when they haven’t broken through, and how do they attract attention when they’re no longer shiny and new?”
In answering this author’s question, I recommended that the author switch from rapid release to tortoise release.
Tortoise Release Method
The Tortoise Release Method allows each book a chance to shine. A sustainable release pace will allow you to launch each book well. A good book launch will grow your platform and readership. It will also help sell those older, earlier books.
The Tortoise Release Method calls for releasing one book per year. Ideally, you’d release the book on the same day each year. Such a discipline will rebuild trust with readers over time. Releasing annually on the same date allows readers to put your book launch on their calendar for the next several years.
Scott Sigler does this well. For the past 15 years, he’s released a book on April 1st.
Over the years, he’s started to write full-time as a professional author and has increased his pace. Full-time writers can often write more than one book per year.
You shouldn’t feel shackled by the Tortoise Release Method, but you should commit to releasing a new book annually. If you’re reliable, readers will start to plan their lives around your book. Some of Brandon Sanderson’s readers take a day off work when his book releases so they can read it on the day it comes out. They don’t want to wait.
You only earn that reputation and love if you reliably release a book every year. Readers will begin to trust you to finish the series and will buy your books, even if the series isn’t completely written.
Authors must rebuild trust with readers. We’re doing ourselves and our industry a disservice by promising an initial pace we can’t maintain.
Besides offering a sustainable pace, the Tortoise Release Method allows each book a chance to shine. A more sustainable pace will allow you to launch each book well. A good book launch will grow your platform and the total number of readers who know about you. It will also help sell those older, earlier books.
The Tortoise Release Method Yearly Schedule
You can release your book in any month of the year, but to simplify my explanation of the Tortoise Release Method, I’ll use the calendar year, beginning with January as “Month 1.”
Month 1: Research
The first month of your book writing calendar is your research month. If you’re already published, you can review the feedback you received on your last book. Remember that feedback doesn’t tell you nearly as much about your book as it tells you about your reader.
Readers aren’t really reviewing your book. They’re talking about themselves. The most common word used in a book review is “I.” Reading your reviews is a good way to get to know your Timothy and learn what he wants from your next book.
If you view your reviews as information about your readers, the critical feedback doesn’t hurt as much, and the positive feedback is less likely to inflate your ego.
Month 2: Outline
Spend your second month outlining.
If you’re a discovery writer, you’ll write your terrible first draft, or draft zero, in February. Discovery writers don’t outline per se, but they do create something akin to a verbose outline that appears as an awful initial draft.
If you are a traditional outliner, whether you’re using the snowflake method or another outlining method, you can build your robust outline in your second month.
Month 3: First Draft
In the third month, you’ll write your first draft; if you’re a discovery writer, you’ll write your first good draft.
It’s entirely possible to draft a book in one month, which is the standard pace. National Novel Writing Month has taught a generation of authors how to write a book in a month.
The Tortoise Release Method allows you the flexibility to fiddle with this timing. You may spend two weeks outlining and six weeks drafting. Adapt the method to make it work for you, but stay committed to releasing your book on a certain day every year.
Month 4: Revisions
In this revisions stage, you will read through your manuscript and self-edit. If you’re looking for tips about self-editing, check out my episodes about how to write more productively and tighten your writing.
Month 5: Beta Readers
After you’ve self-edited your manuscript, send the revised draft to your beta readers to get their feedback. Remember that beta readers are great at telling you what’s broken, but their proposed solutions usually aren’t good.
It’s like taking your car to the mechanic to tell him what’s broken. You might say, “It’s making a squeaking sound when I come to a stop. I think I need more oil.”
A trained mechanic will know that squeaking is probably your breaks and not a lack of oil. The mechanic will listen to your accurate description of the problem and use their professional expertise to implement the true solution.
Your beta readers can often describe the problems, but their proposed solutions may make things worse. You need a skilled professional editor to fix what’s broken.
Month 6: Developmental Edit
The beta reader feedback will direct you to problems you can fix yourself or solve with the help of your professional developmental editor.
Developmental editors can help you sort through beta reader feedback, interpret it, and solve the problems. A good developmental editor can elevate your story. If you’re writing fiction, a developmental editor will elevate your prose and help you write a more persuasive book.
Finding a good developmental editor is tricky. Many people who claim to be developmental editors are copy editors who are bored with fixing commas. If you find a good developmental editor, grapple them to your heart with hoops of steel because they will be the difference between selling 10,000 books or 100,000 books.
If you really want to break into the sales stratosphere, you need a good developmental edit.
Authors often skip Developmental editing using the rapid release strategy because there’s not enough time for such an in-depth edit.
Month 7: Copy Edit
A copy editor revises your sentences and occasionally paragraphs to make your writing as clean and tight as possible. My copy editor was able to shrink each sentence of my book by about 10% without losing any of the meaning. With the unnecessary words cut from my prose, the writing improved.
He cut those extra words after I worked hard to tighten the manuscript, but his cuts improved the writing even more.
If you’d like to know more about the different stages and types of editing, check out the following episodes.
- How to Hire a Good Editor
- How to Find and Work with an Editor
- How to Get Published with a Traditional Publishing House
Month 8: Design
Designing the book’s interior includes the following tasks:
- Creating the PDF version of the print book
- Creating the ebook
After you’ve self-edited, had beta readers give feedback, and worked with a developmental and copy editor, you still need to hire a proofreader. Errors are often introduced in the typesetting process, and existing errors become more obvious as the words are laid out differently on the printed page.
I recommend hiring someone other than your copy editor to do the proofreading. The more times a person has read your manuscript, the more likely they are to become blind to errors.
Designing the exterior includes creating the following cover elements:
By the end of August, you’ll have a finished book and be ready to print advanced reader copies (ARCs), but you’re not launching your book yet. You won’t launch the book until Month 11 in November. Instead of launching, you will sit on a completed book for three months as you move into the second phase of the Tortoise Release Method.
During the first eight months of the Tortoise Release Method, you focus on creating a fantastic book.
The next three months, phase two, is about launching the book.
Month 9: Book Launch Setup
In month nine, you’ll prepare for your launch by assembling all the necessary pieces to give your book the best chance at success. I have a correlating episode for each of the following aspects of the book launch setup.
- Create a Written Launch Plan
- Team Recruiting
- Pitching (Podcasts, TV, YouTube, Radio, Bloggers, etc.)
- (Send ARCs to media outlets you pitch, endorsers, and influencers)
- Pulse Old Books
If you’re working on book three in your series, you can price pulse book one during this ninth month to bring readers into your series. Come November, the new readers will be ready for book three.
Month 10: Platform Refresh
October is the month of the platform refresh, where you’ll audit your current website and digital assets.
- Website Refresh
- New, Updated Headshots
- Sequence Review and Refresh
- Reader Magnet
- Launch Team Training (as taught in the Book Launch
A new headshot can be used on your website and your book cover. If you get a good endorsement from the best professional in your industry, put that on your cover. Since you haven’t published your book yet, all aspects of the design are still in pencil.
Ensure every page of your website is current, and make improvements where possible. If you need help, check out my free course, How to Make Your Author Website Amazing.
Month 11: Launch
In November, you’ll kick off the media tour you set up in September. You may have scheduled some of your interviews for October, but regardless of when your interviews begin airing, make sure listeners, viewers, and readers have a way to pre-order your book.
There’s much debate about how long your pre-order window should be.
You want a long pre-order window for your first book because there’s a world of things you don’t know, and you’ll need time to learn about metadata and fiddle with your Amazon page.
A shorter pre-order might be better if you’re releasing your 20th book and shooting for a bestseller status.
Either way, don’t do any media interviews until you have your pre-order link ready, otherwise, you’re wasting that exposure. When people hear you on a podcast and get fired up for your book, they need to be able to make a purchase, even if the book doesn’t release for another month.
For more details about launching a book, check out the following episodes:
- How to Create a Written Book Launch Plan
- How to Launch Your Book on a Budget
- 10 Reasons to Delay Your Book Launch
- How to Conduct Your Own Media Tour
Month 12: Rest
We spent eight months writing the book, three months launching the book, and we have one month left.
What will you do in December? Nothing.
December is your month off.
- Read good books that recharge your soul.
- Read books in your genre.
- Bake cookies.
- Watch Hallmark movies.
- Spend time with your family.
- Go on vacation.
- Make a snowman.
The whole idea of the Tortoise Release Method is to establish a sustainable pace for the next 20 years. You’ll still write 20 books, but you’ll do it at a consistent pace so that you don’t burn out by book six.
Setting a sustainable pace means scheduling rest and enjoying it. If you feel like resting means you’re cheating your career or falling behind, you won’t be able to truly rest. Without enjoying rest, you’ll burn out.
What about my email list?
I recommend you send emails throughout the year, but you can change the frequency of your emails as needed.
Phase One: 8 Writing Months = 1 Email Per Month
During your eight writing months, one email per month is plenty. Perhaps you can write an email about what books you read or movies you watched that month. You might consider featuring some discount deals on some of your older books. You don’t have to kill yourself with a bunch of email creation.
Phase Two: 3 Pre-Launch Months = 2 Emails Per Month
During the two pre-launch months, send two emails per month telling people about the book. You’ll definitely want to send an email announcing the pre-order availability.
Phase Three: 1 Launch Month = 1 Email Per Week
During the launch month, send at least one email per week. Send one email on the day before the launch, the day of the launch, and a few days after you hit a bestseller benchmark you can share with your list.
Finally, schedule one email to send during your rest month. Email your list monthly to keep the list active so people don’t forget you.
To learn more about what to write in your monthly emails, check out the following episodes:
- How to Grow Your Email List Using Delicious Reader Magnets with Tammi Labrecque
- What to Include in an Author Newsletter
- 7 Tips for Effective Email Newsletters
Writing and sending 16-18 emails per year is very sustainable. If you’re writing non-fiction, you may be blogging and sending emails more frequently. But if you’re not creating enough content to justify a weekly email, don’t feel like you’re a bad author. Remember that readers really want new books released at sustainable, consistent intervals.
What are the advantages of the Tortoise Release Method?
After 20 years of writing, you’ll have written and published 20 books. That may sound slow, but think about how many years you’ve been writing.
If you’ve been writing for three years, do you have three books published? Probably not.
While this is a slower pace than rapid release, it’s still a challenging pace. It requires focus and persistence, but you can maintain the pace for years.
A Chance to Shine
Each book gets the launch it deserves and a chance to be a bestseller. You’ll learn from every launch, so when you begin researching again in month one, you can review your launch and assess what worked.
Authors who hold books back and then release them rapidly miss the opportunity to incorporate reader feedback into book two. If readers find the sidekick annoying, you can remove him from the next book. But if you’re sitting on a finished book two, you can’t easily remove the annoying character from the storyline of the series.
Once George Lucas realized how much fans hated Jar Jar Binks, he diminished him in the second movie and removed him from the third. If George Lucas had rapidly released the Star Wars movies, and Jar Jar Binks featured prominently in all three movies, it would have been the worst series.
Listen to your fans and readers so you can incorporate their feedback.
Sets Reader Expectations
Your established pace and release date will shape your reader’s expectations. Maybe every February 14th readers get a new romance novel from you. They can set that as a calendar event and look forward to the release.
Complete One Book Per Year
The Tortoise Release Method allows you to write a book each year while working a day job. You may not have time for many hobbies, but you can launch a book every year while working a day job. You’ll have to make sacrifices and do some pruning elsewhere to make the time. It may mean waking up early, going to bed early, or sacrificing some hobbies, but it’s totally sustainable.
As your books start to hit bestseller lists and get evergreen sales, you may be able to quit your day job. And when you do, you may pick up the writing pace.
Rapid release is more sustainable after you’ve become a full-time author. Don’t let some full-time author, who’s already making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, guilt you or pressure you into having that pace for your career at your stage of life.
If you can rapid write, you can rapid release. If you write a book every three months, feel free to release one every three months. But don’t pressure other authors to match your pace. It’s bad for that author and potentially bad for the industry.
I crafted this plan with bestselling and award-winning author James L. Rubart. The Five-Year Plan is a step-by-step guide for your writing career. Learn what to do in each quarter of the year to avoid the mistakes that hijack success for most authors. Set yourself up for success. Learn more at NovelMarketing.com/courses.
Kamuela Kaneshiro, author Legends from the Pacific: Book 1
Have you ever been curious about Asian and Pacific Folklore? Kamuela Kaneshiro has spent years collecting scary fables, folktales, and ghost stories from around the Pacific. If you want something to read that will make you afraid of the dark, you can find Legends from the Pacific on Amazon, or listen to the podcast at LegendsFromThePacific.com now.
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