Wisdom from the Publishing World with Chris Norbury
Welcome to the April installment of the 2021 Author Series. Each month a published author takes the stage to share their wisdom as they tell us what they wish they had known before they published their first book or what advice they would go back and give their pre-published self. This month mystery-suspense-thriller author Chris Norbury shares his wisdom with us. (If you haven’t had a chance to read his books Straight River and Castle Danger, add them to your reading list! The stories feature Matt Lanier, a southern Minnesota farm kid-turned professional musician whose middle-class world is turned upside down by a conspiracy of powerful, ambitious, violent men.)
Chris Norbury grew up in the Twin Cities and earned a B.S. in Music Education at the University of Minnesota. He’s written for several websites as a freelance writer. His essays on wilderness canoeing have been published in the Boundary Waters Journal. Chris is a member of both the Twin Cities and national chapters of Sisters in Crime. He also belongs to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and Support for Indie Authors (SIA). Chris is an advocate of independent bookstores and actively promotes the website indiebound.org whenever he can. A volunteer Big Brother since 2000, Chris donates a portion of all book sales to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. During the golf season in Minnesota, he works on perfecting his golf game. It’s an impossible dream but also a good excuse to get out of the office. He lives in southern Minnesota with his wife and golf clubs.
If I could go back and talk to my pre-published self, what advice would I give?
First, I’d ask, “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? Writing books is hard. Selling them is harder. How hard? About one million books are published annually. Talk about competition!” But if the answer to that question is “Yes,” then here’s my advice:
1. If you want to make a decent living as a writer, you’ll have to commit to writing as a full-time job. As a small business owner, you must create your product (books) and sell your product. Spend most of your time writing, especially early on. Mastering the craft takes years. Do basic marketing like social media connections from day one. However, only ramp up your marketing efforts after you’ve published three or more books and can start generating read-through income and backlist sales. You’ll need to publish a book or more per year to achieve a livable income eventually.
2. Producing a quality book costs money. If you choose indie publishing, you’ll pay for editors, proofreaders, cover designs, interior layouts, and distribution. Going traditional and landing an agent still requires you to have at least some editing of your manuscript before submitting to the agent. You may need to pay for some writing classes or buy reference books or how-to-write books. Outside of the pandemic “black hole,” authors incur travel expenses to book signing events and writing conferences. And don’t forget marketing and publicity costs.
3. Be receptive to new ideas and the rapidly changing world of publishing. When I started my writing journey in 2008, traditional publishing was dominant. Self-publishing was scorned as “Vanity Publishing.” However, things changed rapidly with the rise of eBooks, Print-On-Demand (POD), and hybrid publishers who assist authors with some or all facets of publishing for a fee. I soon learned that indie publishing was the best route for me. Keep up with the trends and the changing business scene so you can make the right choices for your career.
4. Get a degree in marketing. I’m half-kidding. In truth, most authors must do virtually all their marketing and promoting. Tons of online resources are available—free or paid—to learn how to sell more books, but that takes time. If you can afford it, hire experts for jobs like website creation and maintenance, social media coordinating, and arranging book events or blog tours.
5. Connect with other authors. The writing community is unique because of the generous nature of authors. Most are willing to help you avoid some of the mistakes they’ve made. Don’t wait to reach out to even best-selling authors. You may be amazed by their generosity.
6. Learn from the experts but do what works for you. If you blindly follow some expert’s My-way-is-the-best-way writing advice, you’re writing will suffer because it won’t be the method that works best for you. Find your voice. Develop your style. Write on your writing schedule. Break the rules only after you fully understand why they exist.
7. Finally, you can’t put a price on the feeling you’ll get when a stranger stops you in the street and tells you how much they enjoyed your book or how much it meant to them or that it changed their life. To me, that’s a greater reward than royalties from a million book sales. If you get that sort of feedback, you are a successful writer.
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