Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: Get Rich Quick Writing Big Hit Bestsellers!

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Never-ending FAQ, the constantly evolving adjunct to our Submission Guidelines. If you have a question you’d like to ask about Stupefying Stories or Rampant Loon Press, feel free to post it as a comment here or to email it to our submissions address. I can’t guarantee we’ll post a public answer, but can promise every question we receive will be read and considered.

Today’s question comes from Angelique, who asks:

What is the most profitable and easiest path for success?


Okay, as far as I can tell, the most profitable and easiest path to success is to forget writing fiction entirely and instead to produce an endless series of books, workshops, and webinars promising to teach other aspiring writers how to get rich quickly by writing big hit bestsellers. But I will assume there is an implicit “by writing fiction” in the question as originally stated, and answer that question instead. 

Er, you’d better get your waders on. The cynicism is about to become hip deep.


Many long ages ago I was sitting in a very plush office in Century City, with the head of West Coast A&R for some major record company whose name I forget now. After listening to my demo tape—politely at first, and then impatiently, the longer it ran—he decided to give me some advice. The objective, he said, isn’t to be really different. It’s to be just a little different, so that your work stands out from the crowd, but at the same time to sound enough like someone else who is already a major hit-maker that the first time the listeners hear it, it sounds like something they’ve already heard six times before, and they love it and can’t wait to hear it again, to hear that little bit of novelty you bring to the formula.

At the time I thought that was quite possibly the most cynical advice I’d ever received. A lifetime later—well, I still think it’s incredibly damned cynical, but it’s also very practical. People like what they like. It’s very difficult to get them to try something truly new. The Amazon publishing empire is built on that premise: that it’s much easier to get people to buy more of what they already like than to get them to take a chance on something new.

Therefore, if the question is, “What is the most profitable and easiest path for success?”

Attend closely. Today, I’m giving this secret away for free. Next fall it will be in my best-selling book, How to Get Rich Quickly By Writing Big Hit Bestsellers!

Step 1: Write to market. 

Really study the market. Find a niche market or subgenre that is hot right now—not five years ago, now—and learn all you can about it. Amazon provides a wealth of information, if you look at the book listings. Study the keywords and subgenre breakdowns. Then pick a category you like to read and think will be fun to work in, and figure out what you can do with it that is slightly different from what everyone else and their cat is already doing.

Step 2: Learn the Lester Dent formula.

Lester Dent was a pulp fiction writer who cranked out hundreds of novels under a plethora of pseudonyms and got filthy rich doing so. His universal plot formula was designed for 6,000-word short stories, but with some adjustments it works just as well for short novels. Google it. Learn it. Apply it.

Step 3: Pick a pseudonym. 

Your name is your brand. Ideally you want to have an entire stable full of names, so that you can switch back and forth as your brands and genres heat up or cool down. Remember, this is not you. You’re in the entertainment business now. Your pseudonym is a character; a stage name; a role you perform for public consumption. It’s a mask you put on before you go out in public in the morning and take off after you come home at night.

Step 4: First, figure out how your story ends.

To paraphrase Mickey Spillane, while the beginning of your book is what gets people interested in reading it, it’s the ending that determines whether they want to read anything else by you. Your readers are giving you something very valuable: their time. You owe it to them to give them an ending that rewards them for the time they’ve invested in reading your story. You want them to be glad they took the time to read your work.

Step 5: Write short novels.

The day of the BFFB (Big Fat Fantasy Brick) is over. The optimum length for a novel in today’s market is around 50K words. If you feel your story requires a 200,000-word epic, split it up into four installments. 

Step 6: Forget traditional publishing.

Start with self-publishing directly to Kindle. It’s too hard to get in the door with the few remaining traditional publishers now and their support for new authors is roughly nonexistent. Remember, if you’re successful at self-publishing, the traditional publishers will come to you, to beg you to take their money. 

Step 7: Consider whether serialization is right for you.

I’ve watched several writers launch successful careers recently by serializing their novels on Kindle Vella or Royal Road first before going to a full e-book and/or print release. If you can work that way—I can’t—it’s a great way to build your fan base.

Step 8: Start an email list.

No one else is going to do this for you. As your pseudonym, get a website. Build a mailing list. Start a blog. Interact with your fans. Make them feel that they are sharing in your success. Everyone loves the feeling of being able to say, “I was reading [name] before it was cool.”

Personally, I’d skip Patreon. I know a few writers who are making enough on Patreon to justify the work, but a lot more who aren’t. Ditto for crowd-funding. You must have a crowd before crowd-funding pays off. Focus on building that mailing list! Put at least a quarter of your working time into marketing your work, not to editors, but directly to readers. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your writing is if no one reads it.

Step 9: Keep writing those books!

If you come up with an idea that really clicks with readers, keep working it! Write a never-ending series! Don’t stop writing it until people stop buying it! Above all, if you get fed-up with telling the ongoing story of your lead character—and you will, it happens to all of us, sooner or later—whatever you do, do not toss your lead character off the top of Reichenbach Falls! Never write your character into an ending so final you can’t bring them back for “just one more” sequel, if your fans demand it.

Conversely, if you’ve gone three books into a series without having a bestseller, kick that pseudonym to the curb, revise your formula, and start over as someone else.

As you have no doubt noticed by now, I did not put, “Start out writing short stories” on this list. Once upon a time, there was some connection between the SF/F short-story and novel markets. That time was a long time ago. In today’s market it’s easier than ever to get your short stories placed and published, but almost impossible to get anyone to notice, or for you to make any significant money doing so. And since the question was: 

“What is the most profitable and easiest path for success?”

I decided to focus on the “profitable” part of the question.

Understand, writing short stories is good practice. It’s a good way to hone your craft skills and develop your concepts. But if your objective is to make money as a writer of fiction, then the short story market should be considered a sandbox, and one that you will in time outgrow and leave.

Which brings us to:

Step 10: There is no easy path to success.

Success in this business requires talent, ambition, good craft skills and work habits, and a certain amount of luck. Taking ambition as a given—if you weren’t ambitious, you wouldn’t be reading this—knowing that enormous gobs of dumb luck can sometimes trump all else, and accepting that there is no way to change your innate level of raw talent, focus on improving your craft skills and work habits.

After forty years in this business, I have seen that a modest amount of talent coupled with good craft skills and work habits beats enormous amounts of talent and lousy work habits seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Don’t sit on your butt waiting for the Muse to whisper in your ear. If you want success as a writer, WORK FOR IT!

Here endeth the lesson.



If you like the stories we’re publishing, become a supporter today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have supporters. If just 100 people commit to giving $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we can raise more, we will pay our authors more.


Please don’t make me escalate to posting pictures of sad kittens and puppies…


Pete Wood said...

Step 11.
Have a day job. Don't quit your day job. After you make that first sale you are still going to be rejected. A lot. After you make your hundredth sale, nobody is going to be banging down your door asking you to write something.
It's hard to get published, but it's harder, much harder, to make a living at it. Even after you have published several novels, odds are you'll still need to have some other income.
Step 12.
Write because you enjoy it. Don't write to make money. If the cash comes, fantastic, but there are easier ways to make a living honestly. Become a plumber or a lawyer or a waiter. Only write if it is fulfilling. The money is just a bonus.

GuyStewart said...

Absolutely TRUE DAT!

Jeffery H. Haskell said...

Publishers still have a bias against Indy authors. With very few exceptions, they do not come calling.