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Jessica Bell explains: How I Survive Writing in an “Unpopular” Genre as an Indie Author

Today, I’m handing my blog over to indie author, Jessica Bell, whose invaluable guide to self-editing Polish Your Fiction will be released at the end of June.

Jessica is a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

I write literary fiction and poetry. And let’s face it, these genres are a tough sell, despite doing everything that author entrepreneur experts deem to be effective. People have suggested I jump aboard the lucrative romance/erotica bandwagon to financially support the writing I’m passionate about. But what if I get stuck in a rut and it ends up being all I write because it’s what makes me money? I don’t want that.

Are you nodding? Are you in a similar situation? There is still hope.

You can write nonfiction to create a name for yourself as an indie author

The fabulous thing about writing nonfiction is it uses a whole different skill set to fiction. For me, this means I am able to compartmentalize my writing projects. Nonfiction equals job. Fiction equals fun. I don’t think I’d be able to separate the two like that if they were both fiction. I’d get caught up in the excitement of storytelling rather than the neutralizing effect of fact telling.

I’m not saying this is an easy way to success. You will still need the time and determination to build traction. But if you are determined, I’m 100% certain you can make it work.

If you are in a similar situation to me, and thinking about writing a nonfiction book, let me offer you a few ideas.

Think about what field of work you are trained in. Are there skills you have acquired from working in this field that you could teach others? Think about how you can switch it up a bit, so it’s not the typical “how to” book.


EXAMPLE: My writing craft books are not just writing craft books reiterating the same information from a different perspective. I’ve put a spin on the idea of teaching writing craft by focusing on one aspect of the craft at a time in each book (i.e. show, don’t tell; adverbs & clichés; incorporating sensory information). They also double as a workbook that encourages writers to learn by doing exercises rather than just reading about them.

“But I’m not officially trained in any field,” you say? That doesn’t matter. You can simply write from experience. Did you landscape your own garden without knowing the first thing about landscaping, and now all your neighbours want you to do theirs, and suddenly you’re making an income from it? Write a book about how you did it. From teaching yourself the techniques, to buying the right materials, to marketing yourself, to starting a new business, etc.

Not really keen on the “how to” idea? Why don’t you write a book that encourages others to try something new by writing it in the style of an informative memoir? People find comfort in reading about other people’s experiences when they’re hesitant to tackle a challenge.

EXAMPLE:  I recently read a book called, Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and other Introverts, by Joanna Penn. It’s not just a book about how to become a public speaker, though. Joanna writes from personal experience in a very friendly and genuine manner—it felt like I was conversing with her in her own living room. Her style was kind, accessible, and authentic. She made me feel like an equal, and that I wasn’t alone in my fear of public speaking. I immediately recommended it to my friends. Look, I’m even writing about it here.

There are always going to be people who want to learn how to do something new, or be encouraged to do something new. And what’s the first thing, (other than the Internet), that you turn to when you want to learn something new? That’s right. Books.

Writing in a Nutshell_bks1_2_3

Okay, this is all well and good, you say, but you have some questions.

Do I market them under the same umbrella?

I did. But that’s because I already had an established platform. But you know what? I don’t believe you need much of a platform to sell nonfiction if you are smart with your key words and metadata. People will search for topics they need help with and buy a book they think will assist them. Of course, if you are writing about something like law or medicine, they are going to want to see your credentials in your biography.

Will I need to employ the same promotional tools I use for my fiction?

I did hardly any marketing and the books took off without much effort. You do need to be vigilant with your keywords, though. You want people to find the book by simply searching for what they need.

Are there rules, or a structure for writing nonfiction?

The main thing is that you need a concise table of contents (and indexes if applicable). And in the eBook version, make sure they are hyperlinked. The brilliant thing about nonfiction reference books is that you don’t have to read them from beginning to end. You can dip in and out to find what you need when you need it. So, make sure it’s as easy as possible for your readers to do this. I also advise you serialize it. The more separate titles you have available, the better chances you have of being seen. Also, don’t forget to link to your novels in the back the book!

I’m going to be brave and share my sales statistics with you. Please don’t laugh. These are realistic stats. I am “surviving” as an indie author. I have been able to pay for my publishing fees, plus utility bills. And that’s good enough for me. I suppose it all depends on what you want to achieve. Do you want to become the next Hugh Howey? That’s totally fine. You can aim for that. (Heck, I’m aiming for that!)

But in the meantime, you need to find a “safe goal.” What I mean by that is, a realistic goal that will satisfy you until you reach the better goal.

Okay, here goes:

In 2011, I had one novel out. I sold 115 books the entire year. Three years and fourteen titles later, I’m earning a monthly income as high as $1500 USD. It’s not always that high and it fluctuates quite a bit. But so far (as of May 26th), I’ve managed to earn over $4500 USD from my books this year alone. Sure, that’s peanuts compared to some indie superstars out there, but it’s not NOTHING. And I’ve achieved this by dedicating only a couple of hours a day to my books. Imagine what I could do if I dove into this full-time? (Which I am totally considering now.)

No, I’ve not become an internationally known bestselling author. Yet. But I am thrilled I have come this far, and my nonfiction titles have clearly helped boost my visibility and discoverability.

To me, that’s success. I have reached my “safe goal.” And the only way is up, don’t you think?

Do you think you have a nonfiction title in you? What would it be about?


As this book to your Goodreads ‘to-read’ list here

Connect with Jessica online:

Website | Retreat & workshop | Blog | Vine Leaves Literary Journal | Facebook | Twitter