10 Steps to Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author

By Sean Platt

woman holding book with visual plan coming out of it

I never imagined myself as a fiction author. In fact, I never imagined myself as a writer at all.

The world’s Stephen Kings are few and far between, and even a high school dropout knows that most writers are starving artists.

I didn’t consider myself an artist, nor was I willing to starve. And I’m not the best at being patient, asking for permission, or dealing with middlemen who stand in the way of the things I want to make and the people who want them.

I was an entrepreneur, and I would make my living working my ass off to build a business (or three).

But I turned 40 a little while ago, and in the five years between my 35th birthday and my 40th, I wrote and published (with co-authors) more than 100 books, including the playbook for self-publishing: Write. Publish. Repeat.

I’m still an entrepreneur. But I’m a writer, too.

I’ve had a lot of help. I’ve written little in isolation. My writing partners, David W. Wright and Johnny B. Truant, have been with me through nearly every sentence of that journey. The argument we made in Write. Publish. Repeat. — that making a living as a writer was now simply a matter of math — changed my life.

I don’t work at a pace dictated by others, ask for permission, or deal with the middlemen.

 And I’ve never been happier.

I wake up at or around 5:00 AM every morning, without an alarm. Why would I need one? Even before my feet hit the floor, I’m excited to get started. I love what I do. My neighbors must wonder, Why is that man with the giant nose ALWAYS smiling?

It’s simple: my business is making things I love for people who love them.

That argument that changed my life? It can change yours, too — if you’re interested.

I’ll break it down in one of the steps below (it’s the second one if you want to skip to it, but I don’t think you should). It’s a lot of hard work, especially in the beginning. And there are no shortcuts. Anyone telling you it’s easy to sell fiction is surely trying to reach into your wallet.

But it’s a skill that can be learned.

mentor author collaborationWe’ve published a lot of books at Sterling & Stone, the Story Studio where Johnny, Dave, and I – along with a small family of creative ninjas – “make the stuff.”

To give you a little context, I first set out to write a simple “10 Steps to Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author.” I thought, Sure, sounds awesome. I could share what worked for us and some of the biggest lessons we learned.  I budgeted 1,500 words for the piece.

Spoiler alert: this is four times that.

Because I couldn’t shortchange you. Only after writing it all down did I realize how much there was to say.

It wasn’t enough to list “10 things.” There had to be order, there had to be purpose, and there had to be actionable advice for you along the way. But there also had to be room for the story to flow.

This is how we roll. All our stories start with an outline — loose beats for the narrative to follow. We never know what’s going to happen between those beats, but every movement sets up the next.

So that’s what I wanted to craft for you here.


10 steps to making this author thing happen for yourself.

Now, these aren’t in the order that worked for us, because we fucked up a LOT along the way. But the lessons we learned mean you can fuck up a lot less.

So here are the 10 Steps to Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author, in an order I wish I’d known about five years ago, with some of the color I didn’t know I was missing.


Step 1: Decide if Self-Publishing is Right for You

Being an indie author isn’t for everyone. For some, it might be the biggest mistake they could make. Every writer is different, and you should never follow someone else’s path without knowing where that person is planning to go. Heaven for them might be Hell for you.

Ask yourself the following questions:

How much control do I want over the content, editing, and cover design of my book?

How well do I understand basic marketing and funnel design?

How willing am I to learn?

How fast am I able to go?

Is writing a hobby or a business for me?

It’s a common misconception that I think indie publishing is the only way. The truth is I am all-in on indie publishing for me. For Sterling & Stone, it doesn’t make sense to go Traditional. We’ve tried.

author crumpling paper Our four traditionally published books are like the redheaded stepchildren of our studio. We can’t control the content, the Calls to Action (CTAs) at the back of the book, or a single element of our marketing.

Our traditionally published books have a few infuriating typos that we’ve begged our publisher to correct. We’ve been told that this is too “high touch.” Yet books we publish ourselves can have typos corrected in hours.

Our traditionally published books have CTAs at the back telling the reader where the publisher wants them to go, not deeper into the author’s catalog. Books we publish ourselves set our readers on a natural path leading from buyer to reader to fan to evangelist.

Our traditionally published books are poorly marketed, and there’s nothing we can do to fix it. We can’t change the cover or the product description. We can’t adjust our pricing. We can do exactly dick, so the (lack of) revenue on those titles mocks us from afar.

Most of the strategies we use to sell our own books don’t work for traditional titles – and even if they did, why would we try them? Why spend good money on traffic to a 15% royalty where we control none of the variables, when we could send that same traffic to a book that’s earning us 70%, where we can also measure, track, and improve our results?

We would never ROI – we’d just be flinging our hard-earned money into the publisher’s golden toilet. And that would be lunacy.

Besides, I want my fingers in the clay from beginning to end. I love the entrepreneurial part as much as the artistry of what we do. So does everyone in our studio.

So independent publishing makes sense for us.

But for other authors — authors who want to write, write, write, going from one book to the next without worrying about any of the publishing minutiae — a traditional deal might make more sense.

You have to choose the path that’s right for you.

To find out if indie publishing is for you, download your free Indie Publishing Printable Pack now:

If this indie fiction thing still sounds intriguing, keep on reading. It’s time for that math I promised (I know, I know, math is sexy).


Step 2: Decide What “Making a Living” Actually Means to You

The economics of self-publishing have totally flipped the traditional model.

I’m not suggesting that you quit your job today and make writing your full-time profession, but I can’t count the number of authors I know who already have. Some are making more than they were before – a few substantially. All of them are happier.

And isn’t that what this is all about?

For me, it is. Because fuck money. I’d rather smile every day ending in Y.

(For the record, we’re doing okay. Our kids aren’t living in a van down by the river, and you shouldn’t have to either.)

gold piggy bank with stacks of coins novelist successBut the money can be great, if you treat your writing like a business. You absolutely don’t have to be a New York Times bestseller. You don’t even have to be in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Thousands of authors are now making a comfortable living walking the indie path. Fortunately, that’s not about luck. It’s simple math:

Let’s say you charge $2.99 for your book. (That’s the low end. You’ll probably charge more, but let’s play conservative.) At 70% royalty, you make $2.10 per book. If all you sold was five books per day, you’d earn $10.50, which is $315 per month.

Not bad for a little sideline income. You only had to write the book once.

What if you sold 10 books a day? That’s $630.

What about 100 books? You’d make $75,600 per year.

“But wait,” you cry. “I don’t think I can sell 100 books a day!”

I bet you can. Stick with me for … YAY, more math!

Sixty-thousand words is a decent length for a book. Just 460 words a day will give you two full length books a year, and you still get weekends off!

Let’s say you sold 10 copies a day of each book, and you added two new books a year to your catalog. It wouldn’t be long before you could be up to that 100 books a day, and replacing your regular income.

And guess what? As an indie author, you aren’t limited to two books a year. You can release as many as you can write.

Think you can handle 1200 words a day, still taking weekends off? Why not write 5 books a year? Plenty of authors do. At that rate, you could be selling your 100 ebooks in just two years.

We know a lot of full-time authors who were born in less than two years.

You don’t need to get lucky to make a full-time career as an indie. You don’t need a home run.

You need to sell 100 books a day.

And the best way to hit 100 books a day without tearing your hair out?


Step 3: Research the Fiction Market

So few writers do this, indie or otherwise, but those who do, and do it intelligently, are killing it.

We have a small Mastermind of indie authors and artists. This room is filled with people who are making more than the vast majority of authors make in a year, each and every month.

How are they doing this?

They’re writing books that people want to read.

That’s deceptively simple.

You’re probably thinking, Well, of COURSE they write books people want to read.

But for these authors that isn’t an accident, it’s research. They know exactly how their books will resonate with their audiences, because they took the time to find out.

“Writing to market” isn’t a bad thing. If you think it is and you’re not willing to understand why, please stop reading.

Still here? Good.

readers excited by self-published books indieWriting to market means writing great books that people want to read.

 It’s shocking how few writers get this.

For most of the ones who don’t, writing is masturbatory: LOOK AT ME AND ALL MY PURTY THOUGHTS!!

 No.

Successful books should always be about the reader, not about you.

But then there are the writers who get it wrong on the other side. The sell-outs, trying to cash in on a hot trend with little affection for or knowledge of the genre.

Even when you’re writing for a specific market, you have to love what you write, or it won’t be sustainable. And besides, readers can smell an outsider. If you don’t belong, they’ll let you know – with poor reviews, anemic sales, and no buy through to your other titles.

The best way to make great money as a fiction author is to find the intersection between what readers want to read and what you love to write.

Chances are, that’s some of the stuff that you like to read, too. If not, start reading now.  You must read your market. Don’t skip this step.

Maybe you’ve spent a lifetime reading thrillers, or romance, or fantasy, or whatever. You already know exactly what you want to write, and how you’ll connect with your ideal reader. Great. Pass GO, collect your $200, and start writing.

If not, start reading. Get familiar with the tropes. Learn what readers expect every time, and figure out where you have room to innovate and bring your special something to the page.

For a worksheet that guides you through the market research process, download your free Indie Publishing Printable Pack now:

But don’t get stuck there too long. Eventually, you do have to write.


Step 4: Write (and Professionally Edit) the BEST Novel You Can

Indie publishing isn’t a gold rush. Unfortunately, some authors treat it like there’s gold in them thar hills. But this isn’t sustainable.

Yes, you can hack Amazon at any given time. But this will always be a short-term solution to a problem you’re continuing to make for yourself. It’s like trying to build a business on black hat SEO tactics, hoping that Google won’t change the rules – when they always do.

I never understood that. Why would you want to constantly keep searching for water when you could take the time to build a well, then never look again?

Hacking Amazon — playing into their algorithms — can get you sales, but it’s a difficult way to get diehard fans. Again with the SEO analogy: a gamed search result might get you some eyeballs, but it hardly helps you build a tribe.

So instead of looking for hacks, write books that resonate with your ideal reader.

author writing at a table.Write the book she wants to tell her friends about. Make her want to buy everything else you’ve ever written. THAT is how you build a sustainable career where you’re making more every month.

Pay attention to your story, write relatable characters, and lean into your reader’s expectations while still finding ways to surprise them with your fresh, unique voice.

Think long term. Every book is an asset. When you build a strong catalog of quality work, you’re getting in early, buying high value stock at a ridiculously low price. There is no half-life to a well-told story. My grandchildren will be making money from work I finished last year. But if I took shortcuts, and worried about buyers rather than readers, I’d have a portfolio of penny stocks, and I’d deserve nothing more.

For a worksheet to help with planning your novel, and a checklist to beat down the most common headaches in the writing and editing process, download your free Indie Publishing Printable Pack now:


Step 5: Repeat. Repeat.

Nope. That’s not a typo.

This is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over the last few years, and one that’s helping to exponentially grow our business.

In our Smarter Artist Facebook Group and the Self-Publishing Podcast each week, we hear one question all the time:

What would you do if you were just starting, knowing now what you didn’t know then?

EASY.

We wouldn’t publish our first book until we had a few more already done.

novelist writing self published books It’s extremely tempting to immediately monetize your first book. It makes sense. You’ve invested a lot of time. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this endeavor, and you’ve finally finished. Now you want the confetti.

But hold on …

The thing is, you’re not as special as you think you are.

There are a lot of authors much better than you. Not because there’s anything wrong with you, they’ve just been working harder and longer. So if you don’t have another book, or someplace to send that reader when she’s just finished with your story, she will almost surely forget about you and move on to another author. No offense.

You don’t want a reader to fall in love with you and then have no way to lead her to the next thing to read. Indie authors are multiplying. The market’s never been more crowded, and readers have short memories. Prepared authors will go further, faster.

If any of us at Sterling & Stone was starting right now, we wouldn’t publish a thing until our first three books (in the SAME series) were all finished.

Why three books in the same series? Because that gives us an ideal funnel:

Book One: FREE. This gives our series maximum attention. We can send traffic to a book with zero friction. When you’re just starting out this can throw a tornado behind your tumbleweeds.

Book Two: FREE and PAID. Publish your second book for full price, but also offer it as an incentive to get readers who liked your book onto your list.

Book Three: PAID

We have this funnel set up with a few of our series and it works remarkably well — up to a thousand dollars and 300 list adds per day. But without that funnel, the books would make only a fraction of that (we have plenty of these to prove the theory).

Most authors are in such a hurry to monetize their first book that they can’t see how much they’re losing. Be the tortoise, and let the hare think he’s won (that guy is such an asshole).

And OMFG. We’ve heard SO many authors fret over giving their second book away.

To them, I say, “Wait a minute … you have a problem giving away a digital download that costs you nothing, in exchange for an email address that someone only gave you after agreeing that they liked your book enough to read the next one … and you can use this email address to tell that reader about every new book you’re going to write (and sell) forever?”

That lead is worth way more than a $2.10 royalty.

Never trip over dollars to gather a few pennies.


Step 6: Build an Email List

Wait. What?

We all know about the value of an email list for businesses or a non-fiction platform. But for fiction? Build a list before publishing the book?

Yeah, sort of.

author email list preparationYou’re not really building the list so much as preparing to build it. But that’s not the sort of thing you want to be behind on.

Before your funnel is launched, prepare for your traffic. This is non-negotiable. Even if you’re selling thousands of books a day through digital retailers, that isn’t good enough if you’re not gathering your readers into your tribe.

I said it before, and I’ll repeat it: Buyers aren’t enough. You want FANS. And it’s much easier to turn buyers into fans when you can communicate with them on your terms.

If you’re only selling on platforms that don’t belong to you, then you’re digital sharecropping.

But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Don’t overthink this.

Your website needs to do a LOT less than you’re probably thinking, or than most authors realize. Don’t waste a ton of time, or thousands of dollars. Until you have a fanbase, you don’t even need a blog (and I’d argue that, even then, a fiction author never needs a blog).

Your website needs three things:

  1. A simple landing page with a single job: to present a potential reader with your offer. You can see what we do here: http://sterlingandstone.net/rsfb

  2. Your offer. A short story, your free Book 2, your grandmother’s recipe for gumbo in exchange for an email. (That last one might actually work if you’ve written a Cajun murder mystery.) Just make sure it screams value. Put as much effort into your cover and description as you would anything you’d expect them to buy. Maybe more.

  3. A welcome sequence. Don’t invite your reader into your house and then ignore her. Send a welcome email and a simple autoresponder that welcomes this new reader into your world. We have a great autoresponder checklist you can see here: http://sterlingandstone.net/email-essentials

Step 7: PUBLISH

novelist author publishing moneyYou’ve got your first three books ready to go. You’ve got your funnel built. You are ready to start the engine.

But there are three things you need to invest in before you hit the Publish button, things that will pay you back exponentially. If you skip these, you’ll be wrapping shackles around your books’ ankles, tying them into a chain gang, and then telling them to run. Don’t do that.

  1. Invest as much as you can in your cover. Don’t be cheap. Not here. Your book’s cover is its number one conversion element. Spending $5 on a cover at Fiverr instead of several hundred from a designer might be the most expensive mistake you can make. Trust me. We’ve made it more than once.

  2. Write a kick-ass description. Or, better yet, pay a copywriter to do it for you. Either way, take off your author hat. This isn’t a book report, it’s a movie trailer. Drop tantalizing highlights so the right reader is ready to click BUY without even thinking. (ProTip: read the descriptions for the top ten or twenty books in your genre, see what they all have in common, and do that. They’re working for a reason.)

  3. Include super-compelling CTAs at the beginning and end of each book. Your CTAs should include the one, single, next step that you want your reader to take. For example, in the funnel detailed above, your first book should offer the second book, and your CTA should basically say, “Opt-in to my super amazing newsletter to get Book 2 — a $4.99 value — ABSOLUTELY FREE!” Make sure you include the most compelling excerpt you can. This doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a full chapter. Think about a movie clip. Be intriguing.

NOTE: It’s important to set the stage that your book is “normally 4.99,” or whatever. You don’t want to train your readers to expect free books all the time. Also, please don’t ever use the words “super amazing newsletter.”

For a simplified checklist to launch your first novel, download your free Indie Publishing Printable Pack now:


Step 8: Do it Again

This is the fun part.

Your books are finally live. Real people who aren’t your mom are reading and reviewing what you wrote. You’re making money as a self-published author.

Great. Keep going.

Many authors make the mistake of seeing publishing their book as a finish line. You’ll fly past them, if you see it as the starting gate for whatever’s coming next instead.

You want to continue writing for your ideal reader, so don’t jump the rails here. Your reader enjoyed your book for a reason. If you just wrote epic fantasy, don’t all of a sudden change to military sci-fi. Romance readers expect a romance, not a cozy mystery.

You can expand later. But while initially growing your author platform and bonding with your audience, you need to stay consistent and teach them what to expect.

stack of self published booksThis was a hard lesson for us to learn.

I LOVE to genre hop, especially when writing with Johnny.

We’ve written fantasy, sci-fi (with a few different tones), horror, comedy, romance, literary, and stuff I still don’t know how to classify.

We want to be known as storytellers, and telling the same sorts of stories over and over won’t serve the things we’re trying to build long term.

But this is a very expensive decision, and we don’t advise anyone else to do it unless you really know why you’re doing it. We would be making many times what we are now if we had simply followed this basic advice.

So yeah. Keep writing.

By now you should have rhythm in your writing, and you’re building a small but growing group of loyal readers to please. Keep going — writing, publishing, and repeating; producing a stream of quality books that build on each other.

If a series doesn’t interest you, consider creating a common world where your characters and their lives can intersect. Readers bond with narratives and the people who inhabit them. They will naturally want to know what happens next with those characters they’re invested in.

If you’ve been smart with the above points, as your catalog grows you can start experimenting with switching tone or genre — if you really can’t stay in one place. Just beware, you will lose as many readers as you gain. If you’re determined to explore new territory, consider a pen name to parse your audience, but also know that adding in this new area will subtract from what you’ve already built.

To lay out your self-publishing plan, download your free Indie Publishing Printable Pack now:


Step 9: Iterate

For me, this is even more fun than “doing it again.”

At Sterling & Stone, we’re always seeing what works and what doesn’t, shedding old processes to make room for new ones. We iterate a lot. A couple of years after finishing Write. Publish. Repeat., we went back to the lab for the sequel, Iterate & Optimize.

Iterating is core to what we do. Here are 10 areas to focus your iteration, in what I feel is a reasonable order.

 

  1. Constantly Promote Without Constant Promotion. Now that you’re putting new work into the world, you should be gaining readers with every new release. And that’s great. But you want as much of your marketing to be done on autopilot as possible.

    Make sure that you have smart funnels set up so that readers can constantly find you and read through your catalog without you having to tweet your book 387 times on Twitter. No one wants that.The better you understand how Amazon and other retailers work, the better job you can do with autopilot promotion. That gives you more time to …

  2. Keep Learning. Things are constantly changing. Not only do you need to keep up with those changes, you need to understand. We never stop learning, doing, experimenting, or pushing things as far as we can so that we better understand our potential.

    Only after publishing fiction for four years did we finally understand that sending 100 qualified buyers (with compatible shopping histories) to a book on Amazon could yield more benefit than sending 1,000 random readers. Not just because the conversion is better, but because then Amazon knows how to market your book for you. This becomes ever more important as you grow your catalogue, because …

  3. Your Catalog is Your Portfolio. Manage it well. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on your new content at the expense of your older titles. This was also a hard lesson for us to learn, and one we’ve invested heavily in correcting. You can do it right from the beginning. But be warned, this will require a bit of …

  4. List Hygiene and Management. You need to identify your ideal reader, without being afraid to say adios to anyone who isn’t. List building isn’t an arms race. It’s better to have 1,000 of the right readers than 10,000 random email addresses of people who don’t even read. Take the time to clean your list. And tag them. Know WHO is buying which books, so that you can offer them the titles that they’ll love most.

    Survey them, find out what they want more of, then offer that. If there’s a new genre you want to try, find out which of your readers are most likely to follow you to that new genre before you invest months in writing there. Move from something like MailChimp or Aweber (where most authors are) to something more sophisticated like ActiveCampaign. With tagging in place, you can work on building …

  5. Street Teams. One author in our community hits six-figures with EVERY release, and publishes every other month. She knows exactly how to get her readers working for her, so that the buzz on every book builds into something substantial. She does more with a smallish list all by herself than most publishers do with a huge team for their biggest authors.

    With tagging and Street Teams in place, that’s a perfect time to start thinking about …

  6. Paid Traffic. Right now the best ROI in this business comes from a company called BookBub. A BookBub ad is — no shit — a silver bullet for your book. And I don’t believe in silver bullets.

    If you can land an ad with BookBub, your book will get a metric shit-ton of downloads. With a smart funnel in place, professional covers that catch the first-time buyer’s eyes, a well-written description that compels them to click, and a well-crafted story that naturally leads readers from your promoted book into the next and the one after that, money will rain.

    Facebook ads are also great, but they take work to figure out and get right. Amazon has their own in-house advertising platform, and it’s now open to all indie authors, not just those exclusive to Amazon.

    Over time, the specific types of paid traffic that work best will shift and change, but there will always be well-converting ways to advertise your funnel-starter book directly to the person most likely to love it and then read through your catalogue. Once you know that your book converts, investigate any means of traffic where you can spend $1 and get more than that $1 back. And remember, even break-even sales earn you readers, and if you’re good at what you do (this all can be learned) then you can do it for life, and grow with every new release.

    Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To spend all that time creating? Well then, you’re definitely going to have to …

  7. Outsource. Chances are you’ve already done this. Fantastic. Your most important asset is time, and no one can ever make the things that you do. So hire people to buy you more of those minutes. You probably shouldn’t be working on your website, designing your own covers or promo images, doing your bookkeeping, figuring out Facebook advertising, or anything else that is subtracting from the momentum that matters most.

    If your work is a pleasure, then every day is amazing. You can make that happen by trusting people to help you grow your business and yourself. By the time you’re dealing with multiple releases, a changing landscape, list management, Street Teams, paid traffic, and general list management, you are actively costing yourself a lot of money if you’re refusing to outsource. We’ve seen plenty of authors fall into this trap, and it’s always a mistake. You want to be spending the majority of your time building new worlds, adding titles to your catalogue, or …

  8. Finding New Ways to Connect with Your Ideal Reader. Now it might be time to blog. Or start a podcast. Or adapt one of your books into a screenplay. Maybe you’re a musician (I’m totally jealous) and want to “score” your book.

    You have an audience. Show them how much you appreciate them by giving them new things to love. Every audience is different, and yours will love you for some very specific reasons. Find out what those reasons are, then bond with your readers on their terms in a way that makes you happy and is relatively easy to execute.

    This might mean drawing maps for your fantasy books if you’re an artist, writing character bios for your readers’ favorite characters, or holding live chats on Facebook where you’re discussing your books with your fans. We’re podcasters, so talking about our work is natural for us. Every time we finish a book, the authors hop on a video call to discuss it for an hour or so. We think of it as a DVD commentary, and we host it as a podcast called “Backstory.” Then we include a link to that particular title’s episode at the end of each book. We don’t promote this podcast. The only people who hear those episodes are the readers who have finished the book and want to hear it. In other words: the fans.

    This is just one of the many ways that we make our readers feel special. They love us, so we want to love them back in as many ways as we can. We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to do that. And we encourage you to really …

  9. Challenge Yourself. If you stay comfortable too long, your art and ideas will die. Even worse, your passion might follow. So keep pushing yourself. This is one of our favorite things to do.

    Part of our business model at Sterling & Stone is to “do things that have never been done.” So many artists waste their time searching for great ideas instead of taking the time to make their ideas great. We wanted to flip this around – to prove that ideas are everywhere, and that waiting for the perfect one decapitates your potential.

    You can always learn by doing.

    So Johnny and I created something called Fiction Unboxed. We promised our audience that within 30 days we would write and publish a book, starting without a title, genre, world, single character, or anything else.

    We promised to do this live, allowing “Unboxers” to watch us brainstorm and vote on our early direction. They chose our genre. And then we wrote. I grew a beard for the first time, just for the real-time novelty of watching daily videos as I went from clean shaven to full beard in a month — all live in front of more than a thousand people.

    We did this because it pushed us. It redefined what was possible. It helped the Smarter Artists who follow what we do understand how story can be unraveled, and that simple ideas are only the start. We did it because it terrified us, and was therefore the best way to stretch our present art and future potential. You’re only cheating yourself if you don’t work to push your art and commerce. Only then will you be …

  10. Open to Where This Journey Will Take You. This is my favorite, because oh the surprises.
    My first love is film. I’ve always dreamed of making movies, but never in a million years did I ever imagine that I would. At least not until recently.

    Only in the last few years have I realized how very possible that is. Now I know that Sterling & Stone will make movies one day. We’ll also make video games and graphic novels and TV shows. We’re a long way from financing our own films, but we’ll get there. We sold our first screenplay last year, adapted from Crash, Dave’s most personal novel. We’re now adapting several more.

    We held the Smarter Artist Summit, Sterling & Stone’s first live event, and saw for the first time with our own eyes how remarkable our community is, and how much amazing shit they were doing. The place was packed with people who had changed their lives by writing, publishing, and repeating. Those two days changed the way we think about our business, and the difference we want to make in the world.

    After writing more than 100 books, we needed a way to streamline our process to write “better stories faster.” We dreamed about maybe someday figuring out a way to possibly turn that into an app. A year and a half later there’s StoryShop, a platform that we hope will change the way writers write, just like the software has already changed it for us.

    We’re doing awesome, exciting things, with natural intersections. But so much of what we love the most came from a side collision.

    Be open to where things lead you, and more than anything …

Step 10: Appreciate All of it

author on beach with laptopAppreciate and learn from all the valuable mistakes you make along the way.

Those are the gold, so please don’t leave them in the mine. We don’t just make mistakes – we fuck up big, and then we talk about it. It’s one of the reasons people like our podcast so much. We’re not afraid to walk around with shit on our faces, because sometimes it’s better to tell the story before we have the chance to scrub ourselves.

Appreciate your readers and fans.

Without them you wouldn’t have the things that you have. We love our readers and are constantly thinking of new ways to please them. We love our Smarter Artist community and pour a lot of our time, energy, and available resources into building things to improve their lives.

Appreciate the people who help you to get where you are.

I’m little without Cindy, my best friend and wife. She bought me a MacBook for my 30th birthday and told me to write. She’s championed every idea and all my mistakes. Without Dave and Johnny, I’m a guy with too many ideas and not enough brain. They both make me exponentially better than I could ever be otherwise. We’re so much better together, and only a fraction of our potential without an amazing team behind us.

Gratitude shouldn’t remain silent. Take the time to say “thank you” to the people who make your life possible. When you appreciate the good things, it will always feel like there’s plenty.


Yes, that list is exhausting. But you only have to get there one word at a time.

Please don’t underestimate what’s possible, or what you can do.

You’re human, and humans tell stories. We’ve been doing it forever, and we can connect with even the worst story if it follows a basic narrative.

Keep telling stories and keep getting better – because the only way you’ll get better is by doing it.  A lot. Cindy tried getting me to write for a dozen years before I managed to get a single word down. It took far too long to realize that storytelling isn’t about education, it’s about stories.

I’ve been writing for eight years now. It’s never been easy. I lost my house and I had to write a million or so words of useless SEO garbage (sorry for contributing to the dead skin of the Internet), but now I wake up each day and make things for people who love them.

If I did it, so can you.

We’ve got a complete pack of step-by-step worksheets and checklists to walk you through each stage of this journey.

And finally, I’m sure you’ve heard others sigh, “I’d love to write a book someday…” Today’s their day, too.

There’s room here for everyone … so click the sharing buttons below to invite them to the party.

Sean Platt is the founder of Sterling & Stone and loves that he not only gets paid to make up stories and come up with crazy ideas, but that he gets to do so with his best friends. Together, they've also co-authored the bestselling non-fiction titles Write. Publish. Repeat., Fiction Unboxed, and Iterate & Optimize to help Smarter Artists get smarter, faster.

Sean lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Cindy and their two children, Ethan and Haley.

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