General Advice

From 20 Books to 50k
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From Craig Martelle

It's about making money from your writing, but it's become a little more than that.

We've found kindred spirits as we each take our own journey up the publishing mountain. Some write one book a year, some write one a month. The only thing that matters is what's right for you and the realistic expectations of what you can achieve.

It's also hard work, a veritable shitload of hard work. What are the universal elements?

The one constant of the most successful authors is that everything they do gets the reader to take the next step until those readers become fans who can't wait for the next volume. It starts with the cover and ends with your back matter. Then, they can't wait for the next book.

-The best cover you can afford that aligns with your genre - A real product description, as in ad copy, not a synopsis of the book - A great first sentence and first paragraph, set the hook right away - an emotional connection between your characters and the readers

There is so much advice in this FB group, much of it won't apply, but some of it will. What matters is the right bit of advice at the right time in your journey. As we each climb higher, we can't forget what it was like to be at the bottom, looking at our first manuscript and wondering if it would sell. People on this forum aren't your target audience, but many have readers who are. Find the nuggets, practice, try things, and keep improving every aspect of your author business.

Newsletters, advertising (both cheap and expensive), podcasts, a social media presence, blogs, whatever you do, it's all about getting that reader to take the next step. The 20Books conferences in Vegas, London, Bali, Edinburgh… are the best way we could think of to help you help yourself. Learn from the presentations, but there is nothing like talking with a fellow author. Everyone you meet will know something you don't. Take the time to learn, and you'll find that you're not alone on this journey which can indeed be a great trip.

by Kevin McLaughlin 14 Mar 2017

I've seen some folks lately asking on here a little about what the whole "20 books to 50k" is about. What is it? Is it a secret sauce? Can you bundle it up? Is it a formula? Is it repeatable?

Here's my take. The other old guard folks can chime in with their POV as well (please!).

20BT50K was a theory. Michael Anderle made $10k in 90 days writing a few books. He realized pretty early on that if he could get twenty books out, he was pretty sure that he could get to a $50,000 annual income level. That's about the median US income. It's game-changing income for most people. It's a big deal.

But it's not JUST about twenty random books. There's more to it than that. So Michael and a few other folks started working on the details, figuring out what worked and what did not, and how to replicate that sort of success.

What followed were a set of fundamentals. "Rules", in a way, which, if followed, had enormous impact on sales.

Scott Paul achieved a very high level of success by following these rules. Craig Martelle is doing awesome by following them. Plenty of others on this group have as well. My own success, more limited than most of the company I keep here, has been in DIRECT proportion to how well I have followed these rules.

Let me make that clear:

When I follow these rules, my sales and income go up. When I drift from them even a little, my sales and income go down. I have done both. Several times. I am a wonderful canary in the coal mine for this stuff, because I have screwed it up on more than one occasion, and have the dips in my sales chart to show for it.

The rules, such as I have figured out (I suspect they are more like the Pirate's Code - i.e., guidelines...):

1) You Must Write in Series. Series outsell other books. Series build readership. They encourage readers to stick around. They are one of the most powerful tools we have for building sales. Stand-alone books will almost always underperform compared to series books.

2) You Must Write Engaging Characters They don't have to be perfect. In many cases, you don't want perfect. You DO want them to be engaging, three-dimensional characters who the audience can quickly and easily empathize with.

3) You Must Write and Publish Rapidly. We know that waiting about a week between releases of the first books is about optimal. More than two weeks is problematic. Ideally, monthly releases after the first three books in a series are a minimum standard. Yes, this is often hard to accomplish. If it was easy, everyone would be making $50k a year writing.

4) Test the Waters, but then Stay the Course It is OK to write a quick trilogy of novellas or short novels to test a story and see if there is interest. If it flops, move on. Write something different. But if it catches, you must be willing to stay the course and stick with the winning titles. Scott released a short he wrote in a single day; that short sold THOUSANDS of copies very fast. He shifted gears immediately and brought out his Federal Witch series which has sold like gangbusters. In contrast: every time I have drifted away from my main SF series (which sells well) my sales suffer. I have broken this rule, repeatedly, and it's a leading reason why my sales are NOT where they otherwise could be.

5) Don't Skimp on Covers. Do Brand Covers Your cover is the most important ad for your book. It MUST be something easily recognizable to your reading audience as *that genre*. If your cover does not look like other books from the target genre, your cover has failed. The purpose of a cover is to attract the eye of people who like reading *books like yours*. It does this by looking like other *books like yours*. You also want to brand the series, so that readers immediately know when they are looking at a book from your series.

6) Use the Sales Venues which are Most Effective Right now that is KU. KU books outperform non-KU books, on average, by about a 3::2 ratio. That means for every dollar a "wide" book makes, the same book would (on average) have made $1.50 if it had been in KU. Mostly this is due to increased visibility from borrows counting as sales for ranking. That may change - nothing stays the same forever in this biz. Experiment, and test, and see what works. What works may change. But use what works.

7) You Must Grab the Reader by the Throat on Page One or as rapidly thereafter as possible. You get about 2-4 pages, tops. Your first thousand words MUST grab the reader and not let go. There must be empathy with a character, or a mystery, or action, or loss - something which makes the reader unable to put the book down. If your book starts slow, it will most likely fail.

Sam Mariano: You don’t HAVE to write to market

Jim Butcher on Writing:

Anderle asks Readers - Why do some books succeed while others fail

Time Log

A simple time log for those who don't think they have enough time in the day to write. Use this log to track everything you do in a day. Be honest with yourself. Try to do it for a week (ideally a 'standard' week in your worldview (i.e., no holidays, no weird events, no unique cataclysms).

By doing this and being honest with yourself, you will discover how you are spending your time and might be able to figure out where to cut some things in order to allow more time for writing/editing/publishing/etc.


Being an Author - while trying to juggle a family, a full-time job, dating, kids, and whatever other dozen obligations you have - is hard. Very, very hard. If you know your craft, how to manipulate your readers into empathizing with your characters, how to keep plot pacing perfectly timed, and how to squeeze emotions from your readers with the power of the written word... Well, that's just step one.

90 days to 10k

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The Hot Sheet

An industry publication useful for all authors

How to complete a 6 book series in 7 months

Pre-Production Planning

Some great questions and answers are in this thread

What do you consider when approaching someone for a professional service (editing, cover design, formatting, marketing, etc)? What makes or breaks that person for you!?

There are some great answers to these questions on this thread:


20booksto50k Founder Michael Anderle’s Rants

About Publishing If I can do it, so can YOU - harsh language inside. Series is the 20Books way, but it’s not the only way “A Word to the Wise – Or Just Open Your Damned Wallets and Give Your Dreams Away…” “They get acknowledgement, but not the credit..” Publisher first, writer second - Ghost writers - your own way up the mountain Minimally Viable Product when it comes to books “I’m going to go Patterson the shit out of my career”

About Behaving in the 20Books Group

  1. probably “I am not speaking to those who couch their advice with "this is what works for me..." “consider this the request that if you are thinking of posting a generic message maybe you don't do it? You know, a post not focused on providing insights on the publishing aspect of our profession, but rather a more mundane question that is better off in a non-focused Facebook group?” “Folks, there is no fucking way I'm going to open up my company to liability issues by ‘blessing’ a list of approved vendors.” “SOME PEOPLE CAN (many of you here) have a good, pleasant conversation on this issue (and it would be a good thing - I get that). BUT the other 50% can’t seem to do it, so I’ll shut it all off. Don’t hate the admins, hate the other 50% who can’t be adults.” A few people have been VERY generous with their time and success, and for that, they get anywhere from 5-15 personal messages asking / querying / and occasionally using emotional pleas to request personal consulting. They Don't Get Paid.