How to Reduce Friction as an Author
According to various studies, around 80% of people claim they plan to write a book “one day.” However, only 1% make it happen. That’s because being an author takes a lot of discipline. There is no convenient time to write a book in the average adult schedule. Nor is there external pressure. If you want to write one, you have to make it a priority. That means getting up at 5:00 am to write before your day job, sacrificing your lunch break or foregoing your evening TV slot. Most wannabe authors fail because they don’t do this. Those who succeed only do so because they overcome considerable friction. Whether or not they feel inspired is irrelevant. They work.
Those who gain commercial success also experience a similar story with other aspects of publishing. Authors who earn a meaningful income from writing typically overcome even more psychological friction to create ads and stick to a marketing plan. If we know this to be true, though, why don’t more of us take the right actions to achieve our dreams? Why do we procrastinate? In short, it’s friction. Discipline can overcome it but it’s not easy. That said, there is an easier method. As author and productivity expert James Clear explains on his popular blog:
“Before you try to increase your willpower, try to decrease the friction in your environment.”
Indeed, remove friction from your days and you need less discipline to stay consistent. This trick can help you pursue any life goal. Want to exercise daily? Lay out your gym gear every night and you remove the friction of finding it in the morning. Exercise becomes your default. Learning a language? Move to a country or city where it’s widely spoken. You’ll practice more often. Saving for retirement? Set up a monthly direct debit to a savings vehicle and you’ll do it on autopilot. This trick can help you achieve many goals but today we’ll specifically explore how to reduce friction in your author business to make the endeavour more achievable on a daily basis.
Ironically, the one task many authors struggle with is writing. It isn’t easy, despite it being a fun pastime. The act itself is relatively simple once you start; it’s getting to that state that’s difficult. Prepping your environment with a setup optimised for writing, however, can lower that hurdle. Your perfect setup will depend on your requirements. For many authors, the ideal environment is a clean desk in a dedicated home office that removes the need to clear a surface before every session. If you commute and don’t have a spare room, your ideal setup might be a larger phone or moving your writing app to the home screen so you can write easily on the go.
While a physical setup can help, it’s also important to remove the friction in your mind. That way, you’ll jump into your task sooner each day and you’ll even be able to convince yourself to make do when you don’t have ideal writing conditions. To achieve this feat, you could explore a plethora of options, including:
- Starting at the same time every day to form a habit
- Ending sessions half-way through a sentence to re-engage easily the next day
- Using props like headphones as a Pavlovian trigger
When you have easy access to the tools you need for writing, and you’ve pre-established mental tricks that make reaching for motivation easier, writing requires less effort.
Many new authors view their first draft’s final sentence as their publishing finish line. If writing a book were a multi-day ultramarathon, though, the final sentence of the first draft actually more accurately symbolises the finish line for day one. After that comes developmental editing, then copy editing. The latter, which entails fixing grammar and punctuation, is relatively easy; you can go page by page and estimate how long it’ll take. The former, in which you fix plot holes and pacing, however, can be messy and overwhelming with no definite completion time. As a result of the uncertainty, many authors battle unexpected friction at this stage.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to make developmental editing a smoother process. The first is to create a story bible. This is a document that contains all the details of the fictional universe you’ve created, including world-building specifics – like politics, magic systems and languages – and character details – like relationships, physical features and weapons. A story bible can work as a reference guide, helping you check facts and keep timelines aligned without having to re-read whole chapters. Create one as you go, including searchable reference quotes from your full manuscript, and you’ll feel less intimidated when you return for round two.
Writing and editing a book is a big task. And while many authors think producing the book once it’s written is a one-time task, it isn’t. Metadata goes out of date as search-engine-optimisation practices advance. Covers go stale as reader tastes change. Blurbs lose their punch if you don’t refresh references to awards you’ve won or cover quotes from now-cancelled celebrities. Sure, you might have followed best practices when forming your book’s metadata at the time of its launch, but it won’t stay optimised forever. Over time, production quality degrades. Yet many of us let the degradation run on for far too long, negatively impacting our sales potential.
How can you minimise friction to ensure you stay on top of overhauls? One way is to keep records of all your metadata like blurbs and keywords, ideally in a living Excel or Word document. Doing so ensures you don’t lose sight of any metadata you’ve optimised. Plus, it’ll help you update books across the board whenever you need to overhaul multiple backlist titles at once. Following this theme, you should also keep organised folders full of editable book source files. Whether you keep Word, Vellum, PDF, Photoshop or InDesign documents doesn’t matter. Either way, being organised will make updating back matter or cover details a less intimidating task.
Why do so many authors claim to hate marketing? Often it’s because they perceive it as a task that never ends. They prefer completable ones like writing and production. While production means following a process to turn a manuscript into a book, and follows a repeatable route, for instance, marketing your work effectively changes all the time. One day you might need to create Facebook ad graphics, the next you’ll be compiling keywords for Amazon ads, and then you’re negotiating sponsorship deals with influencers. There’s a lot to consider and you’re required to reinvent the wheel for every launch. At least, it seems that way. But is that true?
Not often. Look closely and you’ll notice throughline activities that crop up in a range of these tasks. And once you spot them, you can prepare documents to reduce the friction. Take design elements, for example. If you’ve branded yourself well, your fonts, logos, colour palettes and text positions will be consistent across covers, pop-up signs and social media banners. Create a brand deck outlining your style rules and you can make it easier for yourself or — better yet — for designers who can take on that workload. Similarly, you could also create keyword research templates that cover Amazon targets, Facebook interests and Google website SEO, all in one swoop.
When’s the last time you discounted an ebook and ran a promotion? Professional indie authors organise several a year. This is because they routinely convert discount hunters into paid readers — providing you’ve written great books and built a strong sales funnel. Most of us run them sporadically, however. Why? We’re perfectionists, creating unique pitch campaigns each time that target different companies – BookBub, Fussy Librarian or SPF’s own Hello Books. Does crafting unique, up-to-date pitches improve your chances of getting a slot? Maybe, but the boost is marginal. Plus — more importantly — it creates a lot of friction that a template could help you bypass.
Indeed, promoting ebook discounts is a numbers game. Promo service providers get hundreds of pitches every week and offer standard pitching forms for a reason; they don’t want super-creative pitches. They want digestible information they can use to select a book their readers will like to fill a slot on their newsletter. There’s no need to get fancy. Create pre-optimised answers, which you can submit on repeat, and doing so will reduce the effort it takes to apply for promos, meaning you’ll be able to pitch more often or outsource the job to an assistant. Sure, you’ll have to update your template occasionally, but pitching will take minutes instead of hours.
The techniques outlined in this article should make it easier for you to overcome friction which, in turn, will help you improve your author business. Not only will doing this accelerate your progress but it will make you feel less overwhelmed — as if you’ve switched the game of publishing to easy mode. Will the job still require discipline? Yes. In fact, it’ll require a little extra effort in the short term as you set up the conditions and systems needed to remove friction. That said, once you have a physical writing space, a story bible, metadata records, an asset filing system, a brand deck and promo templates, publishing will become exponentially easier.
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