Michelle Spiva has been a full-time self-published romance author since 2014, but when a beginner author challenged her to find success as a new author in science fiction, she said, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. 18 months later, under her new pen name Mychal Daniels, she’s published her 10th novel and doing just fine. 🙂
Michelle Spiva’s Mychal Daniels’ Author Website
Epic Story Lifestyle Podcast with Michelle Spiva
Michelle Spiva is an awe-inspiring everywoman, having worked in the fields of psychology and finance, and in recent years, as a full-time contemporary romance author (as well as podcasts on the side)…and is one of the warmest, most compassionate people this show notes writer has ever had the pleasure to meet. 🙂
18 months ago, she was challenged by a mentee of hers to try to break into the science fiction genre as a beginner writer. He didn’t believe someone in his position (beginner) could find success without the advantages of someone in her position (already earning a full-time living as an author). Michelle immediately set out to prove him wrong.
Michelle wanted to replicate the “conditions” of a beginner writer as much as possible, so she pretended she was an author who had not yet developed a daily writing habit and had no contacts in the industry or with readers. She also would not use the tactics of a seasoned author, nor would she try to hedge her bets with a big advertising budget.
What this meant is she couldn’t leverage her professional-level daily writing habit and productivity to stockpile three titles for a Netflix-style release, a tactic many more-seasoned authors utilize to drastically improve discovery on Amazon. As a “beginning writer,” she instead would release her books one at a time, as she finished them.
Michelle also didn’t use any of the usual strategies of a more seasoned and knowledgeable working author, which meant she did not put her books up for pre-order, she did not distribute advanced reading copies to bloggers and readers, and she did not advertise prior to the book’s release. She wanted to start out “brand-new,” one book out on the market at a time.
Since she couldn’t use any of her “advantages” as an established author, Michelle understood she had to “rely on the market.”
Getting Ready for Success
To rely on the market, Michelle says she knew she had to understand the market, which means knowing what the readers in that market want. And in order to do that, she needed to do some homework.
The challenge was for her to find success as a brand-new writer in the science fiction genre. Since she writes romance, she naturally looked up books in the science fiction romance and science fiction fantasy categories to see what those readers were reading…and so she read 25 books in her genre before she started writing.
She also made sure she understood the genre and the tropes within that genre. Genre and tropes are concepts that often get confused by new writers, and Michelle stresses that writers need to get clear on this. “If you can’t do anything else,” she says, “learn what the major genres are.”
“A genre is a type of book that has a scope of the types of things it covers, and a trope is a common familiar way of telling [a story], an overused set of circumstances that can happen within this type of book.”
With that kind of preparation, Michelle felt like she had a good bead on what the readers are looking for in her new genre, and she set out to write that story, which she jokingly referred to as “women of color in space.” She was making light-hearted fun at it, poking at the old established tropes, but she also was setting out to tell a good story that would resonate with a broad spectrum of readers within the market with a heroine that’s not the typical red-haired, green-eyed Caucasian beauty who populates so many books in the genre. (Michelle counted 37 redheaded heroines in books she had on her own Kindle before stopping.)[Incidentally, even though Michelle was targeting a more nontraditional crowd, she was surprised to learn that 90% of her audience is white and lives in the Midwest, non-bi-coastal areas of the United States.]
“Instead of trying to be this powerfully all-knowing perfect author who did all the right stuff prep, I decided I was going to put Mychal out there as a stone-cold foregone conclusion: she’s one of the best storytellers out there. And I wrote for my life.”
Launch and Marketing Tactics
On her first day out the gate, Mychal Daniels sold 3 copies. At that point, Michelle set up a fan page, as well as a $3 advertising budget on Facebook (less than $100 advertising expenditure first month).
Then she found Facebook reader groups for her genre and started engaging, meaning she asked questions and commented, instead of just announcing she’s got a book out. And from that genuine engagement, she discovered that “a lot of people don’t try new genres because there’s no segue to them.”
So Michelle decided, “Let me audition potential readers in a community forum and let them see what it would be like to dip their toes in the pool of scifi.”
She approached one of the larger contemporary reader forums on Facebook that she was a member of and asked if she could participate in an upcoming “Facebook party.” Then, instead of giving out freebies in the usual promotional manner for these types of things, she instead created a seven-part story, each part approximately 500 words a piece with cliffhangers, and shared them throughout the day, in between engaging and playing games with reader-participants. Part of the story she actually wrote on the fly between interacting with readers at the event.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. She had readers asking for her to just give them the rest of the story. Several readers told her, “You’re the reason my scifi cherry got popped!”
Michelle also utilizes Wattpad and Medium as a means to build her reader following, and recommends authors get on Instagram and start telling stories! She is quick to point out that all of these options are free. The only thing she spent was the less than $100 on Facebook ads the first month. Everything else was just taking advantage of the free resources and tools that every writer, new or established, has at their disposal.
On Writing Fast
Michelle received her challenge in August of 2015, and released her first book one month later in September. Since then she’s published 10 books in two different series under the Mychal Daniels name. Her secret is simple:
“Write ugly and fast. And when you get stuck, ask yourself, what goes wrong now? And then put it down. What goes wrong for your character? You will be amazed at by just asking that one question, you will get an entire book done and written fast. What goes wrong now? Until that you decide that they get it right and you give them the reward, and that is called The End.”
Advice to New Authors
“Mychal [Daniels] started as an example to that group that even if you have nothing, you can still make it in the self-published space.”
“….if you don’t have the money, if you don’t have the readers the platform or any of that, you can always appeal to the market.”
“Stop worrying abut being an independent author. You are not an independent author…We are not independent authors. We are independent publishers, and there is a difference.”
“If you’re going to say you’re in business, you need to be in business. You need to be willing to work harder for yourself than you’ve ever worked for anybody else. You know, I was raised, how you do anything is how you do everything. And when I used to go to work for those corporations, I put it down. I mean, I was there doing my job. And so I tell people now I have to work because my boss, she doesn’t mess around.”
Don’t focus on too much on marketing tips and tricks: “All you have to do is go to where their [the reader’s] attention is and find a way to get in front of it that will grab that attention. You do that, and you will sell a book, point-blank.”
If you were to start from scratch as an author, how would you go about it?
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