My Experience at Sterling and Stone’s Colonist Summit (Part 1) (#17)

Posted by in Prose on Fire

I’m back! I just spent the last week in Austin, Texas, where I was vacationing with my fiancé before my semi-annual writer’s conference this past weekend. As I was after the last conference, I’m so stoked and recharged after coming back and I have a million ideas, dozens of notes, and a growing to-do list!

This session was a bit different from the last one. For starters, there were 26 people in the room this time, whereas last time there was only eight.

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Second, Dave wasn’t there. And although Sean and Johnny were a fantastic and cohesive two-person team leading the weekend, we still missed Dave quite a bit.

Third, Engine World didn’t come up at all. We focused almost entirely on marketing for the whole weekend, which I loved… but I was a bit nostalgic for the story building from the first summit!

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the weekend and viewed the larger group as a plus. At the first summit, most of the attendees were just starting out and I was probably among the more experienced in the group. If I recall correctly, Garrett and I were the only attendees who had published works available. I was growing my backlist steadily at the time, with over 10 published works completed. I had a lot to say at that session and probably talked too much. We focused heavily on story. I didn’t get as many marketing ideas out of it. It was a much, much different vibe.

But this time, the people in the room had lots of collective experience. We had non-fiction authors, audiobook experts, app experts, illustrators, copywriters, and social media experts in the room. This rounded out perspective and made a big difference in the quality of the conversations.

I also found myself a bit more reserved this time around—but it felt fantastic. Here’s why: as I looked around the room and listened to the many cool things that other authors were doing, I realized how much more I want and need to do. It made me remember my goals and also lit a fire in me that I haven’t had for awhile.

I especially liked that there were a number of writers there that could make the same points as me, better points than me, or could articulate the root of the issue more eloquently than I could. Being around smart people is fun! At the same time, no one acted like they were smart. Everyone was there to learn and every single person was humble, interesting, and fun.

The weekend did evoke some odd feelings for me as well, feelings that ultimately made me hungrier for success. Each person in the room indirectly shined a light on one of my imperfections by reminding me of all the projects I need to do. I have always struggled with being a perfectionist and it’s a wonder that I function at all as an artist or ever publish anything. The root of all my anxiety, fear, and lack of confidence stems from wanting to be perfect. I felt a bit raw, vulnerable, intimidated, and even inadequate at moments. I have gotten lazy, and I have let my previous successes define me instead of pushing toward new ones. So, obviously I have to be careful about the perfectionist thing, but I also need to push myself a little harder than I have been the last few months.

Overall, we had a great time and learned a lot from each other. I tend to be a talker in a group like this, but I was able to sit back and learn, absorb, and let others have the floor—which was kind of the point of it all!

What’s Next

So I’m not going to pretend that this next section isn’t censored a bit; it is. I have the inside track on several of the projects going on at Sterling and Stone right now and it’s hard to keep track of what is public knowledge, what is behind-the-scenes inner circle knowledge, and what is team-only knowledge. It’s easier to say less, just in case!

There were two killer ideas that I took away from the weekend. One was worth rebuilding the rest of my year around, and the other is something that I need to keep in my back pocket for a bit—at least another year, if not two.

(My next post will be about the first idea. Let’s just say I have spent the last two days completely redesigning my whole business.)

Additionally, there are going to be more Sterling and Stone events going forward. The Colonist Summit was an artifact of the first Fiction Unboxed and didn’t shape up at all to be what we expected (though it was great in a lot of surprising ways). It kind of happened by accident, but really paved the way for the next phase (and something I’ve been pushing for since the beginning).

So there will be more upcoming events and I will be at them. I don’t want to say what they are, though I’m sure you’ll hear more about it on the Self-Publishing Podcast. What I will say is that I’ll be in attendance as part of the S&S team, which guarantees me a spot—and also gives me a huge opportunity to add value to the conversation in terms of my own business as an author.

From now until September, I have a lot of work to do to “up my game.” My goals are lofty, but also practical (maybe… I hope):

Goal #1: Write More Books

I’m proud of how far I’ve come in the last year and a half, going from ~5 disconnected books to ~17 that are starting to line up into an actual “strategy.” However, of those 17 books, I only have one true sales funnel, which is not nearly as deep as it could be.

The next several months are going to be focused heavily on production. This is going to be a challenge for me, since I’ve gotten very comfortable with my 50,000-word-month, write-when-I-feel-like-it schedule. I need to buckle down, big time. I have no real excuse—I don’t have bills I need to hustle to pay or any other major distractions outside of my personal life. I want to regularly hit at least 25,000 words a week and build from there to closer to 50,000 words a week. I have no idea if I can hit that, as I’ve never done so before—but it’s time to challenge myself and live up to Writing Better, Faster. 🙂

Goal #2: Increase Earnings

My goal when I started writing fiction was to eventually replace my full-time income with income from my books. I have yet to do that in the last two years, and there are a few factors involved, but it boils down to I wanted to stay away from non-fiction “writing about writing” stuff and I also have a charmed life (for which I’m very grateful for) that doesn’t always create a sense of true urgency for me.

But, I know what to do to earn that money and just hit the damn goal already. While I’m still in the experimental phase with fiction, I have a good handle on how to earn money writing non-fiction. So I’m going to double down on some of my Prose on Fire books and get them out, plus work on some writing-centric content and improve my toolkit to get it back on the market again.

I also took a hard look at each of my fiction lines. I identified three that I want to focus on and build out strategically: one for Maddy, one for Monica, and one that funnels to both.

To replace my full-time income, I need a low 5 figures per month. But by September, I’m hoping to just hit half of that per month with signs of growth. I’ve spent the last two days writing a plan for how to accomplish this… which I will talk about in my next post on Prose on Fire. 🙂

Goal #3: Get My Marketing Systems DONE

So, marketing is never really “done,” but I want to get everything set up as soon as I can in a long list of areas:

  • Contests
  • Advertising
  • Reviews
  • Email lists
  • Auto-responders
  • Launching
  • Branding
  • Social
  • Website(s)
  • Blogging
  • Vlogging (because yeah, I miss this and really want to start it up again)
  • Street teams
  • Optimization
  • Collaboration
  • Sales copy
  • Gamification
  • Writing more per month
  • Building a team
  • Writing television/movie scripts
  • The short story market
  • Audiobooks
  • Print
  • Foreign
  • Deeper fiction funnels

Seems like a lot, right? But the truth is that there is someone in my group who knows a lot about each of these areas. My learning curve will be shortened significantly. While the Colonist Summit appeared to be a two-day event, it was so much more. It was an experience and a mastermind. I’m very much relying on my new family (my author “peeps”) to help me through a lot of this and I also have a lot to give back to them. I take the latter seriously and want to figure out how I can give back to them, because they’ve already given me so much!

One of the coolest points made this past weekend came from Garrett Robinson. He said that he loved going to events like this because he was able to gather new data sets and results from others in the group who are also experimenting.

So could I do research on all of these topics on my own? No. Not a chance. But others in my group are going to uncover a ton in each of these areas (or already have) and they’ll be able to save me costly mistakes and trips down dead ends.

That covers research; let’s talk implementation.

One of the principles that I run my business by is have SOMETHING in place now, tweak it into submission later. My reasoning is that as long as you are a competent person, having a system in place that works okay will get you more results than having no system (because you are waiting until you have the time to do it well).

Take this blog for example—it is not well-designed to encourage email signups as of the date of writing. I could fix the design, the calls-to-action, the traffic strategy, and so much more.

BUT I have an okay system in place. That system got me 100 signups last month. There’s no question that if I focused solely on email list building for a little bit, I could turn 100 signups a month into 500-1000 a month with testing and tweaking. But for now, for the 4 hours of effort I’ve put into it so far, 100 a month is pretty damn good!

If I didn’t have my mediocre email system in place, I would have zero signups. Boo!

So let’s circle back to this list. For some of the items on this list, I already have something, but now I need to spiff it up and upgrade. My fiction funnels, my auto responder, my review system… all need a facelift.

In other areas, I have nothing. For example, I have no team to do admin and marketing work, I have no advertising, I (essentially) have no vlogging or blogging routine in place. For these, I want to (slowly, over the course of the next year or two) start putting SOMETHING into place—even if it isn’t my full long-term vision. Baby steps!

As with everything I do, I’m going to implement “Do It Once” as much as possible. “Do it once, let it work for you forever” is my absolute FAVORITE growth hack. Building long-term assets is the only thing that keeps me sane!

I’ll likely be talking about many of these topics as I go along, but this is roughly the ground I want to cover in the next few years. I don’t expect to have them fully done, but I want to have systems for getting them fully done—even if it takes a team.

I’m so excited for the upcoming year!

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