The Virtual Career Author Summit 2020 Takeaways

Safe to say this year’s Summit was much different from last year’s, which was held in Chicago, in a space with a couple hundred other writers. Despite the new social distance requirements and the cancellation of all large gatherings, the organizers persevered and gave us a virtual experience to remember.

I didn’t take notes during all the sessions—some I just listened to and absorbed (and some I made dinner during…while on video…oops)—but here are my top takeaways from each of the sessions I did take notes on.

How to Improve Your Amazon Book Page

Zach Bohannon did a three-part session before the official start of the conference where he gave tips to improve product pages on Amazon. He featured three book pages from the group, one of which was mine! It was so great getting personalized feedback, which I implemented in my book description and keywords. Hopefully I see more sales from it! Here are some of his general tips:

  • Your book cover should convey genre, not be a snapshot of your story.
  • Consider refreshing the cover when the book stops selling well.
  • For Amazon categories, drill down as far as you can in your niche.
  • When writing your book description, set up genre expectations by considering who the book is about and where it is set, not just what the book is about.
  • Include a call to action at the end of the description.

Making (More) Money as a Writer

Honoree Corder showed us how hard work, dedication, and not making excuses equal success. It was a perfect way to light a fire under everybody’s butts as the first official informational session of the summit. As a result, I also got an accountability buddy out of it! My friend, Kinsley Burke, who I met at last year’s summit, and I have started doing daily Zoom writing sprints at 5:30 in the morning. Yup! And it will likely turn into 4:30 AM sprints in the near future.

  • Surround yourself with people who won’t “cosign your bullshit” when you want to slack off.
  • Schedule a time to write and stick to it.
  • “Don’t half ass it. This is going to require your full ass.”
  • “Obsess about your readers and give them what they want.”
  • Carry a notebook and write down interesting interactions or turns of phrases.
  • Manage your money with respect and intention.
  • Hire out your weaknesses.

Myths & Legends of Amazon Advertising

Amazon ads have intimidated me for a long time. The way Bryan Cohen speaks about numbers…I’ll be honest, most of it goes over my head. I did take a few notes during his session that I can easily experiment with later.

  • Set an end date a month out. Then, a couple days before, move it out a month again.
  • Set a high budget, low bid.
  • If you have an ad that is performing well, don’t touch it! Create a copy to tweak and see if you can scale it up.

Mastering Amazon’s A9 Algorithm and Your Book’s Rankings in the Market

Another information-packed session was from Dave Chesson, who spoke about how to optimize our Amazon keywords.

  • When coming up with keywords, think about how the customer would describe what they’re looking for, using a time period, character type, plot theme, or genre.
  • Amazon looks at the following when determining what to show in their search results: title/subtitle, keywords, description, reviews, categories, and Look Inside.
  • Consistent sales improve ranking, not a spike.
  • Changing up the cover, keywords, and ads are ways to boost a stagnant book.

Find the Right Mentor to Fast Track Your Author Career

I didn’t expect to get as much out of this session, led by Tim Grahl, as I did. I’ve heard about the benefits of finding a mentor over the years, both in publishing and in the corporate world, but I never took it very seriously. Tim gave some actionable tips to finding the right one.

  • A mentor is not a life coach. They should be someone who’s successful at the specific thing you want.
  • Find someone whose life and career look like what you want.
  • Be the person who takes the advice and does the work. Most people don’t.
  • Choose 3–5 candidates, and do your homework on them.
  • Keep your question short and show your research.
  • Send results and updates back to them quickly.

You Are Not Broken

J. Thorn was supposed to present this session at the beginning of day two, but due to Zoom crashing, it ended up being during lunchtime instead. And I’ll be honest, it had quite a few of us in tears. I didn’t take any notes except for the points he closed with, regarding trusting your intuition:

  1. Challenge beliefs.
  2. Identify pain.
  3. Learn the pattern.

Can I do this? Revision Made Easy (Okay, Easier)

As soon as Rachael Herron’s presentation ended, I’m pretty sure almost everyone put in an order for Post-It notes. I’m not in a revision phase at the moment, but having tangible Post-It notes for everything you have to remember is an intriguing idea.

  • Start revision with a theme. A theme should be a cliche, such as “love wins,” etc. Every scene should serve that theme.
  • Work on scenes as you get to them. Don’t jump around.
  • Separate editing passes can include things like setting, character description, character voice, emotions, and then line edits are last to make the book sing.
  • Then send it off to a professional editor.

How to Write a Series That Keeps Readers Buying

I was trying to explain to my husband how big of a deal Lindsay Buroker is. (He wasn’t convinced.) Not only does she write and publish super fast, she also knows how to create super fans. While not all of us can work as quickly as she does, we can still use her strategies for writing book series people will gobble up.

  • There are two types of series: large story arc and episodic. (I mostly took notes on the episodic because that’s what I’m writing.)
  • Pull in something unresolved through each book, even in episodic books.
  • Make the setting a character to hook people in.
  • If there’s a character readers are really into, hold back that character’s story until the last book.
  • Create three-book box sets (Books 1–3, Books 4–6, etc.).
  • Market Book 1 with free days or $0.99 deals. Also run $0.99 deals on the box set.

So those are my notes! The experience wasn’t the same as being there in person, but it was still pretty great, and I got a ton of new and reinforced information and motivation. I cannot wait to hopefully try again for the in-person Nashville event next year.