Wayne Stinnett started his self publishing career with “Fallen Palm” in October of 2013 while working his day job as an over-the-road trucker. After a disagreement with his boss on May 14th of 2014, he abruptly left the trucking business and became a full-time author two months ahead of plan. That decision caused him and his family to hit financial hard times, but it was relatively short-lived. After six weeks of scraping by his author career took off, and he hasn’t looked back since. Now he’s making over $500 a day and about to publish his 10th novel. Life couldn’t be better.
Join Wayne and me in this jam-packed session as we discuss:
- His favorite part about being a full-time author.
- How he quit his over-the-road truck driving job and went all-in with his author career – it’s epic!
- The moment everything clicked allowing him to make a living from his novels.
- How he went from negative and ignored query responses to publishing his 10th book.
- His plan for the next two years which includes breaking ground on his family’s dream home.
- His writing routine that prevents him from getting into a slump.
- Prioritizing family over the constant need to produce books.
- Why it’s better to get out of the office and talk to people when doing research.
- Dreamers vs. planners and why you need to stop dreaming and start planning for success.
- Actionable advice on how to write every day.
What’s your favorite part about being a full-time author?
Being right here at home. I was an over-the-road truck driver for 15 years. I would leave on a Monday, and I wouldn’t come back until two weeks later on Friday. I’d see my wife and daughter for two days then I’d take off and do it again. Now I’m home every day and take my daughter to school every day. I’m able to tuck her into bed every night and say a prayer with her. Then I get to chase my wife around the kitchen table afterwards. At the end of the day I do it for my family.
Today, how are you generating revenue as a full-time author?
Ebook sales are about 90% of my total income. Paperbacks are about 1%. My audio books make up the rest (9%) and are steadily climbing. I just had the last audio book produced for my recent title “Fallen Tide”. I’ve been seeing my audio books really start to pick up and become a larger percentage of my overall income.
Can you share with us a time when things weren’t going so well for you? What was one of your worst moments as an author?
The worst time was right after I quit my job. I had it all planned with the date picked out and everything. Then my boss pushed the wrong buttons, and I quit two months prematurely. I came in from Colorado on May 14th, and he told me I had to switch to a different truck since I had requested to be local. Switching trucks is a major pain in the butt. It takes about a day or two, which would have taken my whole weekend while I was home. I was already making half of my regular paycheck as an author so I said, “Here’s the key.” Then I tossed the keys to him, smiled and walked away. I left about $600 of personal equipment in the truck. I figured if I’m going to do it then I’m not going to carry that luggage around. There was no point to carry around tools of a trade that I wanted to leave. It was very liberating. When I drove home I was smiling! Then I got home and thought, “Oh crap, now I have to tell my wife.” She was right at the end of the school year too so both of us were facing not having jobs.
We had $1,900 income at the time, and in June I had about $4,000 income. So we had to make it until the end of June from May 14th on $1,900. You’d be surprised how many different ways you can make Ramen noodles: bbq Ramen noodles and you can add condiments to it for different flavors. But it was really hard. We lived in an older house that required almost constant maintenance. Of course, I’d be on the road for weeks so the maintenance kept sliding, getting worse and worse and going downhill. So we really struggled for those six weeks. We made it through though. We had hard times before. Truck driving is an expensive job. My best year was $50,000, but I would have to eat at restaurants three times a day and stay at hotels overnight. So those expenses were down after I quit but trying to get through six weeks with only $2,000 – the math doesn’t work. The bills had to be delayed until the next royalty check came in. It was a scary time.
What’s your big take away from that story?
Don’t jump the gun. Have at least three or four months of expenses in the bank and in a savings account before you take the leap. Having that buffer would have made all the difference and would have definitely taken a lot of that stress away.
At what point did you realize you can make a living as an author?
I was pretty sure that I could when I quit my job. I probably wouldn’t have quit otherwise. I was already making half of my normal income from trucking. I had just released my third book, and my fourth book was due out in two weeks. I knew once that fourth book came out that my income would be about the same as my truck driving job. I knew I could make it, and I knew it would take some work. I had just discovered Kboards at the time and was reading all the knowledge on there at the time. At that point I was pretty certain that I could make it. On May 31st my fourth book was published, and then my next royalty check came in. It was more than my best month of truck driving. I thought, “Yea, I can do this. I can make this work.” On release day for that book I made over $1,200. I never made $1,200 in a whole week in a truck. It was a prequel so I think that made a little bit of a difference. A normal release isn’t going to have that kind of ground swell, but I pumped it up. I got all my Facebook friends invited and everything. I notified everyone that was on my newsletter that it was a prequel, and it would answer a lot of questions that people had about the first three books. It took off unbelievably though. It was a short book, and I intended to put it up on perma free. As soon as I noticed how well it was doing I put it to $2.99 instead. All of May was super exciting. Sales were taking off. I figured out how to advertise. I got my second Bookbub in May. If I looked at my best four weeks with truck driving it would never happen in a month. I’d have one good week and then one bad week and then that would alternate. I had four consecutive good weeks of income from telling stories! I remember my wife and family telling me that I should write a book. Now I’m about to release my 10th. It’s still mind-boggling; I can’t quite grasp it.
When you finished your first manuscript what did you do with it? Did you have a plan? What were those steps that you took to get it published?
No plan whatsoever. Actually, my first manuscript was completed in 1988. That goes back a long way. I’ve always been a story teller. I wrote a bunch of short stories and submitted them to publishers and agents – this was before the internet. I submitted probably 50 queries. I got 28 responses – all of them negative. The rest totally ignored me. I had no plan at that time. When I started again I didn’t really have a plan either. I just wanted to write a book. After the first one I immediately started on the second one because I was having a ball with the other one. I wasn’t even checking sales! By the time I published my first book back in October of 2013 and until December of 2013 when I published my second book, I hadn’t even checked sales that whole time. When I released that second one I figured out how to get on my dashboard, and I saw that I sold 23 books in about two and half months. That was on December 18th. By December 31st I had sold over 100 of each. I figured that I could write and sell books to where I could make enough money where I could buy tools and outfit a woodworking shop. Then I could come off the road and build cabinets, chairs, and maybe boats. Then do that for a living. The woodworking shop is still a plan, but I am home! In one of my books my main character builds a boat – a wooden power boat with a bellow-back design with a transom slope down and a curve inward towards the back. In my book they powered it with twin Harley Davidson engines. I’ve always thought that would be a neat thing to do, but you have to have a lot of air flow since they’re air cooled engines. You’d probably have to have big, massive fans to keep them cool. Either way I want to do something nobody else has done.
Knowing what you know now, if you could do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
I have a plan now with a release schedule. I know when my next books are going to be out for the next two and a half years. I know when my promotions are going to be, what months, not exactly what date but down to the month for the next 18 months. Having a plan is going to have a big difference. I remember lying down in my bed with my wife and thinking, “What if? What if our books take off? What if we start making ungodly amounts of money?” So then we sat down and started making a plan. Not necessarily how to achieve that but what we are going to do once we get there. Right now I give 100% of my royalties from my fourth book. The book goes into problems about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (a.k.a., PTSD) with our troops, and 100% of my royalties goes to a Homes for Warriors program in my hometown. It’s really rewarding. I go down there every two or three months. I put on some sunglasses, a hat, a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and some gloves, and I get in there with a shovel and rake to work right alongside the other volunteers so nobody knows who I am. It’s just the way I want it. So being able to plan these things and knowing it’s going to happen definitely makes things a lot easier.
Could you walk us through your plan as it stands today?
Right now I’m scheduled to release “Fallen Angel” in early May. Then my second book in my Charity Series will be “Ruthless Charity”, which will be released about June 1st. I tried writing two books a time last year, and it worked really well. When I got tired of writing one story I would just jump to the other story and pick it right back up again. That worked out really well so I’m going to continue doing that. I’ll just try to stagger releases so they’re three to four weeks apart. I want to hit #1 and #2 in Sea Adventures New Releases on the Amazon charts. I missed it by a day last time. One book fell off the Hot New Releases, and the next day the other book was on it. Then I’ll be taking some time off to do some traveling. I have some conventions to go to and some book signings. Then I’ll pick it right back up again in the fall to release another book in the Jesse McDermitt series, probably towards November or early December. Then the first of the year would be another Charity book. Then two more releases in the spring and the summer of 2017. Promotions are every six weeks to two months, whether it’s a Bookbub promotion or a small promotion. Then we plan to move again. In about two to three years I’ll have this house paid for, and we’re going to start construction on our dream house. We’ve done a lot of the design ourselves, and we plan to do a lot of the construction ourselves. It’ll be big enough to accommodate the whole family including all the grand kids so they don’t have to stay in a hotel.
Have you ever been in a slump or taken a break from your writing? What did you do to get back up on the saddle?
Well, from 1988 to 2013, that was a bit of a slump. Since I started writing again I pretty much go from clicking publish to starting the next book in the same day. I just continue to pick up right where the story left off. We’ve taken several vacations and week long vacations. While we’re on vacation I still do a little bit of work, but for the most part I just set everything aside and go have fun. The way I write is I self-edit as I go so getting back into it has never been a problem. Every day at the end of the day, I’ll type the word count where I stopped writing. The next day I’ll go back to where I stopped writing yesterday and the day before. Then I’ll erase the first number and start reading and editing the last two day’s work by making changes and expanding things that I think need to be touched on a bit better. The story is fresh in my mind at that point. It doesn’t matter if it’s two days later or a week later. Getting back into the story reinvigorates my ability to tell it. The thing is I’m not a great writer – I’m a great story teller. I have good editors to do that. I’ll present to them the best manuscript I can to keep the costs down for editing of course.
How do you turn off that part of you that wants to keep producing something? I’ve seen a lot of authors discuss how they can’t step away because they’re afraid of losing their shirts.
I just say yes to my wife and daughter. It’s as simple as that. “Hey, Daddy, come on, let’s go do this!” It doesn’t take much prying to get me out on the boat. My daughter has always been like a wallflower while we lived up in the mountains. She’s becoming quite the waterman now. She’s out there with me every time I go out and powering the boat herself. She can get it on and off the trailer by herself. She’s only 14, and I’m hoping by the time she’s 16 she can hitch the boat up herself to her own car and drive it down to the boat landing and launch it. Then go out and spend the day with her friends and come back without a problem. So yea, it doesn’t take a lot for me to get out.
When it comes to losing my shirt – that did cross my mind for about a year or so. My income is at a point now where I can step away from it. I haven’t even recorded yesterday’s sales yet, but I know it’s over $500. It’s been over $500 a day for a couple of months now since my last release. There’s no stress about it anymore. I know it can drop by half of that, and I’ll be OK. There’s just no stress to get things out. This is the longest I’ve gone without a release. My last one was November 10th of 2015. So it’s been about five months. The longest I’ve gone before another release was about 4.5 months, and I’m still about a month away for my next release. That will make it about six months between my next release and my last one.
Some people watch movies and read books for their creative ideas. Where do you go for your inspiration? What’s your muse?
I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. In the ‘80’s I worked in construction. Even in Florida construction has its down time. There were always layoffs, and you had to find other means to make a living. I worked as: a clammer, commercial fisherman, deckhand on a troller, and a deckhand on a small cargo ship. I’ve worked in different places like Mexico and the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. I was in the Marine Corps, and my main character is in the marines. So I draw on experiences and people I’ve met more than anything else. All the different characters that you read about in my books are based on actual people. I may merge several people together to make a super-character, but for the most part it’s been about experiences and places that I’ve been. My books are all about traveling all over the Caribbean, down to Cozumel Mexico, Cuba, Leeward Islands, and the Bahamas. Every place where my character goes is a place I’ve been. I’ve experience it firsthand so I know exactly how the wind feels, how everything smells, and I’ve been able to relate that to readers. Not just what they’re seeing and thinking but also what they’re smelling and tasting. It makes for a much better reading experience.
My muse is the ocean. I’ve always been near it except for the last 15 years when I lived in the mountains. Now that we’re back I’m just going full tilt now. For instance, for the book I’m writing now the main character is coming to where I live now. I’m writing about actual things that I’m experiencing firsthand right now. I sat down to write a scene yesterday, and I pulled up Google maps to get aerial views because it’s going to be an arrest scene. It’s going to take place on Waterfront Park, which is down the road. So I was checking out Google for the aerial views and the oblique views thinking where I want to have this scene take place. Then I thought, “Dumbass, it’s right across the bridge! Why don’t you go look!” So I got into my truck, drove over there, walked up and down the boardwalk looking at the different places to figure out how I wanted it to happen in the book. I went into the ship store, and talked to the dock master to tell him about my books. He invited me into the private dock area – you need to have a key card to get in. We walked out to the end of the docks where the pier docks were. There was a guy doing sea trials on a 45 foot Viking troller. At that point I had been watching him for about an hour, and he was ready to come in to the dock master. The dock master invited me to come along. So I went along and helped with the lines and getting the boat secured. There happened to be a deputy sheriff that lived aboard right around there so I was able to talk to him firsthand and get some ideas on how the arrest should be made. I also got some information on how the interaction between the federal authorities and the local police would be. In that two hours that I spent there on the docks I probably got more research and more information than a full day working on the computer. It’s a lot of fun writing about the places that I’ve been to recently that I can relate to a lot better. My other book is about the Caribbean, and it’s been about 15-20 years since I’ve been down there. Here, it’s fresh in my mind and makes it a whole lot easier. I’ve also managed to stay here for more than a few months.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success as a full-time author?
There are a lot of habits that altogether create a successful atmosphere. The biggest takeaway I can recommend is to treat your writing like it’s a business. We are self-publishers; not self-authors. Writing is something we do for fun. It’s the publishing aspect of it that’s the job. That’s the work. You have to put that work into it or else there’s not going to be any success. You have to follow trends, your sales, and keep track of what promotions you’re doing and when you’re doing them. When you only have one book you pretty much know that you’re going to promote this book on this day. Then you’re going to do it again next month. When you have 10 you have to plan them out so they fall in the right sequence. Treat your self-publishing as a business like: creating a business name, opening business accounts, hiring a CPA or a lawyer to help with the tax aspect of it, and planning on paying taxes. You need about 25% going into a savings account every month so you can pay your taxes. You’re going to need that money every quarter (or every year if you’re employed elsewhere). One of my author friends recently got a tax bill for $11,000, and he was saying, “What am I going to do!?” What you’re going to do is pay the bill. How you’re going to do it is up in the air. If you planned on paying that a year ago then the money would be in the bank, you’d write a check, and send it off without missing it. I do 25% payroll deduction every month that goes into a savings account so I never miss it. To me, it’s not even there.
Benjamin Franklin used to say: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Then Winston Churchill paraphrased it: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” Both men are pretty smart or else they wouldn’t have been in the positions that they were. I like to do what smart people do. I’m not doing this for the short term; I’m planning for the long term, 10-15 years down the road. You have to plan it that way. You can dream about it all you want: a big house, big boat, but a dream without a plan is just a wish. There aren’t any genies or fairies so you have to make a plan to succeed. So you set a goal: I want to make 1 million dollars. That’s a goal. It’s not a plan. Your plan is: how do I get there? You have to have increments along the way. You have to plan to release X number of books a year. You have to plan to promote X number of books. You put these plans down in short steps that are easy to achieve, and before you know it you’re going to achieve your main goal.
You’ve mentioned book promotion several times throughout our talk here. You have a blog post on this topic don’t you?
Yes I do, and it’s not a difficult concept to grasp. A lot of people who have creative minds like writers and artists are just absolutely dumb when it comes to numbers. The whole idea about the Amazon algorithm is that it’s not magical. A lot of people think it’s this magical thing that nobody knows about. It’s a simple mathematical equation. This hour of sales counts for 100%. The last hour of sales counts for 99.9%. The hour before that counts as 99.8% and so on. Each hour of sales is incrementally reduced in its weight. By controlling those hours of sales you control the weight that each new hour of sales has. Let’s say you sold 100 books in one week, and all of those books were sold in one day. You’d have a huge spike of sales, and it will drop back down to zero. Before long those sales will go away. If you start out with two sales, then three sales, then four sales, and so on then each one will incrementally get smaller in weight, but they already did their job by giving their weight to the current hour of sales. The output here in Amazon is the rank, and you’re trying to achieve a higher, terminal rank from the promotion. My goal is to reach the highest possible rank on the day the big ad comes out – Bookbub. To reach that highest rank you have to have increasing sales every hour for 240 hours (10 days). It takes a lot of thinking and a lot of money, but it’s achievable. The Bookbub ad at the end is not the most costly. What comes before that is the dozens and dozens of ads in different locations at different times of the day. It’s really critical when the emails from these advertisers go out. You don’t want to have one day with all five ads coming out between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. You want to have one around 8:00 AM, another around noon, another in the afternoon, and so on. To do that you need to first know when those ads are going to come out, and then you need to plan and set them up accordingly. You have the ability to decline the date and time an advertiser gives you. When you get a Bookbub you plan everything around that date though. There are plenty of smaller advertisers out there if a date won’t work for you, and a lot of times they just might make room for you.
If you’d like to see Wayne’s blog post on the topic of promotion then check it out here.
OK, we’re going to switch it up. What are you most excited about right now?
Being right here where I’m at. Being close to the ocean and being able to write about things I’m experiencing today. Just being able to enjoy life again. For about 50 years I worked every day as hard as I could just to make ends meet. There were times where we juggled bills. Now everything is on auto-pay. We don’t even worry about it anymore. Now I’m able to enjoy life. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to struggle. Sure, struggle makes you stronger, but being able to enjoy the fruits of your struggle is where it’s at. It’s taken me about 57 years to get there! Finally I’m here, and I can kick back.
What advice do you have for those of us trying to become full-time authors?
Write every day starting now. I’m a numbers nerd so let’s look at the math. If you write 1,000 words every day for three months you’ll have a 90,000 word manuscript. Then add in another month for editing and cover design then publishing. So you can release a 90,000 word novel once every four months just by working three to four hours a day. 1,000 words isn’t a whole lot. You need to get into the habit of writing every single day. It doesn’t have to be good or great writing. It just has to be words. I’m not a writer. I’m a terrible writer. I’m a pretty good story teller, and I can now hire really good editors to make my stories look like a book.
I really like that mindset because I’ve met so many people that are trying to write and finish their books, but they get trapped trying to get it perfect before they send it anywhere. Then they get so trapped and they never actually finish it, and it becomes a “someday” project.
Yes – You need to get into the habit of writing every day to the point where if you don’t get your writing done then you start having withdrawals. That’s when you know you’re a writer. Writing 1,000 words is not that hard to do. Most people can write 1,000 words in a couple of hours. A lot of people have long commutes and they can do it then. Or you can do it while the baby is taking a nap, after everybody has gone to bed, or wake up at 4:00 AM and get your writing done before anybody wakes up. Your minds most creative time is early morning when you first wake up. You’ll get it done before you have to go to your regular job knowing that you’ve already accomplished your real goal for today before you even got into the car. Then hopefully one day that will be your full-time job. If you get up early then go to bed at 9:00 PM at night. If you want to be a writer, and you’re just starting off then you have to eliminate your social life. If you think you have to meet the guys down at the pub – no you don’t. You can put that off for a couple of months because they’re still going to be there. So try to get to the point where you’re writing every day and you miss it if you don’t.
What the best way that we can reach you?
My website. There’s links there for: my email, Facebook page, Twitter, and my blog. That’s by far the easiest way. Oh, and there’s books for sale too!
Can you share a parting piece of advice?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Just because you’re an author doesn’t mean you can’t make money elsewhere. I make $200 to $300 a month on affiliate sales. I send my newsletter out every two weeks, and in there I recommend other authors; people that write in the same sub-genre that I do. When I do that I make anywhere from $50 to $100 from those affiliate links. There are so many other different aspects once you gain some level of success and notoriety. There are “How to” talks where people actually pay you to talk to a group of aspiring authors to talk about how to become one. That’s just another basket for your eggs. There’s a myriad of ways to make small amounts of money, but all those small amounts combined add up to a pretty good income. Oh, and with those affiliate links my wife and I can go out to dinner every month for free. Hey, thank you Amazon!
If you’re interested in diving into a set of Caribbean Action & Adventure series then definitely go check out Wayne’s extensive backlist here.
If you enjoyed the interview then please let me know! Email me at Brandon@buildyourauthorcareer.com or leave a comment below. I read every email and comment.
Feel free to check out my previous interviews with other inspiring authors:
To your consistent progress,