Information and Tips
There is an old marketing adage called The Rule of Seven. If you’re unfamiliar with The Rule of Seven, here’s a terrific explanation by Andrea Stenberg. Essentially, readers need to see your message – hear about your book – 7 times before they feel comfortable enough to buy from you.
With indie books this is especially true. Unfortunately, many people still believe the old stigmas associated with self-publishers and self-published books: our books are second rate, not up to snuff.* Repeated exposure creates a sense of familiarity; people have seen your book on multiple blogs or heard about it in different contexts and this makes them feel comfortable.
Here are some things you can do:
Submit for Reviews, Contests and Awards
Awards and good reviews from trusted sources are great ways to increase value in the eyes of readers. Readers are often skeptical about new authors; they’re more likely to invest their time and money if they see that a book has won awards. Last year, I submitted In Leah’s Wake to the Book Bundlz Book Pick contest. Being the BB 2011 Book Pick gave my book a wonderful boost.
Virtual Book Tours
A virtual book tour takes place over a certain period of time – generally 1 – 6 weeks. Each day, your book is featured on a different blog. Features typically consist of book reviews, author interviews or guest posts. Some tours also include Twitter, Facebook and radio promotions. For my current tour, with Orangeberry Book Tours, my lovely hostess, Pandora Poikilos, has put my characters on tour. For this, I wrote posts from the point of view of the characters in my novel. Tours give you a chance to meet and connect with book bloggers, who share information about your book with their readers and spread news across the Internet. Tours also provide the opportunity to meet and connect with potential readers. If you can’t or don’t care to pay a tour company, you can organize your own tour. You can find a list of bloggers, categorized by genre preference, in the book blogger directory. Tours are a tremendous amount of work; before embarking on one, be sure you have the time and energy to invest.
Like virtual book tours, guest posts give you the opportunity to connect with readers. The most effective posts are interesting and provide useful information. In most posts, you can discretely mention your book. For instance, for a post on creating dialogue, use dialogue from your book to illustrate your points. This soft-sell approach creates visibility and helps build your platform. I’ve also judged writing contests and regularly contribute to IndieReader and previously Her Circle eZine.
Contests, Giveaways & Cross-Promotion
Contests and giveaways are a fun way to engage readers by giving back, rather than asking for something. I’ve done all sorts of giveaways on my blog, including a 10-day “For Love of Love” promotion. Over 50 authors participated in For Love of Love; each wrote a 200-300 word themed guest post about some aspect of love. To enter the giveaway, readers were asked to vote for their favorite post. The authors promoted the feature across their social networks, reaching a far broader audience than any author could on his or her own.
I’ve also done several giveaways on Goodreads. These are effective for creating awareness and encouraging readers to put your book on their shelf. The weekend daisy-chain blog hops hosted by the Indie Book Collective were a fantastic way to get your name out. You gave a free eBook to every person who commented on your blog during the weekend of the tour, spreading the word and getting your book out there.
Give Books Away
I’ve given away hundreds of books, both eBooks and paperbacks. In my view, giving away books is a terrific way to spread good will and generate interest in your work. Libraries are worthy recipients. With budget cuts, many libraries cannot afford to buy new books, so they’re grateful for yours. And your book is put on a shelf where it gains exposure in the library community.
Ads are expensive and, with a few exceptions, most authors tell me they have not seen much by way of increased sales. If you have an ad budget, Author Buzz is fantastic. Their promotions allow you to personalize your message. You can reach readers, librarians, booksellers and book clubs in a way that stands out from ordinary ads. I’ve had great success with their promotions.
Essentially, I do my best to keep my name and title in the public eye – without actively selling.
*My recent article, “Sticks & Stones: The Changing Politics of Self-Publishing” explains why this is no longer true.
Caveat: repeated exposure does not mean relentless 24/7 self promotion. While it’s a good idea to post news on social networks – your fans are eager to hear that you’ve won an award or set a date for the launch of a new book, for instance, it is not, however, a good tactic to tweet nonstop about yourself or your book or post constant sales or promotional links. Messages saying, “Buy my book” or “Check out my book” or “You’ll love my new book” rarely sell books; they are far more likely to turn potential book buyers off.
Book marketing is about building relationships. As with any relationship, we must respect the other person. To paraphrase JFK, “ask not what the reader can do for you; ask what you can do for the reader.” Simply put, before tweeting or posting a link, ask yourself what you’re giving back. What value are you providing? Maybe you’re linking to an entertaining out-take or an informative post about writing your book or selecting your cover. These are terrific. Sure, the underlying message is still, I’d love it if you read my book, but you’re giving as much as asking.
When I published my debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, in October 2010, I had no clue as to what I was doing. Stupidly, too embarrassed to self-promote, I posted the book on Amazon. That was it. I mean really it – not even my parents knew I’d published the book!
I sold two books in October, four in November, and thirty-four in December. For a month or so after the holidays, as people bought books for their new Kindles, I sold a few copies a day. By March, with sales lagging, and I realized that, if I didn’t do something, my book would die. In early March, I began blogging and activated my Twitter account.
A Twitter newbie, I didn’t know the first thing about protocol or practices. Scouring the Internet, searching for advice, I landed on the Novel Publicity site. After my third or fourth time on the site, I contacted Novel Publicity founder, Emlyn Chand, and signed up for a few basic services. For three months, Emlyn and I worked on building my social media platform. Emlyn introduced me to Twitter, reorganized my blog, and created a media kit, book discussion guide, and video trailer. In mid-May, I began my Novel Publicity blog tour. In May, I sold thirty-eight books. In June, sales increased to about 2-3 books a day.
Once I got used to the idea that marketing didn’t have to mean shameless self-promotion, 24/7, I began to enjoy it. I’ve done several promotions with Author Buzz – for readers, book clubs and librarians – organized by M.J. Rose, two blog hops with the IBC, a second tour – Social Media Whirlwind – with Novel Publicity, and the IBC’s elite promotion, Bestseller For A Day. I’m currently doing a Pump Up Your Book Tour with Dorothy Thompson. Emlyn and I have also done fun things, like creating an interactive In Leah’s Wake quiz and crossroads stories for my blog.
Six months later, we’ve sold 45,000 books, with over 16,000 sales in October alone.
You Can Do It Too! Here’s How
Mobilize Your Networks
Well before your pub date, mobilize your networks. Spread news about your launch to family and friends; send copies of your eBook or paperback to beta readers and anyone else who might be interested in reading. Post a pre-sale page on Amazon; a week or two before your launch, begin asking readers to post reviews on Goodreads.
If you don’t have a website or blog, now is the time to create one. Your blog is the basis of your social networking platform. Even if you don’t blog regularly your blog provides a platform for talking about your book, reaching out to readers, announcing your news, sharing your thoughts.
Create a Book Trailer
People disagree about whether or not trailers promote books. I can’t say for sure that mine has, but I can tell you – with very little promotion – I’ve had close to 1000 YouTube hits; I have no idea how many people have viewed it on my site, the Novel Publicity site, the trailer parks or blogs where it’s been featured. If nothing else, trailers attract interest on a Web page. If you’re talented or know someone who is, you can make the trailer yourself. Whatever you do – do NOT post it on your Amazon page. The last thing you want is to distract people away from your sales page.
Set up Social Media Pages
Next, activate your book-centric social networks. Create a Facebook author page. Friend pages are great, but they’re better for connecting with real friends. I made the mistake of building my friend page, rather than focusing on my fan page. Now I have trouble connecting with family and real life friends; although I have over 1000 author friends, I’m hesitant to post book information for fear of annoying my family.
Set up a book page on Goodreads. If you can afford it, take out an ad. It doesn’t have to be terribly expensive. Goodreads recommends a budget of $5/day. Direct the ad to your Goodreads page. This will encourage readers to add your book to their shelves.
The month before your launch, begin posting teasers on social media sites – Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, G+. Be conversational, fun – don’t push sales. Show your cover, tell people how excited you are; post an excerpt on your blog. Share information about your pre-publication preparations, your feelings. Engage people; build anticipation. Ask author friends to help you by cross-promoting – a friend could interview you on his or her blog, post info on Facebook, tweet about your book. Whatever you do, be sure to give back. No one likes takers.
Today is your big day! Have fun! Host a blog party! Celebrate your accomplishment!
Post event information across your social networks. Try to involve as many people – readers, author friends, and bloggers – to participate and to share your news.
If You Can Afford One, Hire a Publicist.
Over a million books are published each year. Most never sell more than 1000 copies.
If you’re one of the chosen few – a traditionally published author or an author who’s received a hefty advance – good for you! Your publisher will promote you. The rest of us, unless we take PR into our own hands, will receive little or no notice. Your publicist is your partner. Work hard with him or her to promote your book.
What If You’re Broke? Does This Mean You’re Doomed to Sell 100 Books?
No, absolutely not!
If you can’t afford or don’t want to hire a publicist, do the work yourself. Create a website, using a free or low-cost platform like WordPress; build your social network; contact reviewers and bloggers and request reviews interviews (be polite and be sure to follow instructions posted on the sites); reach out to book clubs. Dollars & Sense: the Definitive Guide To Self-Publishing, by Carolyn McCray, Rachel Thompson and Amber Scott, offers a wealth of information. You can also find information online. Check out Seth Godin and Jon Konrath’s blogs. It’s hard work, and it takes time—months or even a year—but it can be done.
**Post-Launch Strategies I’ve Found Successful**
Give Books Away
Over the last year, I’ve given away about 200 paperbacks and over 500 eBooks, via downloadable PDF, mobi or ePub files or with Smashwords coupons. Most traditional media refuse to review indie books, so we rely on readers and bloggers for the all-important reviews we need in order to spread the word about our book.
Bless and cherish these people! They read our books and write reviews purely out of love. Because I value them so greatly, I happily give a book in whichever format a blogger or reviewer requests. Buying and shipping paperback books costs money, particularly when you ship overseas. A lot of reviewers are happy with an eBook. That’s terrific and cost-effective. But if someone requests a paperback, I always send one, with a note saying thank you.
I’ve also given books to readers via Goodreads giveaways as well as through various promotions. The Indie Book Collective sponsors periodic daisy-chain blog hops. So far I’ve done two – Tour de Troops, over Memorial Day Weekend, and Menage a Blog, in July. From November 10 – 14 I look forward to my Tour de Troops encore. For the IBC blog hops, every person who leaves a comment receives a Smashwords coupon for a free eBook. I’ve had about 125 unique comments during each blog hop. For Tour de Troops we also give one book to an active duty troop for every book we give to our visitors. I also gave books away during my Bestseller For a Day event and Social Whirlwind Media Tour. In each case, I communicated directly with every person who received the book. Giving away books gives us a perfect opportunity to reach out and connect with readers. When we communicate with readers we let them know we feel they’re important, we value them – maybe they’ll be loyal to us.
How do you make your book stand out? Accolades. I was honored to win the Coffee Time Reviewer Recommend Award from Coffee Time Romance. The award, selected by reviewers, was a wonderful surprise. But such awards are few and far between. Most require that you enter a contest. Submit your novel or novel excerpt to any competition you can find for your genre or category. Submit far. Submit wide. If you’re lucky enough to win, the award will validate you (yay, somebody thinks your writing is great!) and attract the interest of readers. As a bonus, you may get a shiny new badge to print on your book cover or post on your website. What’s more, the contest will promote itself and your winning entry. Free PR! Woo-hoo!
A traditionally published friend writes for a terrific website called Book Bundlz, a resource for book clubs. My friend gave me the name of the owner and I emailed to ask if she’d be interested in my writing an article; the owner never responded. One day, I visited the Book Bundlz website, noticed a call for entries for their 2011 Book Pick, and decided to enter. For some reason, I had the (mistaken) impression that the site favored traditionally published books. I was shocked when the Book Bundlz judges chose In Leah’s Wake as a finalist. It was a huge honor when club members, by vote, selected my book as the winner.
If you win a contest, forever after, you get to call your book an award-winning book. This may not seem a big deal, particularly if your book wins an award no one has ever heard of; it does, however, change readers’ perception of your book. Remember – indie published books haven’t been vetted by a team of editors and most of us don’t have a traditional PR machine to shape and promote our brand. Readers are taking a risk on us. It’s our job to lower the risk and make readers feel comfortable. An award proclaims, this book has been deemed worthy by a book critic or judge.
Emlyn and I are idea people, so we enjoy thinking of strategies others may not have tried. When I signed on for the IBC’s Menage a Blog Tour, I wanted to do something different and fun to attract readers to my blog. Emlyn came up with a ten-question character quiz that tells participants which In Leah’s Wake character they resemble. We wrote the questions together, a lot of fun. As a kicker, I had the idea of creating a competition, asking visitors to vote for a winner. To enter, you had to take the quiz, and then leave a comment on my blog telling us which character you were and what it meant to you. I asked my friend Barbara Hightower to select the ten best comments. Emlyn organized the finalists in a post and we invited the winners to rally their friends to vote, offering some really cool prizes as an incentive. The contest generated enormous traffic to my blog, and I met a lot of terrific people. When the IBC featured In Leah’s Wake in their Bestseller For a Day promotion, several of my blogger-sponsors joined because they’d met me through the contest.
Some authors are reluctant to cross-promote, so it can be hard to put a solid plan together. This month, I worked with thirty-six authors to promote the launch of bestselling author Melissa Foster’s new novel, Come Back To Me. For the month preceding the event, the participating authors all shared news about the upcoming event. On launch day, we all lowered the price of our eBook to 99¢, making the party fun for readers, too. The IBC blog hops and Bestseller For a Day promotion work in a similar manner. By promoting an event together, everyone wins.
This sort of cross-promotion creates connections among authors. I continue to correspond and cross-promote with authors I’ve worked with on tours. I’ve also maintained contact with many of the original bloggers who sponsored me on my first Novel Publicity tour. This sort of community is great for promotional reasons, but the support and camaraderie – the virtual hug you receive on a bad day – are, by far, the bigger rewards.
Cross-promotion, because readers often buy both books, also helps to get our books into the “If you liked this, you’ll like this” chain in the online retailer sites. These lists expose our books to many readers who might never have heard of us or found our book otherwise.
Publishing your first book is like starting a small business. You’ll work longer hours for less money than you’ve ever dreamed possible. I’ve been joking lately about posting before and after photos. Before promoting my book, I actually looked like my author photo. Now . . . well, I won’t even go there. The point is, over the last few months I’ve worked many 12 or 16-hour days. Some days I’ve wondered why I bothered, and – my husband will attest to this – I’ve had many days when I’ve threatened to quit writing. Forever.
But then I’d receive a note that says your book has given me hope. Or, you speak for so many parents and teens. Thank you. Or if I were stranded, I’d want to bring your book with me. And my heart melts. In those moments, I know it’s worthwhile. I’ve been blessed. Those wonderful, poignant, breathtaking moments far outweigh any down times. It’s like children – parenting is tough, but your children bring you the greatest joy you can ever imagine. Hold your head up, reach higher, and hold onto the joy.
Don’t ever give up.
Networking (Cost in money: free, cost in time: high)
Cross promote, share tweets, host people on your blog, write guest posts
Blog tours (Cost in money: ranges dramatically, cost in time: ranges dramatically)
From a $30 book blitz where just your cover and blurb is posted to a thousand dollar blog tour which requires you to write guest posts, respond to interview requests etc
Get your book promoted or listed (Cost in money: ranges dramatically, cost in time: quite low)
Advertise your free or bargain book at dozens of sites. Some are free, some charge and be prepared to fill out a lot of forms with the same information over and over. And over. And over.
Use social media creatively (Cost in money: free or low, cost in time: average)
Don’t just post ‘buy my book’ links. Share interesting quotes in graphic form on Pinterest or Instagram or on Twitter. Tweet an excerpt link so the reader can find out more. Share interesting news. Apps make it easy to post simple but effective graphics.
(Now split into two separate posts totalling over 100 links)
When I published In Leah’s Wake I had no idea what I was doing. I could barely get out of my own way. I’m grateful that, despite my dumb mistakes, readers and book bloggers gave my novel a chance. Today, as the number of books competing for attention increases, and the quality of indie books continues to rise, with many indie books rivaling those published by major New York houses, I might not be so lucky.
When I publish my next novel, I’m bound to make my share of mistakes. The industry is evolving and we’re all more or less feeling our way. Still, it’s foolish make the same mistake twice. Having learned from past errors, I’ll make adjustments. Here are 7 mistakes I’ll be sure to avoid:
Neglecting to hire a professional editor
Of all my blunders, this is the biggest and the one that has caused the most heartache and stress. Call me naïve: the possibility of hiring an editor never occurred to me, not because I think I’m above the need for editing. Not at all. My writer’s group – all professional writers and teachers – had given the green light. Moreover, in 2006, the book had been scheduled for publication by a small independent press (unfortunately, they folded, as happened frequently then), and the book had been edited by the publisher’s editorial team.
Although the book had been read, edited and proofed many times, by at least a dozen different people, it turned out that we missed several typographical errors. In February, I launched a new, professionally edited edition of In Leah’s Wake. But it’s too late. Any damage is already done. With my new novel, I’m working with an editor and I’ll also hire an independent proofreader.
Paying too little attention to eBook formatting
Smashwords, a retailer and eBook aggregator, distributes to Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo and other eBook retailers. Having paid a professional to convert my file for Smashwords, I assumed the formatting was perfect. As Smashwords distributes to multiple retailers, I figured I could use the file on Amazon too. Wrong. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) uses a proprietary platform – entirely different from the Smashwords platform.
Formatting and conversion problems cause dropped punctuation as well as paragraphing errors, which appear to the reader as sloppy editing. While I consider any error too many, all things considered the typos in my novel were relatively minor. Even books published by major houses have a few. Add punctuation and paragraph issues and the mistakes look egregious. Naively, I trusted the process. Until a reviewer pointed out the errors, I had no idea there were problems.
Not soliciting for reviews before publication.
Reviews – like all information on a book’s product page – send a meta-message to potential buyers. When people look at a product page, they get an impression, good or bad, of the book and that impression influences their purchase decision. Obviously, some readers base their decision solely on the description; still, it’s hard not to notice that a newly published book has 20 or 30 reviews. If reviews are generally good, better yet.
I’m not suggesting that authors stack reviews. Family and best friend reviews are usually easy to spot. If anything, they give savvy buyers a negative impression. I am saying that it makes sense for authors to create ARCS (Advanced Review Copies) and solicit reviews from book bloggers and other professional reviewers – IndieReader or Kirkus, for example.
Failing to submit to contests.
Readers’ Favorites, Beach Books, Next Generation Indie Books, the Independent (Ippy) Book Awards, Writer’s Digest, and Global eBook awards are just a few of the contests and awards open to indie authors. Because we’re not published by major houses, our books appear to have no vetting process. Recognized awards are a great substitution. They tell readers that someone discerning has read the book and believed it to be of high caliber.
Because there are so many awards, readers tend to be wary. While it’s fine to apply for lesser known awards – and wonderful if you win! – recognized awards tend to have more sway. In Leah’s Wake received the Coffee Time Reviewer Recommend Award and it was the Book Bundlz 2011 Book Pick – the editorial team chose the finalist and members voted for the winner. These helped my book tremendously. I doubt In Leah’s Wake would have sold as well without them.
Waiting too long to begin marketing.
I feel like a broken record saying this: it’s crucial to begin marketing early. Traditional publishers begin marketing months ahead of publication. This builds excitement and momentum. We need to do the same. While we can’t really go into full-swing marketing mode – tour, for example – until we’ve published, we can blog about our progress, post updates on Facebook, G+ and Twitter, spread the word to bloggers, talk about our new work in interviews, put a counter on our website to count down the days until publication, etc.
Using more than one distributor.
The jury is still out on which distributor to use, with some authors favoring the flexibility of Lightning Source and others the ease of Createspace (the two largest distributors of indie books). Lightning Source allows authors to offer returns and give a higher discount to bookstores; theoretically, this encourages stores to stock paperback books.
In reality, for many reasons, primarily dollars and cents*, bookstores rarely stock books by indie authors, regardless of an author’s discount or return policy. Listing with both creates confusion. While Lightning Source allows authors to distribute under their own ISBN number, Createspace requires you to use theirs. Books distributed by both Lightning Source and Createspace have two distinct ISBN numbers, and so two product pages. Some buyers will purchase from one source, others buyers from the other source, resulting in diluted sales and lower sales rank.
Failing to reach out to schools, libraries, and independent bookstores.
It’s impossible to say how many opportunities I may have missed by neglecting to do any sort of concerted outreach. This time around, I’ll draft a list of schools, libraries and stores that might consider carrying my book, and I’ll send a letter with a description and other pertinent information. I have not yet formalized a plan, but I may offer incentives to encourage them to give the book a try. Times are tough and money is always an issue, so they may not stock my book. At least they’ll know it exists.
Having trouble getting your self-published books into brick & mortar stores?
IndieReader In-Store (IRIS), a new indie book marketing and distribution service, can help.
IRIS provides an easy, cost-effective and efficient way for booksellers to select and order self-published books. Like traditional publishers—from Abrams and Chronicle to Random House and Simon & Schuster—IRIS gets branded self-published titles in front of 37,000 book industry professionals, including retailers, reviewers, librarians, and publishers.
A Partnership Publisher with the American Book Association (ABA), IndieReader also participates in direct outreach to ABA member store’s decision-makers.
As an IRIS client, indie authors receive:
♦ Recognition as part of the prestigious IndieReader/IRIS brand
♦ Review from IndieReader, to be included in the Edelweiss database along with your home-base location (for stores interested in readings)
♦ Your book’s title and information included on a sell sheet in a Red Box Mailing, an in-store marketing action kit, currently sent to 1,100 ABA member stores
♦ A secure, controlled way to share DRCs with reviewers, bloggers, librarians, media, booksellers, wholesalers, etc., via Edelweiss Digital Review Copy (DRC) Module
♦ Opportunity for viral marketing via the Edelweiss ‘Community’ feature, which allows booksellers and librarians to share lists of favorite indie titles with peers
“There’s growing interest… in identifying good or bestselling indie titles for possible sale in-store … [and] in being able to more easily find local authors for personal appearances. Having indie titles included in the Edelweiss database via IRIS provides the tools to do both of those things.”
~Nicole Magistro, co-owner of The Bookworm of Edwards in Colorado
Q. How much does it cost to participate?
A. The cost of listing via IndieReader In-Store starts at $524. For more information on IRIS pricing click here.
Q. Some stores now offer ebooks. Are eBooks included or is this just for paper?
A. The retailers, wholesalers, and librarians who use Edelweiss focus on physical books, but there’s nothing stopping you from listing ebook exclusives to give them more exposure.
Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, Libraries
CNET, Sept 2014: ”E-book subscription services are all the rage this year, thanks in part to Amazon. The decades-old book retailer unveiled its own unlimited book subscription, Kindle Unlimited, on July 18, aiming to compete with Oyster and Scribd, comparable services that have been around since 2012.”
Wikipedia: “Scribd is a digital library, featuring an ebook subscription service that includes New York Times bestsellers and classics.
Launched in 2007 by Trip Adler and Jared Friedman, Scribd also features written works contributed by users around the world and is headquartered in San Francisco, CA. Backed by Y Combinator, Charles River Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures, Scribd is a major website with more than 80 million active readers coming to the site every month.
Scribd’s subscription service is available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone smartphones and tablets, as well as the Kindle Fire, the Nook, and personal computers for a monthly fee of $8.99 ($3.99 with annual commitment), and lets readers have unlimited access to more than 500,000 books from over 900 publishers, including Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, RosettaBooks, and Workman.”
Wikipedia: “As a member of Amazon Prime, access to the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” is given that allows Kindle-owning members to borrow one free ebook, from over 500,000 titles, per calendar month. In July 2014, Amazon added a Kindle Unlimited subscription, which allows unlimited access to over 638,000 titles and 7,000 audiobooks for a monthly fee.”
Wikipedia: “The company was founded in 2012 by Eric Stromberg, Andrew Brown, and Willem Van Lancker, and is headquartered in New York City, NY. In October 2012, Oyster received $3 million in seed funding led by Founders Fund, a San Francisco based venture capital firm founded by Peter Thiel and Ken Howery. On January 14, 2014, Oyster announced a $14 million funding round, led by Highland Capital Partners.
Oyster launched on September 5, 2013, opening paid access, at $9.95 a month, via invitations available on a first-come, first-served basis. Common early criticisms included limited content and lack of multiplatform support, but its reading experience and design were widely praised. Within ten days, users had read over a million pages.
On October 16, 2013, Oyster launched support for the iPad. The company also removed invitations as a requirement to join, and offered a 30-day free trial to all new users. Along with an iOS app redesign, the website additionally allowed for browsing of curated book lists.
In June 2014 the company expanded its services to Android and Kindle Fire devices and in July 2014, the company launched a web reader application.”
You’ve finished your masterpiece. After revising, editing, and polishing your work, you’re ready to publish. You consider querying an agent, but your writer friends, who not long ago turned up their noses at the thought of self-publishing, are encouraging you to “go indie.”
Their reasons are compelling: more money, greater control, faster publication, a direct relationship with your readers. Still, you’re not sure if self-publishing is right for you.
This is an exciting time in publishing! Never before have readers been so accepting of indie writers. Your friends are right: the rewards are immense. But all rewards come at a price. Publishing a book is like a starting a small business. It’s hard, time-consuming work—and it’s not for everyone. Here are seven questions to help you think through your decision.
Are you creative?
As publisher, you’re responsible for your book’s content, cover and interior design. Successful indie books stand up to those published by major publishing houses. Many indie writers hire professionals to design their interior and cover. Perhaps you will, too. Still, you’ve worked hard to write your book. You’ll want to be sure the cover represents it well.
In order for your book to stand out, to rise above the noise, you’ll also need to come up with unique ways to promote it. While there are many wonderful professionals to help with marketing and promotion, it helps to put your own stamp on your promotions. At the very least, you’ll want to offer your blog hosts interesting interviews and creative guest posts.
Are you detail-oriented?
Editing, particularly proofreading, and formatting are tedious, detail-oriented activities. Editing requires us right-brain thinkers to switch gears. We must read closely, checking for errors. Compared to creative writing, editing and proofreading can feel like drudge work.
Formatting can be equally tedious. Poor formatting results in punctuation and paragraph errors that appear to be sloppy editing mistakes. Yes, you can hire professionals to edit and format; ultimately, you’re responsible. I learned this the hard way, by being burned. I’d read my novel so many times that the mere site of the manuscript made me anxious. Trusting the formatter, I loaded my eBook, only to discover that the file was corrupt.
Are you independent?
Sure, being the boss is liberating, but it’s lonely at the top. Unlike traditionally published writers, most indie writers don’t have a support staff to assist with publishing chores and minutiae—a publicist to organize a marketing campaign or an agent or editor to be sure the process runs smoothly. As President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” It’s up to you to meet deadlines, be sure the work gets done, and deal with any problems that crop up.
As in any business, it’s important to establish a network. With writer friends, you can share ideas and experiences, helping one another make wise decisions and enhance your success.
Can you deal with disappointment?
In every business, things inevitably go wrong. Editing or formatting takes longer than you expected, setting your launch back a week; Amazon introduces a groundbreaking program like KDP Select the day you launch a long-awaited promotion. You receive a lousy review. After a setback, it’s important to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move forward.
Are you willing to invest?
If you hope to succeed, you must nurture your business. Since my launch, I’ve put in more 12 and 16-hour days than I care to count. It’s not necessary to put in ridiculously long days. You must, however, keep your eye on the ball. This requires you to invest your time wisely.
There is also the financial investment to consider. Designing, formatting and marketing your book yourself substantially minimizes costs. But you may have to lower your sites a tad. We all have only twenty-four hours in a day. Doing everything alone limits your scope. And time is precious. Only you know what you can afford—and how much you’re willing—to invest.
Do you enjoy marketing?
As I learned from the Indie Book Collective, bestsellers are not born; they’re marketed. No amount of marketing can turn a truly bad book into a bestseller. For most books, though, effective marketing makes all the difference. Marketing lets readers know your book exists.
Marketing doesn’t mean shameless self-promotion. Grandstanding turns most people off. Cross-promotion, working with other authors to promote one another, sponsoring contests, hosting games—such activities build your platform and help to spread news of your work.
Are you patient?
For indie publishers, patience may be the most important characteristic of all. Like blockbuster movies, major books hit bestseller lists quickly, often before publication. This gives a false impression of book marketing. To create such a splash, large houses spend a fortune. One ad can cost tens of thousands of dollars—only a tiny part of a big campaign.
Small publishers on a limited budget can’t begin to compete. So we shouldn’t hold ourselves to that standard. The marketing cycle for indie books—particularly debuts—is much longer. It can take several months for a book to pick up steam. Once it does, it often stays rolling.
If you answered no to a few questions, don’t worry. You may discover a well of strength and determination you never realized you had. You won’t know until you put yourself to the test.
Forgive me if I seem arrogant – in terms of my life choices, I have few regrets. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve certainly made questionable decisions, but I’ve tried to make the best of them. There are no do-overs, after all. No time machine to transport us to the past, allow us to reconsider and choose differently.
Things happen – we make choices – for a reason. We may not know or have the insight to articulate our reasons at the time – sometimes we never quite figure them out – but the road changes as we choose paths; doors close; new doors open. Best, I think, to move forward, settle in, and enjoy the new scenery.
I do regret my inertia. Often, I’ve failed to grasp an opportunity because I was afraid, unsure of what the future would bring. I had no faith in myself. Fear of judgment held me back. For months after publishing In Leah’s Wake, I said nothing. Not even my parents knew that I’d published a book. I was embarrassed, terrified of failure, worried authors and readers would judge me, think I was a loser.
When I finally smartened up, realized I could either promote my book or watch it die, a few naysayers did judge. One person, when I admitted my dream of selling a thousand books, laughed. She told me it would never happen. Her words echoed in my head and I came close to pulling the book off the shelf. Had I not promised interviews to a few lovely bloggers, I’m sure I would have. Thankfully, I soldiered on.
Flagging confidence, compounded by fear of judgment, has been a recurring theme in my life. This may seem an odd example, but this is the metaphor that always springs to mind: In our late twenties, my husband, Dave, and I spent a week at a ski resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. After a few days, under Dave’s tutelage, my skill improved. I mastered the stem Christie, a turn modification that used to be taught to mid-level skiers. Finally, ready to attempt the prized parallel turn, I registered for a lesson.
To determine class placement, we students had to participate in a ski off – that is, ski down a short hill, strutting our stuff. Based on how well I’d been skiing, I figured myself for Level 4, a mid-level group, and joined the rest of the Level 4 prospects at the head of a gently rolling beginner slope.
That week – granted, not with the most elegant form – I’d conquered several black diamond expert trails. This baby hill was a joke. Still, I was nervous. What if I’d aimed too high? If I was out of my league?
The first person in our group skied flawlessly. Ditto the second. My heart thumped. With each skier, I grew increasingly nervous and scared. My stage fright was absurd. First, who cared? This was ski school, for heaven’s sake, hardly a high stakes competition. Second, any rational person would have realized that the others in the group were no more accomplished than I. But my mind wasn’t operating logically. No, it was telling me that I was too big for my britches. You’re a loser. You’re a failure. You’re no good.
I worked myself into such a tizzy that I proved – to myself and everyone else in the vicinity – that, in fact, I was a failure. Four times I fell. Four. On a short, nearly flat slope. The lead instructor assigned me to Level 2 – the loser group, one step above the beginner-beginners, learning to buckle their boots.
The experience wasn’t all bad. The instructor, noticing that I was too advanced for the group, wondered aloud how I’d ended up in Level 2, which stroked my ego. Still, my lack of confidence and paralyzing fear of failure and judgment held me back. Those same emotions nearly derailed me as an indie author.
This year, as an author, I’ve faced those fears many times. While I’m still a work in progress, I’m getting better, taking more chances. It’s hard, but I’m learning to lower the volume on the naysayer channel.
In a moment with my twenty-year-old self, I’d tell her to man (or girl) up. Believe in yourself. Even if, in your heart of hearts, you’re unsure, imagine yourself a confident person. Aristotle said: To the thinking soul images serve as if they were contents of perception…just as if it were seeing, it calculates and deliberates what is to come by reference to what is present. In other words, our mind interprets images – the way we imagine ourselves to be – as reality, and predicts future behavior and outcomes based on those perceptions. If we imagine ourselves as confident, our mind perceives that and acts accordingly.
I’d tell my girl to forget what others may think. Naysayers get off on pulling others down. They’re the fleas on the shining coat of humanity. Tune them out. Put your best self forward, and then hold your head up. Walk tall. Remember: you are as responsible for your successes as you are for your failures. Take charge of your life. Figure out what you want and go for the gold ring. Take chances. Have fun.
This is a big, beautiful, wonderful world with unlimited opportunity. Believe in yourself. And have at it!
An early memory: it’s naptime, and I’m lying in bed with my mom and my younger sisters and brother. Mom’s reading Sleeping Beauty, and I’m caught in the story. But it’s more than just the characters and the story. It’s also the book—the smell of the paper, the feel of the pages, the gorgeously painted pastel scenes. It’s the settling afternoon light. It’s the rhythm and cadence of my mother’s voice.
Soon, I began to make up my own stories. I spent hours alone in my sunny attic bedroom. Through the open window, I’d hear the kids outside, playing Hide and Seek, laughing, calling to each other. The crack of a baseball, kids squealing, cheering the runner around the bases. I’d be sprawled on the floor, making up stories, plays. From outside my bedroom door, you’d hear me talking to myself—
—and maybe you’d think I was crazy.
Once I was old enough to read, I immersed myself in books. I don’t know a writer who’s not a passionate reader. I read avidly—fairy tales, myths, legends.
In high school, I wrote for the school paper. I enjoyed the work, but I had bigger ambitions. One day, I marched into the newsroom of our town paper and asked for a job. A first, I covered high school sports—football, hockey, track. Within a few months, he invited me to write a column about my observations; he called it “High School News,” and ran my picture under my byline. I made about a dollar a week – and I knew then that writing was the only job I’d ever want.
When our daughters were growing up, I worked part-time. I wrote news and features for the town paper, a fitness column for a regional paper; I edited a newsmagazine. I especially loved writing features—telling stories about people.
At thirty-four, I attended my first creative writing class. I’d never written a fictional story. As a child, I’d made up countless stories and plays, but they were always for me, for my own entertainment. I’d never actually written a story down.
Writing fiction opened a whole new world for me. I felt the same energy, the same electricity I’d felt as a child, lying next to my mom, listening to her read.
I’d lose myself in the writing. The hours fell away.
One day, I told my writing teacher I wanted to publish. By then, I’d written a grand total of two stories. In my life. A kind man, he didn’t laugh in my face.
“Don’t rush,” he advised. “Be patient. It takes time to develop the craft.”
Rejections piled up. Some days, I’d think, this is it. I’ve turned the corner. Sentences behaved. Characters sprung to life. Other days, I saw my writing more realistically: I knew I hadn’t published because I wasn’t ready. One of my grad-school teachers, said, “I can teach you 97% of what you need to know. That other 3% makes all the difference.” Like the difference between running a four-minute mile and running 3:59. One second seems like nothing; in fact, it’s everything.
My lowest point came the morning I was kicked out of the writing group I’d joined. My work wasn’t up to snuff. I wasn’t as good as the rest of the group.
Days followed—many days—when I wondered why I bothered. It was hardly as though the cosmos would explode if TG Long put down her pen. The truth? No one would care. Unless they heard it directly from me, no one would even know. The Earth would still spin. The sun would shine. Birds would sing.
Flannery O’Connor once said, “The world doesn’t need another writer.”
Tough, yes, but true.
Also true: we can’t give up. When the world says no, we have to say yes.
Jeffrey Archer said: “energy plus talent and you’ll be king; energy and no talent and you’ll still be a prince: talent and no energy and you’ll be a pauper.”
It’s all about persistence. I truly believe this. If we keep writing, keep practicing, eventually our writing will improve enough to attract an audience.
Granted, most of us can take only so much rejection. Where do we draw the line? A hundred rejections? Two hundred? Five hundred? A thousand?
I’d been writing for five years when I drafted my novel, In Leah’s Wake.
In Leah’s Wake received 22 rejections. No, the book wasn’t—and isn’t— perfect. But it was the best book I could write at the time. I’d received enough positive feedback to believe it had merit; after my agent stopped submitting, I sent it out myself. If I gave up, I’d be giving up on my story, my characters.
I’d be giving up on myself.
Finally, a small publisher picked it up. I spent a year revising, polishing. Just before the launch, the publisher ran out of cash. After the deal fell through, I put the book in a drawer. For a year, I wrote nothing of substance. I wrote, but I was biding time; the work never came together. Two years ago, having gained traction on a new novel, Nowhere to Run, I decided to publish In Leah’s Wake.
No one I knew had ever self-published a book. While part of me believed it was the right thing to do, another part felt deeply ashamed, so ashamed that I told no one, not even my parents, I’d published the book. I rode the self-pity train for four months. Then one day I woke up. I could either take control and market my book, or watch it die—and watch all my hopes and dreams die along with it. I started a blog, activated my Twitter account. Then I began to market in earnest.
Publishing In Leah’s Wake is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself as a writer. Going indie is tough. The logistics—figuring out all the ins and outs of the publishing industry—are confusing. Bad reviews feel like a kick in the gut. The shameless self-promotion, if you stop and think about it, can make you feel sick.
You also meet beautiful people—book bloggers, those wonderful people who believe in you, spread news of your book, keeping your dream alive. Mentors take you under their wing. Fellow authors, in the trenches with you, share their story and listen to yours. And readers—the people you connect with, share your vision. The other day, a reader wrote to tell me she’d connected deeply with the story, and thanked me for writing the book. Those moments feel like spun gold.
We really can make our dreams come true. Often, our lowest moments come just before a door opens. In Finding Nemo, when Nemo’s dad, Marlin, loses hope and wants to give up, Dory says, “Just keep swimming.” What wonderful advice! When we lose hope, just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other.
Hold fast to your dreams. Just keep swimming. Don’t ever, ever give up!
Interesting overview on the changing publishing world with some useful statistics and term definitions. Also interesting look at income breakdown.
She Writes Press on their definitions of subsidy presses, true self-publishing and hybrid publishing.
This interview with CJ Lyons discusses her publishing journey.
Website maintained by Hugh Howey. The October report was just released.
Makes an interesting point regarding the opportunity cost of being your own publisher.
“Going the traditional route makes sense for writers who can earn more by writing another book than they can by spending that writing time being a publisher; it also makes sense for writers who just aren’t any good at that stuff.”
Bookseller: UK e-book purchases up 20% in 2013 Look at the increase in ebook sales in UK, with self-published titles now accounting for 1 in 5 ebook sales.
Suggesting ebook revenue leveled off in 2013, according to a BookStats report
“Self-publishing in the United States has increased to between 50-75% of book titles published annually, facilitated by the popularity of ebooks and print-on-demand.”