This workshop is directed mainly to indie authors, particularly novices, but applies equally to those who are traditionally published. Feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.
Before we start talking about marketing and promo tips, I have some preliminary words of wisdom to impart: First and foremost, no matter how you end up publishing, PRODUCE A GOOD BOOK. This may sound obvious. Sadly, given the vast quantity of poorly written e-books I’ve found on the Internet, not all indie authors have embraced the concept. And you do not want to be one of those.
Naturally, you intend to write a good book. Who doesn’t? But here’s the thing. You don’t know what you don’t know. I certainly didn’t. Producing a good book requires an open mind, persistence, and a very thick skin. I discovered everything I’m telling you the hard way—by making mistakes. Here’s my advice on writing a good book:
- Be Willing to Make Mistakes. I do. We all do. It’s a given. So when you do, don’t throw in the towel. Keep writing. It’s the only way to learn.
- Learn Your Craft. Don’t assume (the way I did) that that because you wrote business reports, you have the necessary know-how to write a novel. Take courses, attend workshops, seminars, and conferences, and read everything you can get your hands on about writing in your chosen genre.
- Know Your Genre and Audience, preferably before you start writing. This is easier for non-fiction than fiction. Give those readers what they want. For example, my audience consists primarily of intelligent, animal-loving women over the age of twenty-five, who want to escape from the stress of their lives into a fun book filled with romance, suspense, adventure, and humor.
- Enter Contests Offering Critique as well as Prizes: Leave your ego at the door. Contests, particularly those targeting the all-important first chapter, can provide amazing illumination on major issues in your book. Be warned: The critique you receive may result in a major re-write. NOTE: I re-wrote The Jaguar Legacy over 20 times before I finally sold it.
- Critique Partners: Don’t write your book in isolation, especially if you’re a novice. Get yourself a critique partner or critique group, preferably writers of the same genre. Family and friends are generally too biased and not qualified for the job. Also, this mistake may cost you your marriage. If you can find a critique partner with more experience than you, so much the better.
- Beta Readers: Once your book has survived your critique partners, and is polished to perfection and finally finished, guess what? IT ISN’T. Find beta readers, the more critical the better, to read the final product. Re-write the book if necessary.
- Hire an Editor: Once your book has survived the beta reader torture, and is polished to perfection and finally finished, guess what? IT ISN’T. Bite the bullet and hire a professional editor. There are various levels of editing from full editing to detailed copy editing. Re-write the book if necessary.
- Titles Count: Make your title one that stands out. Catchy and easy to remember works better than cumbersome, vague, or too academic.
- Covers Count: Your cover, like your appearance, makes an initial impression on potential readers. You want it to be a good one, so unless you know what you’re doing, hire a professional cover designer. The cover should give the reader a clear idea of the nature of the book’s contents, but not overwhelm with too much detail. Make sure the title and your name are clearly legible in a “Thumbprint” image, because this is what the reader sees first in most online sites.
- Be as Prolific as Possible Without Sacrificing Quality: Indie publishing isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Your books will be available until you decide to pull them. So write as many as you can without sacrificing quality. Sales will expand incrementally. Short stories and novellas are a good way to spark a reader’s interest, enticing more sales. Writing a series, especially one with recurring characters, works best to attract readers. I’m writing a type of series called a spin-off, where one character in Fur Ball Fever gets his own story in Cold Feet Fever. I’m also considering two novellas, one a prequel to Fur Ball Fever called The Fever Begins, the other a sequel to Fur Ball Fever called Wedding Bell Fever.
Self Publishing: Just Do It
Being a non-techie, I’m excluding the technical aspects of self-publishing. This information is readily available through the e-publishers. Here’s my advice:
- Bite the Bullet: Do it yourself. Or find a good formatter who will format the files for you in return for a relatively small fee ($25 – $40). I was lucky. My husband handled the technical aspect. Then again, I had to listen to the cursing and moaning coming from his man-cave.
- Vanity Presses:Don’t be fooled by vanity presses (pay-to-publish, they will publish anything, no matter what the quality). These are not the same as e-publishers such as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and others. If you’re new to publishing and you come across a deal you’re not sure about, check them out at Predators and Editors (http://pred-ed.com/). If anything about the offer doesn’t sound right, Google it or go into the online forums and ask about it. You could save yourself a whole bunch of pain and frustration.
- Online Networking:Join chat loops and online forums. They provide invaluable advice, especially if (when) you hit a glitch. (More about those in the next section.)
Promoting Your Masterpiece
Marketing studies suggest that a reader must see or hear your book’s name a minimum of ten times before it truly registers. For that reason, it is vital to make yourself—and your books—highly visible. In this day and age, you do that by increasing our online presence.
An excellent book on this topic is We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb. She does a great job of breaking down the tools, guiding you step-by-step as you create and grow your online presence. Another is How I Sold 1 Million E-Books in 5 Months by John Locke. It’s better to educate yourself sooner rather than later to save yourself a few missteps.
There are many ways to promote yourself and your book. Paid advertisements in writing publications are expensive and may or may not result in a jump in sales to justify the expense. In my experience some equally effective methods are online and often free. I will discuss some that I’m familiar with:
- Website/Blog. Yes, every author needs these important promotional tools, so create your own or hire someone to do it. Ideally, the blogging capability would be integrated into your website. A simple tool like WordPress is not too difficult to master, and gives you, the author, total control of both static pages and dynamic blog pages without the need to hire a web designer. Having said that, many authors participate in shared group blogs. Either way, your website and blog should reflect your genre, be easy to navigate, and free of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and system bugs. Ensure that every page of your website and every blog entry contain buy links for your books.Use social media to drive readers to your blog/website. And blog as often as you can manage (my limit is once a week, some authors blog every day). To attract visitors, some authors offer games and contests and use social media to announce it. I occasionally offer a prize to one lucky commenter on my blog.
- Keywords: Enter keywords for each blog entry to increase the probability of your website appearing on Search Engine pages.
- Join Facebook (Facebook.com). If I can do it, you can too. Facebook is almost mandatory for an author. When you join, create a Facebook professional page (separate from your personal page if you have one). Make your writing posts interesting. Many authors promote books they have read and enjoyed, creating goodwill and often starting a mutually beneficial cross-promotion exercise. Others pose questions (e.g. What books are on your bedside table?”). Check out your favorite author’s Facebook page for ideas.
- Join Twitter (twitter.com). Meet people with common interests. You can do this through the use of hashtags, e.g. #Writers, #WriteTip, #Fiction, #Books, #mystery, and many more. Try to develop some online relationships. Interact, reply to their tweets. Be a good supporter. Re-tweet other authors. Make announcements.Try to provide added value (a writing tip, a link to an article about writing or a topic describing your genre). Don’t overload with promotional material, but you can slip it in now and again. Tweet about good reviews, new releases, excerpts, any promo you want, but don’t make it the only topic. Use Twitter to drive people to your website/blog.
- Goodreads: Join at Goodreads.com. This site lets you post a description of your books. You can also review other authors’ books, make recommendations, offer contests, etc. Simply start following and interacting in the various forums there. I’ve heard several authors say that they’ve had great success selling books via the Goodreads catalog.
- Free Indie Promo Sites: There are many other free online promotional sites available to authors – http://AskDavid.com and http://www.authorsden.com/ are two that support several genres. I’ve used these and others with great success. Another is called Indie Spotlight http://www.rickiwilson.com/indie-spotlight.html (I found her on Twitter at @HackToTheFuture).
- Join Chat Loops for Your Genre: You can can locate these through http://groups.yahoo.com). Or find out through networking (usually the best way). Pose the question on Twitter or Facebook. For romance writers, two excellent chat loops are:
- Read Blog Posts by Other Writers: Many authors are happy to share tips, expertise, and encouragement. This can save you from some of the pitfalls. The indie writer community is happily turning from rivalry to generous cooperation. And if you don’t see a particular issue addressed, ask. There’s no need to suffer in silence or work out the bugs alone. Pioneers have already done that, and are happy to share their experience.
- Interviews and Blogging: Give interviews and participate in guest blogs. If you join some author chat loops, you can find great offers for guest blogging opportunities. Or ask the author if he/she is looking for a guest blogger (many will accept your offer). Don’t forget to host your own guest bloggers. Networking and reciprocity is the name of the game.
- Blog Hops: Join a blog hop where the organizer maintains a central list of all participating authors and their books, and every participant blogs on the same topic (a popular romance topic might be Alpha Heroes). Tweet the good news to the world, ask for re-tweets. Some popular blog hops have up to 200 participating authors, all blogging, all promoting like crazy, each piggy-backing onto the others by directing readers to the central repository of participants. Readers then hop from one author blog to another, attracted by the lure of prizes, and leaving a comment on each blog in order to qualify to win. A small fee from each participant pays for grand prizes (winner are selected at random from all commenters). To sweeten the pie, each author also offers a prize to one lucky commenter on her site (I offer a $5 gift certificate). Grand prizes such as e-book reader, $50 gift certificate, swag, etc. attracts hundreds of readers, all wanting to win, and gets them to your blog and commenting. If you can’t find a blog hop in your genre, create it yourself. To see how it works in the romance genre, check out: http://carrieannbloghops.blogspot.mx.
- Business Cards: Carry business cards and hand them out at every opportunity. I’ve handed mine out to dentists, checkout clerks, restaurant servers, etc.
- E-Publishing Promotional Tools: Take advantage of these, especially in Amazon. Many authors aren’t aware that these exist.
- Likes: ‘Like’ your own book wherever possible. Also, beg everyone you know, including the PV writers group (via email and/or Facebook, and include links to your books to make it easy) to ‘Like’ them. Apparently Amazon’s algorithms use this information when they show your book as an ‘Also Read’ under other authors’ books.
- Author Page: Create your Amazon Author Page and ask people to ‘Like’ it too. I noticed a jump in sales when I hit 100 ‘Likes’ on my Author Page, have no idea if it was coincidence or not. I got all my ‘Likes’ because I requested them on the promo chat loops.
- Reviews Count: Rumor has it that 40 reviews is some sort of target for success. I’m not there yet, but there are thousands of bloggers and review sites who will do this if you send them a free book. It’s easier with ebooks because generally, the author sends the reviewer a free copy in exchange for a review. You can find these sites on Twitter or through web searches.
- Your Product Description is a great marketing tool, so maximize this. Make the reader salivate to buy your book. Post tantalizing quotes from reviews in the text, post a short excerpt, one that’s different from the first chapter, to tantalize the reader.
- Teaser Chapters: Append ‘teaser’ chapters of other books you have written at the end of your book before uploading to the e-publisher. Make it easy for readers to find your website and/or purchase your other books. Always post your website/blog URL(s) at both the beginning and end of your book.
- Cross-Promotion: I got lucky, and did some cross-promo with another author. We both appended each other’s first chapter and a buy link at the ends of our books.
- Kindle Select: Amazon offers a program called Kindle Select. The upside is you get special privileges including a few days every few weeks where you can offer your book at no charge. If you get the word out to the right places (there are sites that promote free books), the surge in downloads will (hopefully) cause your book to rise in the ranking system. Note: This is most effective if you have several ebooks published so that if readers enjoy the freebie, they will want to purchase your other books. The downside is that your book must be exclusive to Amazon.