Saturday, 21 April 2012

Self-publishing is easy. Isn't it? Part 2.

You’ve uploaded your pride and joy, checked the preview, dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s , added the price and pressed the button. Within twenty-four hours, there it is – your book, smiling at you from its brand new Amazon page. Enjoy that moment, because if you think you’ve worked hard on your book, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

There will, of course, be sales at the beginning. Sympathetic family and friends will, if you’re lucky, pick up a few copies to help you along. Maybe even your workmates will buy a few, if the price isn’t too high. Without a lot of effort on your part, though, your book will sit, sinking deeper and deeper into the ever-growing swamp of self-published e-books.

Who are you? What do you have to sell? That’s what people need to know. Unless you’re already famous, your name and your book are not known to most people on the internet. You need to get noticed. I can’t claim to have super high sales, but these are some of the things I’d advise for the new author:

1. Make your book’s Amazon/Smashwords page as accessible as possible.
a. Tags. Halfway down the page, you’ll see a section for ‘tags’. Before you do anything else, tag your book with any word you think someone might use to find your book – subjects, genres, names. Get anyone who has read your book to add their vote to these tags and add tags of their own. These will move your book up in Amazon’s search engines.

b. Author page. Amazon and Smashwords both give you the opportunity to add information about yourself as an author. Use it. Add a photo, link to your website, twitter account, blog. It all adds to your visibility.

2. Get a website. This is probably something you should have done earlier so that you could add a link in your book, but it’s never too late. It doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of free templates available which give plenty of scope for individuality and are easy to update. Make sure your book is visible and link it directly to the sale point.

3. Get a blog and update it regularly. This is difficult, of course. With all the other work on marketing you have to do (see below), you’ve little time for updating blogs, but readers will look and if they find a vibrant, interesting blog, they will be more likely to look at your book. Again, link to your book, but don’t go over the top with marketing here. Your blog doesn’t even need to be about writing – just interesting.

4. Get a Facebook Author Page. This is one thing authors disagree on – whether or not a facebook page has any effect. It does give you a central point to advertise new reviews, news about what you’re working on, and to generally interact with your readers. As your list of ‘followers’ builds, so does the number of times people see your name and the names of your books around Facebook. If nothing else, it allows you to keep the ‘writer you’ separate from the ‘private you’.

5. Get a Twitter account. Again, this is contentious. Twitter can appear to be hundreds or thousands of people all talking over the top of each other. How can you possibly be noticed amongst that? However, one tweet retweeted by three other people, has the possibility of being noticed by a lot of people. Be warned though, constantly tweeting about your book will have a negative effect. Many will ‘unfollow’ those who only ever spam their books. Interaction with others is the key. If you make friends and only occasionally mention your book, you will do far better. One successful author, Victorine Lieske, claims to keep to a two-in-ten plan: two advertising tweets for every eight conversational tweets. That seems like a great balance to me.

6 Join forums and discussion groups. When I first set out, I joined umpteen discussion groups on Facebook. Most of them were filled with writers in exactly the same boat I was in, trying desperately to make people notice their books. While these groups were invaluable for support and ideas on what to try next, spamming was rife and they did nothing for actual sales. The key is to find readers and get to know them. Again, it’s important to follow the rules. An author running into a forum shouting ‘buy my book’ will be given short shrift. On the other hand, there are very friendly forums such as UK KindleUsers Forum and groups on Goodreads such as the UK Amazon Kindle Forum who welcome writers willing to join in the general discussions. It’s a matter of being yourself and just letting your name get out there.

7. Do guest blogs. Tired as your own blog followers may be of your writing, other people have never heard of you and might still be interested. So find people willing to let you do a guest post. It doesn’t have to be about your book; anything of interest will do. Be guided by the blog. Make sure though, that there is a link to your book/blog/website for those interested to follow. Invite others to guest post on your blog, too. It works both ways.

8. Don’t be afraid to give books away. It may seem unlikely, but I think the single most successful thing I’ve done to increase sales was to join KDP Select on Amazon and give away thousands of books. Of course, many of those books will never be read, but even if only ten percent do read them and then tell a few of their friends, that is going to spread the word about the book. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising you can get and it’s free.

9. You may notice I haven’t mentioned paid advertising. That’s because I’m on a strict budget. I have bought only one small advert and I can’t say whether or not it was worth it. There are places, such as Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily where advertising is generally considered to be highly useful, but they are expensive and getting onto them takes a very long time. Instead I have taken advantage of every free offer of advertising I could find. That is another good reason to belong to writer forums; it is here that offers of free advertising will be made. The more your book is seen, the better. One glance will rarely draw a sale, but someone seeing your book three or four times in quick succession may be tempted to look further.

10. Get reviews. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. The last thing you want is for all your friends and family to write glowing five-star reviews. These are usually very obvious and a sure-fire way to put readers off. There are blogs around who offer reviews. Write to as many as you can. Some won’t answer, some will take a very long time, but it’s important to get those first reviews to give the reader something by which to judge the book. Free books will draw a few reviews, too, if you’re lucky.

11. Write another book This is where I start to laugh hysterically. You're doing all this and expected to write a book at the same time? Well, yes, because that's what you are - a writer - and if people like your first book, they'll soon lose interest if there's nothing else to look at. 

Original cover - liked by
those who'd read the
book but not by new
New cover
12. If all else fails, change the book cover, change the blurb, pull the whole thing down and rethink it. That is the advantage of e-publishing. Mistakes can be fixed. Even the loveliest cover may not work to attract the audience you want, the catchiest blurb may not draw them in. Get feedback. Try again. If a reader contacts you to point out a mistake, thank them and fix it.

Here comes the unscientific part:

Lucky 13. Be nice to other writers. I have no proof of this, but it seems to me that the nicer I am to others writers, the better things are for me. That’s not to say I do things in a cynical effort to get sales.  I have been helped along the way by so many other writers that it seems the natural thing to do to pay it forward. I don’t know how it works. Maybe it’s just that I feel better about myself when I’m not constantly focused on my own work. Self-confidence goes a long way in a marketing situation. The thing to remember is that this is not a competition, one author against another. There are some really great people to meet on the journey and keeping your head down, trying to race your way into the market will mean missing out on some great friendships. Your book will sell if it’s good enough. You may as well enjoy the view and the company as you run the marathon.


Anonymous said...

Informative AND interesting. Thanks for sharing your ideas and best of luck with your sales.
- IG

Kate said...

Thanks, IG!

shirleyelmokadem said...

Really useful tips here. Thanks!

Kate said...

Thanks, Shirley!

K. A. Jordan said...

You're so right!

Yet even doing all those things doesn't mean a book will take off. So far, I've had the best luck with KOLL - the Kindle Select program.

But even then - what worked for the first book failed miserably for the second. It's a puzzle.

Kate said...

Oh, I agree! There's a huge amount of luck involved - being in the right place at the right time, finding someone who shouts about your book rather than just reading it and saying 'yes, that was good'...the only certainty is that no matter how brilliant your book, if you don't work hard to promote it, it will not go anywhere.

Michelle Barber said...

What a great piece! It helps to know that others are out there doing the same thing. Good luck with your book.

Jo Deurbrouck said...

I particularly like your number 13...and agree with it from firsthand experience.

I actually kinda disagree about the utility of blogging. I think it depends on your book and your readers.

And I'd add one: make a Facebook Fan page for the book but do NOT use it as a sales tool, per se. It's for inviting your readers into your attempts to succeed with this book.

Kate said...

Michelle: thank you and good luck with whatever you're doing, too.

Jo: yes, blogging is a grey area that works for some and not for others. It's worth a try, though.

I tried a Facebook page for my first book, but when I published the second, it was too much work to maintain two, so I combined it in the author page (which is why my URL is the name of my first book and not me - they won't let you change without deleting the whole page.)But no, it's not for advertising, it's for news and updates.

StuffedO said...

What a great piece Kate! You've supported a lot of thoughts I've had in the past about this, and mentioned a few new ideas.
The thought of self-publishing sort of terrifies me simply from a marketing perspective, so this was particularly interesting.
Really insightful.
Thank you!