As is often the case, becoming a full-time author did not happen overnight--and I made plenty of mistakes along the way. From publishing with a vanity press (which isn't always a bad thing, but it can definitely add some hurdles) to overpaying for book ads and promos that did nothing for sales. BUT, I did do a few things right, seeing as how I've made it to this point. If you're on the uphill side of the same mountain, or if you're looking up from the base and trying to assess the path, here are 10 tips that I hope will help you on your journey:
1) Write a series. Seriously. If you're an indie author, meaning you don't have an agent/big publishing house/magazine reviewers telling everyone how amazing you are, the best way to help promote your next book is to link it to your previous one. Add an excerpt or blurb in the back of your first book--better yet, have your next book available for pre-order with buy links. Even if you write non fiction, linking your books together in a series with a similar theme is one of the best promotional methods you can employ. There are so many good reasons to write a series, but one of the biggest reasons is tip #2.
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3) Do not sell your soul to Amazon. Let me just start by saying that I love Amazon. I really, really do. They provide a solid 75% of my royalty income. HOWEVER, I do not sign an exclusive agreement with them and solemnly swear to not publish my ebook elsewhere. I have a lot of readers who use Nook and iBooks and Kobo. I use Smashwords to distribute to those retailers and more, which makes life easier, and it means I get one 1099 for them all versus a dozen individually. Smashwords is just as free and user friendly as KDP, although the formatting might trip you up if you are not intimately familiar with your word processor--or if you don't know a good formatter (I prefer ebooklaunch.com) I know Amazon's Select program looks enticing, with Kindle Unlimited and the countdown deals and free promo days--and you may have noticed that 99 cents is the lowest you can list your book with Kindle, but you may have also noticed a small link near the bottom of any given listing:
Have a couple of your friends report a lower price to Kindle after you've made your ebook free on Smashwords and it's showing on B&N and the Apple iBooks store. Amazon will be forced to price match and make it free on Kindle too. It may take a few days, but Amazon doesn't like it when your book is available for cheaper anywhere else--they outline this in the fine print when you're filling out your listing info. Also, having your book available everywhere will make it significantly more appealing to exclusive advertisers. More on this in a bit.
4) WWJD. What Would J.K. Rowling Do? Another reason you don't want to sell your soul to Amazon is that having your book available across all platforms will put you one table closer to the cool kids. Do you think J.K. Rowling would sign an exclusive agreement that would cut her off from B&N and Apple sales? Oh hail no. Being seen everywhere the best sellers are seen not only helps you reach more readers, it lends credibility to your name. There are a few things about indie publishing that you will likely have to compromise on (offering a free book), but when you find yourself stuck in a situation and you don't have an agent to guide you, just ask yourself What would Jo do? And she would most definitely not sign a contract that would cut her off from millions of potential readers. Compromises should only happen when you have no other choice, or when the benefits are massive.
5) BOOKBUB. BOOKBUB. BOOKBUB. I can't say this one enough. The first check I received that was more than what I made from my day job came after I made my first book free. The second check, and it was 4 times more than that first one, came after my first BookBub experience. Yesterday was the 4th time my free book was featured with them, and it's still just as magical as the first time.
If you ran a promo with the top 100 book promoters online, and the download results could somehow be dissected, I imagine they would look something like this:
Kinda looks like a sickly Pacman... and how I feel when I think about the amount of money I've shelled out for advertising through the years.
BookBub does not accept every book submitted. They have a list of minimum requirements you can take a look at HERE. And they offer more tips on how to score a promo with them HERE. Having a perma free title will ensure that your dates are flexible, and you may also notice that they find books available with multiple retailers more appealing too. You can run promos with them for books priced $0.99-$2.99 also, but the cost for paid promos is significantly higher. You can view their prices HERE.
6) Get an epic cover. I am really surprised by the number of terrible covers I come across. I've read books for friends that I would have otherwise never given a second glance, and they're really good books, but the covers are so bad that their sales suffer for it. Even a mediocre cover is going to hurt your sales. You really do need an epic cover. That's the very first thing that will catch a reader's attention. Also, your cover should be just as epic when viewed as a thumbnail. When a potential reader is scrolling through online stores on their phone, that's the size they're going to see. Mobile web viewing is on the rise, and I don't see that tapering off any time soon. You can do a Google search and find tons of cover designers with galleries on their websites. The prices for an epic cover can greatly vary, and you will usually get what you pay for, but whomever you go through, be sure you're an active part of the process. Research best selling covers in your genre and see how they compare. An experienced and professional designer should know how it's done, but you won't know if they're worth their price tag unless you've done your homework. (Ebooklaunch.com also does cover design.)
7) Use an editor. Or two. Or three. Maybe four. Let's face it. This is the most grumble-worthy thing we indie authors have to deal with. It's usually more expensive than an epic cover design, and there's no way of telling if an editor did a good job or not until readers start emailing you with errors they've found (or leave you bad reviews T-T ). So it's a good idea to rely on more than one editor, and even better if you have a critique group and/or a friend who happens to be an English instructor. Don't expect any single editor to catch every last error in your book--unless you're paying them out the nose. Then expect that. But if your friend/sister/boss is editing your book for free, be grateful for their willingness to spend hours helping you for free. Being anything other than that makes you a butthole, and they won't want to help you in the future.
8) Ask for reviews. I'm not going to lie. I was a nervous wreck the first time I emailed a big name author and requested a review blurb. But if you don't ask, the answer will always be no. And honestly, getting a no is not the end of the world. It's just part of the business. Check them off your list and ask another. Don't just ask best sellers either--ask other indie authors. Ask readers, friends, book bloggers, newspaper book reviewers, radio show hosts. If you're lucky enough to get a yes, be sure to ask their preferred format and send them a free book for their trouble. And when you get a shining review back eventually (don't rush them, for real) be sure to add it to the editorial reviews (if they're a big name) on your book page on Amazon and to the praise page or cover of your next book. If it's your neighbor or friend, ask them (very sweetly with sugar on top) to post their review to Amazon (and Goodreads if they're on there). If they read your book on Nook or iBooks, they can post their review there. Amazon is a heavy hitter, but reviews with other retailers are valuable too.
9) Be a social butterfly. I know. This is a tough one for a lot of writers. Many of us are introverts by nature. For some, that's a big part of the appeal in writing for a living. Luckily, online social media has made it so much easier. Get on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. You don't have to do all of them, but Facebook and Twitter at the very least. Create an author fan page on Facebook, and be sure to use your author name (not some weird handle that no one will be able to find when searching for you). If you have a common name, use your middle initial or add "author" or "writer" before it. Get a website and a blog so you have somewhere to post your full bio and media kit, a list of any events you're doing, new release announcements. Set up a newsletter--there are some great free ones out there, like MailChip.com. Also, make sure your Amazon author page is set up through authorcentral.amazon.com, and don't forget your author page on Goodreads. Book signings and conferences are really great too, and they give you a chance to mingle and network with other authors and readers, but online social media is free and at your fingertips, so consider it the first step.
10) All hail the Google gods! If you find that you have more questions now than before you started reading this list, GOOD. That's fantastic. Punch them into Google's search bar and prepare to be amazed. There are so many great articles and blogs across the interwebs that can help you along the way. But be careful. There are charlatans out there too--not to mention plenty of well-intentioned, but outdated material. The industry is constantly evolving. Don't ever get to the point where you think you know it all. Sign up for bookish industry blogs and newsletters. Keep researching, keep learning. Technology has been such a game changer for the publishing world, and this brave new world is still shifting beneath us. Hang on and enjoy the ride!
I hope you found my list helpful--or that it at least gave you some good starting points to research further. And, being that I'm mildly OCD, I should point out that this list is in no particular order. I wanted to set it up in order of importance, but that was hard, and really, these are all important elements. Next, I considered chronological order. But some of these happen at several points in the process, and some should be happening continuously throughout--like consulting the Google gods. So... ultimately, I decided to go with the flow and list things as they came to me. I think it worked out nicely.
I better get back to work. Happy writing!