In many ways, self-published authors have an advantage.
The benefits of self-publishing are there for the taking. Not everyone is taking them. And just because they are there, it doesn’t mean they can be taken without much effort.
If you elect to self-publish, you need to understand the benefits—and the drawbacks—in order to take full advantage of what it has to offer.
The success of many traditionally published books hinges upon building great buzz and launching the book with a bang. This may entail going on book tours, sending out advance review copies, paid advertisements, stimulating pre-order sales, book signings, readings, or book launch parties, for example. The buzz-building promotional plan itself goes beyond just getting early sales momentum: It can affect bookstore and library orders (and placement within the stores), coverage in high-profile reviews, and prospects for high-profile appearances. Traditional publishers print thousands of copies up front, so success depends strongly on selling printed copies quickly.
Indie authors tend to publish print-on-demand paperbacks and e-books, neither of which requires predicting how many books will sell and investing a large sum of money to meet this expectation. Thus, success doesn’t necessarily hinge upon generating a great many sales early on.
Rather, an indie author’s best chance of success is to adopt a long-term publishing and marketing strategy.
It’s okay to implement some of the strategies that traditionally published authors employ to help build buzz. In fact, generating many early sales helps to give a book more exposure and accelerate word-of-mouth recommendations. It’s just not as critical to indie authors. Some of these strategies—especially, paid advertisements—tend to be more effective for indie authors after they’ve established a fan base and delivered several quality books to the market.
But don’t try to build it in one day. Think long-term.
When you finish your first book, focus on writing more quality books. Get started with marketing and test out various strategies to start building a following and gain valuable experience, but put most of your time into producing quality content. Directing traffic to a blog or Facebook author page and including a sign-up for an occasional email newsletter can pay great dividends years down the line. In the beginning, you just need some basic blog or author page to accumulate likes and follows, or a basic occasional email newsletter to build a valuable database. You also want to establish helpful connections with other authors, editors, designers, etc., and you want to learn more about formatting, publishing, and marketing.
As you publish more books, you want to grow your author platform and your marketing, and you want to draw increasing benefit from your growing fan base. By posting regular content to your blog that would draw in your target audience, what begins as a simple blog can slowly transform into a content-rich website. One of the most meaningful blog stats is the number of daily visitors coming from search engines. If your blog draws in search engine traffic and you can increase the frequency of this traffic over time, your content-rich website has much potential to become a highly effective marketing tool.
Once you’ve built a following—especially, one that consists largely of actual fans—you have great prospects for launching your future books with buzz. Things can start out very slow, but they can also accelerate greatly at some magical point. Your author platform can reach a point where you suddenly look more professional and more popular. Word-of-mouth sales can reach a point where you draw in regular sales just from this—and these kinds of sales can offset bad reviews and other issues that are beyond your control.
But the keys are to deliver quality content to the market and to present it with packaging that appeals to your target audience. You’re not going to get those valuable word-of-mouth sales without the former, and you’ll lose out on many sales to new customers who discover your books without the latter.
When self-publishing, authors have full control over their work. This gives the author great freedom—sometimes, perhaps, it’s too much freedom. The choices we make when we self-publish—and there are many: cover design, editing, style, looking things up when unsure, researching conventions, choosing to go against the conventions, and many more—can have a significant impact on sales.
Go ahead and do whatever you want. Doesn’t mean that you’ll find readers who want what you wanted to do.
You must balance freedom of design with how many readers you’d like to attract.
Many self-published authors feel, “I don’t mind sacrificing my readership to do what I prefer,” yet may change their mind when they see how few readers they have. (Could be zero!)
It pays to get feedback, especially an assortment of brutally honest opinions from the target audience. Most authors are reluctant to do this, and either wind up publishing material that could have better attracted and pleased an audience, or finally get this valuable feedback in customer reviews (sometimes, it would have been nice to learn this before publishing).
In the traditional route, you get feedback from agents and editors. At least you have an editor or agent who believes that your work has enough of a shot that it’s worth investing in. So, if nothing else, you have some direction. Then you may also get an editor (or team) to help with some of the decisions. The publisher may take the cover design decision off your hands completely.
One problem with self-publishing is that you can do it without any feedback of any kind. Don’t like to socialize? Well, no feedback seems appealing. But this is one of the biggest pitfalls. It’s a trap, as it lures you to do the wrong thing. Seek feedback. You need it more than you realize.
In the end, you can’t please everyone and you will need to make several publishing decisions. But make an informed decision; don’t go it alone.
QUICK TO MARKET
There are scarcely any production delays when self-publishing. This is most advantageous when publishing time-sensitive material, such as a current event or nonfiction information that relates to a new trend.
If you’re not benefiting from one of these situations, there is no reason to rush.
But most self-published authors do rush.
This sacrifices quality, editing, formatting, feedback, and even content or storyline.
The author might feel that it’s good enough.
But the reader who paid money and invested many hours in the book may feel that it should have been better.
The same author wants a good review. The same author wants customers to recommend the book to others. So why rush the book to market when a little more work would give the book its best chances of success?
Don’t settle. Unless you only want to attract readers willing to settle. There are millions of books to choose from if you’re a reader willing to settle for less. Give readers a reason to choose yours.
Well, one way that delivering content quickly to the market can help all authors is by publishing several similar books, which often helps with marketing. But don’t rush it. Quality content makes the difference.
CARVE A NICHE
You don’t have to write for mass appeal to self-publish successfully.
You can cater to a smaller audience. You can try out something new.
You’re not restricted to what an agent or publisher believes will have enough appeal.
But that doesn’t mean that you’ll instantly attract a niche audience.
While you can write what you want, there won’t necessarily be a market for it. So it pays to get feedback.
If there is a niche audience for your book, this audience won’t necessarily find your book. So you need to learn how to market to a niche audience, or to build your own audience.
It is possible to write to and attract a niche audience. The trick is to learn how to do this effectively so that you can take advantage of this opportunity.
It’s only self-publishing if you insist on the word “self.”
It’s really indie publishing, meaning independent.
What’s the difference? The difference is that you can indie publish and get as much help as you’d like along the way.
There are tons of free resources (even here on my blog, but if you need more, just try Google).
You can ask questions when you want help or advice, and it’s amazing how often good tips and suggestions are given. Try asking on the KDP or CreateSpace community forums.
There is a helpful, interactive community of indie authors. For example, look no farther than WordPress. There are many helpful publishing and marketing posts here, where authors often reveal valuable tips, and most are happy to provide help in the comments section.
Sometimes you need actual help, rather than advice. If you shop around wisely, you can find an affordable yet quality proofreader or cover designer, for example.
Get advice and help as you need it.
You’re in charge. That gives you great freedom. You also have a responsibility to your readers (who can easily choose not to buy your book if it doesn’t meet their standards).
Another thing that you control is price, and by choosing the price you also control your own royalty.
Since traditional publishers’ prices aren’t coming down noticeably, you have the opportunity to give readers an affordable alternative—a reason to save money and take a chance on an unknown, self-published author instead of going with a popular, traditionally published author.
But you don’t need to dive for the bottom, either. Many customers feel that you get what you pay for and so shop in the $3.99 to $5.99 price range for Kindle books or $9.99 to $19.99 for many print books. Of course, it depends on the quantity and quality of the content, and also varies by genre or subject.
You have the freedom to experiment with price, if you don’t feel sure about the best choice.
You also have the opportunity to create a short-term promotional price. But one thing you may learn is that price doesn’t sell books. Price can be helpful for marketing when you advertise a short-term promotion. Free and low-cost advertising tend to be most effective for books, and there are many free ways to gain exposure.
Many self-published authors who are thriving in the new age of publishing are doing so through effective marketing.
Numerous self-published books aren’t selling at all because of no or poor marketing. Realize that even the cover, blurb, and Look Inside are part of the marketing.
You can earn a high royalty—e.g. 30% on a print book or 70% on a Kindle e-book—depending on the list price that you set (hey, if you sell yourself short and give yourself a low royalty, that’s your choice).
Traditionally published authors often earn 15% or less (it may be much less).
I’m much more motivated to market a book knowing that I’m earning a nice royalty on every book I sell. If I published traditionally, I wouldn’t be so motivated to market my books. If 70% doesn’t motivate you to market your Kindle e-books, I guess you’re not too interested in earning money for the hard work you did to write your book.
I see some self-published authors who are very motivated to market their books. Higher royalties can be a strong motivator.
There are authors with exceptional marketing skills. These authors should self-publish. They know they’re going to sell books. Why not make a higher royalty for the effort?
Not motivated by money? There are other reasons to market. Market your book so that you can share your passion for writing with others.
I became motivated to market my books when I realized that it could be done without salesmanship and advertising. I started looking for other ways to approach marketing. I discovered that it can be fun to try out new marketing strategies and see how they work.
A nonfiction author, for example, who enjoys helping others can market in the spirit of providing help. It could be free help on a blog, or free help at a seminar, for example (though some people will pay money to attend a workshop).
There is ample free information about marketing available, and there are so many different ways to approach it that you can find things that work for you.
Marketing can start out very slow. Get the ball rolling and eventually it can grow.
When self-publishing, it’s easy to make revisions.
You can change the cover, blurb, even the content itself anytime you wish.
When you receive valuable feedback after publishing (of course, before publishing would have been best), it’s not too late to incorporate that feedback.
When you publish traditionally, it’s very hard to make revisions.
In nonfiction, it’s often necessary to make updates to the content to keep the book relevant. This is a huge advantage. You can respond to changes in the industry almost immediately.
It helps with marketing, too. When you write a new book, you can go back into your old books and promote it right there on a list of the author’s other books. You can even put a sample chapter in your other books.
Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.
You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free: www.readtuesday.com.
Please support the Read Tuesday Thunderclap. This will help spread awareness on the morning of Read Tuesday (December 9, 2014). It’s easy to help:
- Visit http://thndr.it/1CkO2Bg.
- Click Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr and sign in.
- Customize the message. (Optional.)
- Agree to the terms. All that will happen is that the Thunderclap post about Read Tuesday will go out the morning of December 9.
- (The warning message simply means that Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr need your permission to post the Thunderclap message on December 9. This is the only post that Thunderclap will make.)
Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers
- Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
- Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
- Boxed set (of 4 books) now available for Kindle pre-order
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