Sunday, March 29, 2015

What You SHOULD Do as a New Indie Author...

***Updated 2/3/16

Earlier this month, I wrote a What NOT to Do list for new indie authors. In it, I said that I would follow it up with this list..what you SHOULD do.

I'll be honest with you: I don't know if I'm really qualified to be dishing out this advice. I mean, the what NOT to do, sure. I have discovered plenty for that list, and it seems that I uncover more things to avoid each day. But the SHOULD do list? me, that means that I developed this list by successes and I don't think that (against the current measure) that you could say I am a success as a self-published author. Not by volume of sales, anyway.

I feel that I have succeeded in achieving my dream, and I think I'm putting out good work that still continues to get better...but it may not be to the point where I can give this sort of advice to others. I don't want to sound arrogant. I haven't earned that right in the writing realm. ;)

Having said that, I still want to share with other indie authors (especially those just starting out, and trying to figure out where to begin). I think the best way to preface this list is to simply say that these are my non-failures. These are the things that have made a positive difference in my experience. This doesn't always equate to more sales, but more positive feedback and inclusion. I hope that makes sense.

1. Get on social media. This was (and still is) a tough one for me. I didn't even figure this out for almost a YEAR after my first book, Bloodline, came out. It was after I wrote the second in the series, Heritage, that I finally came up for air. Literally. I was SO entrenched in the incredibly involved story that I wasn't even paying attention. I chuckle now, because like almost every other indie author out there...I thought the books would sell themselves. You know, stick it on the internet and people would flock to it based on the worth of the story and writing alone. Humph! Not even close to reality. All you have to do is read some of the 'best sellers' out there, and you will find that quality has little to do with it. It's all about the marketing. Here is my list (PLEASE add to it in the comments. I am still learning!!!!).
*BLOG - even if it's about nothing. Get yourself out there in the search engines and slowly build.
 *Facebook - *sigh* Don't make my mistake. I started out making everything about the first book. BIG mistake. It needs to be about YOU. Yes...YOU, the author. Make an author page on Facebook, make a blog about you and include pages for your books.
*Twitter - As much as I hate to admit it, this may be the single best outlet, if used properly. Read up on it and how it works, then experiment.
*Amazon - get on it. I won't get into the whole debate on whether to be exclusive or not, but you should at least be there (you can't deny that it IS the giant) and make a good author page. (if you aren't exclusive to Amazon, be sure to hit the other sites like Smashwords and Kobo)
*Pinterest - *another sigh* Yes. Pin. Pin away.
*Goodreads - This is greatly debated among authors. This is a MASSIVE message board set-up that is now owned by Amazon. Problem is, that it has the power to make or break you. Their star system is tough, because you can rate without reviewing, so you get 'drive-by raters', which I have been the victim of . However, the benefits I have gotten from this site FAR outweigh any negatives. I think that they're an incredible resource, if used properly. My best advice to you about Goodreads, is to make sure you participate as a READER, too. The networking opportunities are amazing, but you can't come at it with a take, take, take, mentality.  You have to GIVE, too.
*Other message boards and book sites - There are too many to name. Do a search and find the biggest ones and then JOIN. Put your author and book info on as many as possible. It's all about the networking.

2. Hire a professional book cover designer. I don't want this list to simply be an opposite of the what NOT to do's, but this is something I want to address by giving out some resources for it. there are a TON of options out there, some cheap and some expensive. Did you know you can buy pre-made covers for as little as 40-60 dollars, and they'll add your title and name for you? Yes? Well, then you're where I was over a year into my adventure. Seriously. It took me that long just to figure that out.

This is something you need to take time researching. It's also something you need to invest in. I know that most indie authors can't afford to dump a bunch of money into their books. I couldn't. Want to know how I funded this? When I finally had my epiphany and realized I needed to invest, I tried to figure out how. Well, I have taught CPR for going on 15 yrs now. Several years back, (when I was working a good, full-time job) I invested over $1,000 into some CPR equipment so I could teach it as my own business. In three years, I had taught about four classes that I was paid for. I did twice as many for free...and my equipment was sitting under the house, unused for months at a time. I looked on-line and discovered I could sell them for almost as much as I paid. So that's what I did. I funded both my photography venture (selling canvas prints at a street fair) AND my book covers with this money and it was more than worth it. Sometimes you need to get creative. :)

Back to the covers. I went on Amazon and started looking at other books in my genre and found some covers I really liked. I then looked at the credits and followed those back to the sources. Unfortunately, most of the ones I liked charged from 600-800 for original work. BUT...this also led me to a really cool site called  DeviantArt . This is an amazing resource of artists. It's also where I found my amazing designer, Mel at Melchelle Designs .
Example of her work: (I took the picture of the girls and then she created the scene. I LOVE it!)

Take the time to do this part right. Don't make the same mistake as I did, and waste so much time either doing it yourself, or as cheap as possible. Mel is incredibly affordable and GOOD. There are a lot of artists out there willing to work with you.  THIS is perhaps the greatest impact on sales.

3. Network with other authors. This is a recent discovery for me. Other writers aren't your competition; they are your peers. We can all learn from each other, and also help support each other. Check out my book review section...a lot of them are indie authors. There are quite a few sites dedicated to indie authors and you should spend some time exploring them. Find other writers in your genre and read their books. If they're good, review them and help support them. I say "if they're good", because I don't believe in writing a bad review. I will let the author know, in a positive way, about what can be improved, but giving them a bad rating will NOT be encouraging nor help them. (for me, a bad review is anything below a three-star rating).

4. Solicit for reviews. This was a hard one for me to figure out. I am NOT good at pushing or promoting myself. It's been a slow process. When I say solicit, I don't mean badger. There is etiquette involved. (I just found out a couple of days ago that Amazon doesn't allow authors to 'swap' reviews, so be careful with this. It needs to be honest, genuine reviews.) There's plenty of places dedicated to this, so you don't need to go after anyone that doesn't advertise for it. I'll use Goodreads as an example. There are a TON of threads solely for the purpose of finding reviewers. Use them. However, don't jump on every other thread, NOT dedicated to this, and harass people. This is frowned upon. BLOGS. There are MANY, many blogs out there that welcome authors to submit for a review/interview. There are even sites committed to listing these blogs for you. Take some time and find the ones that are appropriate for your book. READ their submission guidelines. It's rude to waste their time by submitting a book that doesn't meet their requirements, so take a few minutes and make sure before hitting the send button.

5. Be prepared to give copies away. I'm not saying you need to make your book free. THAT is a whole discussion of its own. I'm talking about offering a free copy for review. This is not the same as paying someone...I would NEVER do that. It's standard practice to give a free copy though, to someone that you are asking to read it. You can achieve this by either gifting it through amazon (which helps bump up your ranking), or by emailing a PDF or MOBI file. Giving away your book is just a necessary part in the process of getting it 'out there'. Budget for it. (I actually BUY other indie author books that I review. I think it's just good etiquette and I also believe in karma. ;) )

6. Make a printed version available. For mine, I have used CreateSpace . This a free platform and a print-on-demand. Yes, they are also owned by Amazon. You get a decent percentage though, so long as you set the price high enough.  (A trick I learned: If you have amazonprime, it is cheaper and faster to just go online and order your 'proof' through them. you get it in two days, vs. a week-and-a-half, don't pay shipping and it bumps your sales rank.)

7. Don't price your ebook too high. There's a ton of debate over this, and you can find numerous articles dedicated to it. My humble opinion, is that if you want to sell an indie book, you have to set the price accordingly. I think 4.99 is the MAX, and that would be for a full-length novel from an indie author that has already found some success. I am not there. My books are all priced from 2.99-3.99. The 3.99 books are set as such because they are the 2nd and 3rd books in a trilogy and are fairly large books. Descent is over 90,000 words and I have quite a bit of both time and money invested in this series, so I don't think 3.99 is too high. I am tempted to make a 'don't price it too low' section, too. BUT...I'm not sure enough about that to say it. I tried pricing mine lower, and it had the opposite affect. Here's the deal: Readers out there looking for free books will only download free books. They will probably never read it, and if they do, won't review it. (unless they like to be mean and give 1 star reviews) The people who only look for .99 cent books will only buy those... but their expectations will be as high as someone buying a 4.99 book, so they'll review accordingly. You get your more serious readers in the higher price range. They've actually taken the time to look in their preferred genre, to look at the cover, read the blurb and probably even the sample excerpt. So before they purchased the book, they already know it's the genre they like, they like your writing style and the story sounds good. They are much more likely to read the book, and less likely to give a bad review. It's just kinda common sense.

**Update 2/3/16
I'm baaaaccckkkk...... :)

I wrote this list back in March of last year, and I see that it's been getting some hits lately. So, I read it. I still agree with , but I have a few more things to add:

8) Make an audiobook! I was told a couple of years ago, that these are the new and upcoming 'thing'. I looked into ACX, and after much debate, decided to narrate and produce my own. YOU don't have to. Fortunately, there are several options, including the very fun task of going through a whole bunch of narrators and listening to them. You can then send them a message to ask if they would be interested in narrating your story. You can even pitch your book, providing information and a script for the ACX narrators to browse through and audition for. It really is a lot of fun. A word of caution though, if you do decide to do it all yourself: take the time to watch/read the tutorials and then take the advice! It's tough. (but I think fun!) Here is a link to my book, Bloodline, which includes a five-minute sample: Audible Sample

After you upload all of your files, ACX then processes it and puts it on its own site, plus Amazon (yes...Amazon owns this, too)

WHY do it? Because they ARE popular, and I believe that having an audiobook available gives the book more credibility. It's also one more way to get it out there and be discovered. What have you got to loose?

9) Get out there and do book signings and promote yourself. Unfortunately, I greatly underestimated the importance of being visible, and hitting up local venues. During the months that I have made in-person appearances, I tend to make more in paperback sales than everything else combined. Street fairs, libraries, book stores, coffee shops, senior centers, conventions...GET OUT THERE!

10) Print up some book marks or cards for advertising. Why? Well, because it's an easy way to advertise. I stick one in all of my books, and have stacks out whenever I do signings. I also keep a supply in my car and purse, so that when I'm at the store I can browse through the book section and drop some off next to the popular titles in my genre. Does it work? YES!

11) Enter contests. This helps build credibility, and believe it or not, those award seals on the cover DO help sales. Especially the in-person sales. Just be careful that you aren't entering the vanity scams. As with everything else, do your research. Make sure they are legitimate contests.

Okay...that's it for now, but I think I will revisit this list and add to it as time goes by. PLEASE add to it in the comment section. I have SO much more to learn!!!!!  :)

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