Congratulations! You have just published your first book as an independent author. Whether you have chosen Amazon KDP, Smashwords, Nook, Barnes and Noble, or any of the many platforms available for self-publishing, you have finally taken the important step of putting the book you so much hard work into out for the whole world to see. After so many hours of writing, rewriting, editing, formatting, choosing an eye-catching cover, and tearing your hair out because the blurb doesn’t seem to come out quite right, you get to enjoy your reward: your very own spot on a publishing platform. And hopefully, lots of sales, readers, and positive reviews.
You are now officially an indie author. Now what?
As an indie, it is always our dream that our book will take off like a rocket and readers will download it like crazy and leave lots of awesome reviews, which of course will lead to a movie deal. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Very few books, independently or traditionally published, become overnight bestsellers. Those books that do earn a spot on the coveted bestsellers list generally have a lot of marketing, good timing, and luck behind them. So, what as an indie can we do to increase our chances of success?
These are some tips brought to you by real indie authors who have “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.” We published our first books with high hopes, only to find out that the publishing part was only the beginning. When we didn’t get instant sales, we became discouraged and even wondered if here was something wrong with the book. Then sales start to pick up, a few reviews come in, and things start to look up. Then, BAM, you get slammed with your first one-star review. How do you deal with a critical review?
This guide is to help you navigate the fun and exciting but often frustrating world of indie publishing. These are real tips brought to you by real authors who have taken off, crashed back down to Earth, received good and bad reviews, made mistakes along the way but learned from them, and are now willing to pass their wisdom onto you. This guide is brought to by Author Promo Co-op and #indiebooksbeseen. If you need us, we can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google Plus. We also have blog pages if you wish to follow them. Once again congratulations and happy writing.
Many of these will be explained in more detail in the coming chapters, but here are some quick and easy tips to remember.
1. Don’t over-promote on social media-This is one of the two most common fatal mistakes that indie authors make. It will get you attention, but not the kind that you want. In this guide, we will explore various social media platforms, and the smartest ways to use each one. It’s tempting at first to join every Facebook group we can find and plaster our books, tweet our books every five minutes, talk ONLY about or books, and blog about your books five times a day. I’m not saying don’t use social media at all. If used the right way, it can work for you. What’s wrong with overposting? First, it doesn’t work. Readers don’t join authors’ groups, so you’re trying to sell your book to other authors who are in turn trying to sell to you. In truth, it’s a lot of work for nothing. Second, you’re annoying your friends/followers with constant updates. You’re flooding their notifications feeds, interrupting the flow of conversation in authors’ groups, and making your regular friends wonder where the “old” you went. Third, by focusing on yourself, you’re ignoring your reads, fans, and colleagues. Finally, all that time you spend anxiously updating is time taken away from networking, socializing with fans, and writing. There are alternatives to “book pimping” that we’ll get to shortly.
2. Cross-promotion works better than self-promotion-When groups of writers, together with their readers, team up to support you, you’ll get more sales and more positive attention than when you plaster the Internet until you turn blue. See, when someone else promotes you with a blog post, a retweet, a Facebook mention, or a recommendation on Goodreads, that establishes credibility in readers’ eyes. But in order to make cross-promotion work, you have to give at least as much as you take. People aren’t going to be so willing to promote you if they don’t even get a thank-you. Promote other authors you like. Even if they don’t do the same for you, it’s good karma and it does get noticed. The best technique is when groups of authors and/or readers agree to promote each other. This is what’s called a “street team.” Cross-promotion means that you have to establish good relationships with others and you have to do your part.
3. Common courtesy takes you a long way-Who wants to work with someone when their efforts get ignored or they feel unappreciated? If someone does you the kindness of a retweet, a post share, a blog mention, etc. don’t forget to thank him/her. Even better, return the favor. When participating in group discussions, be on your best behavior. Sarcasm, demeaning comments, and passive-aggressive behavior will get on everyone’s nerves. The same goes for ignoring people who are trying to talk to you. You don’t have to get into an at-length discussion with everyone, but at least acknowledge their presence. Be respectful of others, even when you don’t agree with them. As they say, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Rudeness disguised as ‘honesty’ is still rudeness. When in group situations, follow the rules of the group. Nothing irritates other members more than someone who ignores the posted rules, especially when they do it repeatedly. And don’t overuse profanity.
4. Other indies are your colleagues, not your competitors-Refusing to work with them because they aren’t ‘readers’ will cause you to miss out. Other authors are often very happy to promote you. They may also have helpful tips and if nothing else, a sympathetic ear. Besides, authors are readers, too, and just as likely to be looking for a cool new read as a regular reader. The indie world is not a contest to see who can make the most sales or get the highest ranking. Sales and rankings vary, so the person who is #1 today may hold an “average” spot tomorrow. Think of the other authors you know as members of your team, not a competitor that you have to squash on your way to the top.
5. Don’t engage-This is the second “ultimate sin” that can give you a bad reputation. NEVER publicly engage with a reviewer. When you publish your work, a bad review is almost inevitable. Face it: not everyone is going to like your work. The worst thing you can do is to argue with the reviewer via public comment. Don’t respond publicly to any review in any way. Even thanking every reviewer, as harmless as it might seem, can come across the wrong way. The best comment is no comment. Instead, pay attention to the review. If it’s nonsense, ignore it. If there’s anything you can learn from it, take it If it’s a positive review, celebrate it. But leave the reviewer alone.
6. Choose groups on Facebook, Goodreads, and other social media that welcome you. Leave the ones that don’t.- You do want to establish an online presence, but be selective. There are some groups that you’ll look forward to going into because the atmosphere is so positive and inviting, you know that your input will always be welcome, and you can say what’s on your mind without fear of being put down. There are also some groups that are so toxic that no productive conversation ever takes place. Most are a happy medium where you’re just “there.” Choose 2-3 groups on your preferred social media platforms where you feel like an active member, and leave the rest behind. You can always change groups if your situation changes or if the group no longer works for you. There’s no reason to join every single group. You’ll never be able to keep up with that many discussions, and you’ll just receive constant updates. If you haven’t been an active member in more than six months, leave the group. If you are constantly being put down by other members or a group is not helpful to you, it’s not worth your time. You don’t have to pick a group right away, but start exploring your options. There is no “best” group, so I’m not going to recommend any here. The “best” groups are the ones where YOU feel the most welcome and are most active. On this same note, while you do need some web presence, you don’t have to follow every blog or sign up for every social media platform. Once again, tailor your membership and participation to your personal preferences, your comfort level, and your time commitment.
7. Take your time to build a true fan base- Fads in reading come and go, but some things never go out of style: giving readers something worth reading and something to look forward to, proper editing and formatting, relevant content, an engaging plotline, and overall professionalism. The reason Stephen King’s books become automatic bestsellers is because he has fan base in the millions established over more than forty years. Each reader gained is a victory. Take baby steps. And give your readers promise for the future; let them know what you’re working on (with a tentative release date). Treat them with respect. Don’t snub them. You’re establishing a professional relationship so you want to take the time to keep your customer satisfied so they’ll come back for more.
8. Other authors are often your biggest allies. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise- While it’s true that you don’t want to market to others authors, you do want to make the most of your professional connections. Don’t think of interacting with other readers as a waste of time (as I’ve heard many a writer say) because it’s not “marketing to readers.” Which brings me to the next point:
9. While we do want to “market to readers” do keep in mind that readers don’t come in neat little groups to market to. Consider everyone, including fellow authors, a potential fan, and act accordingly. This means a professional, courteous online presence at all times. This means don’t overpost, don’t treat others rudely, and don’t involve yourself in Internet fights. Things like that make people not want to buy your book. Little things like a “thank you” or a shared post go a long way.
10. Appreciate each review-Celebrate the positive ones. See if there is anything you can learn from the negative ones. Ignore the nonsensical ones. Remember, NEVER ENGAGE. Take all reviews in stride; don’t let the positive reviews go to your head or the negative ones get you down. Never pressure any reader for a review (even an “honest” review, which reviewers will interpret as code for a positive review). If you are getting a lot of negative reviews, consider that your work may have not been ready for publication. Fix it and republish. Yes, troll reviews happen. They suck, and as hard as they are to swallow, pretend you don’t see them. Never email Amazon (or other platforms) to request that any review be removed (yours or another writer’s), even if it is unjustified or even if you “know” the review is fake. This is part of what’s causing our current problems with Amazon-authors who go crying to Mama Amazon every time their feelings get hurt or every time they want to tattle on someone who’s not obeying. This is a good situation where the ‘stop snitching’ rule would apply perfectly. The review system IS flawed and unfair, but guess what? It’s always going to be. Dishonest reviewers will always find a way to get around any system, and the honest reviewers are the ones that suffer.
11. Don’t spend so much time on promotion and in writer’s events and discussions that you have no time left for writing.-While networking and creating an online presence is essential, remember that your most important job is to work on your next book. The most successful authors are the ones who regularly publish quality material. Don’t get stuck in the mode of having just one book that you continuously try to pitch. Your readers want something fresh. And publishing a new book may help renew interest in the old one.
12. Have fun. If you’re not enjoying yourself, there’s no point-That downer review you got today? You’ll laugh about it later. Have sense of humor about things and enjoy the company of your fans and colleagues. If the process is not fun for you, do something else. Other authors are often your biggest allies. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise