"Self-Publish Like a Pro" is a new column that provides indie authors with self-publishing tactics and tips from a digital marketing professional and self-publisher.
It’s a courageous thing, indeed, to complete a manuscript and make the decision to publish it independently.
Finishing a book is a monumental accomplishment, and for some authors, deciding to self-publish is not simple. But before an author submits files to her chosen publishing platform, she should first get comfortable in her new role as Director of The Book’s Digital Strategy.
Authors don’t necessarily enjoy spending time they could use writing developing marketing plans. However, it’s critical for an indie author to have a clear idea of what she hopes to gain by self-publishing before releasing a book. The goals that an author has for her book (other than the vague standby “selling millions”) and career should play a strategic role in the selection of the publishing platform, the book’s price, and the book’s marketing campaign.
If an author hopes to gain the attention of an agent or publisher to secure a traditional publishing deal for her next book, then sales are critical, but so are reviews. Landing a title on one of the Amazon or iTunes Top 100 lists is a great way to achieve high-volume sales, and there are a number of marketing options, like KDP’s free promotion days, which can sustain a book’s place on a list for several days. However, authors should be wary of the downside of free promotions: there’s no way to control the types of readers who will download the book -- and give it a negative rating if they don’t find it appealing (there are legions of “free book trawls” who download every single free book they encounter).
Somehow, my first book, The Rock Star’s Daughter, found its way onto a free Christian romance book list (it’s about a teen girl who goes on tour with her rock star father…it’s about as secular as YA comes). The benefit of ranking high on that list thanks to Christian romance readers was offset by some negative reviews from readers expecting Christianity and adult romance. To impress agents and publishers, it’s worth an author’s time and money to invest in a blog tour and to arrange for reviews before a book’s release.
Publicizing a book and making it available for pre-order increases its chances of hitting a top-ten list because pre-orders are processed on the book’s publication date. Indie authors should also consider releasing their book on a weekday other than Tuesday, because on Tuesdays it will typically be in competition with industry releases.
If an author’s sole self-publishing goal is to write and make a fortune, then she should seriously reconsider publishing a stand-alone title. This may be painful for an author to hear, but I wish someone had told me this three years ago: if a reader loves a self-published book and reaches the last page only to discover that the author has nothing else for sale, the author is missing an opportunity to double her income. For a first-time author, especially one who has an entire series planned for audiences that like to binge-read (romance, sci-fi, mystery, YA), it’s simply bad business to release one book instead of two.
YA authors Tracie Puckett and Jillian Dodd have road-blocked top-ten lists with their series simply because their books have been written strategically to inspire chronological, rapid purchase. Every author, regardless of the nature of her book, should include a link on the book’s last page so readers can subscribe to receive author updates.
It’s understandable for an author to worry about churning out another high-quality piece of writing in a short period of time, and I would never suggest that an author compromise the quality of her writing to increase sales. What I would suggest, instead, is that the author take a step back from her book and think about it as a strategist instead not an author. Is there a cliffhanger somewhere in the book (or could there be) that might serve as a natural break between a shorter first book and a sequel? Authors who primarily seek profits must examine their own work with monetization in mind.
If an author’s ultimate goal transcends books (pursuing a movie deal, a Food Network show, etc.) then it’s important to consider other shapes that content might take to drive book sales. A powerful book trailer or series of videos on YouTube about the book’s topic might be an author’s best marketing approach. This type of strategy must work to transform an author into a brand in which entertainment companies will want to invest -- and book sales are actually a tactic for achieving that goal.
I encourage authors to spend time formulating detailed goals for themselves as writers, and to ensure that their publishing strategy and marketing efforts can be measured in terms of achieving those goals.