Over the years, I have heard a lot of things about self-publishing. I have mentored several authors and they all say it might be a gold mine but it requires a lot of work. Here are some key factors to consider if you’re looking to achieve success in self-publishing:
- Write your best book — It sounds obvious, I know. The most important aspect of self-publishing is producing high-quality content that resonates with your audience. Take the time to hone your craft, develop your writing style, and create compelling stories that people will want to read. Writing is a process, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you develop your skills and refine your writing. There’s an entire world of badly-written, poorly-edited self-published work out there. Because the tools have become so easy to use, there’s a temptation to get anything out there, without going through the rigors of research and editing, in hopes of quick discovery and viral success. Don’t give in to that temptation. A lot of authors spend over a year writing their first novel, and almost a year writing their second. If you don’t know someone who can competently edit your writing, hire someone. End readers will know the difference. Authors get ripped for little editing errors. So here is a huge lesson…before selling even one copy…the product has to be bulletproof. Editing, spell-checking, formatting, consistency, characters’ motivations, plot holes, everything. I don’t think all the marketing in the world will help a product that’s not ready to launch.
- Build your “platform” — Your platform is the plan and methods you use to connect with readers and sell books. Self-publishing means that you are in charge of your own marketing and promotion. Make sure to invest time and effort into promoting your work, whether it’s through social media, book signings, or other promotional events. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to reach new readers and build a following. Many authors, considering the nature of their full-time job, couldn’t consider book tours, and frankly didn’t have the patience to find a publicist that would actually respond to them as a first-time author, so they chose the online-only path: website, social media, Amazon author pages, and an email list.
- Website: Yes, it’s common sense, but if you’re going to self-publish a book, you need a website to spread the word and keep the conversation going. It’s a place for fans to contact you and a way to build your email list. Some actually create content for two websites. You’ll start with zero traffic but after a while (be patient!), if you’ve got some engaging content and good keywords, you’ll see the clicks and the email signups start to come in.
- Social media: Don’t overdo it. With a full-time job and writing and publishing on the side, this book promotion thing at times tests your productivity limits. So, stick with just Facebook and Twitter, and I’d say go with the one or two that feel right for you. For example, if you’re creating a graphic novel — very visual — maybe Facebook and Pinterest would be your thing. Journalist writing non-fiction? Twitter. Try them all out and see what feels right for you.
- Email list: Okay, this one is an uphill battle, but worth the effort. As a new author, getting people interested enough to take the ride with you through emails is tough. But after you get started blogging, posting, tweeting and emailing, your list should slowly start growing. Many authors use MailChimp to manage the email list and campaigns. It’s an excellent tool at an excellent price: free.
- Relentlessly pursue book reviews and exposure — I think the single biggest thing that helps sell all books, beyond the quality of the work itself, is reviews. Here’s a suggestion about what you might do to get them:
- Prior to launch, contact 75 people who agree to be advanced reviewers. Keep in touch with them over the following weeks. Ultimately this technique might yield launching with 25 reviews on your Amazon sales page on day one. Enough reviews will trigger Amazon to begin recommending it to others. Your book also gains quite a bit of credibility in readers’ minds when they see more than a handful of thoughtful reviews…this is the ultimate use of third party endorsement (word-of-mouth marketing).
- Be sure to look up reviewers on Amazon, Goodreads, AppleBooks and Audible on an ongoing basis, and actively reach out to these individuals requesting them to provide a review in exchange for a complimentary copy of the book. This is tough, tedious work, but well worth the effort.
- You might also run free giveaways of book copies. EXAMPLE: offer engaged members of Goodreads free copies in exchange for honest reviews. Regarding exposure: I could write a full article just on this topic, but in brief, spend time networking with whoever you can, and investigate genre websites, and reach out as much as possible to offer guest postings, interviews, book reviews, or whatever you think that site might find interesting, or live readings at physical locations like libraries. Third party endorsement is the single most important marketing tool you can use but you have to work at it to get it…assuming the content is great.
- Promote your book — Here’s where a little bit of investment can go a long way. There are all kinds of ways to use paid promotion to spread the word about your book, but here’s one example that seems to work: if you’re publishing on Amazon, you’re offered KDP Select, an incentive to sell the digital version of your book exclusively through Amazon. In exchange for this exclusivity, you’re allowed to run something called Countdown Deals. If you chose this route for your book, and here’s how you might make it work:
- Email promotions: Coinciding with these Countdown Deals, try running paid ebook promotions through book promotion sites that list discount deals, and send out daily emails to their subscribers. (Some post to social media as well.) They included BookGorilla, FussyLibrarian, BargainBooksy, Booksends, Ereader News Today, and several others.
- Online advertising: All the major online services offer paid advertising. At one point or another during these countdown promotions, you might all of them. Overall? I’d say if you’ve got the stomach to spend money that isn’t returning as high a value as the email blast promotions listed above, but want to boost your exposure temporarily, then go for it. For each of these, you can set a daily budget not to exceed, a start and end date, and live monitoring of response. Some authors I have mentored set daily budgets at between $5 and $20 per day for a week. Try running Facebook/Instagram ads, Google ads, Amazon ads, Twitter ads, and more. (You should be constantly experimenting knowing you will achieve varying degrees of success).
- Social Media: As a matter of course, during each of these promotions, try getting the word out as much as possible through Facebook and Twitter.
- Engage With Your Audience — Building a community of readers is an essential part of self-publishing success. Engage with your readers by responding to comments, hosting book clubs, and connecting with other writers in your genre. Building a strong network of supporters can help you overcome any challenges you may face along the wayAt the end of the ebook, paperback, and audiobook, be sure to have a prominent, clear call to action asking specifically for a review on Amazon or Audible, noting that it’s the best way for independent authors and authors with small publishers to gain exposure and help sales. More people than you’d think have told me that simply asking them to leave a review led them to write their very first review ever. Ask clearly. Readers like to help!
- Record an audiobook — This one’s a little tougher. If you don’t have lots of audio recording experience, the process might not be straightforward. Think about how to put together a full post on how to record your own audiobook without breaking the bank and there are lots of options for getting narrators and producers to help you, right through Amazon’s subsidiary, ACX. The reason I include this as one of the main five things to explore when self- publishing is because audiobooks continue to be on the rise, in a big way, with 148 percent sales growth from 2010 to 2015, and audiobooks read by their authors are also on the rise…ok, I have not researched this lately.
- Stay Focused — Self-publishing is a long-term commitment, and success won’t happen overnight. Stay focused on your goals and keep pushing forward, even when the journey is difficult. Believe in yourself and your work, and keep working to improve and refine your skills.
Self-publishing success requires hard work, dedication, and a willingness to invest time and effort into your craft. By writing quality content, marketing your work, engaging with your audience, seeking professional help, and staying focused on your goals, you can achieve the success you desire as a self-published author.
Be sure to sign up for our weekly blog on small business thoughts where we discuss topics related to marketing/sales, planning, business financial understanding, and Human Resources.
Copyright ©John Trenary 2023. All rights reserved.