Being an indie author is not exactly something I wanted to do. I wanted the more traditional route; find an agent who will in turn find a publisher that will dump bucket loads of money into marketing for my wonderful stories.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Well, one year later and 600+ query letters (10% which were rejected and another 90% that were never responded to) I decided to try the indie route with Ruins of the Mind. What an eye opener that was.
I had a rough idea of what I was getting into. I knew that I would need to hire an editor, an illustrator and find a print-on-demand company to put out the books. What I (and most indie authors) neglected to do was think about the marketing side. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll just tweet it like crazy and mention it on Facebook as much as possible.”
Those are important, but it’s going to take a lot more rubber burning than a little social media blitzing. So I’ve come up with some important key facts that I have discovered in getting my two books (and two upcoming novels) out.
You will see links at the bottom to sources that I have personally used and will discuss throughout the article.
1. Marketing is critical
Word of mouth will by far be the best advertisement for you, but word of mouth won’t take off with you only getting your books into the hands of a few dozen people. You need to get it into the hands of hundreds or thousands of people.
- Publicity trumps Advertising. Ads are generally a waste of money. You spend a lot of money, reaching a few people and of those few people you get even fewer who are actually interested in your book. A targeted publicity campaign is a lot more bang for your buck and it gets news agencies to make some noise about you which is what you really want. It costs some money up front, but it’s worth it. It should run you anywhere from $2000 – $3500 for a good international campaign. Be forewarned, you’ll be sending out a few books for reviews – most likely 50 – 100, so budget accordingly.
- Go social media crazy, but do it logically. Don’t settle for just Twitter and Facebook. Use everything at your disposal: Google+, StumbleUpon, Digg, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.
- Do not post constantly. Social media works best if you schedule your posts (through a service such as HootSuite) for every four to six hours. If you post too often then sites will see your posts as spam, if you don’t post often enough, your readers won’t see the posts.
- Every post counts. Always keep your professional image in mind when posting. Do not post things like “I’m depressed. My books never sell.” Your readers want to see exciting things that are going on with your writing world. Always keep upbeat and match your genre. For example, if you’re a horror author – talk about the gore and the insanity of reality. If you’re a romance author – keep your audience hot and bothered. If you’re a humor author – post some funny quips.
- Provide a professional image. Set up author profiles on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and anywhere else you can. IMPORTANT: Include a real picture of you. Fake people, cartoon characters, abstract images, etc., do nothing for your professional image. Your readers want to see you. If you don’t like getting your photo taken, get over it. You’re in a public business now and you are your best sales image. Hire a good photographer or get someone who knows what they are doing to take a good picture of you.
2. Hire an editor
Nothing is more valuable that an experienced editor and they are not astronomically expensive. Your book could be the first thing your readers ever see from you. You want every word, every sentence and every nuance of your writing to be reflected in a professional manner.
Now, I have done professional typesetting, so I was able to save money there by laying out my own books, chapter headings, etc. But the editing, I hired out to Written Word Savvy and it was well worth the money.
One thing that a lot of authors don’t think about is the fact that an editor not only needs to edit the content of the book and check for grammatical and spelling errors, but they also need to not lose your ‘voice’ in the process. Nothing sounds worse than having one writing style throughout a book and then switching from time to time to a different writing style because an editor doesn’t know how to maintain an author’s voice. This comes from experience. The reality is you will also develop a rapport with your editor. The more you work together, the more streamlined and effective your final product will be.
3. Hire a Professional Illustrator
An ideal illustrator should know book design, what captures someone’s eye and what doesn’t. If your cover doesn’t grab your eye, chances are it won’t grab anyone else’s either. So don’t be afraid to criticize your illustrator’s work. It is your book after all and it’s their job to represent that.
4. Rome wasn’t built-in a day
I am not a patient man. I want things to happen now and when publishing a book, you see lots of money going out and nothing coming in for what feels like forever. I was certain that word of mouth would get around about my books, but I wanted it, needed it…now!
Then a friend said to me, “Jason, how long does it take you to read a book?” to which I responded, “I don’t know, a few weeks.”
They then said, “So, it’s okay for you take a few weeks to read an author’s book, but everyone else should be reading your book within a week?”
Good point. It takes time for people to read a book and then it takes time for them to tell their friends about it. Be patient, if it’s good…it will take off.
5. Do not order batches of printed books; use Print on Demand
I have known too many authors who order 1000 or 5000 books to get caught with a massive stock, money invested and possibly even discovering errors after the book was produced that they now have to live with. Use a high quality Print on Demand service. This means that every time someone orders a book on Amazon or a bookstore orders 20 books, that is all that is printed. It costs a little more per book, but it’s negligible. Then they simply send you the royalties every month, quarter or semi-annually depending on what you setup.
Another huge benefit is, if you find an error, you simply upload the new revision and only those books that were ordered before the revision will have the error.
6. Do Not Use CreateSpace to print your book
Companies like CreateSpace and LuLu are great for vanity press or for printing a rough draft of your book, but they lack one critical thing if you plan on your book getting into bookstores – return-ability.
I printed my first book with CreateSpace. Don’t get me wrong, they have tons of very helpful people and their process is very well designed, but the fact that bookstores can’t return the books will prevent most stores from ordering it. They will require you to sell them on consignment and then you get into paying for shipping, stocking and everything you wanted to avoid with Print on Demand in the first place.
My recommendation is to use LightningSource which is owned by the major book distributor Ingram. They have printing facilities in each region (U.S., U.K., Australia, etc.) and can ship locally for each region. They also accept returns.
7. If it sounds too good to be true, it is
There are literally hundreds of companies that will try to take your money and will give you little to nothing in return. I’ve seen almost all of them and have sampled the waters as well. If you ever aren’t sure about something, email me (using the contact form at the top of this site) and I will look into it for you.
8. Pay it forward
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t know half of what I know if it weren’t for my fellow authors. People like Joshua Graham, Ashley Fontainne and so many more that have helped me along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help or ask questions. Most of us have been in your shoes.
The major advantage of being an independent author is, your competition can help you and you can help them. Get to know fellow authors, network with them and get news out about their books and in turn they will get information out about yours. I regularly interview authors on my YouTube show Author in the Headlights as well as interview for my blog various authors. Help out fellow authors and they will help you out.
Wrapping it up
It’s not cheap to get your book out there, but there are great crowd-funding sources like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter that can help you raise funds for your book. Just keep in mind that projects should only be in the $1000-$3000 goal for optimum success.
Here are some services I’ve used and highly recommend:
- Smith Publicity: Awesome publicity firm and very good at communication (five star as far as I’m concerned)
- Lighting Source: The best POD (Print on Demand) service I’ve found yet.
- Bowker: Buy your ISBN numbers direct from Bowker. It saves you money and you have control over what shows up out on the databases.
- Written Word Savvy: The owner Linda Sickinger is a phenomenal editor and works hard to make sure that your work comes out sounding like you.
- Hootsuite: Lets you connect all your social media together so that you can blast out a message to all social media at once. Also lets you schedule your posts.
- Blue Harvest Creative: Very good illustration company that will design your book covers and more.
- Book Bub – Great service to get your book out, but extremely picky about what they choose.
- Book Daily – Another book marketing channel. They transmit blurbs about your book along with links. I have seen a real increase in sales since I started using them.
- Babelcube.com – A service that translates your book to other languages.
- Ebook Services to Publish on:
Places to steer clear of:
- Xlibris: Complete rip off and extremely pushy.
- CreateSpace: Not a bad company and Amazon owned, but their books are not returnable and often are frowned on by bookstores.
- LuLu: A good vanity press (creating books for family, or friends) but not a professional choice. Their books are not returnable.
- “Award” companies – There a ton of companies out there offering “book awards” that you can paste on the cover of your book. Basically, you’re just paying for a no-name award to put on your book. Try and get real quality reviews by major newspapers and media for your cover. That will carry more weight with readers.