Fair and Honest Marketing Strategies for Indie Authors

Last updated March, 2015

I first posted this in Goodreads (twice actually, expanding it the second time). Some of it I posted on kboards too. All in all, I spent way too much time on it, so I might as well post it here–revised and updated–to benefit some of my author friends, especially those starting out.

To begin with, I firmly believe that in the world of self-publishing, we are each other’s mentors, and paying it forward is how we give back. The knowledge below, besides being earned through trial and error and sweat and tears, was also gathered whilst standing on the shoulders of gentle giants (you know who you are).

Book promotion is a tricky thing, and not all of book promotion is actually promoting. You need a strong foundation.

– First, the pillars of a strong release:

  1. A killer book. Goes without saying, right? Superbly edited, superbly written. The kind you can’t put down after starting. The kind strangers say they can’t put down. Exposition, passive voice, character depth, all that is well and truly behind you. If it isn’t, don’t read on. Fix this first. Without it, the rest is a complete waste of your time, and your time as a writer is precious. Your book is the foundation for your career. Start it right.
  2. A killer cover. People judge books by the cover. Thy just do and always will. Make sure it screams your genre. Make sure it’s professional and can compete with the big dogs. Make sure it has your target audience exactly in mind. A killer cover that misses its target audience usually fails. Best thing to test this is post it publicly without hinting genre, and ask who target audience is, age group, genre, etc.
  3. A killer blurb. This one is tough. My advice is to throw it up on a forum for public critique. Keep weaning it down until it’s a sculpted beauty.
  4. An optimized, strong set of keywords. Read Evenstar’s forum post to start.
  5. A killer first line and first chapter. Has to have a hook. Has to draw you in. Has to be snappy. No exposition. No passive voice. Throw it up for public critique in the appropriate forum and see what people say. When you get a “wow”, you’re ready.
  6. Flawless editing.
  7. Flawless formatting.

Now on to some basic marketing. Too many authors end up spamming people and (rightly) getting everyone annoyed, not to mention putting self-published authors in a bad light. Hence this list–thought it might help a little. Here are the methods that have worked for some writers, including myself (though mind you I have not tried all of them yet):

– Stagger your promotions/ announcements Goal is to have at least one sale a day after launch. Mailing list mailout day 1. Facebook post a few days later. Then Twitter, etc.

– Bookbub ad (you have to apply to get in, and it can be pricey, but has been known to work–I just got my second rejection from them actually, and expect more.)

– Netgalley review services (very pricey, and it’s just to garner industry reviews, but it too has been known to work for certain authors). Note that review services tend to be harsher than natural reviews (as reported by other authors).

– Google Adwords You’ll need the help of a pro to set it up. Make sure whoever does it though, only uses keywords that have to do with people looking for exactly your type of book. Can’t stress that enough. And have multiple ADs and keywords competing against each other. Set 5 bucks a day or more if you can afford it for those two weeks. Hint: just because a keyword is giving you clicks, doesn’t mean it’s translating into sales. You have to find keywords that have a low CPC, high CTR, but also are the likeliest to actually translate into sales (for example, “buy latest YA paranormal” is a keyword phrase someone used when looking to actually purchase a book. You get the point). Turn off extended networks too. Only pay per click, not impressions. I started a forum post on the subject here that I update now and then.

-Facebook advertising Specify by country, target carefully, and make sure you set you google multiple sources. Study it like an exam you need to pass to graduate.

– Goodreads advertising I just started this with no results yet, but as soon as I figure it out, I’ll post on it. RESULTS: A massive fail. Pulled my money out. I do not recommend until they update their architecture.

– Advance Review Team Build buzz by sending advance review copies to fans (if applicable)..

– Blog interview tour If you have a lot to say, this works very well. Always better to get to know the blogs and people behind those blogs first.

– In-person events (book signings, forums, etc.)

– ACX Audiobook (pricey but has been known to give consistent returns)

– Post on your blog consistently (I still struggle with this one) and with quality content

– Do a Goodreads book giveaway

– Setup social media accounts. If you haven’t already, create a public facebook author page, start a Twitter account, start a Pinterest visual inspiration account for your book (mine looks like this, for example: http://www.pinterest.com/sbronny/ ), and especially, make an author profile both on Amazon and Goodreads (as opposed to a regular user account). There are a slew of other social networks. Use as many as you like, but try to have them synched so you don’t post on each one, but rather from one source that posts to all of them (use Hootsuite to do just that).

– Twitter: Use Hootsuite to load up on Tweets for the day ahead (only regarding your book). Try to keep it to 2 robo tweets a day, else you’ll get muted by your friends. And retweet your friend’s important tweets (the tweets that you know are important to them), and don’t forget to have fun and interact. I started this thread looking for other twitter hints.

– Rafflecopter promo (you have to be clever with these, but they’re amazing for getting author signups and stuff).

– For the love of all that is sacred, create a mailchimp account and put the shortlink at the end of your book. Mailchimp allows your readers to receive emails from your newsletter, so you can inform them of your next release. It’s SOOO simple. For example, mine looks like this: http://eepurl.com/HIxzX And also make sure to give impetus to join the list by offering them either a free book, or a discount on the next one, or something like that. This is critical to making it work.

UPDATE: And regarding the newsletter, author Wayne Stinnett chimed in to me with the following: “Without doubt, a strong mailing list–with highly interactive readers–can take a release and launch it straight into the top 3000 within 24 hours. By interactive, I mean readers who write back after every monthly newsletter. I usually get a hundred return emails and answer every one of them. Visibility is key and those on your mailing list are already waiting to buy the next book. If they all do so at about the same time, it could be a couple of hundred sales on launch day. I do a soft launch at $0.99 that lasts only 24 hours. This is my way of thanking my loyal readers; but truth be told, I want that high debut rank. Fallen Mangrove debuted at just above #17K and broke the #2000 barrier within 12 hours of release. And the only ones that knew about it were my mailing list.”

UPDATE: Many of the successful self-published authors use paid advertising and loss-leaders to chart. Once the book charts high enough, Amazon’s internal marketing engines help boost it even higher. Don’t be afraid to experiment and lose a couple bucks to see what works. Simply publishing a book and hoping for the best is a recipe for disappointment. Combine your paid advertising with blogging, a mailing list, and the many other marketing strategies posted in the forum, and you stand a much higher chance of success. And if I recall correctly, Amazon’s algorithm penalizes zero sale days by halving the next days’ sales’ impact against ranking. I know, I worded that terribly, sorry. Essentially, for every day you get zero sales, the algorithm penalizes you by making it twice as hard to chart the next day. So four days in a row of zero sales makes it like sixteen times as difficult to chart when you make a sale.

This is why marketing is so crucial, and what makes a release so damn nail-biting. The point is to avoid zero sale days like the plague. The more time you spend planning your marketing, the better chance you have of avoiding this. A lot of authors push for writing more books and less marketing, and that’s a very fair point too, so you have to make up your own mind as to what to do.

– Setup a Call to Action button on your facebook page. It’s the one beside the “like” button. Have it point to your Amazon page, or to your mailing list, or even website. Here’s what mine looks like.

Gather reviews. The going rate is for every 100 people that read your book, one will review it. You can pay for reviews, but from my observations, they tend to be harsher. Try approaching select reviewers on Amazon / Twitter / Goodreads / blogs and offering them a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, following these Dos and Don’ts guidelines.

– Have your own author webpage with all your social media links at the top (examine mine here at severbronny.com for an example – notice the social media buttons and how easy it is to connect?) People are fundamentally lazy, so make it as easy as possible for them to connect with you on their favored platform.

– Kindle KDP Select adverts (you get your choice of one of two different kinds of promotional tools per three month signup. These are the best possible promos you can do, from what I hear). One is the FREE version and one is the countdown.

– Print cool business cards or bookmarks advertizing your book and give them out like candy. (Wait till you see my bookmark! *Swells with pride*)

– Throw a release party in your house or a pub. Invite the public and all your friends. Make it a fun thing, not just about selling books. Make it about CONNECTING to people. Those connections are key. Take photos. Blog about it.

– Hone your craft. Assume you’re a terrible writer. Read as many how-to-write books as you can, from trusted sources. I can’t recommend Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story enough, for example, or Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, or even Renni Browne’s Self-editing for Fiction Writers. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Quality is paramount, especially for your first book. It is the foundation of your brand and empire–woe be to your career and soul for presenting a weak product. I’m not saying I’m any good as a writer (that’s for the public to decide), but I am saying I damn well did my best to be prepared!

– Whatever you do, DO NOT PAY FOR FACEBOOK LIKES (or twitter followers for that matter). There’s already plenty of evidence out there indicating the likes come from places like India or other click-farms, and they actually reduce your exposure to your true followers because those fake likes do not pay attention to your page post-liking it.

– If you’re self-publishing, make DAMN sure your formatting is spotless. Use Guido Henckel’s guide

– Have a physical copy available.
It makes your book and brand look professional, and also makes the digital ebook price look like a bargain. It’s not as hard as I thought to format the thing for print, though you’ll have to do a little bit of research on how to do it right. I used createspace.

– If you have large page counts, for the love of all that is holy, check the template restriction page count on your print-on-demand printhouse! Turns out, at 5 x 8 inch format, max page count with createspace is 700 pages. Luckily I caught this in time and shrank my font size to 10 for book 1, so that it can stay uniform with book 2, which is twice as large. I have my wife to thank for spotting that one actually.

– Run one last spell check on the final product POST FORMATTING. Formatting can bungle a few words here and there, so it’s critical you do one last run-through before publishing. And for the love of all that is good, order a physical copy proof!

– If you can do formatting, you can avoid the mass distributors too (Smashwords, Draft2Digital, etc). Why give away 10% of your hard-earned income to a middle-man? From what I’ve been hearing from fellow kboarders, it’s not too hard at all to upload to Kobo, Apple, etc. It’s not for everyone, but it’s closer to the DIY route. Then again, it takes a lot of time, so …

– FRONTMATTER Have your copyright, Library Archives (CIP data in Canada), ISBN etc sorted out at least two months ahead of publishing. Do the same with your cover and proof copy (that last one I’ve failed at–MISERABLY).

– BACKMATTER Make sure there’s a call to action for that mailing list of yours. Give them a reason to sign up (free book, discount for next book, etc). I’m getting a 14% signup ratio versus sales for mine. I bought some of the bestselling author’s works and learned from their backmatter.

PUSH YOURSELF! My goal this year is to complete my series for 2015, and have at least four of the books published. That’s a substantial increase considering I’ve been working on them for three years without publishing a thing. And FYI: Goals only count as goals if there is a clear time frame and a clear outcome.

Respond to people! I learned this with my music, big time. When a reader sends you an email or a private message, it is CRITICAL for you to reply courteously. NEVER ANSWER REVIEWS. NEVER BE RUDE. From my experience, once you respond, you’ve increased the chances of winning them over for life by magnitudes.

– Don’t get too caught up with word count. This is a tough one, but I’ve discovered that writing for the joy of it is far more productive than trying to hit a daily word count (not to mention your output actually increases–just avoid looking at the actual total if you can). Find your joy and follow it. You make this all about performance and money and output, you’re going to be one miserable you-know-what. If you love what you do (which will be writing 75% of the time, barring release weeks), then it’s not a job at all, is it? It’s a passion.

Avoid browsing the internet while writing. Scientifically, your brain actually changes when surfing the net. Each link provides a small endorphin rush, and so you are rewarded for skipping around. This is not conducive to long bouts of steady concentration on one topic. This point requires discipline. And yes, I still battle with this one like an angry chihuahua.

– Read self-help books. Often the things that prevent us from succeeding have nothing to do with our craft or abilities. They’re subconscious self-defeating loops, or mannerisms passed down from our parents, or assumptions we made about ourselves, etc. This point is a lifetime study, but makes a huge difference. If it’s something you think you’re capable of, I highly recommend it. It’ll give you that edge over those incapable of bettering themselves. A transferable skill, so to speak.

BUT WHAT WORKS THE BEST?

Honestly, interacting with people works best, from my experience at least. Being interested in their lives and what they’re up to is key. You ever go to a party and there’s that one guy who just talks about himself? It gets tedious really quick. Communication is a two-way street, and the more you ask about the other person the better off you’ll be.

How do I know this? I used to have a music career, selling digital music all over the world. The fans that I interacted with honestly were the ones that were the most interested, and oddly enough, they were the ones that went out of their way to help me succeed. Some of them have now begun following my author career even.

Yes, it can be tiring sometimes, but people are actually interesting, if you take the time to listen to them. Too many authors (and especially musicians) make it about themselves, and it just gets in the way of their success.

Anyway, just my two cents. This list is by no means all-encompassing either. If you have a strategy that works, please feel comfortable to share :)

My results (post launch, first book):

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 10.03.27 PM_#1 HNR #1 US

2015_01_05_US_1687_rank_#1_#8_#9

Book 2 launch:
2015_02_27_Riven_rank_#3_#8_#10_1783
2015_02_21_Riven_hot_new_releases
My books:
Arcane (The Arinthian Line, Book 1) on Amazon
Riven (The Arinthian Line, Book 2) on Amazon

So what worked for you? Have any tips? :)

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13 thoughts on “Fair and Honest Marketing Strategies for Indie Authors

  1. Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    I know that I have already sworn to step back from promoting and concentrate more on building up my pulp speed – but some of you writer-types who are still hunting for ways to promote might find something of interest in this blog entry.
    I might peek at it too, when I think no one is looking!

    Like

    • Cheers, Steve! I look forward to stepping away from the promo side of things too to focus more on writing. I’ve been so consumed with promotions because I recently published my first novel :)

      Hope you’re well!

      Sever

      Like

  2. Sever,

    As a writer who’s been published through a small house, I have seen the traditional side, and it’s very ‘meh’. You’re either Michael Ondaatje, or you’re a university professor with a PhD and tenure, or you’re nothing. But like any form of artistic expression, resume isn’t the be all and end all. I know tons of great writers, like yourself, who can’t land a publishing deal or an agent for the life of them. However this does not mean they aren’t good writers, it just means the traditional publishing model doesn’t like who they are, which are two very different things.

    Right now the music industry is getting gutted through the slowest death imaginable. First it was Napster, then MySpace, now iTunes and Spotify. At each turn the traditional industry, and sometimes the artists (Taylor Swift) cry foul of the new model asserting itself. Essentially what is happening is music as an art form is shedding the middle men. Whether it’s HMV or Capitol Records or agents, musicians are finding they can do it themselves, relatively cheap, or for free, and forgo a lot of the bullshit that comes along with these industry types. The huge cuts they take are also gone with this shift, meaning artists can find ways to support themselves by self-releasing, then touring – which is still a lucrative aspect of the industry.

    How long before the world of fiction/non-fiction goes this way? How long before all the major publishing houses wither away and die, or reform under the new, artist-driven model? This piece in Vanity Fair looks like a serious bellwether of things to come:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2014/12/amazon-hachette-ebook-publishing

    How long before there are no middle men left? How long before writer’s write, then put their work on the internet and let merit, instead of big-budget marketing campaigns, dictate who writes gold and who writes turd?

    My guess is this won’t happen tomorrow, but I’d be silly to imagine a near future where it is not a serious possibility.

    Like

    • I don’t think it’s going to happen to the book world anytime soon because of a few factors:

      1) People are voracious readers and buy more books than they do music, or many other media.

      2) There’s a thorough system in place to sell those books and easily upload them onto kindles / kobos / Nooks

      3) The books are priced cheaply and so it’s just easier to buy a book for $2.99. In music, albums were priced $10-20 for digital files, and people got pissed off–nobody wanted to pay that high a price for a digital file!

      4) Combined with juggernauts like Goodreads, that make it easy to find and buy well-received books, the online publishing industry is doing well. Traditional publishers? I can’t really say, I mean, we know they’re slowly shrinking, but maybe they were bloated in the first place? Maybe they’re going through a “slimming down”? I don’t know, having not been traditionally published, it’s hard for me to say.

      Like

  3. Lots of great advice there. I’m thinking of a Goodreads giveaway you are one of several people I’ve heard extolling them this week. It’s going to cost but it may be worth it in the long run, I think. Also with you on interaction. I find it really hard to interact as well on social media as I do face to face. I did our local Christmas Fayre a couple of weeks aga and sold 40 books. Interaction with real live people is the way to go, for deffo.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Like

    • Heyas MTM :)

      Yeah, I’m definitely going to be doing more face-to-face events now, especially since this whole marketing thing worked–it wasn’t just a crackpot scheme. I look forward to helping some local authors out :)

      Oh and a Goodreads giveaway is just shipping of the book + cost of the printing of the book, so it’s not too bad, unless you’re giving away ten or so of course.

      Keep me posted on your progress! :)

      Like

  4. Very great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I hace really enjoyed browsing your weblog posts.

    After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I’m hoping you write once more soon!

    Like

  5. Very solid piece of advice, thank you Sever. I would only add to put a CTA to join the email list and even offer a free story or a whole book, including the cover. This is Nick Stephenson’s strategy and it pays off. I will follow it.
    Cheers. Will send you later the questions for your interview.

    Like

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