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? :)

My Open Source Low Budget Self Publishing Author Marketing Campaign

I’m fine-tuning a low budget marketing campaign for Arcane, my debut fantasy-adventure novel from The Arinthian Line series. The aim is rather simple: gather 50 core people that enjoy the book enough to talk about it.

This is a fluid list as I come up with more / better ideas, and will take into account suggestions from others.

What I have so far, in order:

  1. Cover + blurb reveal on kboards (with release date?)
  2. Cover + blurb reveal on facebook / twitter / myspace / my music website / this blog / my email list (with release date?)
  3. Post a 50 page sample (at end of sample give link to buy rest of book – if logistically possible, give discount for buyer)
  4. Announce release date on all relevant social media (and update gravitar / widgets / connect blog to google+, etc. The key is uniformity of message.)
  5. Respectfully solicit reviews on Goodreads / Amazon / twitter / LibraryThing / relevant blogs (emailing a free copy of book). Or maybe just email the book and not ask for reviews; if it happens, it happens. Choose either Goodreads or Librarything (I don’t have energy for both).
  6. Find influencers (regular people, not industry pros) in my genre and give them a free copy to read. Look for ordinary people who can’t help but tweet about their favorite fantasy books. [EG: Search for “fantasy reader” on twitter and add them]
  7. Politely ask other Fantasy authors to contribute an endorsement tagline
  8. Reddit: Been a redditor for 2 years. Only post to r/fantasy after months of spending time there, and only then — so this is a maybe right now, depending on time constraints. For anyone else even thinking about posting on reddit, read THIS first. I’ve witnessed plenty of crash and burns, so tread at your own risk.
  9. Small Blog tour (maybe 2-4 a month). It has been suggested I do more. (Oh, and I still have to learn exactly how to do a blog tour, hehe).
  10. Print business cards of book and give them out like candy
  11. Go to this board and ask these guys where to get the word out. It’s a java based irc applet, but those guys know fantasy.
  12. Paid advertising: ENT, BookBlast, KindleBooks, Bookbub (with enough reviews that is).
  13. Go to the Kboards Tips & FAQ and carefully read and implement all points.
  14. Possibly do a small print run of 50-100 copies and hold a physical book launch in ONE local store and invite ALL my goo friends. I could offer said bookstore exclusivity to sell it in town. (Opinions?)
  15. RELEASE THE BOOK! (oh God, what do I do for release day — get drunk?)
  16. You may post one thread about your book, in the Book Bazaar board (again, kboards). You can use that thread to introduce your book, include a brief review, etc.
    – Price: $2.99 for a 98,000 word ebook (and when three in series are released, make 1st one perma free)
    – Should there be the demand, release a print book and an audio book (will use funds from sales).

The Russell Blake rule: After release, spend 75% of my time writing book four in the series, 25% on marketing.

That 25% will consist of the following:

  1. 90-95% of the time tweeting about my indie publishing journey / things I’ve learned / fantasy / writing how-to’s / advice columns / advice blogs; the remain 5%-10% on my personal book and blog. Tweets scheduled using Hootsuite (I love that app!).
  2. Blog tour / commenting on other blogs I find interesting
  3. Be a little more social on facebook (sigh … I hates FB)
  4. Post photos of the writing life in all it’s glory (don’t read into that you)
  5. Be creative — come up with a video for book (and if you haven’t seen my last video for my music, it’s HERE)
  6. Build email list, only emailing for releases
  7. Blog Once a month (I’m a convert of slow blogging, as introduced to me by Anne R. Allen in this post).

So did I miss something? Have a trick to add to this list? Let me know! And of course, use what you like for your own campaign :)

Thanks to the following for throwing in ideas for this specific post:

Cindy Johnson
Kathryn OHalloran
Pamela Kelley
Joe Nobody
jtbullet
Sandra K. Williams

On Becoming a Self-published Author from Scratch — Goals and Checklists

Greetings!

This is my first blog post for an entirely new endeavour: becoming an author. I’m starting completely fresh, though some of you may already know me from my other project, Tribal Machine. So allow me to introduce myself with a …

SUPER BRIEF HISTORY

For many years I pursued music as my only career. It surpassed all my expectations — I made the record of my dreams, “mastered” by the best in the world; I had my music placed in a full-length feature film (The Gene Generation); I independently (and laboriously) accumulated half a million plays on Myspace; I went on live radio; I had my ego stroked and destroyed numerous times; I had mind-blowing moments on stage (as well as some horribly embarrassing ones); I met and recorded with some amazing people, and I got to play on the road.

Except I lost all interest in touring, which is a minor complication if you want to have a successful band in the digital age. But it doesn’t matter — eventually I’ll take up music again. I’ve just been doing it for so long (and life is really short) I want to pursue some other dreams of mine — like writing.

Even while I was making music, I knew that one brave day I was going to write. That day came three years ago, though I’ve kept very quiet about it — only a few people knew I was writing, even fewer that I was writing fantasy. I’ve written three books in a series, the first spanning 100,000 words, the second close to 200,000, and the third as yet undetermined (still editing). For reference, the first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher’s Stone, is 76,944.

About ten years ago, I began writing a dream novel. I was about 20,000 words in when the computer crashed, garbling my beloved manuscript (my preciousssssss).
I was crushed, though I learned a harsh lesson: always backup your data. It wasn’t a total loss, however — that idea went on to become The Orwellian Night, a full length industrial-rock concept album.

NEW BEGINNINGS

It’s absolutely terrifying and exciting to impart on another new adventure, especially one that, when muttered in private company, draws knowing nods or skeptical looks (or the infamous “Look over there!” distraction escape method). Even the words “self-publishing” have an arrogant flair to them, as if the wannabe author dares to presume himself worthy of joining a most prestigious and elite club.

That said, there are plenty of authors nowadays that choose the self-publishing route over the traditional one (here are six stories of success — but there are many more). There are also a great number of guides and message boards dedicated to the subject. Generally, the community of self-published authors is open and giving, sharing their numbers, successes and failures. I hope to continue that fine tradition.

So, what’s going to be the focus of this blog? Simply put, I’m going to share my exploits in self-publishing from the perspective of a learn-as-I-go newbie.

All right, I’m not a total “noob”. Prior to this blog post, I’ve read numerous books on how to self-publish, edit, etc. The one I’m currently reading is David Gaughran’s Let’s Get DigitalI’ve also done a lot of forum reading. Nonetheless, I haven’t actually put any of this knowledge into practice.

So let us begin with …

THE PLAN

– Self-publish multiple fantasy books in series (3-7 books or more per series)
– Learn
– Interact, share, blog about the process
– Write a lot
– Learn some more.

DESIRED OUTCOME

– A dual career in writing / music (though at this time, I am strictly concentrating on authorship).

LONG TERM GOAL FROM WRITING

– Earn at least $1000 a month through writing

WRITING SUCCESSES

Finished two books already, third nearing completion.
Best average: 5000 words a day.
Best day: 9000 words.
Best month: wrote 100,000 words.

THE SELF-PUBLISHING RELEASE CHECKLIST
Please visit HERE for a frequently updated version of this list

– Finish a book (done: finished three)
– Edit at least three rounds per book (done: 8 / 4 / 2 respectively)
– Domain registration (done)
– WordPress blog (done)
– Twitter account setup & sync (done)
– Mailchimp setup & sync for both Tribal Machine and Sever Bronny (done)
– Register blog with google (done by default)
– Read 20 recommended books on publishing and self-publishing (done)
– Discover 50 great bloggers
– Establish a regular blog schedule and number of blogs / month
– Print custom new business cards with book info
– Announce release date (shooting for sometime in December for book 1; books 2 and 3 every two months thereafter)
– Final beta read
– Final read through
– Final professional edit book 1
– Final professional edit book 2
– Final professional edit book 3
– Officially name series
– Officially name book 1
– Officially name book 2
– Officially name book 3
– Blurb
– Start an indie publishing company
– Hire cover designer
– Format for publication
– Smashwords registration
– Amazon registration
– Create Author Central account
– Create Goodreads account and link blog
– Pricing strategy
– EVENT: blog posting announcing release
– EVENT: Release party (optional)
– Update blog widget sidebar with all relevant info about book (cover, price, retailers, etc)
– Social media pre-release (see marketing campaign)
– Link to first chapter(s)
– Update links to book in all forum avatars
– RELEASE FIRST BOOK IN SERIES
– Implement Marketing plan
– Establish 75% / 25% writing to marketing ratio after first release
– Write at least 2000 words per day post release of first book
– Develop a deeper understanding of the blogosphere
– Blog tour
– Release book two in series
– Release book three in series
– Write and release 2-4 books per year
– Learn how to conduct a successful independent marketing campaign
– Respectfully solicit reviews on Amazon

Phew — that was tough to assemble. Anyway, the above checklist is ongoing and will be available in the “Checklist” link above. It will be updated as I go.

Now I realize I have zero subscribers on this thing (it is, after all, only day 1), but should you, dear reader, come across this post at some unknown pre-apocalyptic future date, I’d love to read about your goals and checklists :D

Also, for anyone interested in my fantasy-adventure series, you can subscribe to get an email of release here (I will only email when I have a release – no damn spam!).