Thursday, February 17, 2011

Self-Publishing & Marketing Advice - What I've learned this past year.

I started with Immortalis Carpe Noctem in March of 2010.

When I first mentioned I would be self-publishing, I heard all of the standard comments:

“You’ll never sell more than 200 copies.” (I beg to differ!)

“Only friends and family will buy them.” (Actually friends and family often expect to get them for free.)

“You’ll kill your chances of ever being traditionally published.” (After seeing other Indies being discovered because of their success, I think this point is moot.)

“Self-publishing cost a fortune. You’ll never make your money back.” (True, it CAN cost a fortune, but it doesn't have to if you do it right.)

Hearing things like that will make just about anyone balk. It is a gamble, that’s for sure.  And I’m not going to say it’s easy or a way to “get rich quick,” but I think it was the right decision for me.

Since March, I've published 4 more titles and worked my butt off to market them as best I could.

It's been a crazy year full of stumbling blocks and learning experiences. Believe me, I have made plenty of mistakes along the way (and probably have many more to make) I'm not going to say I truly "know what I'm doing... yet," but I think I just might be heading down the right track now, and I'd like to share what I've learned with you.

As of right now,  Just on Kindle USA alone, I’ve sold:

Immortalis Carpe Noctem - (March 2010)    1734
House of Immortal Pleasures - (May 2010)   7086
Halloween Fantasies - (September 2010)      1359
Hunters & Prey - (December 2010)                210
Karma & Melodies - (February 2011)              32

                                            Grand total - 10,419!!!

Now, am I rich yet? Hell no! I’ve got a long way to go before I can actually “pay the rent” with book sales. Most of my titles are available on Kindle for the extremely affordable price of $0.99. That amounts to about $0.35 per book paid out over the course of about a years’ time. Needless to say, I’m still eating ramen noodles. =p

I do also sell through Smashwords.com (my titles are available for Nook, Sony ereader, Apple iPad, and Kobo) I also sell print copies of my novels but the numbers above are just Kindle USA sales (UK Kindle sales were not factored in for this post).

The biggest thing to take from the above numbers is that, as an indie and a relatively unknown author, I’ve been able to reach out to over 10,000 people, and they've taken a chance on my books!

That’s an amazing achievement.

And I hope to make that number grow.

It didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been plugging away at this for the last year. When I first published Immortalis Carpe Noctem, I sold a grand total of 37 books.

I had to learn how to market my books and reach out to readers who had no clue I existed.

That’s where I ran into my first stumbling block. I had no clue what to do.

I was a true novice and wasted money on paid review services (Do Not Do This!!), buying ad space on blogs, signed on for expensive blog tours, and spent more money than I should to set up a website for my books.

So, since I have made many-a-mistake, and hope to save another author the heartache, (or is it wallet ache?) I thought I’d give you some advice to help you avoid some pitfalls of marketing your book.

(For information on how to go about self-publishing, check my previous post my post on Self-Publishing.)


Book Reviews

Never, ever, ever, ever, ( I can’t say this enough) ever pay for a book review.

For starters, they are never truly unbiased. If you’re paying someone to review your book there is an expectation of a great review on your part. No one wants to pay for a 1-star review, right? And if you take a look at the review-for-pay services out there, you’ll notice a trend of nothing below 3 stars. Other people will notice this as well and they will recognize that your book is being misrepresented as “great,” when it might not be. (I’m not saying your book won’t be great.)

So, how do you get your book reviewed?

The single best resource I have found for this is a $0.99 book, listing over 50 sites willing to review indie authors.

Linky Linky http://www.stepbystepselfpublishing.net/book-reviewer-list.html
Step-by-step Self-Publishing

This listing includes tons of bloggers who devote their time to reading and reviewing books by indie authors. Will they ALL be right for your book? NO. But many MIGHT be and for only $0.99 it’s worth the investment to pick up this list.

Now this list is not the only resource for bloggers who might be willing to look at your books, but it’s a good start. Along with the list here, do some research and look for blogs geared toward your genre. Find out if they have any review guidelines and shoot them an email politely requesting they consider reviewing your book. Be sure to include your:

Genre
Publishing date and publisher name (if it’s you, say so. Be proud to be an indie)
Word Count
Synopsis
If there is any adult-related material in the book (Some sites will not review anything with sex or foul language. Best to state it upfront)
Format available (print or ebook)
Book Cover Image (People often judge a book by its cover so let yours help sell it.)


You’ll be surprised how many bloggers are out there, willing to look at your book. And it will only cost you at most, the book plus shipping. At the least, it could be as cheap as emailing a PDF.

Many of these bloggers don’t just publish their reviews on their blog. Often times they also publish them on well trafficked sites like Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing, and on occasion, right on your Amazon.com book page.


Blog Tours

Blog touring is an interesting concept. Instead of traveling the world for book signings with your print book, you can travel the blogosphere with your ebook. It gives you the potential to reach thousands upon thousands of people right from the comfort of your own home.

This is something you can set up yourself, using the resource I mentioned above (ask a blog reviewer if they offer interviews or giveaways). It is a time consuming process though, arranging all of the tour dates, and you may not have the time available to set it up. If that be the case, you can have someone help you. That’s where cost comes in.

Hiring a blog tour service can be extremely expensive or cost effective depending on who you go with. The choice is yours. You have to factor in how much it will cost vs how much interest it will gain for you and your book.

I’ve used a couple of tour services over the last year. My favorite by far is
Virtual Book Tour Café http://virtualbooktourcafe.weebly.com/

Some things to consider when choosing a blog tour service:

What blogs are they affiliated with?
Check out their links. They should provide a listing of blogs they regularly work with.

Do those blogs have a good following?
Most blogs have a “followers” widget on the side. You can see how many people publically follow them there. Along with that, take a look at the comments section and see if people are participating in the bloggers post. This will give you an idea of how active members are.

Do they offer reviews with your tour?
Reviews are really the biggest seller in these tours, people trust their bloggers opinion. An interview is great to introduce yourself, but a “thumbs up” from a blogger who has read your book can help people decide if they want to take a chance on you and your book.

Does the blog tour offer giveaways for your book?
Giveaways are another key to blog touring. People like to win things. If your tour includes giveaways of your book or Amazon gift cards, etc… it will attract more attention.

Spreading the word via Social Networking

I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but you need to be active online. However there is a caveat. 

Active means being a participant, not a spammer.

It’s a good idea to have accounts at all of the standard social networking sites.
Facebook
Twitter
Linkedin
Myspace

Beyond those there are a few other book related ones you should join as well.
Goodreads
Library Thing
Shelfari
Authors Den
Amazon Author Central
Kindleboards  The single best resource I have found for Indie Authors. (Just spend an hour combing through the Writers Café and you will learn so much about writing, promoting, getting reviews, etc… I wish I had found this resource sooner. )


Consider these all as places to interact with your peers and readers. Notice I said interact.

Remember, Don’t Be A Spammer!!

It’s ok to mention your books and the good things happening with them, but don’t make that the only thing you talk about. No one wants to read a thousand lines of

“My book is out.”
“I just released this book.”
“I sold a copy of my new book.”
“Did you know I have a new book out?”
“Have you bought my book yet?”
“Buy my book.”

It gets old really quickly.

I was guilty of that in the beginning. And guess what, it didn’t help my sales at all. In fact, I lost followers when I did that.

I’m not saying you can’t mention your work, because you have to spread the word, but do it as part of your interaction with others, not as the intent of it.

If you’re on Facebook, before you even think to post something about your work, go through your friends list and make sure you have given their post time and consideration. You’re not the only one out there. 

The same applies to Myspace and LinkedIn. Look at your followers first and reach out to them. They are your audience and your readers. Keep them close. They are the ones who will (hopefully) buy your next book, you want them to know you care about them.

With Facebook, you have the ability to set up “Fan Pages.” This can be a great way for you to make a separate space just for your author persona and books. This would be the best place to post your book related news!

If you’re on Twitter, scroll down through the tweets and get involved in the interesting conversations going on, don’t just sign on to post your latest update.

Twitter is an interesting site which seems to have bred specific days where marketing and promoting are accepted. Take advantage of it. But again, Don’t be a Spammer!

#WW = Writer Wednesday (Don’t post your link, but link to other great writers. They might link you back and that helps you gain followers.)

Use #WW in front of a person’s @ name to tweet about them
Example
#WW @ihateuncleshady – awesome guy. Check out his work.
(this is actually my hubby. But he's not a writer. He loves to post random craziness though.)

#FF = Follow Friday (Similar to Writer Wednesday, this is where you can post links to your friends. Again, don’t post yourself; this is to share the love. Often times, the people you link will link back to you, and this may help you gain followers.
Example
#FF @ihateuncleshady – awesome guy. Check out his work.

#samplesunday (post a link to a FREE sample of your current work.)
Example
Read the first 2 chapters of Karma & Melodies #SampleSunday http://tinyurl.com/6bv9rhj
Remember not to be a spammer here. One or two post spread throughout the day is ok. One post every 10 minutes is BAD.

Also, while I'm on the subject of posting your promotions, I would also like to mention that it's good manners to share the love. Do a bit of Re-Tweeting for your fellow authors too. Don't just make it all about you. 

When I signed on to Twitter, I found an author group specifically geared to helping indie authors promote each other.

Independent Author Network http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/

Sign up here and be sure to help spread the word about your fellow indies, don’t just expect people to tweet about you. This is a collaborative effort.

Again though, I can't state it enough, don’t spend all day spamming twitter about yourself or other authors. The occasional post every so often is good. But ultimately you need to be interacting, not advertising.

It can be intimidating and overwhelming to think of all the Facebook-ing and Tweet-ing you might have to do to get your name and book out there.
One utility I’ve found to be helpful with this is

Social Oomph.
http://www.socialoomph.com/

This utility can help you track followers, set automatic updates, and much more. It’s free for basic use and cheap for the "added features." Start with free though and see where that gets you.

The best use of this I’ve found is to automate your promotional post. I set up my weekly #WW, #FF, # SampleSunday, and Book-related post and then let the utility make the scheduled posts.

Again!!! Remember, do not be a spammer!! (Are you sick of me saying that? Too bad. It's very important.)

Scheduling the promo stuff takes care of my marketing and leaves me free to interact with people while I'm actually there on the website.


Other ways to spread the word. Make a Press Release!

All of the traditionally published authors have the backup of a publishing house and a marketing team. One of the tools they use to help get the word out is a Press Release. It’s effectively a nice, simple to read, text advertisement that can be sent to news outlets to let them know about your book.

But you don’t have to fret because you’re an indie. There are ways for you to create and distribute a great Press Release too!

One of the places I use is PR Log
http://www.prlog.org/

It’s a free service that lets you create a nice looking Press Release that can be shared via a wide variety of social networks.

To make a nice, official Press Release, you will want to do a few things:

1)    Write a great eye-catching head line.
This should include your: title & genre

2)    Your first line should “announce” whatever you’re promoting. 
Be sure to include: Book title, Release date, & Author name.
Author releases the exciting sequel to Book Name, available at Book Store on Release date.

3)    Include your jacket cover/Synopsis.

4)    Include an image of the book (If the news site allows it).

5)    Include any quotes or review snippets you have for the book.

6)    Include a listing of previous works.

7)    Include contact info (email address) and link to purchase the book.


Websites & Blogging

An author needs a web presence. A place where people can find you.

When I started, I thought I had to have a professional-looking website, but I was also limited on funds. I compromised and paid for a Yahoo site and used one of their templates. It’s not hideous, but it’s not eye-catching either, and it doesn’t get enough hits per month to make it worthwhile. That made me realize I didn’t have to pay to have a web presence. I already had a Blog which gets a decent number of hits per day. Once my contract is up, I’ll be switching everything related to Rising Sign Books, over to a new blog and taking down the site I'm currently using.

Learn from my mistake. Rather than setting up a website that carries cost like: Webhosting, Domain registering, and often needs site designing, why not create a free place on the web via Blogger?

It cost nothing to set up a blog (no web hosting fees required), they have templates available (no need to pay a designer), and it gives you a place to talk about your work.

Also, with Blogger's easy to use design templates and additional widgets, you can add anything from PayPal buttons (to purchase print copies of your books), links to the various e-retailers carrying your book, or even reviews from sites like Goodreads.

Your blogger post can also be configured to link to all of the other social networking sites such as:
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Amazon Author Page
Myspace
LinkedIn


So, there you have it. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in this last year and learned very valuable lessons the hard way. Here’s hoping you can benefit from all I’ve learned.  And, good luck on your own self-publishing adventure.

34 comments:

Pale Rambler said...

Great info all throughout! Thanks for these tips of the indie trade. I've recently published a collection of my blog posts just to see how things work online in advance of publishing the book I care about, a novel-length murder mystery. Every bit of info you've offered here will be put to good use, I assure you.
Thanks again!
Mark Feggeler

Katie S said...

Glad to hear that this post will help you on your publishing journey! Good Luck out there.

Carol Ervin said...

This reads like treasure to someone like myself, new to social media, with no experience in indie publishing. People who learn the hard way become our experts and leaders! Thanks for sharing.

Tyson Adams said...

Nice info Katie. Thanks a lot.
Also 10,000 books in a year is nothing to be sneezed at. the top 10 sales in Australia for fiction only sell a few more than that.

BEScully said...

Can't agree more with the "Don't spam on Twitter" advice. I follow a lot of authors, and my eye instantly skips over the ones that only post about their own work. Never even read their posts, let alone their work! But the ones that interact-- different story.

Katie S said...

@Carol I'm glad I can help share the knowledge. I wish I had seen this info when I first started out.

@Tyson 10k is definitely a HUGE milestone. I'm honored and humbled to see so many take a chance on me and my books.

@BEScully It's so easy for twitter to become a place of spam because of how fast the tweets scroll by, but that doesn't mean we should. Interaction is the key!

Minnie said...

Katie, I often pop in on your website to read your postings whenever I have a free moment at work. I have been taking notes and find that your postings, advice and comments are invaluable. I wanted to take the time to say "thank you". I think you're amazing and you inspire me!

Katie S said...

Glad to help Minnie. Thanks for your kind words. They mean a lot to me.

Chrystalla said...

Oh wow Katie, many thanks for all this great info! It shows you put a lot of hard work into finding out all this. Thanks for making it easy for us!

Katie S said...

Anytime Chrys!!

Now I need to do a post about Critique Circle and all of the wonderful people there, like you!

Mark Adair said...

Very nicely done, Katie! I'm several months behind you, schedule-wise, and I've come to many of the same conclusions that you outlined in your post. This could same many a new writer, many a heartache. Thanks for putting it together and sharing it. And congratulations on the 10K milestone - very impressive!

Katie S said...

Glad to help and thanks for the congratulations. I am so happy to have been able to reach 10k people. I hope to keep that number growing.

Phil Bowyer said...

Katie,

It's interesting your using MySpace in your marketing plan. I'm curious to know what kind of traction your getting over there.

Katie S said...

@Phil

Myspace really doesn't do much for me, but seeing as it is still an active social network for some, I did not want to leave it out. Most everyone I know or have met through FB has leftover accounts at Myspace as well.

Sibel Hodge said...

Great article, Katie. You've covered so much ground for a newbie and the advice is solid.

CJ Archer said...

Thanks for the post, Katie. Very informative. Congrats on the 10k - may there be many more.

Ashley Lynn Willis said...

Great info Katie! I was planning on designing a webpage before my first book comes out, but now because of your post, I'm reconsidering that idea. I already have a blog, and I'm thinking that may be enough. Along with a Facebook page and twitter. Though I'm completely twitter illiterate. *blushing*

Katie S said...

Yeah, I learned the hard way that a full website was not worth the money or effort. It didn't matter how many times I linked it, I did not get the hit count to validate the cost. I've now started a blogger site and am in the process of migrating the data.

Ryan Sullivan said...

Hey, Katie.

I'm so ecstatic that I found this! I need all the help with my marketing plan that I can get, and this will be one of my major reference points.

I've still got some to go until I'm done (I want at least 70,000 words!), but I want to suss out my plan before I've finished.

I'm so excited about this new world of publishing. Now more people have a chance to make their dreams come true.

Katie S said...

You can do it. Dream big and work hard.

Jenny said...

I bookmarked this page so I can refer to it again and again, Katie. Great advice!!! And look at you go! Your drive, determination and hard work is an inspiration!

Katie S said...

Thanks for that Jenny! I have to say, I'm really impressed by your promo work too! I have to send you an email soon

barnardsmith said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I'm just starting out as an indie and finding this information is like finding gold. I'll definitely be mentioning this post when I blog later today :)

totallyskewed said...

Congratulations, Katie, and thank you for sharing your experiences with other indie authors!

Bob Mayer said...

Thanks for sharing. What about pricing? We just dropped the price on all our fiction from $5.99 to $2.99 and have seen a corresponding jump in sales. On top of that, this morning we dropped the price on the first book in our Atlantis series to .99 and my latest novel, Chasing the Ghost, to .99. I'm very curious to see how that affects things. This is all new territory for all of us and we learn when we try new things.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your generous advice.
I am just starting and it would be good to know I might avoid some of your mistakes.
I followed through here from kindleboards.
All the very best.
Kate Hamilton

Katie S said...

Pricing is a strange beast. Some people price at 0.99 and see immediate growth, while other price at 2.99 and 4.99 and have steady sales. I can't comment on this as I am still working around pricing myself. I'd love to hear your results.

@Bob Mayer

@Kate - Kindleboards is awesome!! Thanks for stopping by.

Tara Maya said...

Thank you so much, Katie, I learned a ton!

I'm also playing around with pricing. I have a sense that genre plays an important role in what works.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

J. R. Tomlin said...

Wow! That's quite a post. Very informative. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Katie Salidas said...

Glad you've found it helpful!!

Kavita said...

Katie, a very good piece. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

Kavita

Anonymous said...

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Robin Spano said...

This is good shit. You seem like a solid business person & I love how you share information. I admire people who go the indie route because I think you're paving a future where writers have more control of our careers. I look forward to following you and interacting more online.

mmshaunakelley said...

I really cannot thank you enough for this information! My first book was published through a small press, and am about to self-publish my second. I've learned a bit about promotional activities for social media (I am actually a marketer for a non-fiction press, so I know the traditional routes). But this is immensely helpful! Thank you so much.