Part One: Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-evaluate
Part Two: Sales Targets & Solid Foundations
Part Three: The Marketplace, Your Product & You
Part Four: Branding – Why Your Book Cover Matters
Part V – Top Five Marketing Dos & Don’ts
Welcome to Part V, the fifth and last installment of this series. Today we’re going to cover reviews, social-media and even working with publishers. Yup, this post is a biggie. And whether you’re a first-time indy-publisher or veteran, I hope I’ve helped shed a more positive light on the prospect of publishing and marketing yourself.
You can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I have one last assignment for you. Follow successful writers, see what they do, ask them questions. That’s what I did. Indy writers are the most approachable people around. So approach them!
In the meantime, I thought I’d leave you with some hard-learned life-lessons: here’s my top-five marketing dos and don’ts.
No one likes to be the first to a party.
I haven’t mentioned the importance of reviews yet (I’ve kind of been saving this part). I like to think of reviews as the cherry on top of the sundae. Without that cherry, the sundae might taste just as sweet and yummy, but it will look, well, rather sad.
Same goes for your Amazon book page: without reviews, your Amazon page will always appear ho-hum. People want that cherry, they expect it. They want to go where the action is. But, just like walking into an empty night club, when shoppers see a book page without reviews, they hear crickets.
Before you launch, send out as many pre-release copies as you can. Make it crystal clear you’re looking for reviews. Friends and family are your first, best targets. And we all know plenty of writers. Ask them for reviews, too. Do whatever you have to, but do it!
Then, on launch day, beg these people to post on Amazon. Amazon.com is your top priority, as this is where most readers will find you. Reviews on a book blog are fine, but Amazon is where people are shopping.
The day you publish, your book will automatically appear across Amazon, at the very least in the New Release lists. People will see your book, and when they do, make sure they see a book with some serious five-star reviews beside it.
People can search by reviews. Remember that.
Don’t give bad reviews to other writers. You’re a writer and publisher now, and that means you must give up the mantle of critic. Plus it’s a total conflict of interest, not to mention unprofessional. Slamming another writer comes across as petty and superior. Bottom line: it’s a lousy way to garner support and good feelings from the community.
I will only ever give a five star review to another writer-friend who asks for a review. If a writer wants my feedback, I’ll give it to them privately in an email. Publicly, I only post five star reviews. The rest of the internet is lining up to beat us down and stomp on our necks. If we can’t be bothered to support one another, who will?
Five star reviews are gold.
Don’t kid yourself. When it comes to giving another writer-friend a five star review, your integrity as a human being is not at stake.
Be supportive. Get support.
#2 Social Media
Screaming into the black abyss. Is anybody listening?
Social media is the most misunderstood tool we have at our disposal. If we’re not tweeting to the choir (people who’ve already bought our books), we’re screaming into a bottomless pit of white noise.
Want to tweet to 100k people? You can do that. Want 10k new Facebook “fans”? For $25 I can point you to a number of companies who can arrange that, too. Basically, for a few bucks you can be a social media star—and still not sell any books.
Because none of those people are listening.
Tweeting, blogging and posting book-links is never going to showcase your book to the casual shoppers you need to attract.
So what do we do?
Think like a casual shopper.
Casual shoppers aren’t trolling twitter-feeds looking for something to read. And if they are combing through book-blogs, which ones? It’s impossible for you to hit them all. You would need a staff of publicists working full time to have any chance of making this work. Leave that (expensive) strategy to the big trads. They have the staff, they have the bucks, and they know which sites and publications to hit.
For us indy-types, it’s much easier to go after the casual shopper where they are, and right now casual shoppers are on Amazon, which is why I place so much importance on your writing, your branding and your packaging. I publish on Amazon exclusively, and I make extensive use of every marketing tool Amazon has to offer. I urge you to do the same. But don’t take my word for it, just go look at the long list of successful indy-authors who do go exclusive.
Read their blogs. See what they have to say. I did, and I’m glad.
So, if social media is lousy at selling books, what is social media good for?
Social media is for your fans!
Twitter, Facebook, your website and blog, these are the places where people who have read your book will go to follow you. The strength of social media is that it allows you to interact with them.
These people want to know what’s new, what’s coming. They want to know how your writing is going and when your next book is launching. Tell them!
Stop bombarding your fans with book-links. Your fans already have your book! Nothing will tune people out faster than endless streams of book-links.
Engage your fans on a personal level and you will have fans for life.
Have patience. It takes time to build a following. It took me two years to generate an eMailing list of 100 actual fans.
Don’t think 100 is significant? Keep in mind, the people who signed up for my newsletter did so all by themselves, with no bribing, freebies or giveaways. And when I write to them (which isn’t often, as I don’t want to pester them) they respond—big time!
These kinds of fans are hardcore, and keeping in touch with hardcore fans is key. When you launch a book, it’s your hardcore fans that will be your day-one shoppers, and those day-one shoppers can launch you like a rocket up the best-seller lists. Once you’re on one list, you’ll quickly find yourself on another, and another after that. That’s how Amazon works (and why it rocks).
This is what social media is for. Have patience. Play the long game. Nurture your readers. Cherish your fans. Take the time to show them how much you appreciate them.
Self-publishing isn’t a last resort, it’s an opportunity.
More importantly, it’s a business opportunity.
Treat your writing as a business. That means, sales and revenue projections, budgeting, deadlines (the ones I keep missing), the works. You’re not a writer anymore, you’re an entrepreneur.
Everything you do has value. Your time is not free. Your time is an investment, it’s an investment in your business and in yourself. It’s right for you to expect a return on that investment.
Find your weaknesses and fix them. Find your strengths and exploit them.
Just like we had to learn to write, we have to develop our skills in marketing. It takes time. Give yourself a break.
#4 Working With Publishers
Publishers are partners, not shortcut solutions.
Did you skim over that last part about professionalism? Go back and read it again, because you’re going to need it here. Especially the part about your hard work having value.
Signing with a publisher means taking on a partner. It doesn’t mean handing over creative and marketing control to a third party just because they said they want to publish you, and your head exploded.
Online publishers are a dime-a-dozen. They are out there, and they are circling like sharks. Many of them will offer you a deal without ever reading your book. If it doesn’t sell, they lose nothing. The wrong publisher will bury you.
Make informed choices. The more you know, the better a deal you can make for yourself.
Have some confidence in yourself. Your work has value.
If you really want a publisher then get one who will work for you. Look for ones with a smaller roster and a proven track record of signing best-selling writers.
Know exactly what help you need. Ask yourself, what can this publisher do that you can’t do (or learn to do) yourself? The answer might surprise you.
Remember, uploading, formatting, setting up print-on-demand, even hiring editors and designers, these are all things you can easily do, or learn to do, yourself.
Only sign with a publisher that brings a different tool-set to the table.
Never give away your royalties. Not without getting something substantial in return. If you owned a restaurant, would you give 70% of your business to someone who wanted to partner with you?
It’s the same with your book. Your book royalties are your equity stake. Your time and all your hard work has value. I can’t stress this enough.
Don’t sell yourself short.
Only sign with a publisher you’re confident will grow your business. This is important.
If I sign with a publisher (lets say, a small online press that doesn’t offer an advance), I’ll need to grow my business by at least two, if not three times over what I can do on my own. It will need to grow that much, because that’s how much equity I’m giving away. If sales don’t triple with a publisher, I’m losing potential money.
Remember when I asked you to set a sales target? Think about that now. Is your goal to sell 1000, 10,000, or maybe even 100,000? How much net revenue will that generate? That number is your potential income.
Okay, now slash that number by 70% or more (Amazon takes 30% and your publisher will want at least 50% of what’s leftover).
So if I think I can sell 10,000 on my own, what do I gain if I’m still selling 10,000 with a publisher? Nothing. I’m losing money. And what exactly are they doing that you can’t? If you know, tell me! I want to hear it.
This is why I want you to set realistic sales goals. To protect yourself. Discuss your sales goals with your publisher. If they don’t have a sales-target—one that’s based on their experience in the marketplace, real sales-data, and a thorough knowledge of your book—run.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your book-brand is worth less if you’re self-published. Nobody’s paying attention to who’s uploading you. Shoppers have embraced indy-books, and the best-seller lists are there to prove it.
When would I consider a publisher? When I look at the things I can’t do. Things like a national distribution deal for paperbacks and hardcovers, reviews in major newspapers and publications, tours for book-signings, events and festivals across the country. Film deals, licensing deals! The list goes on.
But these days most publishers won’t do that (not for me). It’s too great a risk, and they have to be very careful as to which horse they back.
Certainly, there are plenty of reasons to sign with a publisher. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right ones.
Don’t sell yourself short.
#5 No Half-Measures
Nobody said this was going to be easy. But if you’re going to do it, then do it! No half-measures. Take it all the way and give it everything you’ve got, because if you don’t, then who will?
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible, that there are “too many books out there,” or that it’s a crap-shoot, or that you can’t succeed. That’s all crap.
I don’t have time for the doubters and nay-sayers and neither should you.