Posted in Book Marketing | Posted on 18-06-2014|
Sometimes when you give publishing and marketing advice on your blog, you get a little resistance from new self publishers. But you’ve been doing this for 3+ years. You have a fan base already. You have heaps of books out already, so you’re not a nobody. It’s way different for people starting now!
I’m not going to argue that it’s not different. There are more ebooks in the Kindle store than ever. The gaming-the-system tricks that might have worked in the past aren’t working now. For self published books, the blurbs, cover art, and sample chapters are, on average, more professional than they were a few years ago. It is harder to stand out.
There are a heck of a lot more readers willing to try novels by independent authors these days. There’s still a stigma toward self publishing, but it’s a much smaller stigma than it used to be. More blogs are willing to accept submissions from indie authors. Oh, and there are a lot more options for advertising your ebooks. When I got started, there was Kindle Nation Daily, and that was it. And I never did manage to break even with a KND ad. Today, you have everything from Bookbub (which can move a tremendous number of books in a day, if you can get accepted) to scads of smaller reader-centered blogs and mailing lists. Not all of them are great, but lots of them can help with sales and name recognition, at least a little.
I also keep coming across success stories from people who just started. Last year, I interviewed Sue London (historical romance) and Leeland Artra (epic fantasy) who both did extremely well right out of the gate. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone on Kboards was talking about how she made $50,000 and sold 100,000 in her first four months of publishing.
So it is possible to get started today and hit it big… or just gradually build up a fan base while writing and publishing what you love (this is all I’ve ever done).
What I would do if I were starting fresh today
This is actually not academic. For a handful of reasons, I’m going to launch a series under a pen name in another month or so. (I’m about 60,000 words into the first draft of the first book now.) Thus I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do. I listen to tons of podcasts and follow other people’s success stories, so I’ve heard a lot of the what’s-working-now stories over and over, and, of course, I have my own experiences to draw upon as well.
For the genre (more of a sub-genre) I’ll be writing in, it’s definitely niche. It’s less popular than epic fantasy and much less popular than contemporary/urban fantasy. In other words, I’ll be doing this for the love it it — and because I am frustrated by the lack of what I consider quality fiction that I really enjoy reading in that sub-genre. I’ll also be doing it in between writing novels under my regular name, so I won’t be going at this as gung-ho as someone who can publish a new novel every 4 weeks might. I’m not currently planning to disclose the new pen name to my current readers, other than a handful of folks I’ve come to know via Twitter and the EE chat room, people I know happen to like reading books in this sub-genre. I may make things more public later, but there’s a part of me that wants to stay incognito with this alter ego, at least in the beginning.
So essentially… I’ll be like most starting-out writers.
Here’s the plan:
- Write in a series — No surprise here. We’ve long talked about the power of a series to entice readers to come back for the next novel. I won’t have the same main characters in each novel (which may make things less of an auto-buy for readers), but they’ll at least be set in the same world, with former main characters popping up as side characters in other adventures.
- Make each ebook a complete story — Serials have been very effective for authors (i.e. breaking up a larger work into six or eight episodes of 15,000-30,000 words and ending them with cliff-hangers, so readers are enticed to buy the next one), but I’m seeing a lot of reader resistance to these tactics nowadays. Even though the serial has a long history, people are seeing it as a marketing scheme now and leaving less than stellar reviews for authors who publisher shorter works with cliff-hangers. That doesn’t mean they can’t still work (the Kboards author I linked to above used a serial to get rolling), but my philosophy is to try and make people feel like they got a good deal when they bought one of my books, and telling a complete story is going to continue to be part of that strategy. (Yes, I’ve done cliff-hangers in the past, but rarely without wrapping up the main storyline for that piece and/or writing a full novel in the process.)
- Write stories that are original but that also fit solidly into the expectations of my chosen sub-genre — This is something I’ve always struggled with as an author. Even though my novels aren’t exactly avant-garde, they never really fit into the formulas for any particular genre. My artistic side just always wants to be a little different. I plan to keep my quirks and originality in the new series (how not?), but I also, for once, want to write stories that do fit in with what else has been written in the genre.
- Start with a 99-cent or free novella and a full-length novel ($2.99 or $3.99) — The “loss leader” novella will be designed to get people to check out the novel. Ideally, I’d start out with three full-length novels, making the first one cheap, and releasing them about 30 days apart, as that’s one of the big ways I see new authors building momentum quickly. But, I have other things I want to write at the same time, and my regular fantasy offerings are what pay the bills. This will be a side project, likely with negligible income for the first 6-12 months, and to expect otherwise would be delusional. (One of the things I think some new self-publishers struggle with is high expectations, possibly fueled by the success stories around the net.)
- Make sure the cover is awesome and in line with other covers in the sub-genre — Because this category isn’t very big, there are few traditionally published books in it, so most of the offerings are self-published. There are some good covers, but there are a lot of hokey ones too. I hope to nail it with the cover, so it’ll draw eyes from the start. I’m probably going to hit up one of my current cover designers, but I may also try 99 Designs again (I did this for Balanced on the Blade’s Edge). Even though I had more misses than hits with the offerings there, there were a few very professional ones, and I liked being able to pick from numerous covers.
- Give KDP Select a try for the first 90 days of new releases — I don’t think this is that important in anyone’s launch strategy, but it’s not something I’ve ever done, because the program requires exclusivity and because I already had readers at other stores when it came along. Since nobody knows about these books, nobody will be waiting for them; nobody will be disappointed when they don’t show up at Barnes & Noble and Kobo right away. I plan to try KDP Select to see if I make any money from the lending library and also to schedule countdown deals for promotions.
- Bust my butt to get early reviews of the novella and first novel — This is one of the toughest things when you’re starting out and don’t have a fan base, so nobody’s buying the books yet. More reviews come with more sales, but getting those sales without reviews is next to impossible. When I released the first Emperor’s Edge book and Encrypted (my two early, pre-audience novels), I went to the various forums (Kboards, Nook Boards, and MobileRead) and posted the blurb and a link to the sample where it was allowed, then offered free review copies to anyone who was interested. Since I don’t want to make new forum accounts and new social media accounts for my pen name (I would if I weren’t already doing all of this for my regular name), this will be kind of tough. Gotta stay incognito, after all. My exception may be to make a Facebook fan page and spend $50 advertising on Facebook that I have some free review copies to give away. We’ll see! I will also ask for reviews in the backs of the books (I don’t always do this, but, all other things being equal, I always get more reviews on books when I do).
- Buy advertising — Not every indie author has money to burn in the beginning, but since I’m not willing to do the social media game with the pen name, this is how I’m going to to try and build awareness of my books. (When starting a business — and this author thing really is a business these days — you generally need either time or money to make things happen early on. Some people spend a lot of time pimping their book creatively — quotations, giveaways, contests, etc., — on social media, and some people buy ads.) This is why those early reviews are super important. Not only are they social proof for potential buyers, but you often need XX number of reviews with a 4+ star average to qualify for sponsorships on the good reader blogs.
- Approach book bloggers or sign up for a book blog tour — Even though this genre is super niche, I do know of some small book blogs that cover it. I honestly have never gotten much out of blog appearances in the past, except for links back to my site (useful for SEO and gradually getting more search engine traffic to your pages) and reviews. Reviews aren’t usually guaranteed, but they do sometimes happen if you send the blogger your book as part of your tour stop. Since reviews are, as I’ve already covered, super important, I’m planning to at least do a book tour for the first book in this series.
- Start a mailing list — I don’t want to start a big website and a blog for this new persona — too much work for too little of a pay off (I do sell books as a result of my blogging efforts here, but I’ve generally found the WIBBOW rule to be in effect; Would I Be Better Off Writing… the next book instead of sinking time into blogging? Most likely, yes). I will, however, put up a static website (probably only a handful of pages) with information about the books and a prominently displayed newsletter sign-up form. I might offer a free short story that’s not available anywhere else as an incentive for people to sign up.
All right, those are the big plans for now. Want to hear how it all goes? Bookmark my site and come back in a couple of months. (You can come back every week, if you like, but I plan to post some updates for Project Pen Name after I have the novella and novel out.) Also, if there’s anything else you’re sure I should check into, or if you just want to share your own experience, please leave a comment.
Thanks for reading!