I’ve considered myself a professional writer for a little over three years now, and I’ve learned a great deal about the publishing industry in that time. Much of how I think and what I do as an independently published author parallels the experiences of my traditionally published friends, but there are also significant things that set this path apart.
A wise friend in the business gave me some good advice early on. She said, “For an indie author, publishing a book is more like a marathon than a sprint.” Now, a few years and a few projects in, I have a better understanding of what she meant.
The sales model is different for indies. Indies shouldn’t focus on brick and mortar bookstore sales because there’s no mechanism to access that market. Publishing houses have the distribution channels and sales teams that indies don’t. Instead, indies market and sell directly to readers, bypassing bookstores in favor of online or in-person sales. It’s important to use this information to our advantage, and to understand the implications of it in our planning.
This guest post is by Tabitha Lord. Lord lives in Rhode Island, a few towns away from where she grew up. She is married, has four great kids, two spoiled cats, and a lovable black lab. She holds a degree in Classics from College of the Holy Cross and taught Latin for years at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School. She also worked in the admissions office there before turning her attention to full-time writing. You can visit her blog at tabithalordauthor.com where she hosts guest bloggers, and discusses some favorite topics including parenting and her writing journey. She released her first novel, Horizon, in December 2015. It won the Grand Prize for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards in 2016. The sequel to Horizon, Infinity, released this June.
Here are some big picture suggestions for indies to consider when creating a marketing and sales strategy from pre-launch onward:
Build and maintain a vigorous author platform.
There’s a ton of information out there on building an author platform so I’m not going to cover that here, but I mention it because, for indies especially, it's necessary. Remember, we market and sell directly to our readers, so our readers have to be able to find and connect with us, and we need a vibrant platform from which to present our work.
By the time I released my first novel, I’d been building my author platform for a full year. I’d established a solid social media presence and tended to my online community with regularity. I had a handle on what my author brand looked like, and I was having fun blogging on my own website and writing for a book review/interview site called Book Club Babble. When my book released, I had the means to connect with my potential readers through the network I’d been creating.
Put energy into pre-orders, but realize this is only the first step in sales.
For traditionally published authors, a book’s success can hinge on early sales. Much attention is given to garnering pre-orders in hopes of pushing a book onto a bestseller list during release week. Strong pre-sales also encourage retailers to order more books, and it certainly builds momentum towards the book’s launch.
For an indie this is important, too. Pre-orders and a strong launch matter, but an indie can and should orchestrate ongoing promotions, and employ a creative, long-lasting marketing strategy, imagining the book’s launch as one among several opportunities.
Having said that, the pre-publication phase should be an active and busy time. Here are some ways to create momentum:
- Put the book on Net Galley for early reviews.
- Get the book set up for pre-order on the major outlets and promote it on your author platforms.
- Consider a cover reveal promotional.
- Be sure to have the book listed on Goodreads so early reviews can be posted. (Amazon does not allow reviews before the publication date)
- Consider giving away the first chapter to entice subscribers to your mailing list.
Once my book released, I had a party and celebrated! Then, after taking a few days off to bask in the glow of this accomplishment, I went to work again.
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Plan a book tour. Attend signing events.
For indies, time and money are considerations. After all, no one is going to pay to send us on a cross-country book tour! But meeting people and making in-person connections can be invaluable, and they create career-long relationships with readers. See what opportunities exist in your community.
With my first book, I attended every signing opportunity offered by area libraries and bookstores, and those hosted by my local writers organization. I soon recognized that I needed to be a bit more economical with my time, and focused my attention on select events. As a science fiction writer, I thought my people might hang out at Comic Cons so I bought a table at a few and had excellent success. Find out where your audience is likely to be and focus your time and energy there.
Easier and cheaper than travel, virtual tours promote your book to a wide circle, since obviously the Internet crosses geographical lines! Not all tours are created equal though, so be sure to do your research. Your book should be featured on blogs where readers of that blog enjoy your genre. And do interact with readers who took the time to comment on your work.
You have control over your backlist titles, the timing of releases and promotions, and the price of your book. Think strategically!
When I’m asked why I decided to publish independently, I can answer honestly with one word: control. Not that I wanted to shortcut quality or put a book into the world before it was ready, but I felt empowered when I understood that I was in charge of every aspect of the publication and marketing process. Here are some ways to use the control you have to your best advantage:
- Use pricing as a marketing tool. You are free to price your books competitively. Research the best selling price point for e-books, print books, and audio books in your genre and set accordingly.
- Backlists titles are a powerful marketing tool. Keep putting out content. More content creates more momentum. New releases will guide readers toward your backlist. If you feel a backlist title hasn’t reached its market potential, breathe some new life into it. Repackage a series into a box set. Give an older title a shiny new cover.
- Use discounts in your promotional plans. During the pre-release of my second book, I ran a couple of discounts on the first, using services like E-reader News and The Fussy Librarian to help promote them. Discounting an older title can hook readers onto your work and drive them toward purchasing your newest title. I definitely recommend using discount services, but, as with blog tours, do your research. None will guarantee results, but some are far more effective than others.
- Think creatively and strategically about timing. For example, while I was away selling and signing at the Big Apple Con in NYC, I ran an e-book promotional. Horizon, my first book, finally hit the Amazon bestseller list a year after publication while I was in NYC.
I haven’t fully tapped my market yet, and I’m learning new strategies all the time, but I know I still have time, and certainly plenty of opportunity. As indies, we don’t have large distribution channels and sales teams at our disposal, but we do have control. We also have creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance. And we have the collective experiences of our community to draw from. Remember it really is a marathon, not a sprint!
If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at firstname.lastname@example.org.