So, this past weekend was Balticon 49, and, as always, it was a lovely (albeit exhausting) time. It’s great to catch up with old friends, but I had something else I took away this year from the experience. On Monday, the last day of the con, I had the extreme pleasure of being part of a panel on how to stand out as a self-published author when everyone is self-publishing. Now, I’m not sure I’m a foremost authority on this, but I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of some basics, and the other four people on the panel generally agreed with what I had to say and added bits of their own that left me nodding in firm agreement. So here’s the gist of the discussion distilled down for you.
If you ask me, I’ll always say that marketing is my least favorite part of this gig. I just want to write stories and make pretty covers and have people read my books. Unfortunately, because I don’t have a massive PR machine behind me, I also have to wear the publicity hat as well. If I don’t tell people about my books, no one will. Thousands upon thousands of titles are published EVERY MONTH on Amazon, and it’s really hard to get noticed in a sea of a million flailing authors. That’s just facts. So, what’s an author to do?
The minute you press publish on a title and ask people for money for it, it becomes a business, plain and simple. That’s not glamorous or fun, but if you ever expect to see reviews or get loyal readers, you have to treat it that way. That was one of the biggest points discussed on this panel. So many authors are failing to look at self-publishing the way you’d look at a business, and that’s a huge issue that’s causing the stigmas surrounding self-publishing to persist. The truth is that there is no sure-fire method of climbing the charts, or making thousands of dollars a month. Marketing “tricks” that work change daily, monthly, and yearly. What worked well for your last release, might not work for the next one.
But you know what will?
Consistent quality in your work.
Every last person on that panel agreed 100% that the best investment an author can make in their work is in the editing and cover. Wisely choosing who you work with for those services can make or break your book. I’ve long since lost track of how many people I know that have decided to start up services for self-publishing authors, and it’s incredibly difficult to know who is and isn’t worth the money (this is not to say that the people I know who are service providers aren’t worth what they charge, as I’ve happily recommended quite a few of them when asked, it’s more a statement on the proliferation of this). The panel put forth some tips to the audience for choosing who to work with, and I’m sharing that now because it was good, solid advice.
- Shop around. Compare prices for the service you’re looking at, keeping in mind your budget and timeframe.
- Scrutinize the heck out of their portfolio/client list, looking at quality for the money they’re charging.
- Contact people they’ve worked with in the past and gather honest opinions on their work.
- Look over the terms of agreement the service provider has and check for any red flags. Trust your gut if something seems off.
- Contact the service provider in the method they prefer as stated on their websites. Talk to them as you would any professional, and not as a friend (even if they are your friend, still be sure to treat them as a professional). If their communications with you send up concerns, back away quickly. As before, trust your gut if something seems off.
Ensuring you put out the best possible product is going to help you immensely on your way to getting return customers. Publishing a story with a killer cover and excellent editing is the best way to make a lasting impression. Do it right the first time, and you won’t have to contend with bad reviews that persist after you’ve fixed things and re-published.
Reviews were another topic covered, and, honestly, none of us had really good answers for that. Blog tours were discussed a bit, and, in my opinion, that’s generally a good way to get a handful of coveted reviews to start with. A GoodReads giveaway for multiple paperbacks and sending out electronic Advanced Reader Copies are other helpful tools. There’s no trick or secret I can pass on that’s 100% reliable, however. The harsh truth is that of all the people that buy your book, only a small percentage will leave a review. It’s very frustrating for authors across the board. Mostly you just cross your fingers and hope for the best.
I mentioned Teaser Tuesday, and we discussed that a bit. I’m still surprised to see so many people haven’t heard of it and don’t use it. It’s another cheap and quick tool everyone agreed can offer a quick bump if done right. For more information on that topic, check out this post I wrote a while back on how to create teaser images effectively.
The biggest tip I can pass on from the panel (aside from the quality writing/editing/cover bit), is to be authentic and memorable in your marketing efforts. NO ONE wants to be spammed with BUY MY BOOK links every 5 minutes (3 times a day was roughly considered the max for blatant promo), and DEFINITELY do not directly message people with advertisements, asking for purchases or likes. Social media is for being social, not for smacking people in the face with your book. Remember: people who genuinely like you are more likely to read your work if they connect with your personality. Don’t be gross or a jerk, and you’ll find far more success that way.
Another solid tip: utilizing community. I’ve discussed this one before, so you can check out why I think it’s such a vital component in any author’s marketing toolbox in this post here.
Most important to remember in all of this, is that it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Writing full-time (which is every writer’s dream, almost without exception) is a long-tail goal. Don’t get discouraged if your first, second, or fifth book doesn’t fly off the shelves. Appreciate the small victories and work towards the next realistic goal. If you’re consistently putting out better work every time, continuing to grow as a writer, and making investments in yourself (monetarily or otherwise), it’s not outside the realm of possibility you can find the success you want. There are all sorts of little things to try that may boost your visibility for a day or a week or a month, but they’re usually very fleeting. Enjoy the highs and don’t let the lows dissuade you from your path.
So that’s today’s lecture on how to be a good author. Good luck, and, as always, I welcome any other tips you can share in the comments!