Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tips for Succeeding as a Self-Published Author

Dani’s blog post last week was fun, but she asked one question to which I’ll respond directly:

"I mean, how hard can it be to sit down and put a few words together?”

She should have asked, “How hard can it be to put a few words together that people will want to read?"  Most writers want their work to be read; a lot of us harbor the notion that people might pay to read our work. As those who have tried it can attest, it’s harder than Dani thought.

Know why you write.

To improve your odds of success as a writer, you need to understand why you want to write.

If you’re like me, you want to sell the books you write.  Getting paid for the hundreds of hours of work that’s involved in writing a book is important; it's making a living. It’s also a source of satisfaction, a sign that your art resonates with other people.

If you’re pursuing writing for the sake of fulfilling your artistic desire, your motivation may be different. You may not feel a need to be paid for your writing, and you may not care whether the reading public likes what you write.

Writing is a job.

Decide whether writing is a business or a hobby. Either is acceptable, but hobbies rarely pay the bills. If writing is a business for you, commit yourself to work at it. That means that you must allocate time to writing as your schedule permits and that you must write during those times, whether you feel like it or not. Writer’s block and lack of inspiration aren’t acceptable excuses for not doing your job.

Write what people want to read.

Recognize that writing is only a part of the job. You have to write material that people want to read. What you can sell may not be what you want to write. Until you have a few books published, you won’t know what you can sell. You’ll only be able to guess at it based on what other people are selling.

To make a living, you will always be working on the next book and refining it based on what you’ve learned from the previous ones.

Writing is only the first step.

We all need editors.

You can pay someone or not, but a vicious reader with a red pen is what you want. Be careful about your choice -- the only way to evaluate an editor is by seeing their work. Don’t be afraid to test them before you hire them, and don't hire one who fails to catch common errors in grammar and punctuation.

Package your product.

Don’t underestimate the importance of an eye-catching, enticing cover.  Be prepared to change your cover if a book doesn't sell.  It's as easy as uploading a file.

Format your content. What you see in your word processor isn’t what you’ll see in an ereader or in print. Easy-to-follow instructions are available; read them and follow them. Preview your work online and then run it through every different ereader package you can find. Make it look good on every screen.

Publish in paperback.  You may not sell very many copies in print, but the availability of a print version of your book gives you just a bit more credibility.  You can do this online without any up-front cost if you shop with care.  Follow the formatting instructions from your chosen vendor and use their online proofing tools to make sure the interior looks as it should before you order a proof.

A good product description is essential to selling your book.  It's easy to adjust the product description if the book isn't selling, but try to get it right the first time.

Price is a critical element of the package as well.  Resist the urge to underprice or overprice your work. Look at prices for similar books that are well up in the sales rankings.

There are many firms that will handle all or part of the packaging for you. If you decide to pay someone, use caution; make sure you understand what you are buying, and don’t give away the rights to your work.

Market your book.

Once your book is available, tell everyone you know, by every means at hand. There are plenty of articles on how to release books in ways that "beat the system."  Read them, but make your own decisions. This is a long-term process; gamesmanship may get you a quick start, but sustained sales are the key to building a business.

Spend money on online advertising.  It's less expensive than you think.  Don't expect each ad to pay for itself.  You want the cumulative effect of broad visibility.  That's more important than an immediate, short term spike in sales.  Allocate a percentage of your sales to paid advertising once you have an established revenue stream, however small it is.

You need reviews. The reviews you want are short, one or two sentence comments from real live readers, not lengthy, analytical reviews from a supposed expert. Ask outright at the end of your book. Beg. “If you enjoyed this book, please leave a short review on Amazon. You can’t imagine how important that is to an independent author like me. It’s the primary means I have of finding new readers. A moment of your time may help someone else to find the pleasure that I hope you found in reading my work."

There’s a lot of advice on the web about using social media to "engage" with your readers. Do what you’re comfortable doing. Don’t expect that activity on Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites, and blogs will generate a lot of sales, but don't discount the need for online presence, either.

The best way to "engage" with your readers is to keep showing them good books to read. That’s what they want from you — entertainment. If they read faster than you write, and most of them do, recommend books similar to yours by authors whose work you’ve enjoyed. The more you do that, the more quickly your own base of readers will expand. I like recommending other authors who recommend my work.  I don’t have explicit agreements with them.  Just do it; word gets around, and people reciprocate.

Get back to work!

Some people hate the marketing aspect of being self-published, others thrive on it. It’s part of the job. It’s also a distraction.

The best, never-fail, red-hot way to sell more books is to write more books.  I need to sign off now and go finish Bluewater Rendezvous. Dani and Liz and their fans are waiting. Thanks for visiting.


Nichole Hall said...

Wow. I knew a lot went into writing, editing, publishing and marketing, but to see it all written out like this is daunting. But you have a done a good job describing the essentials and the purpose behind each one. Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Great post. You've done a great job illuminating all the aspects of being an author.

Author Bob Nailor said...

Excellent article/post. You didn't hide any secrets. There is work involved in writing and it doesn't end with typing "The End" on the first pass. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I have taken the step toward publishing my work for money. I know that there are writers out there that think that means I've somehow sold out to the world. But I believe Art has value beyond the metaphysical. It enriches the world and that is worth something.

Elyse Salpeter said...

I have not found that magic ticket yet on what to do to sell books consistently - I keep thinking I'm everywhere, but maybe I'm really "nowhere." Sigh...

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