You’ve done it. You’ve taken the plunge and invested yourself in independent publishing, and you’ve achieved a modicum of success but you want so much more! I get a lot of calls like this so I figured it would be a good topic to address here. Of course, everyone is different, but I do see some repeating patterns that make for good discussion. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in there somewhere.
There’s an apparent hierarchy among “indie” authors when viewed from afar. Essentially it includes those who are just starting out, or who have plateaued early, never achieving more than $1000 a month in ebook sales, and those who excel, which is defined by racking up thousands of Twitter followers and breaking the five digit monthly sales figure. For the purpose of this article I’m addressing the latter, BUT if you’re in the former group, pay attention because sooner or later it will apply to you too.
If you want to move up to a new level, in recognition and in sales, by building a broader reader base, here are some things you need to do:
Change your appearance. Too many authors cut corners in the areas of photographs, websites, promotional material and even personal appearances. If you want to be a bestselling author, you need to look like one. Make sure your promo photo is current, professional, and is included on your website. More than one would be nice. It doesn’t have to be posed in front of a blue screen, but it does need to be high resolution and professional in appearance. It also needs to look like you today, not 20 years ago. When you attend meetings or even when shopping, dress the part. I’m not saying you can’t run out to the grocery store in shorts, flip-flops and a pony tail while wearing no makeup, but I am saying sooner or later someone will recognize you when you do. There’s a fine line. Study to learn where it is. Go to the bestseller shelves at a local bookstore and check out the author photos in the books there. You’ll get the idea.
Professionalize your presentations. Homemade looking websites can be a huge detriment. You can work hard to create a professional sounding press release with all the right elements, then undo it in a second when the journalist who reads it clicks on your website and it looks like your teenaged neighbor did it as a computer project in school. Or when they click on it to get more information about the new release the press page announces, only to find the latest book showing on your site is a year old. Your website is you to a lot of people. Make sure it shows you in your best light, and that it is updated at least every month. In addition to making sure your website is top notch, be sure your press material is, too. You may opt to use a bio page and a book page, or to combine the two into a sell sheet. Basic info should include a short bio and photo of you, a description and purchase info of your latest title along with cover art, and a list of your previous works complete with ISBN numbers. Depending on where you’re sending this information you may or may not want to include links for purchase and/or discount info for booksellers. Proofread. Seriously.
Don’t rely on social media alone. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many other social media sites have been a huge help in affordable book promotion in recent years. Certainly don’t ignore them, but use them wisely, and sparingly. They’re also an enormous time suck, for lack of a more accurate term. Even in today’s market, approximately 70% of readers do not actively use social media so to neglect promotion outside of that realm is missing the mark. First of all, while Facebook author pages are great, and they have added some wonderful tools to help you sell your books, they shouldn’t take the place of a standard author website. I know many are opting to go that route, to save costs I assume, but it will reflect on the way you’re perceived within the industry, by journalists in particular but sometimes by book professionals as well. You might have noticed there is some snobbery involved (gasp). A good author website does not have to be expensive. It should include an author bio, a list and description of published books, a variety of fun and newsy items, a media page with downloadable bio, photos, cover art and press releases, an events page that is current, and maybe even a subscriber’s page, newsletter, link to a blog. Whatever you feel you’d like to share that will be attractive to your readers and keep them coming back and sharing your page.
Utilize a mainstream approach. Maybe using the term “indie” author helped you get where you are. But think carefully about how you’d ultimately like to be known. A bestselling indie author? A bestselling romance author? A bestselling suspense author? Or a bestselling author? A bestselling Christian author? An African American author? None of those are wrong, but obviously they aren’t all the same. In most cases when a self-published author comes to me wanting to increase exposure, the first thing we have to do is lose the “self-published” or “indie” designation. Understand that we’re not hiding anything. We’re just not magnifying it. In other words, you want to be judged on the basis of your writing, not on who your publisher is, or what genre your book is, or what ethnicity you are, etc. And while people will always tag us one way or another at times, it’s up to us to keep the focus where we want it to be.
One of the biggest hurdles today for indie authors involves getting mainstream reviews. Five years ago that was because none of the major reviewers would review a so-called “indie” title. Today they will, but many of them have pre-pub date deadlines that authors don’t want to meet. In today’s instant gratification market, once a manuscript is ready it goes immediately to formatting and publication. That used to take many months. Today it takes weeks at most. So nobody wants to sit on a ready manuscript for 4 months to meet the submission guidelines. I suggest that you bite it and delay release if you want a chance at having your romantic suspense title reviewed by Romantic Times. You don’t have to do it with every title, but it would be nice to add one of their reviews to your press kit wouldn’t it?
Find your niche and get in it. It’s true many of the mainstream organizations like RWA or MWA and so many more originally didn’t have a place for indie authors, and some still don’t readily accept independently published works in some of their conferences. I say join anyway and make yourself invaluable to the group on a local level. Change in any established organization almost always comes from the inside. It’s a wonderful way to network within the industry and make friends across the country who will buy, read and talk about your work. But like with most organizations, if you join only for what they will do for you, you won’t get much. If you really get involved and give to them, it will come back to you.
That’s probably plenty of info for now. I wish you well and I’d love to hear what you think. What are some other ways you’ve found to start taking your career to a new level?