It’s funny how so many people that hear you published a book scratch their chin, smile a bit and tell you they’ve been thinking about putting one together too. “I’ve got a great idea…there’s this_____”. Fill in the blank. For me, writing them is the fun part. Blasting words into the laptop down at the lake or acting out the dialogue somewhere quiet to make sure it sounds like something people would actually say…that’s all adrenalin for me. It’s the terrible part that happens after it’s done where so many hold our noses and dive in anyway. It’s the marketing. Selling it. Making people aware that a piece of you has been captured in the narrative; and it’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, waiting to change the world. I dove into that swamp in the Fall of 2015 knowing absolutely nothing about what to do next. It isn’t my intention here to tell anybody how to do it right because I’m no example to follow. It’s very likely, however that I can spare somebody from making the same sorts of mistakes. I’m actually really good at making mistakes.
When I typed the last sentence on a rainy beach in Maine, I was pretty pumped, of course. Who wouldn’t be? It’s huge to actually finish something that’d been stewing for that long. Look at that guy grinning…he has no clue what he’s in for. Anyway, I would have told you – should you have asked what’s next if you’re going independent – that you make the book as widely available as possible through Ingram Spark and Createspace, in electronic and paperback, set yourself up on social media, do a few giveaways, and start advertising. No problem. It’s a waiting game till the sales figures just start rolling in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience; and I’ve made some boneheaded moves you need to know about. I won’t get into the decision whether to go indie or to find an agent or whatever. Pros and cons to either, so read up on it and choose wisely.
- I published the book before getting any reviews on it from anyone, before submitting to any contests or major review houses, and before setting any presence of substance up on social media. Ouch and double ouch.
- With a new Adobe Creative Cloud membership, I learned Photoshop and made myself a slick cover that I loved and everyone in my family loved. Neither they nor I have the first clue about cover design or the marketing principles behind them. It looked terrible in a lineup with other books online and drew no attention whatsoever. Ouch again.
- I ran a paperback giveaway on Goodreads but only made 20 books available, listed the contest for way too short a time period, and made too little emphasis on securing the reviews afterwards with zero follow-up. Almost all those copies wound up for sale on Amazon.
- I spent entirely too much valuable time screwing around on Twitter and Facebook, and even spent money on a social media marketer. Zero payback. A money pit that echoes.
- I spent advertising money on Goodreads and Amazon though I had only two reviews. Anybody clicking through to the sell page just left because it looked so barren. I do the same thing when I’m on Amazon, should have thought of that. Didn’t.
Okay, that’s stressing me out so I’m going to stop right there. Anyway, through trial and error, deep research and conversations, and through reading up on what savvy marketing guys like Derek Murphy and Dave Chesson have to say about this, I’ve distilled some principles of indie success that I believe hold true. There are probably exceptions and folks who caught lightning by chance; but this is what I wish I could have handed to myself there on that Maine beach. Would have saved a lot of effort and made the whole thing more fun. Let’s call it the MCGRAW principles:
M for mainstream name recognition: If the public has heard of you, favorably or unfavorably, talent or no talent, irrespective of the quality of your work, you’re far more likely to sell books without even trying. It’s hard to leverage this one unless you’re willing to put the time and effort into guerilla marketing or through interviews to force it.
C is for the cover: Think about how you pick books yourself, even online. This is a big deal. Murphy outlines seven principles of effective covers here. The cover should look professional and should look like it belongs on the shelf next to similar books, like it’s in the club. Spend money on this. It’s worth it; and there are thousands of talented folks who will do it inexpensively. If nothing else, get a pre-made cover customized.
G is for the genre: You can see this spelled out for you on Amazon book count listings by genre or in places like Bookbub where they show how many people have signed up for science fiction freebies versus general literature or romance freebies. Lesbian vampires will make sales happen for you. Mythic and philosophical musings on historical eras probably won’t. Just know going in what your audience looks like and where they feed.
R is for reviews: You need at least ten of these. They’re extremely difficult to get, even from people who read and loved your work. Probably the majority of the reviews online were paid for somehow or achieved through connections. Disheartening, but true. Giveaways done properly are the right way to make this happen; but it takes timing, good publicizing, and personal follow-through. Don’t waste any time or effort getting people to your sell page if there are no reviews there.
A is for awards: Awards by themselves are a bit unlikely to sell your work unless it’s one of the biggies. Snake oil salesmen are out in force trying to rape indie publishers with awards right now, so beware. However, awards will apparently push people who are on the fence over to the side where they spend money.
W is for word of mouth: Advertising can fall here, sure; but any way you can get people talking about you or the work will make it rain for you. Influential book blogs can help here. Being on even a local tv appearance can help. Generating buzz through charitable or newsworthy events can help. There are no end of strategies you can read about online of how to force this.
So there you go. At least, that’s my take on it. Painful lessons. Good experience. Listen to people who screw up a lot. They know things.