- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- How to Write
Indie Author: My Journey
I'm an Indie Author and I love it!
Now is possibly the best time ever to be a writer. We have more control and autonomy than ever before. Many doors are opening for us if we're willing to reach out and open them.
The only trouble with being an indie author is that you have to reach your audience all by yourself.
A lot of us are not natural marketers and feel self-conscious and embarrassed to try to promote ourselves. We don't want to be vain and full of ourselves.
Below you'll find a link to my page about various marketing ideas that you could try for your book, but this page is going to be about my personal journey and exactly what I've done to start marketing my books.
I don't ordinarily talk about being an "indie" author. I am simply an author. How I published is not the point. I decided to tell this story to illustrate one possible path to publication. One of the stars of indie publishing, John Locke, said something that really caught my attention. He said that self-publishing is the only arena in which people are looked down on for being entrepreneurs. We supply all the resources, investing our own money and time and energy and are often not respected for putting so much of ourselves into a project that we love and believe in. The fact is, I worked hard on my books and they sink or swim based on their own merits, as judged by readers.
You could waste your entire life waiting for validation from traditional publishers
I knew I wanted to be a novelist from the time I was around thirteen years old. I went to college certain about what I was going to do. I majored in writing and went on to graduate school in a writing MFA program.
These programs teach one particular journey to publication. They believe in literary fiction and will look at you like you're a sad, crass, uneducated person if you want to write in any genre (romance, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, thriller, etc.) Mostly what I learned in school was how to feel superior and look down on people who didn't write what I wrote.
Literary fiction is still of great interest to me, but after I got out of school I discovered that I liked genre fiction. I enjoy zany chick lit and sweet love stories and exciting thrillers.
I also discovered that trying to sell a novel in the traditional way can be a soul crushing experience.
I had spent ten years writing and polishing an intense novel about sexuality and I quickly found that no one believed it had a market. It was too shocking for some and too vanilla for others. I knew there were people who wanted my story, though. Others like me.
You could waste your entire life waiting for validation from the big guys. After two hundred rejections that were like someone telling me my baby was worthless, I needed to get the book out of my system. I had poured my heart into it, and no one could figure out where it belonged. I went the self-publishing route in 2009.
I've had an interesting experience so far and I look forward to telling you all about it!
What not to do
In 2000 I had looked briefly at vanity presses, knowing that they were not traditional publishers and I was not going to get any editing or support or help. The cost at iUniverse at the time was $99. Seemed reasonable enough to get a paperback produced. This was Print-on-Demand technology (POD), which means that you don't have to pay for warehousing a few thousand copies of your book, they only print it when someone buys one. In 2009 when I was ready with my book, the price had gone up to $800.
That gave me pause. It was my entire savings account. I had graduate school debt from an MFA program that I had not paid off. I was working answering phones for FreeCreditReport.com at $8/hour.
Nonetheless, I decided to go for it. I paid the money and got my book produced.
I now know there are easier and much cheaper ways to do it. iUniverse still frequently calls in the middle of the day while I'm at work to try to talk me into buying more of their services, pay for their marketing, etc. If I want to order a few copies of my books to give to people I don't get a discount unless I pay for at least ten of them. Every time they call I explain again that I wiped out my entire savings account to give them the initial money and I have no intention of giving any more. They should be making money out of the cut they take of every sale of the book, not by convincing me to give up more and more of my own money out of pocket.
So, where do I suggest you go? Createspace.com is Amazon's POD service. You can get your book produced for free, you create your own cover from their template (or make/purchase your own), and you get a major discount for any copies you buy. You can pay a little extra to get better royalty payments and I chose to do that with my second book.
If it's important to you to be your own publishing house and have your own ISBNs, etc. you can go directly to Lightning Source, which is the producer all the PODs use. I haven't done that, CreateSpace felt a lot simpler for me. More information if you want to become your own publishing company: Publishing Start Up (this is not my page, it's the page of a person who did create her own publishing company)
Paperback sales is not where the money is for indie authors. eBook sales are turning several indie authors into big enough successes that they are able to quit their day jobs.
I'm sorry I waited as long as I did to get on the eBook wagon. People kept suggesting I put my book on Kindle, but I shrugged because there was an eBook version available on the iUniverse website.
Eventually I looked into it and found that putting your book onto Kindle is extremely easy and free. You get 70% royalties from it and can sell dozens to hundreds of copies a day. There's a lot going on right now on the digital side.
So, now I had a paperback and an eBook, but how to get anyone to know about them?
For a while I didn't do much in the way of marketing. I mentioned my book once in a while if it came up with someone I was talking to, always with the embarrassed admission that it was self-published. I tried a Facebook ad, but wasn't sure what else to do.
What changed my life was when a friend discovered that a message board I didn't know about had found my book and was discussing it with their own book club.
I realized that there was a target market for this book. There were people out there who would benefit from it and wanted to read it.
I joined the message board, became a member of the community and, a year later, I still love hanging out there every day. The people there are my people! They are like me and interested in the same things I'm interested in. They inspired me to start working on more projects in the same type.
This is a big key to starting marketing, you must find the people who want your book. Think about the topics in your book, or the kind of person you are that makes you love your book, and then find the groups, meetings, and message boards where those people hang out. Become part of the community.
You Must Find The People Who Want Your Book
My friends at the message board asked if I had a website. They said that before I joined, they had been trying to locate me, to tell me that they loved my book and could not find me.
What a terrible situation that is!
I pointed them to my Google page website that was really awful and very basic. I was an English major. I didn't know anything about websites. One of my friends at the messageboard purchased the URL of my name RuthMadison.com. He gave it to me as a gift! How amazing is that? He set it up with Wordpress and taught me a couple of things.
Wordpress is great. From your dashboard you can make all sorts of choices about what modules and widgits to put on your page. Once my friend set me loose, I had a great time adding new things, making new pages, creating a blog.
I'm very proud of the website I have now!
What to blog about?
I realized pretty quickly that blogging about writing was going to get me the attention of other writers, not new readers. I needed to blog about things that my readers would find valuable and interesting.
I write books with characters who have disabilities, so I blogged essays about my thoughts and opinions on disability, particularly how it is portrayed in the media.
More recently I've started doing content related to love stories in general and also 400 word excerpts of works-in-progress.
Facebook, Amazon, GoodReads
Now I was excited. I had an audience, but it was a small one. There must be more people out there who would want the books I was writing.
I created a Facebook fan page next.
You can find information on how to do that at my page Indie Book Marketing Resources
I also claimed my author page at Amazon. You'll notice that on Amazon, author names are highlighted as links. When you click it, you can tell the page that you are the author and put in your pictures and some information about yourself.
GoodReads is the same way. You can claim an author page there too and put up information for fans to find you.
I was one of those people who didn't "get" the point of Twitter.
I kept hearing about it, though, so I went over to have a look. I picked a username and I wondered what to say. I wondered who to follow.
It took me a couple of days, but I quickly got the hang of it. I searched for key words of things I was interested in and found other people interested in the same things. I asked for suggestions for people in the disability rights field.
Hashtags are a great thing, they let your tweet be seen by all the people looking for that subject!
A great one for writers is #Novelines What you do is pick a short sentence from your book that is very intriguing and post that as a tweet with the word #Novelines
#SampleSunday works the same way. Put those words in a tweet with a link to where you've posted an excerpt of your book.
The key with Twitter is to be friendly and support others. Retweet things that other people say that are interesting or helpful or funny. Retweet anything that you think people interested in your subject would like. You can become the person people look to to tell them about that topic.
The Book I Found Most Helpful
This is the book that helped me really understand the value of Twitter and what I could do with it. It's also great for learning about personal branding.
My book has a message to it, but it's a fiction story. The message is a real life urgent thing for me. I started thinking of things I wanted to say about it all the time.
I made some videos of me talking about things and discovered that YouTube gets a lot of action. I don't know if this is helping my sales at all, but I learned how to embed information about the books into the videos. And I tagged them so that people interested in my topic would find them.
(Just cause it's awesome)
We're storytellers, we love making characters and watching them interact. That's what Sims is all about!
I've been playing around with making book trailers using The Sims, which is hilarious and fun.
I started to see that what I wanted to do was become a resource, a node for people who want information about books with disabled characters to turn to. If I could help other authors who were writing books like mine, I could increase visibility for the entire audience and make us all easier to find. Since the audience is fairly small, I wanted to find ways to grow it and empower the people who want these books.
I started reviewing other authors' books who had disabled characters. If I really enjoyed the book, I had the author do a virtual interview on my website. I encourage everyone who is a fan of me and my work to read those books.
I am a reviewer at Paradevo and that's another place that I talk up other people's books. I tweet about my interviews and if anyone mentions being interested in writing a story with a character who has a disability, I encourage them and tell them to go for it.
My Favorites - These are some of the books from other authors that I have been promoting and supporting
You are the product more than your books are. It's your personality and enthusiasm that will make people interested in your work. It's like when you were in school and you had that one teacher who LOVED his subject. His excitement and joy for that topic was addicting and made you love it too.
One thing I decided to do was to use the same picture across every website I was on. I wanted people to recognize me right away. When they found me at a new site they would say, "Oh, there's Ruth. I know her."
My entire plan is based on the idea of being everywhere. I want to build myself a net across the Inter"net." I have points with my name and picture at Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, YouTube, MySpace, Linkedin, AuthorsDen, and any other site that lets you make a profile. I am building a net that will lift up my beloved target audience, those people like me.
They say that people see something three, five, ten times before they act on it. Someone needs to notice my book, my name, my presence several times in a variety of contexts before they might go and take a look at what I am all about.
I am also making it about them, not about me. I want to give them what they are looking for, whether I am the source of that or someone else is. I will connect my audience with the things they most need and want.
It's Not About Me, It's About The Individual Members of My Audience and What I Can Give Them
I'm not a tremendous success yet. I'm making a steady 15-20 sales a month and feeling a little jealous of the indie authors who have walked away from their day jobs. On the other hand, I'm learning more all the time and trying to learn from those authors and their success.
The great thing about eBooks and digital publishing is that your book(s) are always there. You can do nothing to market your book and it sits there, but if in five years you decide you want to try to get it to take off, you can just start working at it! At any moment you can decide to start utilizing all the marketing possibilities out there on the web.
My friends at the KindleBoards are always saying the key is to 1) Write a great book. 2) Write another great book. The more books you have, the bigger your net.
The Next Step
I think the key for me is to write more books.
I have a small audience, so I need many books for them, rather than hoping for lots of people to read my one book!
For indie authors, the more books we have, the more our snowball of success will start to grow and gain momentum. There's nothing else to do except put in the work and write more books.
Some of My Books and Short Stories
BASIC PLAN FOR FUTURE BOOKS
For the week of my last book's launch, here is what was written into my day planner:
Jan 1: Update the Amazon link on my website, update my email signature and Kindleboard signature, email the subscribers on my email list
Jan 2: Post the free short story that goes with it at my favorite story message board, start trying to get it to go free on Amazon, email the Yahoo groups that are relevant to my topic (that I'm already a contributing member of), make a post on my favorite message board about it
Jan 3: Publish a squidoo page for the book (have this prepped ahead of time), add to Author's Den and other similar websites, update Independent Author Network page
Jan 4: Facebook pic badge, try to get help from Facebook friends and fans, maybe a press release at biblio site
Jan 5: Write a blog post based on John Locke's advice (the contemporary author, not the philosopher), announce at Google+, MySpace, etc. Add a bit to "indie snippits"
Jan 6: A Friday, make my regular Friday blog post relevant, apply for awards and contests (I'm not sending this one for review, but for a more standard book I would)
Jan 7: Offer a free behind the scenes book in return for a tweet that links to the Amazon page using cloud:flood
Jan 8: Post an excerpt at Gather.com and link to it with a #SampleSunday tweet that I ask to get amplified at KindleBoards
Everyday do a #novelines tweet with a quote from the book (I've been setting aside my favorite lines as I write)