How to Self-Publish – Phase 3: Marketing

We’re publishing (in three easy chunks) a really useful guide to self-publishing by digital guru David Gaughran. He blogs here and his book, Let’s Get Digital, is available from Amazon and other fine e-providers. This final part of the guide deals with marketing.

Marketing and Promotion
This is the stage which has most writers throwing their hands in the air. All those hours whittling prose can render one somewhat anti-social and technophobic. Some writers won’t even contemplate self-publishing because they want to avoid this stuff, and shoot for a traditional publishing deal which they think will allow them to just write. That, I’m afraid, is a myth. Publishers these days expect writers to be active on social media. Writers are expected to shoulder the burden of connecting with readers, whether they self-publish or not.

For those averse to this side of things, I have some good news. The most important marketing you can do is to ensure you have a professional product on the market: a great story, an arresting cover, a professionally edited book, and proper formatting. On top of that, many successful self-publishers such as Bob Mayer advise that promotion is more-or-less pointless until you have a few titles out, as you are unlikely to get the return on your efforts to justify the time spent. This makes sense. If readers enjoy your work, they tend to purchase everything you have published. If you only have one book out, they can’t buy anything else.

I don’t think this means you should do nothing. I believe in giving each book a little push, and then getting back to writing. After all, the best promotional tool any writer has is a new release. Nothing has boosted my sales (on all titles) like a new book, and I’ve tried a little of everything at this point. But I also think you need to make it easy for readers to connect with you.

Social Media
There are plenty of people out there who will tell you that blogging is essential, or you’ll never make it without a huge number of Twitter followers, or without a slick website, or an active Facebook Page, or by being active on Tumbler or Pinterest, or whatever the latest fad is. Frankly, there are too many counter-examples to agree with sweeping statements like that. There are plenty of bestselling self-publishers who built themselves up from nothing by doing very little of all that stuff.

I have a simple rule, which I suggest you employ: only do the stuff you enjoy. I focus mostly on blogging, so I spend a bit of time on that. I have a big readership now, which is its own reward. My blog readers are my sounding board for any ideas I come up with. I debate the issues of the day with them, talk about new projects I’m working on, and exchange information. I have some tips on blogging here.

Blogging, like Twitter and all social media, shouldn’t be viewed as a venue to directly market to people. Social media is about building connections. Those connections may lead to book sales, but you can’t approach it with that goal in mind, or it won’t work.

However, as I said above, it’s important to make it easy for readers to find you so I recommend a basic social media set-up of a Twitter page, a Facebook Fan page, a blog or website, and to create your Amazon Author Central page. You will have to do the latter for both the UK and the US (and the other Amazon sites), and you can link it all up to your blog and Twitter account. I go into a lot of detail in my book Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should on other marketing and promotional strategies, such as competitions, giveaways, Goodreads, book blog reviews, getting Amazon reviews, guest posting, blog tours, and give detailed advice on blogging, websites, Twitter, and so on. If you just want to read those sections, you can download the PDF for free on my blog and just read Steps 6 to 10.

Free As A Sales Tool
Why do I make my book free on my blog? Surely that harms my sales, right? Wrong. I get emails about that book nearly every day (tip: put your email address in the back of your books). Over half of those readers tried the free PDF first, and then purchased the book for their Kindle. In the last six, I’ve had more than 8,000 downloads of the free version, and about 1,600 sales of the paid version. I have no doubt that those sales would be significantly lower, but for the availability (and widespread dissemination) of the free version. It has also driven sales of my other books, brought in a few hundred dollars in donations, and boosted things like blog readership and Twitter followers (connections which can turn into sales over time).

I’m not recommending that you do the same with your book. I think this was a special case, given that it was a how-to, and the subject of my blog, and I haven’t used the same tactic for my other releases. I merely mention it so that you won’t be afraid of “free”, and to show that clever use of a free book can drive paid sales. Here are some more examples. You can write a novella set in the same world as your series, and make it free. You can set the first book in a series free for a time to hook readers, who will then go on and pay for the rest. Or you can make a short story free to get your name out there. In all cases (and you should be doing this anyway), you should have clickable links to all your other books in the backmatter (and to your blog, Twitter etc.).

Print Versions
Many self-publishers don’t bother with print versions as it’s next-to-impossible to get their work into bookstores. This is a mistake. The overwhelming majority of readers still read print books. It’s difficult to reach them (and to compete with publishers on price), but you will still make some print sales on Amazon, and, if you pay $25 for expanded distribution, on sites like Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository. I hired someone to format the print book for me, and it cost me $45. That total cost of $70 for my last print edition was made back in a few days. Don’t forget, even those that have switched to e-reading may still like a physical keepsake of their favourites. I used Createspace, and there is excellent advice here on the whole process.

Keep Writing!
Much of the above might sound like hard work, but it really doesn’t have to be. Focus on the basics: a well-written story, a smart cover, a proper edit, clean formatting, and an enticing blurb. You only have to do that stuff once, and then you can get back to working on the next book. I would recommend holding off on most promotion until you have a few titles out, but there’s no harm doing something like blogging in your spare time – if you enjoy it. While things like Facebook and Twitter can be big time-sinks, your primary focus should always be on writing. The other stuff only intrudes on your writing time if you let it. Be disciplined. Set yourself writing targets. Don’t worry about sales; they take time, and one thing that will certainly help is getting more titles up. Make writing your number one goal ever day, and the rest will fall into place.

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David Gaughran is the author of the South American historical adventure A Storm Hits Valparaiso and the short stories If You Go Into The Woods and Transfection, as well as Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should. Born in Dublin, he currently lives in Stockholm, but spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He runs the popular publishing blog Let’s Get Digital, the history blog South Americana, has a regular column for Indie Reader, and his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, the Irish Times, and The Sunday Times.

 

David Gaughran is the author of the South American historical adventure A Storm Hits Valparaiso and the short stories If You Go Into The Woods and Transfection, as well as Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should. Born in Dublin, he currently lives in Stockholm, but spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He runs the popular publishing blog Let’s Get Digital, the history blog South Americana, has a regular column for Indie Reader, and his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, the Irish Times, and The Sunday Times.

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