About Self-Publishing: The Author Platform

The most important thing you should know about self-publishing is that it’s not as easy as some people might think. Indeed, we’ve seen self-publishers conquer top spots on the New York Times Bestseller list; we’ve seen self-publishers  land seven figure book deals after selling hundreds of thousands of books on their own. We’ve seen it all. But it’s not that easy.

What makes it so difficult is the fact that it’s not just about writing the book, it’s not about following some advice or buying a couple of guides on self-publishing. It’s not about finding the “publish” button on Amazon’s KDP website.

Self-publishing is time consuming. If you go about it the right way and you build an author platform, and you tweet and blog, and you write occasional guest posts and do author interviews, and you send dozens of e-mails asking for reviews, then you’ll find you won’t have much time left to write, let alone life an actual life.

This week I’m going to write about self-publishing, not as that vague concept which requires people to format an e-book, but the industry that has allowed writers to earn more than ever before by becoming entrepreneurs.

  ***

Building an Author Platform

There has been a lot of emphasis on this lately, on using social media to gain exposure and sell books, but I think that most people are going about it the wrong way.

A lot of self-publishers publish their books, create a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page they don’t even bother to update. Some might even go as far as to go on Shelfari, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and other similar websites. And I find that the vast majority of them are just doing all this because they’re read about it.

It’s like following a recipe word for word, never bothering to add one more pinch of salt – they’re unwilling to experiment, to stop and analyze if what they’re doing is helping their sales or not.

Self-publishing is all about trial and error. It’s not fixed. It lends itself to improvisation, constantly evolving. Most writers blog and tweet mechanically – some even go as far as to write about themselves in the third person, like they’re the Dalai Lama or something. The vast majority of self-publishers are using the same techniques, marketing their books by tweeting six times a day bits of reviews and mentioning the 67 five star reviews they have on Amazon.

The thing is that no one wants to read a blog that’s almost exclusively about the writer and his books. I’ve seen too many self-publishers update their blogs once every two weeks with a post about a new giveaway, a new cover, a new story that’s waiting to be picked up on Amazon for just $8.99.

It’s not enough to create a bunch of profiles where you showcase your books. You have to interact with readers.

***

The Blog

If you don’t like to interact with others, if you can’t withstand a little criticism now and then, maybe it’s best to stay away from a blog. You can be successful without it. Like I said, you can do things the way you want to, the way it suits you best. If you force yourself, it will show and it can do you more harm than good.

To be honest, I did start a blog when I self-published my first book. And, well, after exactly three posts I gave up. I had no visitors, no comments, nothing. I was practically invisible. So I get it that some people might be reluctant to start a blog, but it’s all about being patient. This was my biggest mistake back then.

When I self-published Remember in April, I decided to be relentless about blogging. I can get pretty motivated sometimes, so I picked up a nice theme and started writing blogs. At least one a day – five hundred or so words.

And I set up to write the type of blog that I’d enjoy reading. I like books, so I wrote reviews about the books that I loved. I like writing, so I wrote about writing from my own perspective, not because I felt like a guru ( it’s easy to pretend that you know everything about anything when you have high speed internet), but because I hoped to get some insight from other writers as to how their creative process works. I write about movies because that’s what takes up a lot of my time.

Like I said, I never even thought about giving up. Probably because I knew that it takes time. A lot of it.

In three months of blogging I have learned that I love to blog. And I love to read people’s comments, to reply, to be useful in some way. The internet is more about information and interaction than it is about buying and selling. This is why you should never, ever try to sell people your books. I mean never shamelessly promote your stuff. I learned it the hard way, by not selling anything as I tweeted and promoted my stories like crazy.  Somewhere along the line I realized that people don’t like to be constantly asked to spend money – they have TV commercials for that.

Maybe this is the biggest mistake self-publishers make: they fail to treat people properly. All they see are shining credit cards waiting to be charged.  They go crazy with the prospect of selling a couple of books, and they fail to see that spending 8 hours a day shamelessly trolling forums and pitching your book to others is just wasting time.

Yeah, you might sell some books, but you could have spent that time more wisely, writing more stories, or writing that great blog post you’ve been wanting to for so long.

The internet is about finding intriguing information and sharing it with others – this is why all I do now in terms of shameless promotion is the sidebar on my blog, where I keep all my covers and links. I don’t ask people to click on them. And guess what? Some do. Some even buy them.

It might seem odd, but most successful writers are also great bloggers, because they know that blogging is a powerful marketing tool – and it sells books, it really does, just not directly. You have to forget all about the books you want to sell and write that great post you’ve been meaning to, the one that’s going to get re-tweeted and shared and liked, because if people like your blog, your posts, the information you have to offer, they might buy your books.

Yeah, maybe I’m a bit melodramatic about this self-promoting bit, and sometimes I don’t even write a post announcing a new story. Giveaways, new releases, all these kind of stuff can be labeled as information – some of your followers might actually be interested in your books, so it’s never a bad idea to advertise those.

Another cooking analogy: it’s all about finding out just how much seasoning is required, to find the right balance.

It’s very good to make a mailing list – that way those who are interested in your books can subscribe and receive info about new releases, promotions, contests, all that. It’s basically mandatory, and I would have made one, but I’d risk to melt my laptop – I used Mail Chimp, and apparently it’s too much for my old, old laptop.

Remember. Blogging should be fun. Yeah,  you want to get people to read your stories, but, like I said earlier, you shouldn’t be forcing yourself. It should be effortless. I’m having a blast really. Because I love to write, and I know that information is just as valuable, maybe even more, when it’s offered for free. This is the great advantage of the Internet: it costs you nothing to share.

Blog about what makes you intrinsically human, write about what you love, hate, fear (sounds like writing fiction,) write about what intrigues you, be honest about yourself and don’t worry about sales or followers or God knows what other non-sense.

***

The Big Question

How do you attract people to your platform, namely the main hub – your website/blog? Well, for once, you have to engage them. Find interesting topics, share information, ask questions, try to find answers. You have to be willing to work hard at this. It’s not enough to write a twenty word post about your book being the coolest thing since Gutenberg invented the press.

I still think that the best way to find new readers is by adding content on a regular basis. More and more, and slowly readers will find you. Five posts a week, two posts a week, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistent. And, of course, you offer quality stuff.

Another way to attract new readers is guest blogging.  I’m fairly new to this, but I know that it’s, indeed, a good way for people to find you. Some of my posts appear on the Wattpad Blog. This is all I’ve done in terms of guest blogging lately.

Some say that hosting guest posts and interviews is another good way to bring readers. Yes, considering that the author you’ve featured promotes the post to his followers, it’s a good way, but you should try to find a balance. Too many guest posts and the blog will fill impersonal: it’s no longer your space, you’re just like that kid throwing a party that nobody knows. I’m going to try this thing in the future – I have some ideas I want to try out.

Find people on Facebook, Twitter, forums, other people’s blogs. Interact as much as possible, but don’t ask for anything. I find that even by talking about books, commenting on another writer’s blog, having a discreet signature at the bottom of your profile,  all that can bring you a few new readers. I spend a lot of my time surfing the web, reading blogs and posts and articles on a ton of different sites.

It takes a lot of time, but you’re slowly building. I post reviews on Shelfari and Goodreads, I’m going to post them on Amazon as well. Each review you get builds links as well, each marketing tool you use to sell books helps your author platform grow.

What I’m not a big fan of, either when it comes to a website/blog or to a book, is paying for advertisements. Either on Google, Facebook, StumbleUpon, or whatever. It brings traffic, but the people who come rarely stick around.

I have my own ideas about marketing books, but this is another topic and I would much rather show you. I just have to get that cover right.

The End

Of course, there are many other ways to build your author platform. Like I said, reading communities, forums, Twitter, Facebook, all that. But it’s best to remember that if you don’t like people, odds are they won’t like you either. Don’t try to sell them anything, just be happy to connect and meet people you wouldn’t normally be able to, because by doing this you’re doing yourself a great favor.

And remember that everything you do in terms of social media is a way to gain exposure. People are getting to know who you are and this is a great way to build an audience, but like most things in life, it takes time and work and a lot of patience.

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35 comments on “About Self-Publishing: The Author Platform

  1. I absolutely love this post. It was just what I needed to see right now, in some ways. Just the reminder to love people and to be happy that there IS this amazing opportunity to connect with so many over the Internet. I do have a question though-

    Do you think that there is a relationship between the content of your blog, and the content of your books, that make the connection more likely to be useful to more people? I have been working on my blog for about six months, and I have been trying to include topics that might be themes in my eventual book; but sometimes I wonder if I should have a blog that is directly related to the book in order to help people to find it, or not. Like, when my book comes out, will my blog-readers simply ignore it because it is not what they like in my posts; or is there no reason to even think about that at all?

    Any light you could shed on the topic would be useful if it makes sense :)

    • In an ideal world the vast majority of your blog readers/followers would be composed of potential buyers of your book – people who are clearly interested in your subject matter. The idea is that your posts should be aimed at your target audience. If you write a book about boxing, for instance, you should target sports fans in general, and boxing fans, in particular.

      But this is not so easy – there are rare cases when you can easily identify your target audience, but most of the time your books have different topics, different settings, and you'd have to re-build your platform every time and search for new potential readers. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle: you want to get people who are clearly interested in the subject matter of your book, but you also want a more broader audience – people who, even though don't buy your books, they help spread the word around. About you, about your books.

      I know it's a mechanic, cold, entrepreneurial way of thinking about blogging, but this is pretty much how things go.

  2. raymondalikpala says:

    This is a great post, Cristian. I'm glad I'm following you. You certainly confirmed for me ideas that have been running around my head for some time now, about blogging and self-publishing. Thanks, and this just fuels my determination to make my own blog as interesting as possible. Have a fantastic week, my friend.

  3. I, too, have discovered that I love blogging. And I try to tie most every post to writing, whether it's about craft, getting my son to write, writing a book review, or reading. But I'm thinking that my posting style is different from my short story/novel writing style, and I don't know if that's a problem. Only time will tell. Nice post! Thanks!

  4. iRuniBreathe says:

    Hi Cristian

    This is a great post. I love how you remember (and remind us) that blogging should be fun. It does take some time to get out and self-promote and establish a following, but it's also not the sole purpose. We write to share, express and explore ourselves and our stories. We publish our posts because we like what we have written.

    I think you can write about anything, it's how you write it that is either captivating or pedestrian for your audience. I really appreciate feedback on my posts because it helps me to see if my message has been received by my readers, and also just to learn how to write better.

    Thanks for sharing today. This was great to read!

    Cheers!

  5. Matt Amick says:

    Lot of great advice here!

  6. sdcranston says:

    HI Cristian, Thank you for this excellent blog post. I'm in full agreement and as a first time author who has recently gone through the self publishing process, I couldn't agree more! http://www.sdcranston.com

  7. This blog actually made me feel a bit better about my plans going forward, so, thank you! Quick question . . . what is guest blogging?

  8. cav12 says:

    Nicely put Cristian. A nice reminder and extremely useful information. Thank you.

  9. Great post Cristian – I've just self-published and been conscious not to bombard people with hard sell commercials for my e-book, this has given me some good tips. Thank you.:-)

  10. Great post Cristian! You are a great example.

    As a newbie, in all the sense of the word, I have already experience much of what you say… having to do it all, including the graphics for the cover of my book… time is of much value. People do not want to waste time scanning through spam, including myself. So, to avoid making this mistake, before sending anything out, I ask myself if I would want to receive it. Many times, it has stopped me from tweeting or posting something. Your post is a great reminder and as always filled with advice.

  11. Jennwith2ns says:

    I'm actually encouraged by what you say about treating people like people and not spending all one's time self-promoting. Although sometimes I do self-promote, I kind of hate it, and the whole thing feels just ridiculous. I'd rather just ramble to people and, even better, start a conversation.

  12. All very true, one generally buys because one wants something, not because one is told to do so. The best advertising is a come-on not a gimme. I enjoyed reading your blog.

  13. bethwarstadt says:

    Cristian, thank you so much for this post. I come from a very traditional perspective on publishing (14 years selling college textbooks in the 80's and 90's), and I am just coming to terms with the fact that traditional agents and publishers won't even look at anything I write. Self-publishing has worked its way into my consciousness as a real, valid way of connecting with readers. Now that I am entering that forum and meeting other writers like yourself I find that I am well-advised by those much younger than myself. Your advice in this post is exactly the kind I need.

  14. Thank you so much for your help :) I'm glad that I'm not the only one that thinks one topic or target audience is hard to pinpoint. I figured that other people could easily say "oh, my book is about blahblah, and therefore my target audience is all in the blahblah corner of the web!"
    As it turns out, that is not the case for me, and also, not for everyone else either! Thanks :)

  15. avwalters says:

    I'd pretty much reached the same conclusion. I'm uncomfortable with the shameless self promotion thing. They told me I had to blog, and I resisted. Finally, I just decided to do it, but to do it my way. I enjoy my blog, it's an outreach for the things I do and care about, gardening, friends, funny stories, a tiny smattering of politics. This, I can do. I don't know if it will sell books, but it has added an avenue of who I am to the fray, without diminishing my privacy or offending the me of me. So, the self-publishing mantra is, as always, find your own way and, don't quit the day job.

  16. jamiesobrato says:

    Great post! I think of blogging as:

    1. A way to give something back to the reading and writing communities that have helped me over the years.

    2. A medium in which to explore ideas that intrigue me.

    3. A free chance for readers to get exposure to my voice and who I am without having to buy one of my books.

    4. Fun.

  17. NamratazBD says:

    wow! This is inspiring. We had become bored of writing posts and shoving it in our friends faces (cause of low traffic). A little patience will come in handy it seems.

  18. Yes Yes Yes. I love writing a blog. It's such fun and slowly I'm getting followers and comments. But it's about the writing telling stories, writing poems, sharing ideas. So your post echoed my own thoughts.

  19. Your sentence — "I like writing, so I wrote about writing from my own perspective ….. because I hoped to get some insight from other writers as to how their creative process works." — is exactly why I follow your blog. Because I feel the same way and am looking for the same thing.

  20. awesomebadgirl73 says:

    really great article,very informative.

  21. Emma says:

    Excellent advice,

  22. tchistorygal says:

    Great article Cristian. Your blog is simple, yet helpful. I like the fact that it is focused on the topic of writing because I know what to expect when I get here. I can identify with Jennifer Stewart. My blogging is all over the place. I agree that this is a slow process. In a world of instant – blogging isn't! Thanks for validating that it's ok that building a readership takes time. By the way, how would you go about getting an illustrator?

  23. All I can really do is echo some of the other statements I've read so far. This information is extremely helpful and helps my horribly distractable mind from clicking off on something. Thanks!

  24. Hhhhmm, there is a lot to think about here. I am very new to blogging and have had some these same thoughts running around in my head. Like you, I've discovered that I love blogging, I love playing around with words, I love receiving feedback and engaging readers in a conversation. I'm gkad to know you didnt give up, that gives me hope for my budding art:) Thanks Cristian. IslandScribbler

  25. timgallen says:

    hi cristian! great, great post! i just started blogging over the past few weeks and unfortunately instead of just focusing on writing what i want to write, i've found myself falling into the trap of trumpeting my url and wanting people to read it.

    this section really spoke to me and, i hope you don't mind, but i'm going to use it as my new mantra and reminder:

    "Blog about what makes you intrinsically human, write about what you love, hate, fear (sounds like writing fiction,) write about what intrigues you, be honest about yourself and don’t worry about sales or followers or God knows what other non-sense."

  26. Daniela says:

    This is really great post; informative and honestly written.

    Thank you

  27. Great advice! You've reassured me. I think I'm heading in the right direction.

  28. kimjarrett says:

    "people don’t like to be constantly asked to spend money – they have TV commercials for that"

    Nice! I've been successfully avoiding those too – no cable for the last 6 years or so.

  29. bsgstorytime says:

    Yes! Thank you.

    This is very useful information… just what I needed to hear this morning.

    A great reminder that the self-publishing route isn't easy for anyone and that if it's bumpy and difficult, we're on the right path!

  30. Jaye Ryan says:

    Pretty much nailed the self-publish topic right on its itty bitty head: "Sounds good, but dang, it's hard."

  31. "If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I'd type a little faster." I REALLY like that. It feels that way, sometimes.

  32. […] I haven’t had a chance to read much of his blog, but I enjoyed the articles Self-Publishing Week Wrap-Up and The Author’s Platform. […]

  33. This is actually useful information. So much out here on the web purports to be useful but isn't. I haven't self-published, but I know several people who are muddling through the process learning as they go. And frankly, today's publishers don't do much by way of promoting writers unless the writers happen to be big names already anyway…so your advice on promotion is valuable for them, too. Thanks!

  34. Very good advice and accurate picture of how things are.

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