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.
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.
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.