Thursday, October 24, 2013

Self-publishing - It's Okay by Me

In today’s world of self-publishing, there are few limitations to putting Author behind your name. Each year, tens of thousands of aspiring, new writers sit down at their keyboards and begin their journey to becoming an author.  What they write about is as varied as their backgrounds.     
In the past, a handful of publishers determined what manuscripts made it to print and into the hands of readers.  The odds of new writers having their first book published were only slightly better than a Republican becoming mayor of Chicago.   As a result, it was only the most determined and best trained writers who prevailed.  If you were published, you probably had been a writer for many years, or you had a formal education in literature or composition, or you got lucky, or all of the above.
With today’s print-on-demand and e-book technologies, cooks, teachers, salesmen, bankers, moms, dads, coaches, and politicians are all becoming self-published authors.  Some have had little or no formal education in writing beyond high school composition, but that doesn’t slow down their fingers from rattling across their laptop keyboards and producing 80,000 word novels.  By definition, they are now authors.  
The ever-increasing volume of self-published books has some concerned with the perceived “lower quality” writing now reaching readers, even calling for self-publishing guidelines or requirements that must be met.  I’m not among the concerned, and I would feel this way even if I were not a self-published author.  Sure, with tens of thousands of new authors each year, the quality of writing will be inconsistent, but it’s a free enterprise system, and readers will quickly sort through their likes and dislikes.  After all, most self-published books are reasonably priced, and often the first several chapters can be downloaded at no charge before readers need to make a purchase decision. 
I’ve been posting interviews of aspiring, self-published authors on my blog, and I’ve found the experiences of these authors diverse and intriguing.  And in many cases, their writing is quite good.  I’ve also found many of these authors just enjoy writing and sharing their work with as many readers as possible.  Fame and fortune are not typically among their top motivations.  And it's a good thing, because most will sell fewer than a hundred copies of their books. They simply strive to improve their product and enjoy their writing journey. To my point, I’ve recently come across an author who had moonlighted as a professional wrestler many years prior, and he's currently working on a Master’s degree in English and has published several novels. 
I say let the cooks, teachers, salesmen, bankers, moms, dads, coaches, politicians (and professional wrestlers) write and self-publish as much as they want.  I look forward to perusing their book covers and reading many of their books.  And by the way, a few of these authors  who start out self-published do make it.  Ever hear of John Grisham?
Here's another interesting article on self-publishing -

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It’s Time for a Marketing Plan

I’ve self-published three novels, yet I’m still not sure I’ve come up with the right approach to marketing my books. If the goal of a marketing plan is to maximize sales and improve brand image, I haven’t seemed to make much progress.  In fact, my sales haven’t improved much from book one to book three.
Most self-published authors will tell you that marketing is the toughest job they face.  I’ve found it to be the case for me as well.  It’s difficult to balance time writing with establishing and executing a marketing plan.  But without a comprehensive plan, indie authors' works will likely be viewed only by friends, family, and whatever small following they create via emails, Facebook, and their website/blog.  I’ve seen surveys* estimating half of self-published authors sell fewer than two hundred books and earn less than $500 per year.  There are a lot of reasons for these low sales, but ineffective marketing is clearly one of them.
Many authors are uncomfortable selling -- not because it’s hard work (which it is) -- but because it comes off as self-serving.  When I claim, “My book provides riveting drama from chapter one through the final page,” I can almost hear the reaction of the reader.  “Yeah, yeah. I’m sure your child is brilliant. Whose isn’t?”  It would be much easier to turn the marketing reigns over to an agent and/or publisher, but that requires a costly marketing budget or landing a deep pockets publisher – neither an option at this point.   
So what’s a self-published author to do?  After two book launches, I’ve learned from my shortcomings and composed a list of work items where I need to improve.  Fortunately, I still have time to apply this plan to my latest book, MELTING SAND, published this month.
1.       Focus on the product.
Without a quality product, marketing is futile. This means writing comes first and then editing, editing, and more editing before publishing.  My editor and I take three passes at the manuscript before I make the final proof available to beta readers for their feedback.  With my latest novel, I also put the first chapter on my blog where dozens of readers provided their thoughts.  I do believe I’ve made progress in my writing and editing with each novel I’ve published, but there’s always room to improve – always.
2.       Begin marketing before your first draft is complete.
Let readers know how your writing is going. Posting short blog and Facebook updates about your book’s progress is a good way to do this.  Some authors even create a separate Facebook page for their upcoming novel.  I recommend building interest gradually and not overdoing it – maybe post one update a month and then more frequently as you approach the launch.  Also, once you have something to share (like a first chapter), post it to your blog or website.  These activities don’t take too much time away from writing, and they’re a good way to build interest.  I’ve done some pre-publication communications in the past, but not as consistently as I should have.
3.       Put as many oars in the water as possible.
I’ve found social media is necessary but not sufficient.  Most authors use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, and e-mail, but these alone will not drive books sales.  And if you overdo pushing your book on social media, the effect can be negative.  With my first two books, I relied too heavily on social media. I should have engaged other channels and resources.  Going forward I plan to deliver press releases to local newspapers, schedule book signings and appearances at bookstores, libraries, and radio programs, and solicit space on author/reviewer blogs and websites.  There’s no question these marketing activities will take time away from writing, but I’ve decided it is work that I must do if I expect to find and grow readers.
4.       Include interesting, consistent, and professional content on your blog and website.
Attract readers and writers to your blog and website by offering interesting articles, author interviews, book reviews, etc.  While it’s fine to market your books on your blog, it should be balanced with “consistent content” that readers and writers view as interesting and valuable.  If you update your blog regularly and let readers know what to expect, they will return. 
5.       Benchmark your work.
There are dozens of writing contests and reviews available for you to submit your manuscripts. Some very large and prestigious, others on a lesser scale.  Some have hefty entry fees, others are free.  With the exception of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which I entered with my first book, I haven’t submitted my work to any of these contests or reviews, but I plan to.  It not only tells you how you stack up to others in your field/genre, but it gets your name and work visible, especially if you receive a few favorable reviews.
6.       Join and participate in writing forums and groups.
This is not marketing in the strictest sense, and writing forums and groups are not where you should be “pushing” your books, but they do provide a source for learning about what other authors are doing to be successful, and through sharing your ideas and experiences, they also help to get your name and work known.  Goodreads, LinkedIn, and other social sites have writing and author groups and are a great place to start.
Okay, that’s my plan.  It’s taken me three years of writing to figure out my marketing has been lacking in both consistency and content.  Hopefully, a year from now I’ll look back and say this plan was the turning point.