Marcy and Lisa are hosting a self-publishing week with 4 fabulous guest posters each with their own unique journey of success in self-publishing to share. Come back every day this week for a new story of how a writer found success through self-pubbing.
Debora Geary writes paranormal fiction and has her books available online well… everywhere. I as told that if I only interviewed one self-pubbed author, Deborah had to be the one. Enjoy!
What’s involved in being a successful self-published author? What advice would you give new writers thinking self-publishing may be the way to go?
Those are the questions Lisa put to me when she asked me to do this guest blog post. To those, I’ll add one more: why the heck should you listen to me?
Let me start with that last one. I’m a very new author – this time last year, I had yet to write a page of fiction. Ever. I was a reader – and much of my perspective on being an author comes from that lifelong reader hat.
I’ve had some success. My first novel, A Modern Witch, published mid-March of this year, has sold over 15,000 copies so far. Selling at $3.99, it’s provided enough income to quit the day job. I have two more novels out now, with more on the way. I may have come to writing late, but I fully expect this to be the work of the rest of my life.
So of my short and non-typical journey, what advice do I have to give?
1) Figure out your strengths.
As a writer, as a marketer, as a businessperson. Use them. They might be very different than the person currently giving you advice.
My day job was data analysis. I’m an analytics geek. I’ve spent a lot of time watching what happens on Amazon in particular, and learned as much as I can about the algorithms driving sales on their site. It’s been a huge benefit – more on that below.
You might not be a data geek. What are your strengths?
2) Find your readers.
I had no audience when I started. I read a lot of ideas about marketing and advertising, and a lot of conventional wisdom that says you have to get your book cover in front of readers a lot. Be out there. Learn to love social media.
My data analyst background (and my inner terror of social media) said “hooey”. I could spend $100 on an ad to get 1,000 eyeballs on my cover. Or, I could gift 80 copies of my $3.99 book through Amazon, to people who expressed an interest in reading my book. (You only end up out of pocket for 30% of that – 70% of that comes back in royalties). 1,000 sets of eyeballs, or 80 readers? I vote for readers, every time. And the goal is to turn as many of those 80 readers as possible into fans. See #3.
3) Keep your readers.
I reach the end of countless books (indie and trad-published) where there’s nothing. No way to contact the author. No email address, no website. No links to other books.
If your book has done its job, lots of readers will want to find you. They want to know what else you wrote. And that’s the start of converting a reader to a fan – one of those amazing people who wait for the next book you’re writing, tell people all about it, vault you into visibility on Amazon the instant you hit publish.
You want them to be able to find you – and you want to be able to reach out to them. Remember #1 – figure out your strengths. I’m no blogger, and I dropped out of Twitter. But I have a new releases email list, and a Facebook hangout where I chat about really important stuff like how many times you can throw a brownie before it crumbles. (Book research. Really).
So figure out where you want to hang out with your readers. Build those relationships. Why? A) You’ll never have to “market” again. B) It’s awesome fun. Readers rock. Knowing your readers rocks even more.
4) Love the Amazon algorithms.
Okay, I know I’m a geek. Not everyone will be as fond of watching what goes on at Amazon as I am. But here’s what I’ve learned. You need to launch quickly – Amazon gives you 30 days on something called the “hot new releases” list in your genre. It’s a lot easier to get onto than the bestseller list, and in most genres, it gives you nice visibility – avid readers like the hot new releases list. They troll it for new books.
How do you launch quickly? It’s hard with book one. But if you find your readers and keep them, it will happen with book two, or three, or four.
And once you get visible at Amazon, magic happens. Books start to sell to readers you didn’t find. Amazon puts your cover in front of readers who like books like yours. Be smart, collect as many of those readers as you can as they finish reading (see #3), and soon you will have a real audience – one you didn’t have to work grinding hours to find.
Second thing I’ve learned – you need to launch often. Amazon has made changes in the last six months to make books less sticky. They appear to want turnover in the bestselling books, maybe to increase variety offered up to readers. Whatever the reason, new books get a lot of advantages. And readers like lots of new books 🙂
5) Start with a “core” offering.
Quick – in five words or less, what kind of books do you write?
Me? Happy books about witches.
Why does that matter? Because as you build your audience, you want as many of them as possible to traverse from the first book you publish, to the second. And the third. And the fifteenth.
I see some authors with three books in three totally different genres. It’s easy to do – I have so many ideas for books. Ask me whether my little chick-lit, non-witch novella is my bestseller… I wrote it right after A Modern Witch. I didn’t know yet that I was the author that writes “happy books about witches.”
Is that all I’ll ever write? Heck, no. But I intend to focus on my witches for at least a couple of years. I want to collect an awesome group of loyal readers, some of whom will try out my sci fi trilogy, or my artsy chick lit book, or… You know. The stuff without witches. The stuff I can write once I’ve got myself firmly established as a writer.
You can build an audience lots of ways, but I think the most efficient way is to write a “core” of books first. A trilogy or series – something for readers to fall in love with. Something where you can discover the awesome power of releasing book two or three, and seeing your book fly off the virtual shelf simply because you put it up there.
6) Brand the hell out of your core offering.
Check out my A Modern Witch series covers (www.deborageary.com). Individually, they’re not the kind of covers you want to touch and hold and sleep with under your pillow. (Alas.) But they’ve got awesome drive-by recognition. The cover for A Hidden Witch, book two in the series, does a great job of catching people’s attention as they browse Amazon.
Because here’s the deal. 0.5% (totally making these numbers up, but you get my drift) of your readers will become true fans. 5% will volunteer to be on an email list or give you some other way to reach out to them. That leaves 94.5% of the people who read your first book out there, with no idea you wrote book two.
Some of those people are lost forever. Some didn’t like book one. But the rest? You want them to notice you. How? Use the reader base you can reach (mine’s my email list) to get visible in the Amazon algorithms. Then offer a book highly related to your first, with a well-branded cover (the visual equivalent of “yo – I wrote another one!”).
7) Filter advice carefully.
There’s lots of advice on self publishing. Some of it’s awful. (Okay, a lot of it’s awful). Some of it’s good – for last year. Some of it’s good – for a different kind of book. Some of it’s good – for a different kind of author.
Be smart. If something I’ve said above makes sense, think about it, and try to make it your own. If it doesn’t – go find someone else to listen to. Nobody else can lay it out for you. They can only offer hints.
Or an obnoxiously long list of opinions 🙂
Thanks Debora, great advice. You can find A Modern Witch (A Modern Witch Series: Book 1) on Amazon, or a variety of other outlets through Debora’s website. Are you thinking of self-publishing? What’s stopping you? Have a question for Debora – post it below. We’re hoping she’ll drop by at least once and respond.
Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:
Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author
Day 4 – Jenny Lee Sulpizio – children’s author – Christian market
**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.