To say there is an abundance of free information about self-publishing available would be an understatement. To say there is a wealth of good free information available is probably true, but there is so much marketing fluff - disguised as advice - in the mix that finding good, free, information is not easy.
Websites and journals will suggest that authors should connect with social media, with lots of tips on how to do it, while others will advise that social media is not effective. You might read that creative writing courses are the best way to engage with and refine your writing quickly, while in the next article be told that the same courses should be avoided since they will steer you in an unnatural stylistic direction or will likely be run by ‘failed’ authors looking to make money from their skills. You may be advised to start a blog to communicate with your readers and potential customers, giving a sense of movement and immediacy to your author profile and work. Or you might hear that a blog is just a time-consuming distraction, pulling you away from the crucial task of refining your art. Perhaps a self-publishing website offers you an array of pre-made cover design choices to get you started, where other sites will strictly steer you in the direction of professional, bespoke, designers. Stories, advice and evidence are conflicting, and it’s a difficult task to unpick the useful advice from the, often cynical, pseudo-advice masquerading as marketing. It could be very easy to become overwhelmed to the point of inaction.
How, therefore, does a new aspiring author separate the wheat from the chaff? And how does an established, successful, self-publisher improve sales? Where should any particular writer invest their time for best results? Our clients - largely professional or ‘career’ authors, and with whom we are in constant dialogue - suggest that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and experimentation over time is key. Since our working model has been shaped by the professional authors who use us, we listen closely to their experiences.
What do our best-selling authors generally do?
With traditional publishing, the author need only think about writing, but with self-publishing, things like marketing, distribution, eBook development, book covers, proof-reading etc. are all processes which need consideration. An author needs to strategise their approach to the writing, production, distribution and marketing of their books, by considering carefully what skills they bring to the table. What can or should the author do for themselves, and with what part of the project should they recruit help? This arrangement of skills and tasks - according to our most successful authors - is something which is different per author but with common, broad factors, which apply in most cases.
Barring the writing itself, most book-centric processes are not undertaken by most authors. That is to say; things that go into creating the physical book after it is written: cover design, typesetting, editing and proof-reading. Then, as the necessary processes become less about creating the book than promoting the book, authors generally get more involved. Distribution to online retailers and wholesalers is often undertaken by the author; certainly approaching stockists like Waterstones would generally be an author/publisher task. Moving further away from the book, into processes which are entirely outside the book, self-published authors are generally much more involved; events, organising book launches, engaging in social media and using websites, forums and blogs to promote and market their titles. So these are the things that can be done, but which ones should you do?
Looking at book promotion as opposed to creation, an author’s individual skills and tendencies will, to a large degree, dictate how effective their marketing will be, given any approach. This is why an author’s marketing strategy should represent a confluence of interests for the individual; so that it’s as comfortable an undertaking as it can be. Some authors will have the time and inclination to engage with social media, blogs and online advertising while others will prefer to visit local bookshops, libraries, reading/writer’s groups and engage in a more physical way. Of course, there will be a natural combination of marketing tactics which appeal to any self-publisher, with available time and resources also being a factor. Your lifestyle, career skills, IT knowledge, friends and family input, professional networks and general likes and dislikes all factor into how comfortable (even fun) and how successful your book marketing will be for you. This is what we have learned from working with authors who are self-publishing and self-marketing.
Your author profile will likely be best built by doing things you know you can do well, and getting help with or even avoiding things that you either can’t or simply don’t want to do. So many of our authors can’t face Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al., and so don’t engage with them at all, focusing on writing more books and becoming, therefore, a larger presence on distribution platforms. Simply writing more books and releasing them is a valid form of marketing and author profile building. If social media is your thing, you can create brilliantly effective teaser campaigns and build a very compelling presence online by connecting with established networks linked to your writing genre.
However the market is approached, best-selling authors are of course focused on connecting their audience with a high-quality product; created professionally so that reviews and feedback are positively reinforcing their marketing efforts. Quality is certainly key, and books which respect the reader experience will make marketing in any form much more effective. There’s not much joy in trying to popularise an unmarketable book.
Despite so many websites and articles giving what seem like answers to the question ‘how do I design and market my books?’, straight answers won’t fit with every author. If, like most independent publishers, you’re doing some things yourself, it often depends on what you can do and what you want to do. This doesn’t mean that learning new skills is a waste of time but it suggests that each author might consider a strategy that tessellates with their skill set. Going against the grain of what is understood or logistically possible can be a thankless task and not a good use of time. Each title is a unique piece of work, which should be designed professionally - for the potential readership groups it would appeal to - and marketed with a strategy that fits best with the person doing the job.
So while this article might not give the definitive marketing plan an author might crave, hopefully it does help to reveal that self-publishing strategies are necessarily different from author to author, and indeed, from book to book. According to the authors we work with it might not be wise to follow rigid, prescriptive, advice that leaves you cold and makes your efforts feel like incredibly hard work. Better perhaps to feel your way into a plan of action that makes you feel comfortable and empowered; harnessing skills and connections you do have and making the process as effective and enjoyable as possible. As discussed in a previous article, there is a breed of ‘authorpreneurs’ emerging; excellent authors who have an eye for quality and a head for business, but no two of these are, in our experience, exactly alike.