Promoting Your Indie Book: 13+1 Things You Might Want To Know
Promoting Your Indie Book: 13+1 Things You Might Want to Know
Last year, when I began promoting SENDERO, I read a terrific piece on what steps to take or, more importantly, what to expect as an Indie author starting out on the road to getting my book in the hands and on the e-readers of others. I WISH I had kept that link because the author had some wonderful insights. (So if you think you’re out there and reading this, please ping me and I’ll display your link in all its glory.)
Here then is my own list of rules, some seeded from that piece, some from others, plus my own observations. Much of this is common knowledge amongst Indie authors but it may help newcomers and possibly amuse you. And it will probably change in six months. Viva los escritores!
1. Talk it up. Not easy. Most writers are introverts who sit in dark little rooms and bang out unpublishable prose*. We are, by nature, introverted and modest. Now some writers should be modest. But not you. You wrote a book the world needs to know about. So tell people. If not you, then who? Carry business cards promoting your book in your wallet or, if you prefer, purse. I prefer a wallet. Hand out cards when you talk about your book. What—you don’t have business cards promoting your book? Automatic disqualification. See the business card step. For authors who have a physical book, keep a box of books in the trunk of your car (this tip from JA Konrath.) Sell them cheap, at cost, give them out (to the right people).
2. Try everything (within reason and the confines of the law and it doesn’t involve spending a load of money on web advertising). More than one reader thought Penelope Cruz should play Nina Flores, the protagonist of SENDERO, in the motion picture. I found Ms. Cruz’s US agent and sent him a copy of my book, suggesting she might consider it. This is an example of trying everything. I’m still waiting to hear back, BTW.
3. The steps you take that you are absolutely sure will pay off will OFTEN not pay off. So you thought all your family and friends were going to go wild when you released the efforts of your life’s ambition and help you out by buying your book and talking it up to everyone they know. Some will. But many won’t, including family and close friends. This hurts. They are bad. They keep saying they are going to buy your book (if someone says this more than once, don’t waste any more time on them and don’t buy Girl Scout cookies next time their kid comes around). Some will tell you they always wanted to write a book and will tell you all about it and want to know who to contact. Some will tell you they bought your book but didn’t buy it. Ask them what they thought of the ending. “Oh, I haven’t actually started it yet.” Some will ask you for a freebie or want to borrow a copy. You learn who your friends are, a sad, but necessary by-product of promoting your book. Get over it. And move onto another step that MIGHT sell your book.
4. The steps you take that you least expect to pay off will sometimes pay off. I went to dinner at a neighbor’s house when I first released SENDERO. I am a software developer by day and so is my neighbor. I fully expected an evening of unbridled geekery discussing hash table search algorithms but beforehand I dutifully handed out my business card (note: I had business cards in my wallet) promoting the novel because that is what I was told to do. “I wrote a novel,” I said meekly. To my surprise, my neighbor, who never reads anything other than programming manuals and sci-fi, invested 99 cents and downloaded my thriller to his PC using Kindle software. And he liked it. And he told people. He blogged it. Promoted it on the neighborhood web site, generating much chatter and quite a few sales. Who woulda thunk? So try everything, at least once (again, within reason and the confines of the law and it doesn’t involve spending a load of money on web advertising).
5. The green-eyed monster. Those fellow writers you’ve been networking with and work-shopping with? The same ones who told you (but not others) how great your work is? You’ve read their rough drafts and gone to their readings and book-signings. Now they are remarkably silent when you’ve got a book to promote. They don’t tell their friends, mention it on their Facebook pages, call their agent, twitter, blog, send smoke signals, nothing—even if you ask them to (and you shouldn’t have to—they know how it works). But you did ask them because you are ‘talking it up’ and ‘trying everything’. The same people still have 90 illegible pages they’d like you to critique for them. Or hand you a business card for their book when it comes out. It’s an eye-opener. Don’t burn their houses down. But don’t waste any more time on them. As they say in AA, ‘stick with the winners’. Move on to people who are cool and deserving of your friendship. And keep doing things that MIGHT yield results.
6. Promote others. No one is asking you to promote crap. But if you see good work from your peers, say so, and tell others. They deserve it and someone MIGHT do the same for you.
7. The people who buy your book and help promote you are special people. Thank them. Help them in their endeavors. If they write, buy their books. Write reviews of their books.
8. Avoid expensive web advertising. The few sales it generates won’t warrant the money you spend (and it can be a LOT of money). SENDERO received a starred Kirkus review. Wahoo, I thought: I’ll just sit back and wait for the flood of Amazon orders once the review goes live on the Kirkus web site. I got a few (and I mean FEW) sales out of it. Spending five thousand dollars on a custom Kirkus advertising campaign targeting book industry people would have been insanity. I could send each one of those people a copy of SENDERO for a few hundred. Web ads rarely return their investment.
9. Business cards. Bookmarks don’t work. No one uses them. If you’re selling an eBook, even more so. Those snazzy postcards you see cost way too much and get tossed. Business cards are affordable, fit in your wallet or purse, and fit nicely in other people’s wallets and purses. There are plenty of online business card sites. Use an eye-catching pic of your cover (make sure you spend time and money on the cover), with a catch line, and a link your blog. (What? No blog? Easily remedied.) Hand out your business cards when you talk about your novel and put them in your correspondence (Christmas cards) and the covers of your book when you have a physical book to sell so that the person who bought your book can give them to the next person who will buy your book when he/she hears how great your book is.
10. Social networking. Yes, yes, get on Facebook, create an author page, blog, twitter, use a mainframe, but you know what? There’s a lot of noise out there. And it’s getting worse. A LOT of people are plugging their book while you try to plug yours. Do you really want to sit through someone’s ‘interview’ or read some canned blurb? Neither do I. It’s just plain sad, not to mention, ineffective. Blogs. Get one. There are plenty of freebies. I like wordpress. Put stuff not always about your book on your blog. Link to stuff you like (like my book—IF you like it). Promote people who deserve to be promoted. But don’t think any of this is going to sell a lot of your books. Do it but don’t overdo it. Get out to readings and open mikes. You also need time to write your next book. And you need to get past the other authors, multiplying like rabbits, and out to the READERS. If you crack this last step, please let me know how you did it.
11. Promote but don’t constantly bleat on about your book. There is the 1/5 rule (1 self-promotion for every 4 ‘fun’ posts) but that feels kind of arbitrary to me. If you’ve got something new to say about your book, say it, but find other things to say too. Books your colleagues wrote. Interesting articles about writing. Jokes. Whatever. People don’t want to just hear about your book. They don’t want to buy life insurance from you either.
12. Money. If you thought you were going to make money, then I just feel sorry for you. Maybe you will eventually—maybe—but for now, if you sold some books, particularly to strangers, then you scored a tremendous victory as an Indie author. Someone actually invested in your story about people who never really existed doing things that never really happened. How cool is that?
13. Email signature. Put a simple catchy hook to your book in your email signature. Stick your blog address in there or the link to your trailer (trailer optional—one of the things you might try but don’t spend too much).
14. Write a good—or great—book. Pretty obvious but it should be the first step really. Is your book properly edited? Formatted? Is the cover eye-catching? There is a LOT of competition out there—by some accounts up to 150 indie books are being released PER DAY. Why should people pay money and invest precious time in your creation?
* Unpublishable prose: I’m sorry if you thought I meant your prose was unpublishable. But most of it is. Do you know how many hours of jamming it took for the Stones to come up with the riff for ‘Paint It Black’? I don’t either but it was a lot: many, many hours for that one little gem. That’s why the Stones used to be one of the greatest bands in the world. In the early days the Stones lived and breathed their music and boiled months of sweat down to three minutes. But I digress. I have one five-page short story that came out of a 300 page novel. The other 295 pages sit on my hard drive, where they deserve to be. The short story is the riff that was worth saving (maybe).