This issue is a difficult one for me and, I suspect, for many other independently-published authors. Let me first define what I mean by the term “independently-published author”. An independently-published author is one that is not using a literary agent, has not signed a deal with a traditional publisher, and is responsible for the editing, marketing, and promoting of their books.
If this sounds like you, then you fall into this category. Now, given the choice between writing, and the other peripheral activities I mentioned, I would prefer to only write and not worry about the other distractions. The reality for most of us is, unless you have unlimited funds, some or all of these tasks will fall on our shoulders.
The difficulty with this for me is that I hate self-promotion, self-marketing, and blowing my own horn. The fact that I have to promote something that I created (and may be insecure about) is counter-intuitive. I just want to sit in a room, come up with ideas, and write about them. I do want to share my work with readers, but I don’t want to do the dirty work.
When I wrote my first book, I did what a lot of you have done or will do. I sent out query letters to countless literary agents and publishing houses. After weeks of waiting, I received either negative or no replies. I read about other authors that struggled for years through rejection after rejection and finally signed a first book for a minimal advance and received minimal marketing.
I had three problems with this. The first is that I was 51 years old and I didn’t have years and years to see if this venture was going to work out. Second, I’m not very patient. I had that burning desire to see my book in print and share it with others. Third, I had little respect for what agents and publishers thought of as marketable. I had read many traditionally published books that were of dubious quality. I didn’t want to put my future as a writer in the hands of a few ivory tower-based snobs that would look at a 51-year-old first time author and turn away without reading my work.
This is when I began to look at the world of independent publishing. Outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have lent credibility and attention to self-publishing. As I researched these outlets, I read books about independent publishing. I also looked for other authors to model myself after. One of the most successful and forthcoming examples, as I previously mentioned, is the author, Hugh Howey. His Sand and Wool series of books went from short stories to New York Times Best Sellers. He is a strong advocate for independent publishing and independent authors and shares a great deal of his knowledge.
My first book was published in April, 2014. Like the books advised, I set up keywords on Amazon, I set up a Facebook page and a web site. I then began the arduous task of trying to get the word out. I started with friends and family. A few copies sold and then, one of the most powerful marketing tools, word of mouth, kicked in and sales increased.
I tried other strategies like free book offers on Amazon, Facebook ads, and other advertising outlets. I then began to join as many book and author Facebook groups as possible. I also concentrated on Twitter by seeking out book groups and authors, following them, and tweeting them directly with news of my book. I sent out press releases to every newspaper that I could find. Over 100 press releases yielded a two sentence blurb in my hometown newspaper. I saw that as a success.
I soon found myself posting in Facebook groups and sending tweets for 2-3 hours per day when I could spare the time. Remember, I have a 50-60 hour per week day job, so the weekends, a time when I like to be with my family, started with posting to social media. Eventually, however, a light went off in my head regarding two aspects of the promotional predicament.
The first is, once your book is published, it is there for eternity or until you take it down. There is not an urgency to promote it within a certain period of time before it expires. You definitely want to build up as the release approaches and try to secure pre-orders, but once it’s there, it’s not going away and you can try new tactics periodically.
The second aspect is that there are ways to make the promotion tasks more efficient or outsource them altogether. I first found software packages that helped me post to social media in a semi-automated way that was more natural and would not land me in “Facebook Jail”, which I’m sure some of you are familiar with. Facebook can suspend you from posting to groups if it deems that you are guilty of spamming or inappropriate posts. I have also found a fantastic editor that I trust and that trusts me. I may not be able to pay her much at all right now, but she knows that if these books take off, she will be pulled along for the ride.
Even this method, however, had limited use. Most of the groups were full of authors and not purchasing readers. There were many snobbish readers that want your book for free or not at all.
Additionally, I worked with a promotions person who reportedly had a proven track record working with independently published authors. He has claimed that he has taken many authors into the ranks of success and I hoped that I join them. The best part about using his services is that they are cafeteria style. I ramped up when I was releasing a book. My judicious spending resulted in podcast and radio interviews, reviews, and blog tours. There was also a sense of credibility in having my book promoted by a third party.
I learned, however, that many of the things that this person did, I could do on my own at much less of a cost. At this point, I still do a good bit of promotion on my own, but, as I mentioned earlier, I organize my time spent on promotion. I dedicate blocks on certain days to post and do other promotional activities. The other designated time is reserved for writing and nothing else.