Indie Authors – What is your toughest challenge? Part I of an ongoing series

As an author, there are significant challenges. Finding original ideas and turning them into something interesting is a significant challenge. If you are a traditionally published author, you have to not only find an idea that interests you, but it has to interest your publisher as something marketable and viable so that they can make money. You also have to please your agent so that they will push your work on a publisher.

As an independent author, coming up with ideas, in my opinion, is the smallest hurdle to be faced. Because we are independent, we are free to publish whatever interests us and then take that work directly to the readers. One thing that indie authors discover quickly through social media, there are niche reader markets for just about every genre you can think of. If you like to right paranormal zombie western romance erotica, there will be a group that will read it.

My own genre, private investigator mysteries, seems to appeal to readers of a certain ‘seasoned’ age. That’s fine with me. I will join that demographic in the next ten years or so and these retiring baby boomers have time to read and money to buy books.

I deviated from this genre for my terrorism thriller, Blood Orange, and found that, indeed, the demographics of the readers that favored this book changed. This is something that, as an independent author, I believe you can get away with by searching out the appropriate niche for your writing.

After landing on what genre you want to write in, there are many other challenges that the independent author faces. Becoming known is a significant challenge. When I first started out, I put my first book on Amazon and hoped for the best. My friends and family bought some and posted some reviews.

At this early stage, I got some help from a self-proclaimed expert promoter of independent authors. I did get some traction from some of the things that this person helped me with. Interviews and reviews appeared on various blogs. I was interviewed on a podcast, and slowly but surely, my exposure grew a bit.

I soon found that the techniques that this person was using to help me gain exposure were easily achievable on my own. I gradually started to take these things on and found that my reader base continued to grow steadily.

Getting good, constructive reviews on Amazon and other platforms is a great start. It can be a slow process, however, building up a collection of reviews. One technique that helps is offering your book for free over a weekend. During my first giveaway, I had over 1,000 copies of my first book downloaded and I saw the reviews begin to grow. With the reviews came additional readers.

I want to make this blog post the first in a series that deals with the challenges that we face as indie authors. What I need are your ideas and feedback regarding the challenges that you’ve faced. One thing I learned early on is that I am not competing with my fellow indie authors. We are all in this together and can learn from each other.

So, let’s help each other. Let’s share challenges and ideas so we can grow as a community.

I look forward to your comments and feedback.

 

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Independent Publishers – Outsource Your Marketing to Save Yourself Time

One of the recurring themes in my blog is the time-consuming nature of marketing your book if you are an independently-published author. You’ve heard me talk about my day job, time management, and producing more ‘product’. You might ask, where does marketing and PR come in when trying to increase exposure for your book.

This is the one aspect of independent publishing where I turned to a professional for help.  As an independent author, I had no difficulty navigating Amazon, Create Space, and Barnes and Noble to publish print and e-book versions of my book. I had an editor, beta readers, and a cover designer. What I didn’t have is market research to tell me things that I needed to know and to help me build my network. The collective knowledge of a marketing professional that handles many authors can be a huge help. Here are some of the areas where outsourcing my marketing gives me an advantage:

Key Word Research – Amazon and other publishing platforms allow you to select key words. These are terms that make your book appear in certain searches that readers might run looking for books to read. All of the marketing experts recommend changing these words frequently to keep your work popping up on the latest searches. My marketing professional is able to regularly give me keywords. Updating them on a regular basis is easy and effective if you know what words to use. Because of exposure to multiple authors and search trends, the keywords that I’m given have more credibility than just guessing at what words to use.

Participation in Blog Tours – Because a book marketing professional presumably handles many authors, they have a group that can be called upon for blog tours. Every independently published author should have a blog to increase exposure. When we utilize each others blogs, it opens up an entirely new list of followers that will exponentially increase that exposure. Book marketing professionals can help you increase your network and help other authors in the process by sharing your own blog followers.

Interviews – In addition to blog tours, my book marketing guy helps me by frequently circulating interviews about me and my writing on different venues. These venues can be independent author web sites and blogs, online magazines, and other similar vehicles that I might not have access to on my own. He is able to spin interviews from a pool of questions that I have responded to and time the interviews with upcoming events such as book launches, cover reveals, etc.

Third Party Validation – It’s one thing to post links to your book on hundreds of groups on Facebook or to your twitter followers, but having someone else do it for you increases your credibility. If a respected third party is telling their multitude of followers that your book is worth a look it goes a long way. In addition, most marketing professionals have many more groups and platforms for this information to gain traction.

Cafeteria Style Services – The marketing person that I use has everything from full-service book PR packages down to single reviews and interviews that are very reasonably priced. You can pick and choose the services you want. If you need a third party review, a podcast interview, posting on Facebook, or something similar, you can pick just these services and pay a one time or monthly price accordingly. I like this arrangement because it allows me to ramp up or down and then measure the results. This is an important aspect of using outside marketing, make sure you can measure the results and adjust your marketing choices accordingly.

Now that I’ve talked about outside marketing/PR services, I want to stress that you use caution in selecting them. Here are some guidelines to help you select the one that’s right for you.

Beware of Full-Service Only – I mentioned the cafeteria-style arrangement that I have. For independently-published authors that don’t have unlimited funds, this is probably the way to go. If you lock yourself into full-service, you may be throwing money away and the results of what worked and what didn’t may be murky. Make sure you are focusing your marketing dollars.

Talk to Other Authors – Before outsourcing my marketing, I talked to other authors that were further down the path that had marketing campaigns that I admired. I found that they were usually very forthcoming about what and who they had good experiences with and what and who to stay away from. I try to share this information as well. If anyone is interested in my experiences with my outsourced marketing, you can email me at don@donmassenzio.com.

Don’t be Afraid to Try Something Different – One thing I’ve learned through outsourcing my marketing is that it isn’t just the books that are being marketed when you are independently published. It is the author, the author’s thoughts, and the author’s image that get marketed as well. Be prepared to do podcast interviews, written interviews, giveaways, and other things that might take you out of your comfort zone.

Be Opinionated – If you are not happy with a particular aspect of your marketing or you feel that something is damaging your image, say so. You are paying for a service so you have a right to express your own ideas and input. Don’t be forced into a cookie-cutter marketing approach that is contrary to your vision.

I hope that these tips have been helpful to you. I have found much more success and have freed up time by outsourcing certain aspects of my book marketing. That being said, I try to keep my spending limits within the boundaries of the profit that I’m making on my writing. Someday, like all of us, I hope that my profit greatly exceeds what I’m spending, but until then, I want to keep these expenses in line. My marketing person understands and respects this. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement thus far and I am hoping to gradually outsource more of my marketing chores so I can spend more time writing. I’m sure that is a goal for most of us.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series will be coming out in April, 2015.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Self-Publishing – Your Fellow Authors are not Your Enemies – Let’s Help Each Other

If you are like me, you are aware of the thousands of other authors that are in the self-publishing universe on social media platforms. We all belong to groups on Facebook and we promote our books, blogs, giveaways, and events. We start to see the same names over and over relentlessly touting our work.

As I first entered the self-publishing world, I viewed all of these authors as people that were competing for my readers. I wanted to out-promote and out-sell all of them. Over the past year or so, however, my view has changed. Instead of viewing my fellow authors as competitors, I have come to think of them as fellow pioneers. I selected the word pioneer purposely. Early American pioneers didn’t compete against each other. The amount of land and natural resources available were abundant. Pioneers worked together to build houses and cultivate crops so that they could all survive. If they had competed against each other, it is likely that none would have survived.

Like these early settlers, I believe it is important for self-published authors to work together. Besides writing, I have made it my goal to help authors as much as possible. We are encumbered with a stigma from those in the traditionally published world who perpetuate the notion that our work is not up to the same standard as the work coming out of publishing houses. In many cases, this is not a valid assertion. In some cases, unfortunately, it is true.

So how can we, as self-published authors, help each other? Here are some of the things that I try to do in my quest to pay it forward.

1) Share the lessons I’ve learned – I’m about to publish my third book. The experience of publishing the first book was one that was very daunting. I had no idea how to format my book for the Kindle and paperback platforms. I knew nothing about marketing. I just wasn’t sure what to expect. I read some books (by self-published authors) on how to get started, but a lot of the things that I tried were done on a trial and error basis. I made note of what worked and what didn’t. When it came time to publish my second book, I used some of the techniques that I picked up publishing the first one and it was a much smoother process. I felt like I wanted to share this information with other authors. That is the reason I changed this blog into a weekly post that seeks to help others with their writing and publishing. Starting a blog like this is simple. I highly recommend that other authors do this and occasionally share tips so that we can all improve the craft that we obviously love.

2) Read each other’s work – It is important to read the work of other self-published authors. The first self-published author that I read was Hugh Howey. For those of you that have been under a rock in the self-publishing world, Hugh Howey is the extremely successful standard model for self-published authors. He has made millions with his self-published works and, now that he has gained fame and respect, has doggedly refused to go the traditionally published route. While Hugh Howey is the standard, I make it a point to read work from other self-published authors. I have been pleasantly surprised in some cases and have offered advice in others. On the whole, I think that the assertion that self-published work is of a lower standard is greatly exaggerated.

3) Share your resources – There are certain tasks, as self-published authors, that we should concentrate on. Editing, marketing, cover design, etc. are just a few of the common tasks that we all must undertake to ensure the quality of our work. Everyone has different approaches to these things. Some work very well, and others have mixed success. Let’s share our techniques and tools that we use to handle these tasks. We can all benefit. If you have a great cover designer, for instance, there is no benefit to you to keep their identity and talent a secret. Share their name with other authors. Your cover designer will appreciate the work and the growth in reputation and fellow authors will benefit through having nicely designed covers. This same principle is true for sharing editors, beta readers, and outsourced marketing. I now have all of these things that are traditionally provided by publishing houses in place, and I am more than happy to share with other authors.

4) Make friends with as many authors as possible – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are excellent forums for you to make friends with your fellow self-published authors. You should trade reviews with them, share tips, and promote their work and interviews through your own social media network. Your readers will thank you for introducing them to other work that they may enjoy and you will all benefit from the combined strength of your networks. There are those short-sighted individuals that will yield their limited power and seek to trash your work. It’s just part of human nature. Like bitter movie or restaurant critics, those who disparage your work are just reflecting their own failures in many cases. The trick is to parse their criticism looking for things that you can act on to improve your work. If you find nothing, then acknowledge the uselessness of their critique and move on. Never, ever respond to a negative critique publicly. All this will do is give validation to the negative review and will make you look defensive.

5) Help other authors one-on-one – I recently had the pleasure of returning to my hometown. I had the chance to meet with one of my fellow high-school graduates who is also a self-published author. We traded some tips and agreed to read each others books. It was very enjoyable for me to discuss the things I had gone through face-to-face with someone with common experiences. Additionally, I am participating in my first group author event in April. It will involve networking and book signing. I have received a great deal of help from other authors that have gone through these events before in terms of what I need and how I need to prepare.

The bottom line is, we are all in this together. To use a sports analogy, when Michael Jordan played basketball, his presence on the team raised the game of all of his teammates. He wasn’t selfish in using his talent to help others improve their game. We have people like Hugh Howey who can be compared to the Michael Jordan of self-publishing. He is very willing to share his information and help us all raise our game. We should also seek to share our good information. There are plenty of readers willing to consume our work, so we should seek to provide them with the best quality product possible by working together.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com