Five months after self-publishing my first book, I’m learning what hundreds of self-published authors before me already know: Writing the book was the easy part.
One of the several reasons I chose to self-publish was that I really didn’t have any interest in sending out hundreds of query letters to publishers and agents and getting back dozens of rejection letters and hundreds of nothing. I didn’t want to go through the effort of trying to market my book to publishers. I just wanted to write.
Honestly, I don’t know if my book is good enough to find its way to the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble through a traditional publisher. I know I wrote a book that I would enjoy reading, and I think it’s pretty good.
So to claim that I “chose to self-publish” might be a bit misleading – the choice was never to publish the traditional route or self-publish; the choice was always to self-publish or put my novel in a desk drawer and forget about it.
As I said, writing the book was the easy part. Selling the book is the hard part. Maybe I didn’t want to have to try to market my book to agents or publishers, but as a self-published author I find I have to try to market my book to readers.
As most or maybe all self-published authors will tell you, very quickly you exhaust the sales you’ll get from your friends on Facebook and Twitter. If you offer your book for free as a Kindle download, you’ll have the joy of watching your book climb steadily among the rankings on Amazon.com, but at that point whatever lingering sales you might have had among your friends are gone.
With tens of thousands of self-published books coming out all the time, trying to find readers and attract those readers is worse than a fulltime job. Literally, for many self-published authors, I suspect it becomes an obsession.
You spend all your time reading blogs. You do internet search after internet search after internet search for “book marketing” or “self-published author marketing” or “how to market a book” or some other such thing.
You visit a thousand websites that claim they will connect authors to readers. You sign up for everything free that they offer and wonder if anyone will ever find your book posted at shvoong.com.
The blogs tell you that you must have reviews on Amazon.com. So you post it on Facebook and Twitter: “If you’ve read my book, please take a second to post a review at amazon.” For each twenty times you post this, one friend writes a review. Even friends who sent you messages and said they liked the book don’t post a review.
So you search for “book review” websites and each time you click a link to one you pray that it’s not “paid book reviews.” And often as not when you find some that claim to be free, you submit your book and wait two months and then get an email that says all their reviewers are backlogged. But don’t be discouraged! For $150 you can try their express two-week service and get a guaranteed book review.
The websites will nickel and dime you to death!
You can buy an ad for your book here for $10, or here for $25, or here for $75. You can be on this website’s front page for a month, or this one’s side rail for two weeks. Some of them are so awful looking that you’re certain the website was designed by a 3-year-old with a Crayon, but you dutifully cough up your $15 and wonder if the ad will produce enough sales to cover the price of the ad.
I’ll give you a hint: It won’t.
And you’re pretty sure, too, that the only traffic coming to any of these websites is other self-published authors just like you who have a book they want to sell, and they’re not looking to buy a book any more than you are. And you’re right.
And finally, you reach a point where you’re ready to scrap your book and figure out how to write YA fiction or something about vampires or (gasp!) erotica, because that stuff seems to be selling like crazy. I’m Rob Peecher, and my erotic novel “Whipped: Jackson Speed and his Slaves” is due out later this year.
Hmmm … actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. I’ll note that in my little black book of book ideas.
Here are the things that I think you’ve got to do (and nearly every self-published author has already done them because these are the first steps we all seem to find as we start with our searches):
- Start a blog to write about book stuff. Review other books. Invite other authors to guest blog. Host stops on a blog tour. Write about writing. Write about selling books. Whatever – you need a blog so that readers can find you. And fill your blog with links to your book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
- Do the Amazon.com author page.
- Have a Facebook account that you use to promote your books, along with a fan page. I’m not sold that Twitter or Pinterest are necessary, but if you’ve got the time to devote to that much social networking, then have at it.
- Do the whole Goodreads.com thing – author page, author Q&A, giveaways. Of all the websites I’ve tried out, Goodreads.com does seem to actually, in some cases, connect readers to writers.
- Book a blog tour, preferably using blogs specific to your genre. If you’ve written Historical Fiction, don’t do a YA or paranormal blog tour.
- Find anything free you can do: Author interviews and free book listings. Maximize the opportunities that someone might accidentally find your book, but don’t expect any of this to catapult you to the NY Times bestseller list.
If you’re self publishing, I think these six steps are the bare minimum that you absolutely must be willing to do. However, Numbers 5 and 6 I would do only up to the point that it is not overly burdensome. Judging from what other self-published authors have written and my own experiences, I suspect that your book sales will continue to be disappointing even after you’ve done these things. I would strongly recommend that you do not invest too much time and energy into these things.
I have not paid for any book reviews, so I cannot comment on the value of paying for reviews. It seems seedy to me, and my understanding is that Amazon.com only allows paid book reviews to be posted on its site from Kirkus Indie and Foreword Clarion. Those reviews are expensive, and I can’t afford to put that much money into a hobby. I also understand that Amazon periodically purges other, cheaper paid reviews, so whatever you paid for that review it is now all but worthless.
It seems to me that a lot of the self-published authors are probably people who really love their project and are emotionally invested in it. I can understand how they might easily be lured into advertising on various websites or spending money for reviews. I honestly cannot imagine that this money is well spent.
After months of obsessing and searching the internet for the magic bullet that will help me boost sales of my book, I’ve pretty much decided to give up trying to market my book, at least for a while.
I will continue to do those things among the six “bare minimums,” but I do not think these are things that will skyrocket my book sales. When I have the chance, I’ll do author talks and book signings. But for the present I think my time and money are better spent just simply writing books.
The really successful indie-authors have at least one thing in common: They have written a lot of books. Often, these are authors who have written several books over the years and finally get that one hit. At that point, too, they usually find sales of their earlier books increasing.
“Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” seems awfully lonely out there by itself, just hanging out at Amazon.com as the only book by Robert Peecher.
In the coming weeks I hope to have the second Jackson Speed novel available. “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” – a novel about Speed’s involvement with Allan Pinkerton in foiling the Baltimore plot to kill Abraham Lincoln prior to his inauguration.
And after that, I plan to publish a collection of my newspaper humor columns “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings.”
I am convinced that indie-authors who self-publish through Createspace and have no connections in the publishing industry are probably deluding themselves if they’ve published one book and hope to see it sitting among the bestsellers.
So my advice to the newly self-published and indie authors (with five months of experience to back it up, don’t ye know) would be to not obsess over sales or marketing. Spend your time writing books. Do the basics, those things that must be done, but don’t waste your time and money pursuing readers who are probably not perusing shvoong.com looking for their next book to read.
Thanks Robert for this post. I like the honesty about it. I self-published around the time you did, and can’t agree more. Some people tell me its a numbers games – you need at least 4-5 books out there before you hit something. I’m focusing on writing, writing, writing! Keep the posts coming!