Warning: this article is very information dense. Don’t be fooled by its short nature and “checklist” form — these five areas are not just important, but imperative to understand for any successful self-publishing venture.
1) Research your market (know your reader.)
If you self publish, you cannot take your book’s positive reception and marketability for granted. Just because you think it’s great or important doesn’t mean that anyone else will buy it. Even if you write in a known and thriving commercial genre, such as romance, you can’t just assume that because people read romance, they’ll want your particular book.
Romance, in fact, is a great example. There are many kinds of romance readers, and even though romance makes up a huge portion of all fiction books sold, you only apply to a small percentage of the buying audience. Just because someone loves Regencies doesn’t mean she loves glitz. Some people will not read any sex scenes at all, whereas some will only read R ratings and above.
You need to know exactly who is likely to buy your book, and why she will purchase it over her other options, including books from traditional publishers or simply not buying any books at all!
Action: Write out exactly why your ideal reader will like your book, and why it is worth buying. Don’t worry about being fancy with wording — this is just for you.
2) Make sure your website feels “professional.”
Your site doesn’t need to be big, extensive, or fancy, but it does need to look like a true website, not just a blog. Essential features are:
– Your own domain name, not just a Livejournal or Blogger account.
– Good, organized design. There are many free and low-cost WordPress templates to choose from.
– A real home page with a big, clear message about your website’s purpose. The default view should not be the most recent blog post. A blog alone does not feel professional enough for a lot of visitors.
– The right information. As your own brand, you have to build trust and rapport with your reader before she buys. Your site needs to have plenty of information about you, your book, your sales and refund policy, and what you stand for. Especially important is to explain why you’re self published, and to present your decision to publish yourself as a positive move for you and your readers.
– Post a sample. Either of the book, or short stories, or a novella… anything! I can’t tell you the number of writer’s websites I’ve visited with no samples of their work. Three chapters of a novel seems to be a good sample length.
3) Figure out how you’re going to reach your (specific segment of the) market.
As your own publisher, you have to make sales, and that means getting your goods in front of the people most likely to buy them. Find out where your audience gathers with the purpose of finding out about books just like yours, and advertise there.
The most obvious and easiest places to advertise are not usually the best. They will be the most competitive and expensive — so, probably out of your budget — but also, they will be the least focused. If you have a romance book to sell, you might think of advertising on major romance review sites, but you’d be better off looking for websites and blogs about your particular romance niche, whether it’s African-American, Regency, gay, or dark fantasy. The audience will be more responsive and less immune to advertising, especially since your ad will be a great match for their specific interests.
4) Figure out how to advertise to them in a way that they’ll respond to.
Pretend that you’re paying $10 per click, even if it’s a banner ad. You can’t afford to be cute, inscrutable, devious, or clever — the best results for novice advertisers is to plainly make an attractive offer. (To know what’s attractive, you need to know your reader — see #1.)
Tell them to go to your site and do something — either buy your book, read your free stories, take a poll, etc. Do not try to trick them into coming; people are wise and have seen much advertising these days, especially online. You can’t afford to have people misinterpret your meaning, especially if you are paying per click. You want visitors, yes, but you want high-quality visitors most likely to buy.
Your ad starts this process, and it can either work for you, or against you. Create your ad with the action you want your visitor to take in mind.
5) Start building an email list.
You can do this even before you release your book… in fact, you should. It’s the first thing I recommend any author do on their own website. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this, but any action is better than none.
When you have an email list, you have much more opportunity to build trust and rapport with your audience. Most people coming to your site will only be interested, but not ready to buy. When you give them the opportunity to sign up for your list, you don’t force them to either buy right now, or leave. There is a way for them to say, “Tell me more, because I may want to buy in the future.”
Building an email list is easy and low cost — there is even a free option, though I really don’t recommend it. The free service lacks critical features that you need to get your emails actually opened and read.
These five steps are exactly what I did with my first book, and I actually made money the first month. There is no reason you can’t do them, too. If you can prove there’s a paying market for your book with direct audience feedback, prove that you can reach them with low-enough cost, and build a list of responsive fans, you have every reason to be confident about getting some book sales!