I Just Self-published, Now What? 8 easy steps to starting to sell books online

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I am a member of a number of awesome Facebook groups and online forums where authors go to congregate, congratulate, snipe or celebrate, depending on their mindset and whether their books are selling. And I often see freshly pressed self-published authors who are languishing in that post publish vacuum and wondering “So where to next?” There are no guarantees that your book will sell, and indeed selling anything is a heck of a lot of hard work in today’s marketplace, but there are some things you can do to start to increase your exposure…

By now, we all know that we have to write great content to begin with, and then go over it carefully, submit it to betas and then have it edited and formatted. We know that hiring a skilled, professional cover artist will make our book visually appealing. Most of us know that we have several publishing options, from Kindle Direct Publishing, Select, Smashwords, Apple iBooks Author, print copies using Create Space and their extended distribution option, to Lulu to Lightning Source, to another Print on Demand company or a short offset print run. But what I am seeing is that some people don’t know what to do once the book is finished, has been through the mill of editors and formatters (and through the Meatgrinder for Smashwords’ indies), and is available either online or in stores.

Many of us have a Field of Dreams mentality about our books: just publish it and the readers will come. So once our book has been out for a few days and it has sold only a handful of copies, we rightly  panic and ask what more we need to do. The bad news is that the game is still so new that few can say with any certainty what will definitely help you increase sales. But the good news is that in 8 easy steps, you can at least start putting your book in front of readers. .

1. Let everyone know you have published a book.

This seems self-explanatory, right? Well duh, Karin. I’m sure even those pups on planet Pluto know that by now. I’m so proud I’ve been shouting it to the universe. Great! But how have you gone about that?
Did you tell them HOW to get hold of your book and include a link to all of your book’s many formats?
Did you say, “Don’t have a Kindle, no problem, here’s a link to Amazon’s app download site, which lets you easily download FREE apps so you can read my new book on your phone or on your laptop, PC or iPod?”
Did you let them know that they can order a print copy from Book Depository  (if you’re listed there via Create Space’s Extended Distribution) and pay no postage? Or that you’re on B&N or iTunes? Did you post it to your Facebook page? Twitter? Google+? LinkedIn or Pinterest?
Did you gift it to your besties via Amazon gifting? (If you don’t know how to do this, go to your book’s page and click on the “Give as a Gift” button over near the “Buy this Book” button. Then enter your friend’s email address. It couldn’t be simpler. It will cost you the retail price, but you will get your royalty and it will increase your book’s rank once your friend accepts the gift.)

If you haven’t done those things, you need to. If you are able to (if you’re selling print books from your own home or website too), give people a discount for being earlybird buyers, or for buying in bulk, but be aware that you really want to drive traffic to Amazon in the early days so that you can get on a hot new release list.

2. Join Amazon’s Author Central and update your bio and RSS feed

You will need to complete different author central profiles for Amazon.com, Amazon.uk, Amazon.fr etc. Also, quicksmart, pop on over and sign up for Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari.Will you use them all? Probably not. You might stop by occasionally, unless you’ve figured out how to generate more hours in the day than us mere mortals. But it can’t hurt to be there. These are just other venues for you to showcase your wares.

You will need to sign up for the Author program for these sites (usually a process of emailing them) so you can add your own books and covers. Whatever you do, when you add your book, don’t review it yourself or give it a star rating. We’ve all been there—I did it myself and so did several other authors I know when first starting out— but it is bad form and will not win you fans, and you’ll only have to remove it later at the risk of scorn and public shaming. You can then join discussion groups about books in your genre.

Remember these are reader sites. Put on your reader face. Talk about books you love and interact with people who are in your core demographic. If people like you, they’ll notice that your bio says you’re an author and, because people are naturally curious and want to know if you’re any good, they’ll read your book. They might even review it and add it to a list, such as Amazing Indie Authors.

Author Central can also link to your blog, Twitter and Facebook feeds.

3. Create an overview of your perfect customer

This outlines your perfect reader’s demographic: their age, occupation, favorite authors, favorite bands, favorite pastimes, disposable income. Who are the people who will read your book and love it? I know this sounds like an exercise in WTF? But it is the best way to make sure that your later marketing efforts are going to be targeting the right people: potential readers. To make it super easy, here’s a prepared form for discovering your demographic (Form -Demographic). Now, think about where your readers hang out online. Are they on Wattpad? Are they commenting on Huffington Post articles, are they in the “I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie” forum waxing lyrical over their fascination with Kim Kardashian’s booty? Are they crime freaks who are visiting blogs about high-profile murder cases. Where are they loitering and lurking? You need to know this, because you need to  go to these places and interact there or advertise there (without being creepy about it) and because you need to …

4. Blog about whatever interests your audience!

Karin, really! I just wrote a book.  A whole book. And now you want me to write more. And write regularly, and write randomly? Where do you get off?
Well, I get off at stop: “Are you a writer, or what?” Because if you are, then write, goshdarnit. Write more books, but also write blog posts that will attract your audience. You don’t have to blog every day, or even every other day, or even every week when (and especially not when you’re trying to hold down a novel and a job). When you blog, think about SEO (search engine optimization, which is a fancy name for using words your readers are likely to google). Don’t be sneaky about it, but blog about subjects that your fans are likely to be interested in.

A case in point: A successful indie author I know from several online groups  (*cough* Sarah Woodbury  *cough*) writes historical fiction with a Welsh flavor, and is very good at it too. In the course of writing her books and indulging her own passions, she naturally became very knowledgeable about ancient Wales, and even though not all of that research fitted in her books, she began to blog about the topic over at her blog. How do you think that went for her?

It went awesome! It drove enthusiasts to her blog, which in turn drove them to her books on Amazon. She blogs. Often. (And yes, I don’t blog often. One point I would make is that you shouldn’t blog at the expense of writing. If you’ve got a half-finished book, finish it).

5. Establish a marketing/advertising budget and devise a marketing plan

Your plan should include advertising opportunities, ongoing review opportunities, radio and television opportunities (or times to generate press releases seeking such), guest blogs on other people’s sites, and any other promotional ideas you can convince someone to let you do (book signings, talks at your local library etc). Just like any business venture—and if you’ve invested money in the creation of your book and you expect to make a return on that, then a business venture is exactly what this is—you need to put in some capital right up front. Sure there are plenty of free marketing activities, such as adding your name to posts that enable self-promotion on sites such as a Kindle Boards, Mobilereads, Goodreads or writers’ forums. There are great sites that will post tweets for you if you’re a member and there are plenty of writer-friendly sites that have some promotional scope, but most of these attract other authors, not readers.

When it comes to talking to your core demographic—readers of your genre—you’re best off advertising. Advertising doesn’t have to be expensive, although them most popular sites (those with the biggest return) will set you back a few hundred dollars. Some books earn that out; others don’t, but it is difficult to  measure exposure.

At Indie Review Tracker, we are currently running a special on ads and will advertise your book for as little as ten dollars a month. I know plenty of other sites (in fact there are a stack in the Tracker for registered members) that advertise for less than $30 a month. You might also like to join a paid author blog or hire an online author’s assistant to take care of some promotional tasks for you. I would suggest that you set aside  a minimum of $150 for your first year for advertising, but if you want to use some of the really powerful advertising tools, such as Pixel of Ink or Kindle Nation Daily, expect to have a marketing budget of around $300+ for your first year.

6. Ask for reviews and send interested reviewers a free copy of your book in the format they request

It is wise to do this before you think of advertising or doing a free run on your book, because books with at least three reviews seem to get higher free downloads. Don’t ask your mum or your sister or your spouse or your kids. Readers can see right through the nepotism and they won’t believe them anyway. You need some credible, independent reviews that will help impress potential readers.

There is a lot of hoo-ha about the number of reviews you have and the star-rating. Many advertising sites will only accept books with a certain review rating (say 4 stars or more). There is some talk that Amazon will also start to actively promote your book once you reach a certain (read high—more than 50 or 100) number of reviews that are highly rated. I’m not sure about this. It makes sense that Amazon wants to promote product a lot of other people like, but I think quality of reviews is as important as quantity. You want reviews that are thoughtful and considered and from people who are trusted. For this, you need to find reviewers. That’s were Indie Review Tracker is an invaluable resource. Register to access a slew of reviewers with minimal fuss and searching. Currently, we have more than 230 review sites, advertisers, indie service providers and collaborative authors listed on the tracker, and they’re all searchable by genre and a number of other parameters so you can easily find and contact reviewers. We’re adding more all the time. You then make a To-do List (using the feature on the site) to keep track of where you’re submitted and when they will review. Ideally, your goal is to get at least 6 good reviews in the first month or so of your book’s release.

7. Once you’ve got reviews, consider doing a giveaway

Not all authors agree with giving away their books as a marketing strategy, but few would dispute that it gives your book a little kick up the charts and temporarily increases your book’s visibility. If you’re in Kindle Direct Publishing’s Select program, which means your book is exclusive to Kindle, you can run 5 days of free promotions in a three-month period, so go can ahead and start scheduling your free days using the “manage promotions” button in the dropdown menu on your Author Central “bookshelf”. Choose a time at least 3 weeks in advance, because once you have a freebie scheduled, you’ll need to follow this list of sites to submit your freebie to, to ensure you maximize your free book’s potential and get it listed on some awesome free books sites that will skyrocket your downloads (if you’re lucky).

If you’re not in Select, you need to do things the old-fashioned way. This way, you reduce your price on Smashwords, which will push your book out to its distributors. OR reduce your price on Barnes and Noble (if you’re not with Smashwords) and then alert Amazon of the cheaper price using the “Tell us about a lower price” function on your book’s Amazon page. This method can take time and is unreliable. It might take weeks for Amazon to price match the free  price elsewhere, or they might decide not to. Once you want to go off free again, it might take weeks again for that to happen. Be prepared for unpredictability.

Assuming you’re not in the Select program, you can also run giveaways on your blog, or via Goodreads. When you do giveaways, mention that you’d love reviews … but don’t be a kiss-ass! The aim is to give something for nothing. If you get a good review here or there, that’s great. If you get a bad review out of a giveaway (and these reviews sting the most) suck it up and curse in the privacy of your own private “What are they TALKING about! I’m the best author in the world” echo chamber.

8. Have at it. Keep writing your next book and keep promoting.

Follow your marketing plan and keep coming back to the Indie Review Tracker frequently to check for more review sites as we add them or to look for new advertising opportunities. To show how important it is. I did no advertising or promotion at all for my latest release Pancakes on Sunday. I didn’t even send it to reviewers. The reason: I was busy with this website, writing some commissioned jobs, as well catching up with relatives,  running a household and trying to finish a novel. I wondered what sort of difference I might see in sales. And let me tell you: it shows. My sales for that book are in the toilet and it is way down in the 800,000s somewhere. Promotion matters. It is time-consuming, but necessary.

If you have the time to write guest articles, why not visit our page on writing for Indie Review Tracker too, or consider our book review showcase if you have a five-star review and will ask the reviewer if they’ll allow it to be used on this site. Above all, stay positive. Self-publishing can take a lot of time and energy, and it is rare that success arrives overnight. Be proud of your achievement. You finished a book, you published it, and you’re selling it. Not everybody can say that.

About Karin Cox

Karin Cox, the founder of Indie Review Tracker, is an Australian author who spent more than 15 years working in the trade publishing industry in Australia and the UK. She edits and writes in her "spare time" while being a full-time mum to a toddler and to a black cat with the improbable name of "Ping Pong." She has written more than 40 trade-published books and has self-published others: Cruxim, Creche and Creed (paranormal romance & dark fantasy novels in the DARK GUARDIANS trilogy), Growth (poetry), Cage Life and Crows & Other Beasts (short stories) and My Best Ever Christmas List, Hey, Little Sister and Pancakes on Sunday (all picture books).

Comments

  1. Brilliant post – have bookmarked. I would second, third and fourth your final point which is to get on with writing the next one! I’ve found that marketing one book boosts sales of the others particularly if you add a teaser chapter to the end matter for each.

    • Thanks Celina. Yes, there are few more things to add to the list (teaser chapters, blog tours and cross-promotion etc), but I’ll save those for another post since this one was already getting rather long. It’s November, so I am definitely getting on with writing. :-)

  2. Excellent article, Karin! I am an American author with four books published by Random House. One was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize: WALKING THE TRAIL, ONE MAN’S JOURNEY ALONG THE CHEROKEE TRAIL OF TEARS. Two of my book deals were for six figures. Over the years I have developed many strong media contacts and done many speaking gigs around the world, Asia, Africa, Europe and USA. For my new and fifth book, however, I decided to set up my own company, Wild Indian Productions, and publish on Kindle: CIAO FROM ROMA, SPRING IN THE ETERNAL CITY OF LOVE. I have numerous radio and TV interviews this month and the book is off to a strong start via Facebook with all five star reviews at Amazon. I live in both USA and Rome, Italy.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jerry. Like you I came from a background in trade publishing. Self-publishing has been a lot of hard work, but very rewarding too. It helps to already have media contacts for press releases, speaking gigs and radio and TV interviews. Good luck with Ciao from Roma. I’m sure it will do very well, and as for spending part of the year in Rome – I’m envious. It is a beautiful city.

  3. Karin, this is such a great article! I’m actually in the process of developing a complete book launch campaign on my blog. It’s a step-by-step process built into a hub application that will allow you to manage your street team and your campaign schedule. I think you’ve done a great job of succinctly going over the basics. Additionally, I’ve added your site to my Big List of Book Promotion Resources. Feel free to stop by and edit your entry.

    http://www.mybookcampaign.com/the-big-list-of-book-promotion-resources/

    • Thanks so much, Shawn. Let me know if you’d ever like to write a marketing piece for me about the site and how authors can use it to help launch their novel. I am a firm believer that collaboration is always better than competition, and your site looks like a great help for indie authors too. Thanks so much for adding IRT and I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. If you wrote the book, the copyright is aladery yours. If you get it published, they will fill out the paperwork for you. It goes to the Library of Congress in Washington. (Google it).I definitely think Kindle has more power for the author if you can get over the fact that it’s not a physical book. It’s FREE. Self-publishing is not. If you self-publish, get a contract. Have a lawyer present if possible. Make sales BEFORE publishing. BTW Bookstores are not always honest.:(

  5. I just found the site and wanted to say that this is an excellent article. It covers a great range of topics that some self-published authors tend to forget when releasing their book. I just had my novel “Moonlit Nights” published on April 15, 2013 in print and all ebook formats and I’m utilizing all the techniques (some better than others) mentioned here. I held a book giveaway on Goodreads and had hundreds and hundreds of people requesting it. They may be just trying to get a free book, but it’s still bringing attention to your product. Every bit helps when you’re just starting out! You have to build that fan base. Another source of advertising can be having a short book trailer or promo video about your book to get people interested. I released mine and its definitely spread the word to other people. Always make sure you shop around for pricing when purchasing various ads or marketing services because some people out there claim to be there to help the ‘self-published’, but are really just taking advantage of those that don’t know what things should cost. Take for example a 30 second book trailer. Some places I’ve seen charge over $1500 for this! I started my own company to handle a range of services to help other authors called Dark Moon Studios in order to provide people with a much cheaper, professional service and charge nowhere near that. This also helps promote my own work! So just remember that very little bit helps bring greater exposure to your writing. Thanks Karin!

    • Thanks, Jacob. I’m glad you liked the article. And yes, it is very important to shop around. Be particularly wary of those who want to charge a fee to do the basics, like upload books to KDP or create a website. Those things are relatively simple using sites such as weebly.com and KDP.

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