In the past year, I've shied away from posting about self-publishing, simply because there are so many good blogs that already cover that topic (some of which I've included in my blogroll). I'm going to renege on that practice temporarily, since I've had a few newly fledged writers recently ask me how I found readers. I hesitate to dole out advice about writing or publishing because my perspective is unique. It's not a one-size fits all. I can't, with certainty, say in order to sell books you must do this or this, because there are so many paths that will get you to where you want to go. My friend Lisa Yarde wrote a very insightful blog post called Truths About Publishing that is very worth reading no matter where you are in your writing career.
Furthermore, digital publishing is a very volatile business right now. What worked six months ago, may not work now or six months from now. If you want to be in this business (and yes, self-publishing is publishing), you have to follow what's going on out there, invest in yourself and occasionally take risks that follow no proven precedent. Or you could toss your book out into cyberspace and wait for lightning to strike. Your choice.
In the last post, I talked about why writers write. The most basic reasons are the same as they are for why we read: to entertain or be entertained, to inform or be informed, to connect or be connected. Stories can put life happenings in perspective or simply let us escape from life itself.
People become writers because they feel like they have something to say and they want others to hear it. They want to give someone else the same joys of reading that they have discovered. If you've written something, this is the point where you need to be really honest with yourself about what else you expect from writing and whether or not you're willing to overcome your fears and make the investment and sacrifices required to reach your goals.
Many people are in love with the idea of being a writer: either a reclusive curmudgeon who never gets out of his PJs, pounding out literary brilliance and claiming the Nobel Prize for Literature while avoiding the media, or maybe a bestselling thriller author who jets around doing TV interviews (Today Show, Tonight Show, Charlie Rose) and mingles with Hollywood elite. The reality for most writers is very, very different, I assure you. For most, it's a long road of dedication, giving up free time, learning the craft and persistence in the face of rejection and criticism. If you can't endure all that, pick another career.
Use (But Don't Abuse) Social Media:
This is perhaps one of the most useful and most overused tools for writers. You can waste huge chunks of time reading/writing blogs, debating the Oxford comma on forums and chit-chatting about American Idol on Twitter (not that I've done any of those things *cough*). Are you using social media for a much needed break after finishing that critical scene? Looking for or sharing valuable links? Or are you putting off doing something productive?
If you are willing to put in the time to learn, the best advice I can give is to hang out at Kindleboards. The Writers' Cafe there is a great place to get news about digital and indie publishing, ideas on marketing strategies and to find both encouragement and inspiration. The authors are wonderful about sharing what they did to achieve sales. I wish I had the time and gumption to use half of what I read there. If you do nothing else, read the threads and absorb the wisdom, but also be wise enough to consider the source. Listen to those with experience and proven track records.
Set up a Facebook fan page or e-mail newsletter. Through e-mail and Facebook, you can let readers know whenever something mildly exciting happens, like finalizing a cover or a projected publication date.
When on Twitter, BE SOCIAL. I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. It's fun and challenging to be entertaining in so few words and I've met some witty people there and others with similar interests besides writing. What I do get weary of is the constant stream of links from other writers about where to buy their book. Have a new release or a milestone to share - by all means mention it. But for Pete's sake, keep it to a minimum. Nothing's more boring than someone who talks shop incessantly and few things are more annoying than someone who's always trying to sell you something.
Be Professional and Nice:
This ties in with the social media aspect, but I want to mention it separately because it deserves special attention. We all have opinions, but remember that everything you write and send out into cyberspace is there FOREVER.
When it comes to reviews, if you get one that seems negative to you, never, ever, ever comment back. And don't complain on forums, even in general, about some review you got. Book bloggers and customers who take the time to leave reviews are simply sharing their take on a book. The review is meant for other readers; it's not a personal attack on you. Not everyone is going to love your book. If someone leaves a less than favorable review, it could actually help better define your intended audience. How? If I'm scanning reviews on a book I'm considering and I see that someone hates, abhors and loathes the fact that story is written in intensely emotional first person POV and has some action-packed battle scenes - Oooo, I'm sampling that one and maybe even buying it.
If you're an author, it's probably not a good idea to slam other authors or leave nasty reviews of their books. Doing so just makes you look petty, competitive and unprofessional.
Being a nice person won't lose you any readers. Being negative or nasty very well might.
Get Your Book in Front of Readers:
Many times, newly published indie authors will post links to their books repeatedly on social media, like Facebook or Twitter (see above). There's nothing wrong with letting your family, friends and colleagues know your book is for sale and where to find it. The problem with stopping there is that you're limiting your audience. Although your story and writing may be brilliant, your friends may not read the kind of books you write. Other writers are often busy writing and can only read so many books. Besides, flogging your book to the point of spamming just becomes more white noise in an already crowded stream of social media.
So how do you reach readers? Social media, giveaways (on blogs and at Goodreads or LibraryThing), and advertisements. Ohhh, but advertising costs money, doesn't it? Well, it can. Blogs that have a huge readership (in the tens of thousands, like Kindle Nation Daily or Pixel of Ink) and that are picky about what books they will and won't post can afford to charge money. If those blogs attract readers who like your genre of books, it can be a worthwhile investment. Publishing on a shoe string? There are other blogs that charge less and many times other authors will be happy to feature your book or have you guest blog, for free. Keep your eyes open. Again, Kindleboards is a great place to learn about opportunities.
Stay Focused on Writing:
All the above can be both distracting and time-consuming. Devote a little time to those things every week, but most importantly, you need to remain focused on WRITING. Often, someone will write a book, publish it and then get consumed with 'promoting' that book. If you've only got one book in you, that's fine. But if you plan on building a career out of writing, you need to write more than one book.
Yes, you need to spend time discussing and learning the business of publishing, finding ways to market your book, and it doesn't hurt to keep honing your craft. But at what point are you just procrastinating? Writing a book can take months or even years. Clicking through social media is immediately rewarding. Long term goals vs. short term rewards. You choose.
The more books you have available (but please, don't rush them to publication, take time to rewrite, edit and let them ferment), the bigger your potential fan base will be. And the more income you'll earn. Simple math.
Make writing a priority. Devote blocks of time to it. Set goals (like daily word count or how many books you plan on finishing this year). Surround yourself with like-minded people and those who will respect your dedication and encourage you.
There is so much more I could say, but the truth is there is more than one way to succeed in writing. And keep in mind that 'success' is a relative term. Some genres and story ideas have more potential to ensnare a bigger audience, so don't get caught up in comparing your sales numbers to Stephen King's.
Sometimes you just get lucky in life (like if Amazon decides to feature your book somewhere), but there are a lot of things you can do to increase your chances of getting lucky: like writing a fantastic book, writing more than one book, searching out readers and investing in your career. You have to decide your own priorities in life.
And on that note, I need to get back to editing. I'm almost finished with another book, but I'm already panicking about the next one.