I am taking a break from our regularly-scheduled programming to share with you a beginner’s guide for how to publish and market a book. It’s an Idiot’s Guide, if you will, because I’m basically telling you exactly what you need to do.
Of course you can do something else, but I was really looking for someone to tell me exactly what to do when I was self-publishing so I wouldn’t have to spend hours on research. Well, I hope those hours of research will benefit you too.
Any compensation I’ve received for this information is clearly labeled next to the link. This post has been updated February 2016.
As you probably know, self-publishing has become a reputable thing. Sure, it feels good to have someone else say your work is good enough to represent, or (the golden egg) to actually publish. But here are some reasons why self-publishing is preferable to traditional publishing:
– You don’t have to put your fate and dreams into anyone else’s hands. You can make it happen, and on your timetable.
– Most people can’t tell that your book was self-published when they’re trawling the Amazon site.
– You earn up to 70% royalties (on Kindle), as opposed to about 10% with traditional.
– You decide when it gets published, and don’t depend on an editor’s schedule.
– You decide what will go on the cover, and you can make edits to the cover or interior as soon as you find them. When you go with a traditional publisher, you’re at their mercy for making changes, big and small. And sometimes they say no.
– Even if you’re with a traditional publisher, you still have to do your own marketing. Sure, you’ll get some help, but a lot of it falls on you. If that’s the case, why not reap a greater monetary benefit from your efforts and do it yourself?
Now, I should tell you, by way of disclaimer, that I’m no bestseller or anything. To date, I’ve only sold just over 200 books. (Update – it’s closer to 400 now). But that’s why this is called
an idiot’s a beginner’s guide, and not a master’s guide. Considering that most books never sell more than 200 copies in their whole shelf life, and most authors never sell enough to earn their advance, the way I see it – anything above and beyond 200 is frosting!
For those who are still with me, let’s begin.
Step One: Write the Book. This post has 6 steps to create your ebook – how to organise your thoughts and start writing – and it includes additional resources not listed here, such as valuable proofreading tools. (This is the only sponsored link in the post, but I think it adds value, so I’m including it).
Set Two: As an author, you will ideally already have a blog, a personal Facebook account, as well as a Facebook fan page. You will be on twitter, Google+, and (it’s always helpful) – Pinterest.
If you don’t have these things, sign up. Follow people you admire on twitter (celebs), and follow people who will hopefully be your peers as well – those who will likely follow you back. Your little profile blurbs can mention your book, but they should be about you. Your tweets and FB updates should also be about you.
Install Tweetdeck (it’s not hard) to organise your tweets so you get alerts when someone mentions you. Start a Facebook fan page – it’s easy! But just make one for you, the author. Otherwise, if you make one for each book, there are too many places you have to keep updated.
Make it a goal to write a short blog post on your blog once a week. Post pictures, tell about your life, do book reviews, cook! Whatever interests you. The most important thing is building relationships. Your tweets and FB shares cannot be 100% about your book or people will block you.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. But people rarely buy books from someone they’ve never heard of. At the bare minimum, have a blog/website, a twitter handle and a FB fan page – or make your FB personal page public.
Step Three: Make sure you’ve had your book professionally edited. You should have a few beta readers edit the book before your professional edit, and even afterwards. A beta reader is any friend or acquaintance who has a good grasp of the English language, and who will not be afraid to give you solid advice and critique. For a professional editor, I recommend mine, Lizzie Harwood.
And don’t forget that even after you receive your professional edits, you will need to proofread again and again. There are always those tiny mistakes that make it through. I was vigilant, and a friend still caught three after my book was published.
Step F: Hire a cover & internal layout designer. I was not crazy about the the covers I saw that were designed by the CreateSpace team (which you have to pay for). Also, they offer to convert your file for you to upload on kindle, but then you don’t own the file and you can’t send it to other people for free (in order to get reviews, for example).
My cover designer was Lacey O’Connor (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I recommend her. She did the front and back cover, my internal layout for print, for kindle, and for other e-book formats, as they are not all the same. She also did a single cover for me to upload on Facebook, and she gave me all the files so I could keep sending them out. (Update – she has also designed the cover for the re-release of memoir, which I love. She’s talented, huh?)
A word on formatting for e-readers:
The files you will need are pdf for the print version, as well as for the iPad and some e-readers.
As for the e-readers, there is Kindle (from Amazon) which needs a mobi file.
There is also the Nook (Barnes & Nobles), Kobo (from Borders) and Reader Throw Down (from Sony) – and all three need an EPub file, though they also accept other files, such as pdf.
Step Four: Upload to CreateSpace. This part is free. I recommend you use their ISBN number because that is also free, and I’ve found that there was no reason I needed to have my own. I read a lot about it first before making that decision. For the Kindle version, you’ll get an ASIN number, which serves the same purpose, and which is also provided for free. The Kindle version is not done through CreateSpace. We’ll get to that.
Step Five: You need to include metadata. These are the key word searches that you input for the description. You can choose one category for your print book, and you can choose two for kindle. In addition, you get five to seven key words. I recommend using their words – their categories and sub-categories as your key words. It doesn’t matter if the category has two words (like “feelings & emotions) – the words are only counted by the comma between each one.
Step Six: You have to go to KDP Amazon to upload your kindle file. I recommend choosing 70% royalties instead of 35% because I can’t think of why you wouldn’t want to earn more money on your title. I think you should allow for the open distribution (don’t try to limit people sharing your book). Don’t be stingy about free books, book lending, giveaways because it’s a cheap form of publicity and there will always be readers who pay for it.
One last piece of advice on Kindle. I would go for the Kindle Select program for at least three months. It means you can’t upload your book to be made available to any of the other e-readers, which can be limiting. However, you can let people download the book for free for a certain number of days. And that will shove you right up in the page ranks of Amazon and make your book more visible. I think the positive aspects of doing this outweigh the negative. And when you’re ready to quit KDP Select and just have an ordinary kindle account so that you can upload for other e-Readers, the simplest thing to do will be to publish on Smashwords. They will make your book available for e-readers everywhere. (Update: I removed my book from everywhere else so I could keep my KDP Select status. That was the only place I was selling books anyway).
A word to the wise. Make sure your cover and title accurately represent your book. And make sure your cover is easy to read and understand in a thumbnail size. The negative reviews I had were to do with the fact that the cover and title were misleading. They expected (I imagine) a fictional romance. And instead they got a memoir about grief and faith. (Update – I took the plunge and changed the title and cover – so happy I did that).
Step One: If you’re not content with the beginner’s guide, and want the master’s guide, read this before you publish!
Step Two: If you are already a blogger, ask friends and acquaintances (in advance) to do a book review of your book right after it comes out. You should already have been supporting their blog or they will likely not be willing to do the extra work. Make a schedule so that all the reviews don’t fall on the same day. Provide the book for free, and as a nice gesture, link back to them on your own blog on the day their review comes out, saying what you appreciate about their work.
A word on reciprocity. Do your best to read, review and share others’ work. At times people will support you when you cannot return the favour. At other times you’ll support someone who cannot do the same for you. But your reputation precedes you, and it should be one of generosity of spirit.
Step Three: If you’re going to do the 5 days free on Kindle Prime Select (recommended), check out these sites FIRST and decide which ones you will add your book to for extra publicity. Let me reiterate – you can’t give away too many free books. There will always be other people who will want to buy it (because they prefer print or want to give it as a gift or heard about it somewhere), and free books = publicity.
You should plan your free days to fall on Tuesdays through Thursdays, and contact those promo sites in advance. Many of them require two weeks’ notice, although not all. However, I don’t recommend telling your friends and family your book is out until the five free days are OVER! The people who are going to pay for your book are the ones who know you. The ones who will discover you are more likely to do so if your book is free. You can also split the five free days and not use them all at once.
Step Four: Do a giveaway on Goodreads. (Join Goodreads if you haven’t!!). I recommend giving five copies and making the giveaway a month long, and although you have to pay for the print copies to be sent out, it’s not that much with your CS discount. Many of the people who sign up to win the giveaway will add your book to their “to-read” list so you’ll get tons of publicity like that. All of their goodreads friends will see that they’ve added your book.
Step Five: If you decide to do a paid marketing campaign on Goodreads, do it at the same time as your giveaway. Start with a small sum, like $25, and use a high cost-per-click ratio, like 50 cents per click. I found that I didn’t get a lot from this, and that’s why I’m recommending a small sum. You won’t need to ask for your money back like I did. Study samples of other ads before you create your wording. You can also try an Amazon promotion. I’m just trying it now for the first time.
Step Six: You need reviews. You can sign up here to do an author review swap on Goodreads. You read 4 books in exchange for 4 people reading yours (but they are not the same people). You must leave a review on goodreads and amazon for each book you review, so that’s 4 more reviews for you in both places.
Step Seven: Another great place to get reviews in exchange for giving away free electronic versions (and 3 small Amazon gift certificates) is The Story Cartel.
Step Eight: Submit your book to national book awards. Why not, right? The five cream of the crop awards are found on this website. And the rest of them – many of which seem worthwhile to me (although it can start to get costly), are found here. This is a great thing to put on your bio, and it could get you lots of sales and recognition, even if you were “only” shortlisted. Pay attention to the time of year. All awards are different, but figure out quickly which ones you want to do and note the deadline for each. Most are at the beginning of the year, and since most of them are only for books released the prior year, time is of the essence.
Step Nine: Join Freado. This has an application called BookBuzzr, which is free, and which allows you to put a widget to preview your book on your blog or FB page. Mine is over there to the right – the one that says “A Lady in France Book.” I know it’s not the right size for my sidebar – it’s cut off – and I have a similar widget from Amazon that I could probably do away with. I’ll get to that later.
You’ll figure it out. Although you can get the widget for free, I paid for Freado’s premium service, and I’m almost certain some of the sales can be tracked to that website. I know I can do more to invest in that website, and I will when some of the more pressing deadlines are over.
Step Ten: Actual advertising. I’m only just getting around to this five months in. My budget is not unlimited, but I’m going to advertise on Christian websites for just one month. That’s all I can afford, and I finally surrendered to the fact that it’s my target audience. I wanted my book to reach everyone, no matter where they stood regarding faith, but I can see that the people who will appreciate it most are the ones who share the same faith. So off I go, narrowing my focus for my target audience. Narrow your focus when you advertise.
Step Eleven: This is an update: See if you can get BookBub to accept your title in their promotion schedule, and time it with a Kindle Countdown deal at $.99. It’s expensive – check out the rate sheet here – but the average downloads far exceed what you’ll pay to participate. They have a huge following. It’s not easy to get accepted though, and you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of reviews before you try.
You only need to know one thing about tracking sales, and that is this: There is not one website that shows you all the books you’ve sold.
The print copies that you sell are found in your Member Dashboard on CreateSpace, and your Kindle copies that you sell are found on your KDP Amazon page.
In addition . . . for Kindle, you have to click on “Reports” to see the Sales Dashboard or the Month-to-Date Unit Sales. But even then, in the monthly sales, you will only see the Amazon.com sales. If you want to see how much you sold from other countries, you either need to click on each individual country (there’s a drop down menu), OR you need to click on the Sales Dashboard. This will show you a graph of how much you sold, and it will include all the countries.
A reminder that becoming a premium member of Freado will allow you to receive a daily e-mail telling you your Amazon rank each day – the high and the low, and this is not a bad thing.
It Doesn’t Hurt to . . .
Step One: Add this application to your FB page. It’s self explanatory, and you can click on my FB page to see what it looks like. It’s the red button up top that says, “Read my Book.”
Step Two: Read this post by Candace Walsh (author of Licking the Spoon). It’s got ten additional marketing tips (I love the one about getting people to take pictures with your book and pinning it or sharing on FB). And there is also a link to her website where she shares her book club document. Because yes! Contact local book clubs and see if they would be interested in reading your book. She’s created a list of questions that you can use as a basis for your own document. And, ahem, I have yet to finish mine.
Step Three: Contact Pubslush to raise money for your book. This can be pre-publication, in order to pay for design and editing. It can also be post-publication to pay for marketing, advertising, and even translating into other languages.
Step Four: Do monthly Amazon Kindle giveaways for as long as you decide to remain in their Select program. Do another goodreads giveaway. Give books away on your FB fan page. My friend Kristin Duncombe, author of Trailing and fellow expat in France, said that every time she gives her book away, her sales shoot up. And her book is doing very well.
Step Five: Brand yourself. The image where your book cover should go (on Amazon, FB, Goodreads, etc) should always have the image of the cover of the book. And wherever you need to put an author photo (twitter, blog, Amazon, etc), there should be one – no eggheads please. And no space for an image should remain blank. Try to use the same head shot everywhere so people recognise you.
I think I’ve covered most of the basics. Marketing can be a serious time-suck, and it’s really exhausting when you’re trying to figure it all out (on top of writing, and (likely) being a parent, and carrying on a full-time job . . . . My advice is to set a time limit each day and do what you can and be at peace with that.
Also, the best thing you can do for your book sales is to keep writing more books. The more people like your style, the more fans you will have who will then buy the books that you have already published, increasing both visibility and sales.
And that’s it. What about you, authors? Do you have any great tips to share? Please leave them in the comments so we can all benefit.
Postscript: Do check out the comments because there are good tips there!