If I Were a Newly Self-Published Author, What Steps Would I Take To Succeed?
Posted by Bob Mayer
Recently, on an online course at Write It Forward on marketing, I was asked point blank by a self-published author in essence:
How does a newly self-published author succeed in this new landscape of self-publishing?
I’ve thought long and hard about this and give my answer based on 20 years of traditional publishing and two years of indie publishing experience.
Understand that there is no secret handshake. No miracle answer that will break you out next week. If there were, everyone would be doing it. The key is to what everyone isn’t going to do. Which is stick around for the long haul.
- Write really good books. This seems so apparent most people don’t understand why I mention it. The reason is, your first book probably isn’t going to be that good. Most likely not your second. Your third might start hitting it, if you are very open to feedback and have been honing your craft. Also, you can always rewrite those first books using what you learned on subsequent books. The best marketing tool for success is good content. Because word of mouth is the #1 marketing tool. In an earlier post I mentioned possibly not self-publishing until you had three manuscripts under your belt. I amend that—you can self-publish those first books, but don’t spend much time promoting. Focus on the writing. And don’t expect many sales.
- Be a marathon runner, not a sprinter. I’ve run over 40 marathons, including NY and Boston. It’s grueling. It’s different from any distance less than 26 miles, 385 yards, because at 20 miles, even the best trained runner who has never attempted beyond the distance, will hit the ‘wall’. In my first marathon, NY, I hit 20 miles in about two hours, which is pretty good. A 6 minute a mile pace. The next 6 miles took two hours. I’d hit the wall and it was painful. But I did finish. Susan Wiggs hit #1 on the NY Times paperback list last year in 2010. Her first book came out in 1978. An overnight success. Not. It took 18 months for me to go from selling a handful of ebooks a month to selling my current level of 1,400 a day. And that’s with an extensive backlist and having been a bestselling author in traditional publishing. Success in publishing requires being a marathoner and feeling that pain once you’ve passed 20 miles and haven’t yet hit 26. That’s where most people quit.
- Be consistent. At Who Dares Wins Publishing, we were all over the place for a long time. Finally we settled on one key to marketing: consistency. This blog is an example. We post at least twice a week, and usually more often, because we can see the number of hits we get and we know they fall off on day 3. I bump my promotion threads on Kindleboards, UK Kindleboards and Nookboards consistently, as often as is allowed. In the past five months, I’ve missed one day. And I have a LOT of threads because I have a lot of books. I missed that one day because I was traveling and didn’t have internet access. Consistency sounds so trite, but I submit to you very, very few writers are consistent with their marketing. Especially while running a marathon. The bottom line is most will quit.
- Build community by being known as someone who gives. While this blog is partly promotional, I’m not writing these posts for me, I’m writing them for you. I’m giving my experience, good and bad. I’m trying to help those who are open to being helped, which leads us to . . .
- Be open to change. I love Kitchen Nightmares with Chef Ramsay. He gets invited to a restaurant that is failing, by the owners. Yet, most of the time, they won’t take his, the expert’s, advice. They invited him, yet they fight him. They’re failing, yet they fight him. It wasn’t easy for me to go from traditional publishing to indie publishing. I’d made my living as a writer for 20 years, so I was putting my livelihood on the line when I made that decision. I wasn’t even close to a level where I could make a living self-publishing. But I made the decision and committed to it. The change started to come when I made that commitment earlier this year. 347 ebooks sold in January 2011. Made the decision. Selling 1,400 ebooks a day now, and that was just 1,000 a day a few blog posts ago. I have two backlist, Area 51 and Atlantis in the top 10 in science fiction and one new thriller, Chasing The Ghost that selling like crazy.
- Niche is key. This is a rule I violate big time, because I have two main genres of books: science fiction and thrillers. And now I’m writing historical fiction. But for most writers, especially ones without a backlist, focus on the specific type of novel you want to write and become known for that. What I see is most people all doing the same thing and they don’t stand out. As an indie author, you’re not getting to get the lucky break (akin to winning the lottery) of having a publisher pick your novel is the IT novel and putting all their weight behind you. You’re on your own. So something about your protagonist and your story must really pop, and do so quickly. The image that gets me is the bare-chested Highlander/SEAL/Fireman/Cop whatever on the cover of a romance. How is your bare-chested hero different from all the others? How is your romance different and quirky?
- Being positive and having a sense of humor helps a lot. On the Green Beret A-Team I commanded, the last part of my commander’s SOP was: Keep your sense of humor. You’re going to need it. It’s very easy to get beaten down and feel dejected. In traditional publishing I called it the black hole. Where you could go four or five months without a word from anyone, without a check, without a book coming out. In a way, self-publishing is almost the opposite, where you can check your sales constantly. I’m not sure which is worse, but I do know both can leave you feeling dejected, frustrated and angry. That’s not a good mixture for success. I’ve found the more positive I am, the more positive things occur. I’m not a fan of The Secret, but I do believe we project an aura and it reflects on us.
I’ll follow this post with more detailed posts on specifically what it takes.
By the way, for July, I’ll be teaching Warrior Writer on-line.