WRITERS are living through tough times, and times are usually tough enough for wordsmiths.
“Of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another.”
Not since the invention of the printing press has it been easier to publish books using an array of affordable online publishing services, but these same systems and the distribution networks they feed have stripped the traditional currency of many of the same books to almost nothing.
Newspapers struggle to get readers to pay, and we now have multiple generations who do not expect any content should come with a price tag.
Yet it’s not all bad news. Despite the terrible odds stacked up against writing for fame, glory and riches, people still tell stories.
My lack of success in landing a traditional publishing contract for my work led me down this pathway, even as a log-jam of manuscripts was piling up in my head, heart and hard-drive. Write, Regardless! is the result of having many questions fired at me ever since I threw my cap in the ring and became a publisher who made a small splash.
I once worked in publishing and learned a thing or two about gauging what makes a good story, a savvy author and a win-win contract, but I needed to spend years researching online processes and social media in order to lay the foundations for this step into the partially unknown.
And I hasten to add I don’t have the answer to every question. I’m still learning, but after finding myself corresponding at length about my approach, and thereby losing time for my own work, I decided to look at how I achieved my limited success in order to have somewhere to direct queries.
“I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.”
In my first year as an independent publisher I profited from the publication of four titles, which made money after significant sales to libraries of the paperback version of my strongest non-fiction title Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love. This title had relevance to the news cycle in that it spoke considerably to the critical political journey of marriage equality legislation in Australia.
The publication of Closet His, Closet Hers: Collected stories at the same time was no mistake. Fiction is a much harder sell, and I consciously floated my first fictional title on the same wave as Questionable Deeds. To put it plainly, I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.
That is the key to Write, Regardless! It seeks to unlock publishing industry secrets, but it will also raise your awareness of what it takes to spend your precious time writing regardless of what the publishing industry thinks of all your hard work.
This book is not aimed at teaching you to write, although it has several encouragements to analyse your work to make it more engaging and entertaining to readers. It doesn’t offer short cuts. I started creating an online presence as a journalist twelve months before I started writing my first published book, and I encourage readers to give the process at least the same time as I have, which is now approaching five years.
Writing is about doing the work. Publishing is about even harder work. Marketing and promoting a book is the hardest work most independent publishers will ever do.
Write, Regardless! is the technique I applied to myself, and in doing so earned a third of a traditionally published writer’s average annual salary in my first year, without any support whatsoever from the traditional publishing industry or the mainstream media.
That might sound like very small fry, but weighed up with the high chance of getting ripped off thousands of dollars for the ‘one-stop-shop’ charlatans, or outsourcing the work to others, it’s a resounding success story. I made more than many authors receive from books that have been treated to the full suite of marketing and promotion, festivals and competitions.
Write, Regardless! is available free online as a series of articles on my website, but I’m publishing it here with all the same links to other resources I created on the journey.
It will be of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another with a regular writing schedule of no less than a page of new material a week. It’s also designed for you to begin the work of becoming a publisher at the end of each chapter, before moving onto the next.
One page a week sounds like a small amount, but there is more to being an author than writing these days. Read on and courageously do the work!
THERE is nothing quite like hitting the publish button on your own work. It’s an even sweeter experience when you’ve been patient and really done the work on your book, confident that you’ve made it the best it can be with the resources at your disposal. Congratulations, writer… you have transformed yourself into an author! Here are a few considerations your new title brings with it.
The book blues
Many authors draw comparisons between publishing a book and having a baby, no doubt due to the long gestation period and the potential for a difficult birth. There’s also a good chance you’ll encounter something of an anti-climax after publishing a book, particularly after your launch has come and gone, and the initial flurry of sales has died down. This is a time to take great care of yourself. You’ve achieved something major after sending one of your precious brainchildren out into the world. You’re bound to feel vulnerable as your work finds its feet.
Reviews (the good and the bad)
It won’t take too long before you start garnering feedback on your publications, on online book-selling sites across the world, or social media sites like Goodreads. Be prepared for people to love and hate your work in equal measure. Bad reviews hurt, leaving authors feeling misunderstood and disheartened. My best advice on this is to let reviews be. Always encourage readers to write them, but read them very rarely, and never engage in an argument with a reviewer who didn’t like what you wrote. This is an incredibly difficult standard to maintain, and one of the best ways to get through it is to get busy on positive actions around your publications.
Keeping your book (and yourself) buoyant
The great thing about print on demand (POD) publishing services is that you don’t have to sit with thousands of copies of your new book in your office. They can be printed in short runs, allowing independent publishers to plan marketing campaigns that are financially low-risk. Having said that, it’s easy to end up with a few spare new paperbacks on your shelf. Get them out there!
“Share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers.”
Readers love meeting authors, especially when there’s a copy of their book for sale. Reserve a weekend, gather up all spare copies of your book, print signs with great review quotes, and hold a stall at your local markets. Ensure you have a special ‘market price’ for your book (such as a discount for buying more than one), and you’ll shift a few copies; but there’s an old marketing saying about never letting a customer go without being able to get in touch with them again!
Connect with readers
Direct selling gives authors an opportunity to begin an ongoing relationship with our readers. There are many ways to do this, such as handing out a business card, or becoming friends on social media. Starting an emailed newsletter allows you to regularly stay in touch with readers and let them know your news about upcoming titles and events you’re participating in. Because avid readers still tend to enjoy the communication offered via email, they’ll often readily agree to giving you their email address. Social media platforms like MailChimp can be used to create free or low-cost email newsletters for independent publishers, but always let respondents know you’re not planning to sell or share their details with any third party.
Just about any bookshop or bibliographic service in the world will be able to stock or supply your book if it has an ISBN, but independent bookshops and libraries are likely to ask you to arrange for the printing and delivery of your titles directly. Work with them in their way and you’re likely to shift a good number of copies. You’ll also maximise your profits by cutting out the middle man.
Checking out the competition
An increasing number of book trade festivals and competitions are opening the door to independent publishers, who’ve grown from an anachronism into a relevant player in the international publishing industry. Some still have their gates firmly closed to indies and operate on an invitation-only basis, just check their application details and be prepared to travel. Many conferences, conventions and exhibitions are seeking authors to present their work, so think laterally and stay open to invitations.
Selling stuff takes energy and an iron will. In this era, selling words in any format is in one of the most challenging periods in the history of publishing, as the social media inevitably supplants the mainstream media as the dominant platform for all things newsworthy and literary. Stay agile, take the knock-backs with a light approach and ensure you celebrate your wins. In my first year of independent publishing, I made about one-third of the average income of a mainstream, traditionally published author, with absolutely no assistance from the media or the publishing industries. That left me feeling wiser but also, in my own way, successful. Remember that you define what it successful, not others. Keep to your goals and ignore all the white noise.
Adjust your course
Redesigning a cover, re-launching a title that has not been effective in the marketplace, and re-pricing or rebranding existing work are old publishing industry tricks. Independent publishers can benefit from employing all of them if we find our work doesn’t hit the mark first time around. We can always think again, laterally and creatively!
Conceive another brainchild
As I have written on many occasions in Write, Regardless! no publisher ever releases just one book. One of the best ways to stave off post-publishing blues is to be already well on the way to completing another manuscript by the time they hit. Now that you know the process of independent publishing, achieving your second-born will be all the easier for you.
Publishing your first book, and ensuring it is a high-quality product that delivers for readers, is an incredible achievement. One of the best things you can do when you achieve it is to share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers. Write, Regardless! is my way of inspiring wordsmiths to keep putting work out there despite the odds that traditional publishing poses. If I have inspired you, please find me and return the favour!
“Courageously generate your own media in order to cut through the prejudice.”
AS an independent publisher of your own books, you’ll quickly discover how marketing and promotion takes up as much time as writing. Don’t despair, just dive in and stay on track with these handy tips on planning and running an effective marketing strategy.
Get your timing right
No publisher in the world completes a book and then starts a marketing campaign for it. The promotion of a title begins long before it hits the online marketplace or the shelves in high-street bookshops. Whenever you need a break from complicated publishing processes, make a cuppa and turn your efforts to marketing for a while. By the time you’re ready to hit the publish button, your marketing plan will be well under way.
They said what about you?
One of the handiest marketing tools is a bunch of quotes about your book and about you as a writer. If you’ve benefitted from beta readers, it’s entirely appropriate to ask them to furnish you with a snappy promotional quote about the title, and to approach journalists you already know within your social media platform. Printed books are replete with testimonials about the writer’s previous or current work, they give readers confidence in the author’s abilities. Work some great quotes into your printed book’s cover design.
Coming to you this summer…
In order to roll out an effective marketing campaign, you’ll need plenty of support materials. Key to this will be your book trailer. In just the same way as movie trailers tease audiences with forthcoming films, effective book trailers provide a taste of a book’s content. Don’t think a book trailer needs to be a Hollywood epic – many of them are as simple and subtle as others are bold and brash. Check out my book trailer page for how I approach this challenge differently each time, using the basic video editing software that was included on my 2010-model desktop computer. Keep trailers short, simple and evocative, and upload them onto your YouTube account. From there, you can share them on your social media platform. Book trailer services can be accessed online, but, as always, agree on all the contract parameters before handing over any money.
Trailer for Closet His, Closet Hers by Michael Burge, utilising a slide show technique, titles and copyright-free music and images on Apple iMovie.
Who are you and what do you look like?
Readers love to know more about writers they admire. If you have not already included a biography on your website, publish one well in advance of your book with an honest photograph of yourself. Author biographies are required by almost every online book-selling and bibliographic platform, so keep it short and consistent. Have a high-resolution jpeg of your author photo handy, at least 500KB in size, for when you are asked to send one by a newspaper or an online publisher.
Let them know all about you
Online book industry sites offer free author pages to writer-publishers, allowing you to share your story with readers, upload book trailers and aggregate all your books in one easy-to-see place. Create an author page on Amazon and Goodreads. Other distribution and bibliographic sites will publish your biog from your print on demand service.
The world wants to know you too
The global book trade makes use of bibliographic databases to promote and distribute new and forthcoming titles to book-sellers internationally. One of the biggest is Nielsen, which has country-specific services in most publishing territories, but allows independent publishers to upload book entries for free via their international portal Nielsen Title Editor. As soon as your ISBN, book cover, author biography, blurb and social media platform is ready, upload an entry onto this service with your publishing date (ensuring you give yourself plenty of time – my advice would be to make it at least three months away).
Getting your great metadata
Nielsen will send details of your book into global book distribution networks, so make sure all information is definitive and accurate. You can edit your entries, but they take days to update. This process will add to the web of metadata on you and your published titles, and raise your online discoverability long before your book comes out. Occasionally, bibliographic services will offer you paid extras, but these are not compulsory. They’ve operated for decades with traditional publishers but only recently opened the gate to independents, so their interfaces can be hard to navigate. If in doubt, ask for support via their excellent online help services, which can take days to respond.
Your browsable online bookshop
Long before you publish, create an online bookshop on your website, with cover shots, advance quotes, and an idea about when interested buyers can expect your titles to be published. As material becomes available, such as your book trailer, or finished sections of your book, publish extracts that can be accessed via links from your bookshop to generate interest and build buyer expectation. When your book is available, change ‘coming soon’ to ‘out now’ with links through to your range of booksellers. Here’s my online bookshop.
“If you want complex and effective media on your book, you’re going to have to create and distribute it yourself.”
Your book is ready for launch
Book launches and author tours are traditional publishing tools that put writers in touch with their audiences. Form an ongoing relationship with one or more local bookshops – many of them will host a regular program of book events for their customer base, and usually charge authors a fee to staff the event, offering wine and light food for guests. Go to a bookshop’s event when deciding on how and where to run yours. The best book launches are not overly long or late, have a point of focus (such as the author in conversation with a relevant guest commentator, or a book reading) and a book signing. This is your chance to make a splash and sell a few copies of your book, but keep things achievable and realistic – it’s tough to get people out for any event these days, and give yourself plenty of lead time so that you are not rushing your book into print. To get more value out of your launch, have it recorded, even on your smartphone, and create an clip of it to share with your social media platform.
Audio clip of the launch for Michael Burge’s Questionable Deedsedited on GarageBand and uploaded on SoundCloud.
Your brilliant book media
Let’s be real for a moment. Really, really real. The media will take absolutely no interest in a new, independently-published writer’s book. The mainstream media has been blasted apart by the internet and social media and relies on free book-related content from traditional publishers to fill their pages. If there’s anyone left in the newsroom to see your press release, they’re likely to think it’s not a proper book if a publisher hasn’t picked it up. Getting coverage in national media is incredibly tough and may require paying a publicist, and even that is no guarantee. If you want complex and effective media on your book, you’re going to have to create and distribute it yourself.
Getting into your local paper
“Someone once said: ‘Send yourself roses’ and I have a similar take on interviews.”
A press release about you and your work, sent to your local newspaper, is likely to get a run, but ensure you include a call to action, such as asking people to your book launch, and at least one excellent high-resolution photograph. Don’t rely on journalists to create effective stories out of your press releases. Rather, build the story for them, based on a strong angle. The best way to create an angle is to write a headline – ‘Novelist turns tables on ageing process in new love story’ or ‘Writer’s stories not short on suspense’ – and then write a full article (around 800-1000 words) below it. A good journalist will build on your press release by extracting the series of quotes you have provided, talking about your book and your work. Double-check all details in a press release before sending it – you’ll only get one chance to have it noticed and picked up.
Your book featured in an article
There are masses of traditional and independent news sites hungry to publish content daily. Trouble is, they can’t afford to employ enough journalists to keep up with reader demand. This is where you come in, as a journalist for your own work (here’s a reminder about how you should get over your blocks and just start doing it). Create a full-length feature article (1000-1200 words) about the primary subject matter of your book, positioning yourself as an expert in the field, and offer it to the editors of related news sites and blogs in exchange for a plug for your book. Don’t rely on them to insert the plug – write a short paragraph about your book at the end and include a hyperlink to your online bookshop.
A guaranteed interview about you
Someone once said: “Send yourself roses” and I have a similar take on interviews. In today’s media, there is a tried-and-true, easy method of publishing interviews with a question and answer (Q&A) approach. Celebrities are often interviewed by email in this manner, with the questions published above each answer, and you can do something similar by interviewing yourself. You get to set the agenda, so make it relevant to your book and explore how and why you wrote it. Make sure you include a hyperlink back to your online bookshop, and send the entire interview and your author photo to blogs and sites that publish content about books, ensuring that you offer the content free in exchange for a plug for your book. Once it’s been published somewhere else, publish it to your own site with a link back to where it first appeared. Here’s one I did.
Your reviews are in
They’re highly effective word-of-mouth, but if you ever work out how to get readers to leave reviews, please let us all know. You’ll make a fortune.
Tell your tribe
Whenever you get an article or review published about you and your book, ensure you tell your social media followers by posting it on your Facebook page and the pages of any Facebook groups you’re a part of. Make it relevant to them with a short blurb above the post. Think about having a simple flyer or postcard printed with details about your book, upcoming and previous titles, and all your contact information, and hand it out to interested readers. I pop one into every paperback I sell from my home office.
Have you ever been in a bookshop when the salesperson recommends a title to a customer, and they buy it on the spot? That’s hand selling! Help your bookshop contacts do this for you by popping in, signing copies of your book, and posting pics to social media.
At least one place wants your book!
As a legal requirement of copyright law, most national and state libraries must be in receipt of free printed and electronic copies of your new book. Send and upload these to them, as their catalogue entries about your books make for great extra metadata on you and your work.
Marketing a book is an enormous task traditional publishers will spend plenty of money on, usually engaging a publicist to get the news about new books into the mainstream media. Independent publishers can have a very rough time of marketing, since our books are often stigmatised as somehow not good enough for coverage or support. Courageously generate your own media in order to cut through the prejudice, and start the process long before you hit the publish button on your book.