I'm an editor on a mission to learn all I can about this industry -- and I'm taking your questions as I go! I'm continuing my series ASK ME ANYTHING: STORY AND PUBLISHING this week with another great question about self-publishing. Thank you for all your great questions so far! Contact me and join my mailing list with thoughts on today's subject or any questions about writing, story, editing, and publishing!
Q: “Do people have success self-publishing? Do they get anyone beside their friends and family to buy their book? If so, what are the secrets to doing so, specifically marketing?” — Kari
A: There is a lot of opportunity with building your platform and network as a self-published author.
I interviewed Meg Collett about building your writer platform and audience. A self-published author since 2014, Meg has published 11 novels and 6 novellas, with her 12th book coming out soon. Subscribe to her newsletter here and read one of her stories for free. Meg is passionate about self-publishing and helping other authors by sharing her experience.
Meg's latest cover: Lux and Lies (2017)
Meg admits that a lot has been by trial and error—and that it is unavoidable in this industry! But she pushes through the risk and mistakes and continues to write for readers who devour her books faster than she can write them!
She is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you’re inclined to use Instagram (as I am!), I also note at the end what bestselling author R.S. Grey (@authorrsgrey) is doing well on Instagram.
My interview with Meg
How did you get started with self-publishing?
Meg: In 2014 I decided to launch my business as an author. After going to writer retreats where I kept hearing the downsides to traditional publishing, I decided the opportunities and freedom with self-publishing were better for me. I gave myself 3 years to make it profitable. I’m “in the black” now! :)
Do people have success self-publishing?
Yes, of course people have success self-publishing! You have Hugh Howey, Andy Weir (The Martian), and countless other authors who all make an extravagant living on their indie books. Huge names aside, you also have many, many authors who make enough money to quit their day jobs. Indie publishing makes far more financial sense than traditional publishing. If you look at Amazon's top 100 books in the Kindle store (including books sold as well as KDP unlimited borrows), you will see numerous indie authors among the ranks.
As for marketing, there are no secrets except one: hard work. Indie publishing isn't about luck, it's about hard work. There isn't a fast, easy track. What worked for one person, won't work for another. And once you find something that works, be ready to adjust because it won't work forever. But if you're willing to figure it out for yourself and put in the hard work, then you'll succeed as an indie.
Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program is a great way to get started as an author. There are a lot of benefits, including higher rankings within Amazon’s store (because of number of borrows—see KDP’s help page). The KDP dashboard is easy to track your revenue and sales.
Using a distributor such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital are good to use because you can upload your book to one place and they distribute it to different online booksellers.
How do you get your name out there?
Getting your name out there and building a readership is the hardest part. It starts with one reader. That's all you need to grow. Build a community around yourself and form genuine friendships with those individual readers in the early days. Reader by reader, you'll get your name out there. Eventually, that readership will start to grow exponentially. But it has to start with one. It won't be overnight and it won't be fast. It will most likely be years. But if you can settle in for the long haul then you'll see that growth.
Some success is luck—like depending on BookBub to bring in sales. With one book I had success with a BookBub ad and it was a big seller for me! But BookBub is a fickle mistress and hard to count on.
How do you build your author platform?
First of all, buy your domain name. If you publish under Jane Smith, buy janesmith.com.
Use Mailchimp (free for first 2000 customers) to set up your newsletter. Your newsletter is the most crucial part of your platform. This will be your baby. Nurture it. Foster it. Learn to love it and make it great. Have it in the back of your book, have it on your website, have it EVERYWHERE.
Your mailing list is a filtered source of buyers. During release week, you should send your newsletter out in batches of the least-consistent email-readers to the most-consistent, those who open their emails, click the links, and buy the books right away. This progression of buyers towards a spike is what Amazon looks for!
Start a Facebook group for your loyal readers and use them as an early ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) review source. It might seem crazy to give 20 or 50 people your book for free in the early days, but reviews are more important.
Instagram is a great place for authors as well if you love taking pictures. You can build an entire readership just from Instagram alone. Research the hashtags. Find authors who do Instagram well (R.S. Grey and E.J. Mellow are my favorites to watch) and study how they post, what types of pictures they take, and the hashtags they use.
Thank you, Meg, for sharing your experience with us!!
Meg and I both follow indie author R.S. Grey on Instagram. She is so fun to follow. She clearly has a loyal readership and has success in a niche genre (romantic comedy). I’ve just jotted down some notes here that I’ve observed during her writing and releasing her latest book, THE FOXE AND THE HOUND (which as of this writing is currently sitting at #37 overall in the Kindle store).
Bio includes latest book
She announces pre-orders forever! You can get her books on preorder at $0.99 before they launch, and she promotes this like crazy through her Instagram stories and posts.
Clean, pretty graphics for book announcements
Fun extras like Spotify playlists specific to each book/character
She announces cover releases and gives teasers until cover release day
ALWAYS posting where and what she’s writing — it seems she writes at a coffee shop daily
Sends out Advanced Reader Copies (known as ARCs) to reviewers. She will announce that it’s almost ARC time and invite bloggers to apply for an ARC.
Shares what she’s reading. Tags the authors.
Also shares her life — baby on the way, house projects, dogs, yoga
She responds to fans regularly! We once bantered on a post about mall-walking when you are pregnant and it is stupid hot outside. One of the best days of the last year of my life. ;-)
Her latest book, THE FOXE AND THE HOUND, debuted in Amazon’s top 20 on June 1, 2017!