Saturday, August 24, 2013

Indie publishing: Playing the long game

It's been almost a year and a half since I jumped on the indie publishing train. I'm happy to say that it's been a very enjoyable experience, and I've learned a lot. Most importantly, I've learned the value of patience.

It's a cruel irony that while the technical process of publishing independently is very easy and quick, everything that follows can take quite a while. (Maybe it's not that ironic, as everything leading up to actual publication - writing, revising, editing, formatting, cover design - can and should take quite a while, but that's a topic for a different post.)

I want to share some of my experiences, lessons I've learned, and general two-cents on indie publishing. I hope these are helpful, and feel free to share any insights or tips you may have in the comments.

You have to promote your book. People won't buy it if they don't know about it, and merely publishing something may get you a brief "New release" mention on Amazon but with the sheer number of new releases out there, the sales will be few at best. Expecting people to stumble on your book won't work, particularly if it's new and has very few reviews.

But where to start? The good news is that there are opportunities to promote your book. Some are free, some are affordable to most everyone, and some are expensive. Start by visiting GalleyCat's list of free sites to promote your ebook. Be sure to check out the sites and find out what works best for you - some of these are only for promoting free books, some are focused on a certain genre or exclude certain types of content (i.e., no erotica).

From there start exploring more sites that promote ebooks, and take notes on the specifics for each site. Will the site promote your book at its list price, or at a sale price only? Are there restrictions on the number of reviews or star ratings you need to promote? What are the price options? How is the promotion done: via Facebook or Twitter, an email list, a blog posting? What support are you asked to provide - for example, are you asked to like a Facebook post, put a link on your blog, or re-tweet? How far ahead of time do you need to schedule the promotion? Do you pay up front or does the promotion site take a percentage of your sales?

I've found that bookmarking likely sites and keeping an Excel sheet with the basics helps me organize the information (especially as the site names can blur after a while with ebook this and kindle that).

I'd be lying if I said there isn't a certain amount of "you get what you pay for" in these promotions. But while a free listing on a given site may not lead to an instant uptick in your sales, it can help get awareness of your book out to the reading public, while you accumulate the money or reviews/ratings needed to get some of the more high-cost promotional opportunities.

It takes money, experimentation, and yes, time. Many of the most successful promotional gambits I've made were at sites that required a certain level of Amazon reviews and ratings. The bad news is that it can take a while for those reviews to add up. The good news is that when you independently publish, you have control over your timelines. There isn't a paperback contract riding on whether you sell a certain number of hardcovers in a given amount of time. If your book takes a while to accumulate the reviews it needs to qualify for a solid promotional opportunity, so be it. Because reviews are another aspect that requires patience, and not just customer reviews.

Seek out reviews. The downside of indie publishing is that you have no marketing department sending out advance copies to big media outlets. Nope, you are your own marketing department, and many of the big media outlets won't go near indie-published books. But there are ways to get reviewed.

Book bloggers are a great source for reviews, and many bloggers are willing to put their reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon as well as the blog, not to mention Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately there isn't a single comprehensive database for book blogs, but Step by Step Self Publishing is a good place to start, as is The Indie Book Reviewers list.

From there it's a lot of detective work. If you find a blog you like, be sure to check its blogroll for other sites. And you'll need to carefully look at each blog and determine:

Is the blog's genre/audience focus a good match? Don't send your uber-edgy horror novel to the blogger who reviews only cozy mysteries about cats.

When was the blog last updated? If it's been more than six months, give it a miss for now.

Read the review policy! Most bloggers who are open to review requests have a policy, and you should read it. If the blogger doesn't have one, chances are that he or she prefers not to receive review requests.

Respect the review policy! If a blogger has to take a hiatus and isn't accepting review requests, respect that. If the blogger does not like books with certain content or themes, respect that.

Be thorough. You will get more good will from bloggers if you demonstrate that you have taken the time to read the review policy and the blog, to craft a polite review request, and to address the blogger in a way that does not make him or her feel like just another name on your list.

Success builds success. Include a link to your book's Amazon page in your review request. Once you start building up a good number of customer reviews, and adding blog review excerpts to the Editorial Reviews section, bloggers will be more willing to take a chance on your book.

Be patient. It will take time to do all this. It will also take time to hear back from bloggers. You know how busy you are and how hard it is for you to find time to read or write? The bloggers are, for the most part, in the exact same situation. Most of them do the blogs in their free time, because they love books and love sharing their insights on books. So it can take while for them to get back to you. In fact, some of them won't get back to you, and that's fine - they may not be interested in your book, and only respond if they are interested. Don't worry about it, and move on. Even if a blogger does take on your book, it can take a while for them to get to it. Some will give you a hard date of when to expect the review, some won't. It's up to them. Again, be patient. Use the time waiting for one blogger to review your book by researching others who may be interested in reading it.

What it all boils down to is that indie publishing is not a quick thing. The wheels turn slowly, but if your book has merit, they do turn. And when a certain point is reached, and the right blend of reviews, promotion, and word of mouth is achieved, your book's sales will start to reflect this. And when the waiting gets unbearable and you can't face another night of researching blogs or promotional opportunities - use your time to write another book. The more books you have, the better chance you have of getting noticed.

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