Self-published authors do everything for themselves. They write the book then employ an editor and designer for the book's cover. Once its published, income from the book obviously depends on how well it's promoted. And there's the crunch! The success of promotion comes down to two things - money and effort. This post is aimed at self-published authors who, like me, have very little money to spend but are willing to make the effort!
The tips I've offered are based on a limited budget. That means I won't be including anything about using Facebook ads (shudder) or promotion sites like Bookbub and Book Gorilla. I'm sceptical about such methods, they can promise much and deliver little, you decide for yourself. My tips are more fundamental and focus on working with a community of authors. In other words, rather than throwing money at promoting your work, by being part of a writer's network, there are ways you can help one another.
Tip 1: Get the branding right.
After my teaching career I spent a couple of years as a marketing manager. Being new to me, it led to a steep learning curve but it helped me enormously as a self-published author. The most important part of promotion/marketing, is having a brand people (customers) recognise. As an author, this means letting people know what kind of books you write so they know whether you offer anything of interest to them. You are the product. Not the books! You!
Your profile needs to be recognisable. The author that writes that type of book that is like so-and-so. Some authors I know don't like this idea and oppose it. Fine. But listen to conversations in bookshops, it's the author who gets talked about as the creator of the book.
For some of the tips included in this post, brand recognition will include images of you, the author. Choose one and stick with it, use it everywhere, so people will remember it.
Branding also involves defining who and what you are. For instance, I adopted the role of book reviewer. It is part of my brand. You might want to extend your brand to be a vlogger or podcaster. Any role which involves collaboration with others in your writing community.
Conclusion: Clarity is essential here. Everyone needs to know, immediately, who you are and what you do. Not just what you've written but what you bring to the community.
Tip 2: Get a website and use it creatively
I've read comments from a number of indie authors lately who've asked for help about the site, indeed whether they should have one. The answer to that last bit is YES! You need somewhere for customers to go so they can find out more about you and your books. The challenge is - how do you get them there? These points identify how to do that:
Which site provider do you use? WordPress is a favourite of numerous indie authors I know. I've tried it and disliked its reliance on coding to enhance a sophisticated look. That's why I chose Wix. There is also SquareSpace. For an objective opinion, this site compares sites that are relevant to authors!
Display your book(s) in a professional, attractive and exciting way. Provide links to sites where the book(s) can be purchased. (Some sites include e-commerce if you're really ambitious). Provide sample material - the opening chapter. Plus, "freebies", such as short stories or a novella that can be downloaded for free. If you do this, think about whether you want the customer's email in return. (see Email List).
Enhance your SEO. This is a nightmare for some folk! Check your platform, how well does it help you do this? (Wix is brilliant here!). We're talking Search Engine Optimization here. You need to write material that helps Google (et al) find your site and what's on it. Every page! You need to images to accompany this content. This article offers help. Using the best "keywords". Once you have linked your site to Google you can access its analytics. It takes a while to get your head around the tech-speak but make the effort, there is a pay-off. It's this one mainly - you find out which pages are proving popular with your audience. That way you provide more customer-attracting links which bring people to your site.
Build your blog. Going back to the branding issue - what is your role? Write your blogs around it. You might want to provide posts like this one, aimed at helping other writers. Or write personal journey posts about your experiences as a writer. They don't all have to be on the same theme. They just need to be attractive and popular. You also need to be disciplined at writing them! (Not easy, inspiration can desert you. Time gets in the way! My record isn't good here!).
It's worth buying a site with a white labelled URL because it increases brand recognition and makes it easier for people to find you.
Email lists. There are different opinions on this one. Some authors like to acquire an extensive list of 'subscribers' to their site who provide their email. It means you can send out newsletters (occasionally!!) which promote your work and announce the arrival of new books. There are GDPR issues to follow here so be aware of the legal obligations. Some authors will tell you we are averse to email sales these days. You decide.
Conclusion: Your site needs to be easy for you to maintain. It needs to look professional, sophisticated and exciting. Your need to make it SEO effective. And maintaining your site will take time and effort. Like any advert you see regularly, it stays in the mind and that's what you want. Inconsistency = get's forgotten.
Tip 3: The value of social media
I'm surprised by the number of authors I meet who don't like to use social media. It can be a toxic place at times, it's true. However, selecting the right people to follow (and being strict about it) avoids much of this. When choosing who I follow, I always check out their feed to see what they're talking about. If they go off topic a lot to say things that don't interest me, if they use it to sell their stuff or share other people's material, then I ignore them. I select people with whom I want a professional, writer-y online relationship. The question is - how does social media help promote your work in this context?
Choose your platforms. I suggest two. You need to spend time on them each day to maintain that all-important presence. Select the right profile (branding!) of user. (TikTok = younger, Twitter & Facebook - older audiences).
Form mutually supportive relationships with others. Begin by replying to their comment or adding an extra bit of information etc. Start a conversation. See who else they follow. What groups are they in and might they suit you?
Facebooks groups are useful places to make friends and free/open groups offer ways to promote your work from time to time. (You can post stuff from your blog here).
Hashtags (such as on Twitter) offer ways to increase visibility of your tweets and introduce you to topics that benefit you.
Finally, Booklinker is vital at giving you a common, global online link to your bookstore. No more different links depending on whether it's .com or .co.uk - one URL. That's it!
Conclusion: social media is essential for the self-published author. You don't sell on it directly ( that way you lose followers!), you build your network and forge a community. Branding means others will form an opinion of you, what you "bring to the party" so stick to your brand profile, don't wander off. Be careful not to get drawn in to conflict that might generate negativity for you.
Tip 4: Tune in to YouTube
This is an area I've just started to develop myself. With 1.7 billion visitors per month, YouTube is second only to Google. What better place to promote your work - and it's free!
Begin by creating your channel. The location for all your videos. It's brandable so there are places for links to your bookstore as well as ways for people to discover you.
Create a "trailer" for your work. Here's mine. It's a way to explain what you write, the kind of books people can expect and information about what's in them.
Read from your books in front of a camera. Read your opening chapter! If you're shy about showing your face, create a sequence of visual images or video clips and dub your audio input onto it.
Use Canva. It's free (you can buy into it for some things). It has templates for different purposes - not just video but social media too. It's dead easy - literally drag and drop! You can upload your own branding too. I created my video on it. Likewise, I use Pixabay for royalty free photos, videos and audio clips.
Create videos about your writing experiences. Or tutorials on things you know something about. Or share book reviews on it.
Encourage people to subscribe. This gives you better brand recognition, wider audiences and makes you easier to discover via its search engine. (It's the second most popular search engine!) With enough subscribers, you can white label your channel so it is easy to remember/get found.
Conclusion: The ease of creating video material via Canva astonished me and has inspired me to create more. (I'm considering turning this post into a video!) Honestly, you do not need to be techno-geek to do this!! But it is a vast market place and one we self-published authors cannot ignore.
Tip 5: Forge alliances within your writing community
After self-publishing your first novel in 2018, I discovered lots of wonderful people who soon became online buddies and provided a supportive network as a newbie to the business. I enjoy writing BUT I enjoy the contact I have with other writers from all over the world just as much! How do you forge those alliances?
Encourage writer friends to contribute posts for your blog. It's good publicity for both of you (especially if, via your SEO analytics you can show the benefits). See if you can write on other people's blogs - on a topic you understand and fits with your brand profile.
In the same way, invite people to do interviews with you. Send them questions to answer and then post them on your site. They may want to reciprocate. Helpful if they have a new book just out!
Get into podcasts. Lots of writers and book bloggers do them. They're great fun and will introduce you to other folk as well. Talk about your writing, books you enjoy, writing challenges etc.
Connect with Book Bloggers to get your work reviewed. Forge the relationship first. These people are busy and have long lists of requests. Check out the extent of their readership and the conditions for book reviews.
Join Book Tours. Some bloggers will offer a service for a minimal cost, where they'll share your book with others bloggers who will then post reviews of it over a given period of time (eg a week). They might do interviews with you, cover reveals as well.
Get involved with online cons. Virtual writers' conferences are common now, a result of the pandemic when we couldn't attend them in reality. They are useful places to promote you as an author, along with your work - you can do readings of your work. They're excellent vehicles to connect you with other writers too. They are also great fun! The range of topics offers free-ranging discussion. Usually they are recorded and placed on YouTube as well so you are searchable. A few weeks back I took part in QuaranCon - an annual event inspired by lockdown. All the videos are available to view here.
GIve aways and competitions. Social media (Twitter especially) has lots of writers who offers their books as prizes to simple competitions - or even to a randomly-selected person who has retweeted a message or provided a relevant reply. They increase your visibility, the only cost is the postage. If you have any additional merchandise or 'Book Swag' (bookmarks, mugs etc) (which can be produced very cheaply) then they become prizes too. VistaPrint is cheap and helpful.
I hope I've been able to show how you don't need to spend lots of money to get people aware of your work. I think there is a danger in appearing to be too commercialised, as a self-published author. I think there is a balance to be had here. It is just as important to be an active participant in the writing community. We are a wonderful bunch of people. We are friendly, we are supportive. It's all about getting the balance of the relationship right, so that it's collaborative. Social media is full of writers who push their own work and do nothing else. I wonder how successful that is, as a promotional strategy!
If you are looking to become a full-time writer who relies on the income from your books, this post will not have been much use I suppose. But in my experience, a lot of us have day jobs and don't expect to make a fortune. We just want other people to find our books and enjoy them, without it costing us more than we can afford. In this instance, I hope you have found it helpful. Please share on social media if you have!