Saturday 13 October 2012

Backtracking: Lessons in Indie Publishing - Part 1 Marketing

In December 2011, I set up my blog and gave myself a year to see what effect it would have on the sales of my pony books.  It was probably the only thing I did towards creating my “author platform.”   Mistake number 1.  More of this later. 

Having been traditionally published for over 30 years, and with 20 years plus experience in marketing, you would think I would be in a strong position to indie publish my work and have an awareness of what is involved.  That’s what I thought.  However, I don’t think I was fully prepared for how it would take over my life. Mistake number 2.

Like most writers, I have a day job that pays the bills.  So imagine that you also want to start your own business in the hours that are left.  Self-publishing is essentially a business start-up.  Your book is your product.  You, the author, will be the brand.  Intellectually, I knew this.  How could I not?  Although I had my first story published in a magazine at the age of 14, most of my 30 plus fiction titles have appeared in translation (in 7 languages), in the UK and US I am virtually unknown.  So I did not have an existing audience to build on – rather like a new writer.  I had decided to publish three of my backlist titles for the kindle to raise funds for Redwings Horse Sanctuary.   I will add that this was a thoroughly considered decision, having been researching self-publishing for months (and I continue to do so).  There are some brilliant sites out there that will help you.  For example, I subscribe to which will also provide links to other useful sites and there is a great post on self-publishing and having realistic expectations on

I commissioned a professional designer to create my cover designs as this is the first thing that potential buyers will see.  For a digital book, Amazon is your shop window. I worked hard on the descriptions of my books, as this is the next thing a potential reader will see. I hadn’t anticipated that I would end up rewriting them all several times, hopefully improving the content.  I would recommend Make A Killing On Kindle (Without Blogging, Facebook Or Twitter). The Guerilla Marketer's Guide To Selling Ebooks On Amazon by Michael Alvear for advice on this, as well as every other aspect of indie publishing for kindle.

Of course, before a buyer even gets to this stage in the process, they have to know your book exists and let’s face it, with a 6 figure number of indie published work on kindle, without even thinking about all the digital books from the big boys and girls and the corporate publishers with an impressive marketing budget, you really are a tiny, almost plankton sized fish in a vast ocean.  This can be very disheartening.  You are therefore recommended to create a “book buzz” and build an author platform at least 6 months in advance of releasing your book onto the world.  This can include using a blog, Facebook, Twitter (which I have not yet pursued – mistake number 3?), contacting reviewers, doing interviews, readings, giving away freebies, etc.  The list is endless and can be overwhelming.  Being impatient to see my books on Amazon, I foolishly published first and am now chasing my tail to promote the titles.  Ouch!  I will know better next time.

I am now doing guest blogs with specialist sites that target my readers, have learned about review sites and am trying to use Facebook more strategically to promote the books.  Getting reviews is proving a major hurdle, and I now understand why some writers have paid for this service.  In fact, one of the review sites I contacted told me they do charge to write honest reviews, because it involves a significant amount of time to read the title and then write about it, which is fair enough.  Thanks to the wonderful advice found on, I learned that there are sites that will promote your books on their free days, so I sent a blog to Digital Books Today, they published it and I was over the moon.  Being featured on the Carnival of the Indies on The Book Designer was also a major boost on many levels, and both sites have increased my blog traffic significantly. 

Because I was donating all profits from my books to charity, I decided that using the Amazon “free” days to promote the books would defeat the object of the fundraising. Mistake number 4. There are three books in the series and I have been told by several professionals that if Book 1 is free for a while (and readers enjoy it) they are more likely to buy the next two books in the series.  No sales = no funds for the horse sanctuary.  So later this month, I will be offering Book 1, Matty and the Moonlight Horse, free for 5 days. 

Similarly, I ignored all the advice I read on pricing strategy as part of the marketing plan because the money was going to charity and I wanted to raise the maximum amount from each sale.  Mistake number 5. Comparing the price I am charging to other similar titles, my book costs a lot more.  So now I am tweaking the prices and testing the market to see what works best. 

There are lots of freelance professionals out there who will help you with every stage of the process, from editing to marketing,  and if you do go it alone (like me) there is also lots of support in the indie community, both online and off, who are happy to share what they have learned. In some ways, writing and publishing your book is the easy part.  Selling it, however, is another story…..prepare to work your butt off.

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