From an obsessed writer who’s been at it for years and continues to struggle even today, I wave a hand and say good luck. Becoming a successful author, whether you’re self-published or have gone the “normal” route, is not a cost-free endeavor…and in MOST cases, it’s not a miracle that happens overnight. Even after your books are accepted and printed, advertising and basically getting the word out is a high-end, unforeseen expense. As in any success story , whether it’s producing a product, acting in a play, or creating a modern miracle, it’s all about being “discovered” by the right people at the right time. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something amazing to happen. But to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t so. You have to be a dedicated, relentless self-promoter and, unfortunately, a lot people just don’t have the stomach or time for it.
What’s the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise — and I’m not alone here — is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you’re going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It’s easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.
These days there’s a lot of talk about a “blog strategy,” and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won’t have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot — except time and perhaps a little pride.
Then there’s the stuff you pay for. And it’s tricky to judge what’s a good investment and what’s not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads. She’s still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities.
Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.
The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign–it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: “We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it’s a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don’t just buy blogs for self-identified readers — who are not the bulk of book buyers — but rather I’ll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them.” Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can’t really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.
I agree. However, I can’t tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book’s sales. There are simply too many variables.
And something else to consider when it comes to self-promotion is the fact that there’s a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn’t impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call “comfortably tenacious.”
Next, you may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren’t keen on carrying self-published books and it’s extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available “to certified resellers through our wholesale website.” You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.de).which is definitely a plus…if your book is seen.
Thirdly, it’s very hard to get your self-published book reviewed — and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that’s changing a bit. People didn’t take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what’s interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400 – $550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective opinion in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. However, be prepared! There’s no guarantee that the reviewer will like your book and you might have just spent a small fortune on one of the cruelest critiques of your life.
As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the review isn’t favorable as well.
Another option is BlueInk Review, a fee-based review service targeted at indie authors. Most of the time, the results are honest and kind, and the positive aspects of your book are duly noted, making it possible to share your accomplishments on all your social sites.
Finally, in my opinion, the biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to produce thousands. To get a rough idea of how much money you can make selling your book, you can check out CreateSpace’s royalty calculator. Today, setting the price at $14.99 means that it costs about $3.70 to produce each book. If you have a longer book, you’ll have to set the price even higher to make any money at all.
Overall, compared with what traditional publishers pay out, royalty rates for self-published books are actually quite decent. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers, your book should be priced between $8.99 or $9.99, and that’s simply not possible if it’s longer than 250 pages.
Many of the self-publishing operations have their own online marketplaces where you can offer up your book and get a significantly better royalty rate. Lulu.com, for instance, touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience. But you obviously have access to a much larger audience on Amazon, which is the first place people generally go to look for a book when they hear about it.
The trick, of course, is making people aware your book even exists. This is where hustling takes over. You become a virtual marketing machine by joining book clubs and exchange groups, producing book trailers, offering giveaways and contest goodies…whatever it takes to get your book into a reader’s hands and that all powerful review on Amazon.
Yes…self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors and each of them are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I — or other authors say today — could be wrong in just a few months from now. A few years ago, Amazon was only offering 35 percent royalties on e-books. Now it’s at 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 and higher. So there’s no telling what next year will bring.