Indie authors can succeed: What Terri did and how you can do it too, part 1

This is a joint post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand, and best-selling indie author, Terri Giuliano Long

What does it take to be successful as an author? How can one go from simply dreaming a dream to living its reality? Is there any hope for all of the starving wordsmiths of the world?
Why, yes. There most assuredly is.

 

Terri Giuliano Long: A Case Study

To prove this point to all of the starry-eyed optimists and cynical nay-sayers, allow me to present a case study. It’s no secret that Novel Publicity has been working with literary fiction author Terri Giuliano Long almost since we opened our web portal to business back in March 2011.

Terri published her first novel, In Leah’s Wake, in October 2010. She put in a lot of hard work and hard-earned cash to promote it, and by July 26th, 2011, she had sold her 1,000th copy. A milestone few authors ever reach, indie or not.

1,000 copies—that’s really exciting. But what’s even more exciting is what happened next. It took nine months to sell those 1,000 copies, and only another twenty-nine days to sell 1,000 more. Now Terri’s sales are above 100 per day and show no signs of sinking. Is it fair to say she’s made it?

I think so.

Now that we’ve laid the framework to show that, yes, an indie author can achieve at least a modicum of commercial success, let’s move forward and answer the more pertinent question and get to the real reason you’re reading this blog post anyway: how did she do it?

Perhaps more accurately phrased as: how can you do it?

Let’s explore this question chronologically. Along the way, we’ll discuss what Terri did that was right-on and what she could have done better to give you the chance to learn from both her mistakes and her triumphs.

Write the best book you can.

Not the best book in the entire history of humanity. Just the best one you can possibly write. Give it the time to take root and really grow. Don’t rush to meet a deadline. Don’t try to conform to what’s popular or what somebody else expects. Respect your artistic vision and respect the English language. That’s step one.

What Terri did...
I wrote the first draft as my graduate thesis – the entire first draft in three months. It was terrible, of course – awful writing, a lot of summary, lacking story development. I then spent about four years – while teaching and doing other writing- revising. I started from scratch, meaning I didn’t cut and paste; I started from a blank page and retyped the entire manuscript. This is important because it helps you see the novel with new eyes. I replaced summary with scene, created new scenes, developed characters. There is a lot of drug-related information in the novel. To get it right, I had to research. I also researched protocol on runaway teens, and I looked up information on construction practices, economics and so on. I then looked at thematic issues – this is a story about community and connection. Once I realized this, I worked to develop and pull the themes forward. I always read my work aloud, so tend to edit for style (vocabulary, syntax, etc.) as I write; while I did polish, I didn’t feel a need to style-edit the entire novel.

Package the book in a way that will appeal to readers.

This means, for the love of all that is holy, please PLEASE hire a professional editor. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, readers will notice if your formatting or your punctuation is off. You can’t cut corners if you want to be taken seriously. And this goes beyond the editing.

You also need to present an attractive exterior—I’m talking about your book cover. Saying this goes against that cliché moral code of not judging a book by its cover, but people can and will judge your beloved novel in this way. Don’t give anyone the chance to discount your book for such a superficial reason. Cover your bases.

What Terri did...
For beta readers, I have a terrific writing group – three professional women, one a college professor with a PhD in English, one a former teacher and commercial writer, with an MFA in creative writer, and one a former senior editor at Harper Collins. I rely on them for direction, particularly in terms of story. My husband, Dave, read for logistics and told me where I was really messing up, and my daughters read and told me what I had and had not gotten right about teens. Before I published the book, more than 7 people read it and recorded the errors they found; still, after it was published, Emlyn found 22 more, which I’ve corrected, in addition to 4 or 5 readers have picked up. No book is perfect, but, yes, an editor is a MUST. If I go indie with my next book, I will definitely hire an editor. It’s just too easy to miss things.

I paid a small press that works with indie authors to do the design. I selected the photo of the empty swing. It conveys the sense of loss that runs through the story; because the swing is in motion, there’s also hope. I also like the colors – the hopefulness of the summer green sets the tension of the empty swing in relief.

Build your profile; up your visibility.

Thanks to the robust web of social networking sites, this is easier to do than ever before. Keep a regular blog; engage on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, GoodReads, LibraryThing. It’s a lot of work. And this will absolutely take more time out of your day than anything else, perhaps even more than writing.

Writers who say “I can’t waste time on social media, the most important thing is to write” are wrong. I’m taking a firm stance here, and I know it will make people angry, but that’s okay. This needs to be said. The kinds of writers who discount the power of social media are either super-famous already or phenomenally obscure. Even the super famous like Margret Atwood and Jodi Picoult are regular tweeters, so I’m guessing the nay-sayers fall more to obscurity.

If you’re not adequately represented online, the absence will be glaring. This is a techno-savvy age. Potential readers want to know what you’re about before clicking the “deliver to my Kindle” button on Amazon. They want to see what kind of reviews you are getting on GoodReads. Some of them will even want to write to tell you how much they loved your book. But the absolute best thing about social media is that it grows your audience. The internet allows you to hyper-focus on your desired cross-section of readers. It brings the whole world to your doorstep. It makes informing your existing reader base about a new book incredibly simple. All of this funnels into sales. It really does!

What Terri did...
After I published In Leah’s Wake, I essentially hid for a few months. I began writing at a time when indie publishing was considered shameful, something only losers did (I’m sorry to be so harsh, but it’s true). In October, about 4 books sold, maybe 10 in November. I had priced it at 99¢ so sales picked up around the holidays and then for a few months afterward, while people were busy loading their Kindles. In March, when I activated my Twitter account and met Emlyn, I was averaging 2 sales a day.

For the first two months with Novel Publicity, we worked on building my platform – i.e., getting me up to speed on the blog, Facebook and Twitter. I really enjoyed Twitter, so that didn’t feel burdensome. I was also writing articles for my blog, mostly on craft, and getting a lot of positive feedback via Twitter, so one thing played off another. Once word spread on Twitter and Facebook, I began to receive tweets, email and FB posts from readers who’d either read or expressed interest in reading the book. While social media is not a sales platform per se, word of mouth makes an enormous difference. As you can see, it has taken months to gain traction and get the book noticed, and I’m proud to report that In Leah’s Wake now sells more than 100 copies per day.

If I could do anything over, I would start building my social media platform well before publication. Emlyn says it’s never too early to begin, and if I would have known this then, I wouldn’t have had to wait until July to see my sales shoot up to where they are now. We could have begun with more intensive marketing tactics straight out the gate. I guess it’s called a platform for a reason; you absolutely NEED one to stand on.

Understand your target audience.

When asked who the target readers of their books are, far too many authors respond with some hackneyed naïve answer about it being a book that will appeal to everyone. I don’t care how wonderful your novel is, this just isn’t the case. If you try to go for the broad appeal, you’re going to be too general in your promotional efforts and they’re going to be spread to thin.

Instead take some time to visualize your reader. Hold the concept of the book in your mind and then extend this vision to see what kind of person might hold it in his or her eager hands. Think of a very specific type of person and then branch out from there. Maybe you want to target middle-aged mothers or preppy teenagers—whatever the case, you can really target your marketing efforts once you know who you’re trying to sell your book to.

What Terri did...
If you’ll pardon my boasting, our sales numbers, while miniscule compared with genre fiction, are actually impressive. Many people didn’t – perhaps still don’t – consider literary fiction a good candidate for indie publishing. Please forgive me, dear readers – people who read literary fiction can be a little snobby. Many won’t read an indie published book. At least this was the conventional thinking. So we had to find a way around this, and Emlyn and I talked a lot about how to find and build an audience.

I have to admit, we struggled at first. We began to notice that the biggest upticks in sales resulted from efforts aimed toward book clubs. When In Leah’s Wake was named a finalist in the Book Bundlz Book Pick Contest – Book Bundlz is a resource site for book clubs – we knew we’d hit the jackpot. Having already developed a discussion guide, we were ready to slide right into the space, and it’s paid off nicely.

Engage your readership.

We don’t write in a vacuum. We are influenced by our past experiences, future ideals, and present circumstances. Similarly, readers are influenced by their environments. A book will likely mean a lot more to someone if they have a personal connection to its author. Maybe they want to give you thanks for the entertaining story or to ask you a question to clear-up something they needed to understand better. Maybe they’ll offer a new insight into the story or offer you an opportunity to find even more readers.

Being locked in your own little writer world and disengaged with your fans is definitely a huge mistake. The more you put yourself out there, the more chances you have to really connect. The haters will hate no matter what you do. But by adding that personal layer of interaction with someone who merely liked your book, a like may become a love. Driven by that love, this reader is more likely to tell her friends about your book and hook more readers. And she’s more apt to pick up copies of any future novels of yours (yes, we have to think about our career futures too).

Lastly by truly getting to know your readers—not just your visualization of your target audience, but your flesh and blood readers—you’ll learn more about them, and they’ll tell you what they like and what they don’t like as much, making it easier for you to hit a homerun the next time around.

What Terri did...
I try whenever I can to interact personally with readers. If this means sending 150 email messages to people who’ve entered a giveaway that’s what I do. I spend a good deal of time on Twitter, where I’ve met many terrific, supportive readers and friends. I don’t aggressively push my book on the networks, however. This, I think, is an important distinction. I’ve had two huge promotions this week and last, so I’ve been talking a lot about my book; usually, though, I try to engage by helping and supporting others whenever I can. I do this because I enjoy helping others, not because I expect something, anything, back. I think people see this. When I’ve asked for help – retweeting promo information, for instance – because I don’t ask every day, people don’t seem to mind. I’m absolutely awed by their generosity and kindness.

Although it may take longer than I’d like, I try to respond to all correspondence. When someone helps me, I try to show my gratitude by taking the time to say thank you. Unfortunately, now that I have close to 1400 Facebook friends and fans and over 4000 Twitter followers, it’s getting harder to keep up. I’m ashamed to say, although I do my best, sometimes email gets lost or messages fall through the cracks.

Of course, all this high-touch work is rewarded a million times over every time you receive a message from someone telling you how much they love your book or how grateful they are that you write. 🙂

To be continued…

We’ve got 7 more points to delineate, but this post is already quite long, don’t you think? Check back in next week for the continuation of this two-part series.

 

This week’s a promotional whirlwind!

One of the 7 lessons we’ll hit next week is: Dapple in creative marketing. And this week, Terri and I are doing just that with a little (okay large, okay absolutely freaking gigantic) promotion we like to call the social media whirlwind tour. It also incorporates another of next week’s lessons: Run contests and give-aways. Here’s a snapshot of what’s going on. Read this explanatory blog post to learn more about the promotion and featured events.

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the In Leah’s Wake Kindle edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week.

What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including a Kindle, 5 autographed copies of the book, and multiple Amazon gift cards (1 for $100, 3 for $25, 5 for $10, and 10 for $5 – 19 in all)! Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, August 26th, so you don’t miss out.

1. Purchase your copy of In Leah’s Wake for just 99 cents
2. Fill-out the form on Terri’s site to enter for prizes
3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book!

Today’s featured event is a Google+ hangout with the author. That’s techno-savvy speak for a video chat party. I’ll be there; heck, I’ll even be hosting the hangout! Join us between 12 and 3 PM Eastern, and you may win an autographed copy of Terri’s novel just for checking in.

If you aren’t on Google+ yet, you can visit this link to grab an invite from us. Get +ing already; it’s the fast and friendly social network of the future!

 


Emlyn Chand, President of Novel PublicityAbout this post’s authors:

Emlyn Chand is the president of Novel Publicity and a YA author. She loves to hear and tell stories and emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Her first novel Farsighted released in late 2011 and is of the YA genre. Learn more about Emlyn at www.emlynchand.com or by connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or GoodReads.

 

 

Terri Giuliano LongTerri Giuliano Long grew up in the company of stories both of her own making and as written by others. She’s all-too-happy to share this love with others as a novelist and as a lecturer at Boston College. Her life outside of books is devoted to her family. In her spare time, she enjoys walking, traveling to far-flung places, and meeting interesting people. True to her Italian-American heritage, she’s an enthusiastic cook and she loves fine wine and good food. In an alternate reality, she could have been very happy as an international food writer. Terri loves meeting and connecting with people who share her passions. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, her website, or blog.

 


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