Indie authors can succeed: What Terri did and how you can do it too, part 2

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.

Last week, I introduced you to indie literary fiction author, Terri Giuliano Long. I told you how it took her nine months to sell her first 1,000 copies and then only another twenty-nine days to sell 1,000 more. Her sales keep zooming along, and she’s actually sold almost another 1,000 since last week’s article went up on the site!

After going over the details of our case study, we asked an important question:  How did she do it, and how can others do it too?

We’ve pinpointed several areas to explore in answer to that question, and we went over the first five in last week’s post. So if you haven’t read the first part of this series, please go back and take a look.

Now we’re going to continue this discussion by highlighting another seven areas. First I’ll tell you my general advice and explain its importance, then Terri will tell us how she used this advice to achieve best-selling status.

Here goes…

 

Run contests and give-aways.

It’s a reader’s market out there. With so many books vying for attention, you’ve really got to do everything in your power to make your title stand out. The points we discussed last week can’t be ignored, but they can be supplemented. Draw the reader in with promotional contests and give-aways. Don’t be afraid to give out free copies for reviewers, readers, visitors to your blog, whomever. Get your book out there. If you have to give-away the occasional Kindle as part of a fan fic contest or some other promotion tying into your novel—do it!

This begs a very important question:  Would you rather have readers or customers? By this I mean, is it more important to find readers to connect with your story or to make a few bucks on a sale? MOST writers will say they prefer readers, so in that sense, there’s nothing wrong with giving out free copies until you’ve got enough word of mouth buzz to send those sales sky high (and even after that too). If you’d rather get rich quick, I’d reassess this desire or your chosen occupation. Writers who attempt to build a readership will also build-up their sales over time. It’s not an either-or proposition.

 

What Terri did...
As Emlyn suggests, I’ve given away hundreds of eBooks, via downloadable PDF files or Smashwords coupons, and somewhere in the vicinity of 100 paperback books. Most traditional media won’t review indie books, so we rely on bloggers and readers for all-important reviews. Bless and cherish these people! They read our books and write reviews purely out of love. Because I value them so greatly, I happily give them a book in whatever format they request. Buying and shipping paperback books costs money, particularly when you’re shipping overseas. Today, a lot of reviewers are just as happy with an eBook. That’s terrific. But if someone requests a paperback, I send one, with a note saying thank you.

I’ve given books to readers via Goodreads giveaways and also through various promotions. The Indie Book Collective sponsors periodic daisy-chain blog hops. So far I’ve done two – Tour de Troops, over Memorial Day Weekend, and Menage a Blog, in July. For each, I had about 125 unique visitors to my blog, and each person who left a comment received a Smashwords coupon for a free eBook. We also gave books away during my recent Bestseller For a Day and Social Whirlwind Media Tours. In all of these cases, I communicated directly with the person who received the book. This opportunity to reach and out and connect with readers is the best reason, I feel, to give away books. When we communicate with readers we let them know that we feel they’re important, we value them – maybe they’ll be loyal to us.

 

Enter contests.

How else can you make your book stand out? Accolades. You’re far less likely to win an award if you don’t enter a contest that’s giving them out. Submit your novel or an excerpt to whichever competitions are looking for books like yours. Submit far. Submit wide. If you’re lucky enough to win, this will provide great validation for you personally (yay, somebody thinks my writing is good!) and for the potential reader. You may also get a shiny new badge for your book cover or your website. What’s more, the contest will promote itself and your winning entry. Free PR!

 

What Terri did...
A traditionally published friend writes for a wonderful website called BookBundlz, a resource for book clubs. My friend gave me the name of the owner, and I emailed to ask if she’d be interested in my writing an article, but the owner never responded. One day, I visited the Book Bundlz website, noticed a call for entries for their 2011 Book Pick, and decided to enter. I had the (mistaken) impression that the site favored traditionally published books, so I was shocked when the Book Bundlz judges chose In Leah’s Wake as a finalist. It was a huge honor when club members, by vote, selected my book as the winner.

If you win a contest, forever after, you get to call your book an award-winning book. This may not seem like a big deal, particularly if your book wins an award no one has ever heard of; it does, however, change the perception of your book’s quality in the mind of readers. Remember – indie published books haven’t been vetted by a team of editors and authors don’t have the traditional PR machine to shape and promote our brand. Readers are taking a risk on us. It’s our job to lower the risk and make readers feel comfortable. An award says this book has been deemed worthy by whoever sponsored the contest.

 

Dapple in creative marketing.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Similarly, there’s far more than one way to sell a book. Yes, there are the tried and true methods of collecting reviews, establishing a platform, being present on social media, yada, yada, yada. And, yes, by engaging in these familiar marketing tactics, you are going above and beyond what the typical indie author is willing to do. But wouldn’t it be nice to go above and beyond “above and beyond?” I’m talking way out there in the stratosphere of marketing genius!

Be creative. Be inventive. Be unique. Do you notice a pattern here? It’s all about standing out. Terri’s been refreshingly eager to let her creativity flow. I’ll let her tell you more.

 

What Terri did...
Any creativity in promoting In Leah’s Wake has been a joint venture between Emlyn and me. We’re both idea people, so we enjoy thinking of strategies others may not have tried, and we make a good team. When I signed on for the IBC’s Menage a Blog Tour, I wanted to do something different and fun to attract readers to my blog. Emlyn came up with a character quiz, a ten-question quiz that tells you which In Leah’s Wake character you most resemble. We wrote the questions together, which was a lot of fun. As a kicker, I had the idea of creating a competition and asking visitors to vote for a winner. To enter, you had to take the quiz, and then leave a comment on my blog telling us which character you were and what it meant to you. I asked a friend, Barbara Hightower, to judge and select the ten best comments, and then Emlyn organized the responses in a post and we invited the winners to rally their friends to vote, with some really cool prizes as the incentive. That was tremendous fun, it generated enormous traffic to my blog, and I met a lot of really terrific people. When the IBC featured In Leah’s Wake in their Bestseller For a Day promotion, several of my blogger-sponsors had participated in the previous event.

 

Diversify your promotional efforts.

I thought the clichéd phrase in my last point worked rather well, so here’s another:  Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was it built by a single builder. When it comes down to it, the author is more of the construction manager or the rich guy sitting in a skyscraper who ordered the work to be done (depends on how involved you are in the process). You CAN do it all yourself, but it will take longer and results will be slower to come by. Many indie authors don’t have the option of hiring a crew. But if you can, in any way, swing it – do it!

Now if we look at Terri’s crew, Novel Publicity is only one part of it. Maybe we’re the guys who put up the frame of the building, and we’re really good at it too. We might be able to help with the electrical work and the plumbing, but that’s not really our forte. Just as you don’t want to go it alone, you don’t want to go it with a limited team. Different people come with different talents and, perhaps more importantly, different people come with different people.

Novel Publicity has a family of over 100 blogs serving in our tour program (and, yes, we’re growing every week)! While that may be impressive, it’s only 100 blogs out of how many thousands, perhaps millions, on the web. This is just one example, but really, do as much as you can do by yourself with a team, whatever—just do it!

 

What Terri did...
Emlyn’s right, albeit far too humble. Novel Publicity has helped me tremendously. Without NP, I would not have a social media platform. There is absolutely no doubt about this. NP created my video trailer – which has had almost 650 views on YouTube, Emlyn helped me get started on Twitter, Goodreads and other networks, and she’s been instrumental in creating the look and feel of my blog. She organized my first blog tour, helped me with reviews and radio interviews and, of course, she organized last week’s Social Media Whirlwind extravaganza. I consider her as an invaluable partner – and a wonderful friend.

I have, however, done other promotions. I’ve done several specifically targeted reader promotions with Author Buzz, and I’ve done the two tours I’ve already mentioned with the IBC. As an IBC staff member, I’ve had the opportunity to learn DIY book marketing strategies from three of the best in the business, Carolyn McCray, Amber Scott and Rachel Thompson. My recent Bestseller For a Day promotion was also sponsored by the IBC. This event took two months to prepare and involved dozens of volunteers. They promote In Leah’s Wake on their 99¢ Network and my book, and 139 others, will be featured in their Indie Book Blowout over Labor Day weekend. By coming at this from different directions, we’ve been able to generate buzz across a number of networks. This is hard work and it’s intense, but it pays off.

 

Join forces with other authors.

Do you want a huge promotional team but can’t afford to pay a gigantic crew of publicists? Go for the next best thing, your fellow author (especially one who writes for an audience that is similar to your own). Some people seem to think this is a bad idea, because networking with another author can take attention away from you. That’s a load of rubbish.

Choosing books to read isn’t an either-or proposition. Your author friend will bring in a network of friends, acquaintances, and past readers—a network you wouldn’t have had total access to on your own. Similarly, you’ll provide access to your networks by posting about each other on your blogs or social media or splitting the cost for a hired gun.

Say it with me now: Authorrrr. Frrrrriend!

 

What Terri did...
Emlyn is absolutely right about this; as she points out, though, some authors are reluctant to cross-promote, so it can be hard to put a solid plan together. While I’m discussing possible strategies a few author friends at the moment, my greatest success has been with the IBC blog tours. These three day tours involve 12 – 15 authors and they’re arranged in a daisy chain; this means that each author links to the author before and after, and reader/visitors are encouraged to hop from one blog to the next over the course of several days. For every comment, a visitor receives a free eBook; with 12+ eBooks up for grabs, plus a Kindle giveaway, readers have plenty of incentives to join the fun and play along – and they do. The authors also win a prize for most unique comments on their blog, so they’re given an incentive to bring others – sponsors and visitors – into the fold. By promoting the event together, everyone wins.

This sort of cross-promotion creates connections among the authors, too; I continue to correspond with and help promote authors I’ve worked with on the tours. I’ve also maintained contact with many of the original bloggers who sponsored me on my original Novel Publicity tour. This sort of community is great for promotional reasons, but the support and camaraderie are, I feel, the bigger rewards.

Cross-promoting also helps to get our books into the “If you liked this, you’ll like this” chain in the online retailer sites. This gives our books a lot more exposure than we would have had on our own.

 

Stay humble.

I’ve jokingly come up with a new psychiatric diagnosis:  Writer’s Personality Disorder. It’s marked by extreme ego (as opposed to mood) swings. Sufferers may veritably move from a hot air balloon high to a crushing sense of complete and utter defeat. Little things become huge. A 5-star review on GoodReads can fill the sufferer with a seemingly endless supply of confidence. A form letter query rejection can send the victim to bed for days without food but plenty of tears.

Okay, it’s not really a joke, because all of this is normal. Still there are some who take one side or the other. Those who can’t get over their despair will likely quit the craft. And the others, oh boy! It pains me to say this, but there are some authors out there who are complete narcissists, and wouldn’t you just like to punch them in the face and bring them down a peg or six? Okay, maybe that’s too strong of a reaction on my part, but c’mon!

You’ve seen them too, peacocking around Facebook and Twitter, never talking about anything except their own greatness. Give me a freaking break. Readers see through that! So you’re achieving success now, but how long will it last? You may be your biggest fan, but you’re also your own greatest enemy. Learn humility, or, and I’m going to allude to the Bible here:  take a fall. It’s coming, sister. It’s coming, brother. So strap on some humility for our sakes as well as your own.

 

What Terri did...
Honestly, I don’t have much to add. I certainly have some of those mood swings – is that me you’re talking about, Em? A reader feels a personal connection to my book and notes it in a review or sends me an email and I feel twenty feet tall. Then, sometimes the same day, a reader posts a 1-star review on Goodreads that says “Awful. Don’t waste your time . . .” Ouch. I’d like to say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. You have to recognize that writing is a business – people have different tastes, stuff happens, things don’t always go our way – and learn to deal with it. It helps if you don’t take yourself too seriously.  

 

Never ever give-up.

Just as good writing takes time, so too does good marketing. Remember how we mentioned it took Terri nine months to sell her first 1,000 copies? How easy would it have been for her to give-up, but she didn’t. The same goes for all of us.

I’d never encourage a writer to quit the craft even though your first book might not be to the same standard as its peers. If you want to get better, practice, read reference guides, seek help from those whose prose you admire. Keep on writing. Keep on marketing. Keep on trying new things. But never, ever give-up on your book or on yourself.

 

What Terri did...
I could not have said it better. Writing is hard. And the business of writing is harder. If you’re weak in the knees, you’re easily discouraged or you have a fragile ego, don’t indie publish. If your work hasn’t been accepted by a traditional publisher, ask yourself – better yet, ask an honest friend – why and then work on improving. Read the guides, as Emlyn suggests, practice, attend a class or a workshop. Writing is a craft; the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Keep submitting. If you keep at it, don’t give up, you will eventually find a publisher. If you love to write but don’t want to schlep your book, this is the road you should take. You’ll still have to promote your book, but the business frustrations – worrying about distribution or whether your eBook is properly formatted – will be someone else’s headache, not yours.

Once you indie publish, if you want to sell books, you’ve got to put on a different hat. Publishing your first indie book is like starting a small business. You’ll work longer hours for less money than you ever dreamed possible. I’ve been joking lately about posting a before and after photo. Before promoting my book, I actually looked like my author photo. Now . . . well, I won’t even go there. The point is, over the last six months I’ve worked a whole lot of 12 or 16-hour days. Some days I’ve wondered why I bothered, and – my husband will attest to this – I’ve had many days when I’ve threatened to quit writing. Forever.

But then I get a note that says your book has given me hope. Or, you speak for so many parents and teens. Thank you. Or if I were stranded, I’d want to bring your book with me. And my heart melts. In those moments, I know it’s been worth it. I’ve been blessed. Those wonderful, poignant, breathtaking moments far, far outweigh any down times. It’s like children – parenting is tough, but your children bring you the greatest joy you can ever imagine. Hold you head up, reach higher, and hold onto the joy.

Don’t ever give up.

 

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.

 


Go Deeper with the Novel Publicity Guides to Writing & Marketing Fiction