Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Been There, Done That: An Indie Author Panel on Writing and Publishing (Part 2)

And we're back! Yesterday my fellow authors and I talked about what goes into our work: the writing, the revising, and the editing. But that's only part of the business, and sometimes less than half. Today we're going to talk about the business side: publishing and marketing.

The Business: Publishing and Marketing

Why indie publishing?

Deb Nam-Krane: As I said yesterday, my characters didn’t neatly fit into the popular categories. To make myself attractive to publishers and before that agents I would have had to have scrapped a lot of my story. On top of that, I had already written a series, and almost every agent’s blog I read said that they wanted standalones.

That, plus the fact that two successful indie authors I knew gave me the lowdown on what the business really looked like both in the indie and traditional worlds. If I could go back, I would have done this much sooner!

Jami Deise: I was unable to publish traditionally. There are two pieces of advice that new writers commonly get: write what you know, and write the book you want to read. In two cases, I wrote what I knew, and I was the only one who wanted to read it!

Caroline Fardig:  Originally, because no one wanted my first series.  Now, because I like the freedom.

Erin Cawood: Because I broke too many rules for traditional romance. But now I love being in control.

Where do you publish and why?

DNK: I don’t think there’s an indie author out there who doesn’t publish on Amazon via the Kindle Direct Publishing program. Having said that, the benefits I got from being exclusive to Amazon didn’t make up for losing out on other potential markets, like iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. On top of that, I’m uncomfortable with how predatory Amazon is with indie authors. They don’t seem to have the capacity to stop blatant scams (like those “Summary of” books that rip off popular nonfiction books), but if a random indie author puts their table of contents in the wrong place or gets carried by a popular newsletter, they can have their book yanked. I don’t want to be completely vulnerable to that kind of company.

JD: I am on Amazon exclusively because frankly I’m too lazy to deal with all the other outlets. My second book went out with a small indie publisher, and I found out that without control over my pricing options, my sales were minimal, which is why I went back to self-publishing for my third book.

CF:  Amazon, of course.  I use Smashwords to get my books out to the other outlets.  They’re very easy to work with, especially lately, so I’m happy having a central place to run books through.

EC: I mainly publish on Amazon.

What do you spend money on when you publish?

DNK: Editing and a well-designed cover. Even if you’re just getting a proof-reading, it’s money well spent. Everyone expects an indie to be an amateur and they will find errors (as they will in traditionally published books these days). Make sure that they’ll find as few as possible.

No matter how much you’ve spent on editing and how brilliant your prose is, if it’s got a lousy cover, no one’s going to want to buy it (and a lot of people are going to cringe). Covers don’t have to cost a lot—there are a lot of companies that sell premade covers, for example—so there’s no excuse not to have something professional when you go to sell.  

JD: For this last book, I spent a lot of money with a book launching company, and that turned out to be a mistake. I did get a professional cover and website design out of it, though.

CF:  Editing, cover art (I can do it myself, but it look SO much better when someone else does it), publicity.

EC: Editing, cover art, marketing.

If you could only spend money on one thing, what would it be?

DNK: A cover. Worse comes to worse, you can usually bargain with someone who can do at least a proofread for you. That is sometimes possible with a cover artist, but not as likely.

JD: I agree. The cover is extremely important.

CF:  Publicity in the form of sales channels like Bookbub, Ereader News Today, Bargain Booksy, etc.  Sometimes that is the only way to get your name out there.

How do you tell people about your book? In other words, how do you market your work?

DNK: My blog and my newsletter. Facebook got to be too expensive for what they were offering, which wasn’t much, and I haven’t heard good things about Amazon Ads.

You don’t have to blog every week, but even if you blog three times a year, you should have a page for each of your books, with the cover, blurb, and links to where the book can be bought. Ideally, you’d also include an excerpt and some reviews, too.

I think this is going to be the year during which we focus on the newsletter subscribers we have and stop trying to get new ones at the same pace.

JD: I spend a lot of time pestering my friends on Facebook. They haven’t blocked me yet.

CF:  I’ve hired a publicity company for my last 2 self-pubs, and it’s worked out very well.  Other than that, I have a newsletter and post on Facebook and Twitter.  I have a blog, but I think people only read my posts when I link from Facebook, so again, Facebook.

EC: Having a schedule of regular releases is important, hence the reason I'm taking a year out of marketing to to concentrate on writing. But I have a newsletter, Facebook and Twitter accounts, a website, and I also advertise.

What’s been your most effective marketing tool?

DNK: Giving my first book away for free! It’s a good way to stay visible and generate interest in the rest of my series (most of the titles don’t stand alone).

JD: I haven’t been able to get a Bookbub ad, but an ENT ad breaks even.

CF:  For the money, Bookbub.  For getting people information about me, I’d say my personal Facebook page works better than my author page.  But you can’t bombard people--I think a single post when a new book releases is enough.

What threats do indies currently face?

CF:  I think oversaturation of the market is a big problem.  I guess it faces traditionally published authors as well, but with a company behind you, you get more opportunities to get your name out there.  It’s difficult to get noticed in a sea of other authors.

DNK: What Caroline said, plus the fact that Amazon’s terms get tighter now every year. Latest rumor I heard was that authors who aren’t exclusive to Amazon are only going to get 50% in royalties, down from the 70% we’re getting now.

What opportunities do indies have?

CF:  Well, actually getting a book published is the biggest one.  Only ten years ago, being an indie meant having to sink a bunch of money in hundreds of vanity press book copies and trying to sell them out of your garage.  But now that it’s so easy to put your books out online, we have virtually no outlay of cash up front--if you don’t count editing and cover design like we talked about earlier.  For my first series, I used friends as editors and made my own covers, so I had no expense.  Now that I’m generating some income, I’m using part of that to pay for editing and cover design, and I think it helps make a better product overall.  But it can be done frugally if necessary--which is a huge boost to an author just starting out!

DNK: Good point! Being independent means we can be flexible and ride out changing market and industry trends and still be the ultimate decision makers, both for our stories and our marketing.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on publishing, writing, and reading in our modern world. Hit the comments down below, and thanks for reading!

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