So you want to Self-Publish? Here's some tips on how to do it.
We've all heard the "unbelievable success story" of an amateur or newly established author, how they take their "revolutionary work" from the darkest reaches of the web to the front of the local newspapers, all to becoming a best-seller seemingly overnight. Yes, we have all seen this happen; from the infamous 50 Shades of Grey to one of many non-fiction books based on just people ranting about their friends and family.
The market is flooded daily with hundreds of books of various themes, writing styles and real or fictitious subjects, so how do these projects from someone unknown suddenly become best-sellers, and how do they achieve this so quickly? One word; Marketing.
Marketing a book is part of the Publishers job; if they don't market a book, it does not sell, and so they do not make any money. This is all well and good for those of us who decided to sacrifice our creative freedoms to a publisher, but to those who decided to self-publish this sort of thing can become an absolute nightmare. So, how did some self-published authors become so successful without any income to pay for advertising? It's quite simple really. First I will assume you already are signed up to a printing website, such as LuLu. That being said, here's how you can get your book from "unknown" to a potential "bestseller" without going to a publisher.
Take note that some of these tips work for regular business practices as well, and don't just apply to self-publishers.
#1 - Make use of Social Media
This is a platform many of us use every day of our lives, and yet we don't make use of its true potential. People on Facebook add friends to their social networks that they may have never met before, amassing hundreds to even thousands of people to their network, and this is a hive of potential readers.
Take a moment to head over to Facebook now and look at your friends-list, see how many of them are into the subjects you are writing about. You might not sell your book to them, but if you know them personally you can give them a copy of your book to review and then publicise it to their friends, or on sites your book is on sale at like Amazon.
If you don't use Facebook, but do use other social media, then the same rule applies to them; look how many contacts you have, who fits your target audience? Share a copy of your book with them and then ask them to write a review. If you want to go even bigger with social media, be sure to set up a "Publisher Page" somewhere, using the name for your "Publisher". In my case I used Zuperbuu Works as my named publisher. Using these pages is key to keeping fans and future readers up-to-date on social media without them clogging up your personal account, it helps keep your personal life and working life tidy as well.
Sometimes a book from an unknown author can reach the spotlight super quickly just by viral marketing methods using Social Media; an author or publisher will find something about the book that is controversial or easy to take advantage of, and they will use those items as the core selling point. They will take that selling point and bombard connections to talk about it online, which in turn starts a chain of events I like to call "Chicken-coop Gossip." In the case of 50 Shades, it's publisher took the supposed "raunchiness" of the books as its core selling point, took to social media and a select few individuals, and began the process.
"Did you know this book is really filthy?" "My friend just read a raunchy novel and won't stop going on about it. It must be good!"
I am sure you, or someone you know, heard similar things about it that sounded like this. And anyone who has picked up a copy of 50 Shades that reads "Fan-Fiction" will say the same thing I am about to tell you; it's utter garbage. Now, every author makes occasional spelling or grammar mistakes, but the level in-which this occurs in 50 Shades of Grey is unbelievable. The book was successful because of its marketing campaign alone, as these handful of individuals soon spread gossip about "the dirtiest novel they have ever read" around social media like a wildfire that, by the time anyone was able to call them out on their lies, the book had already sold millions. So trust me when I say this: use social media to advertise your book. It hasn't just worked for 50 Shades, it has worked for hundreds of other authors and not just those who are registered to a publisher.
On a side-note I would not advise using Facebook Ads to advertise your book; they have limited reach for the prices they ask for, and you pay regardless of if anyone clicks your ad or not. If you must pay to advertise, head onto the next tip.
#2 - Take advantage of Google
Google is the largest search engine in the world and boasts a magnitude of features for any small business or aspiring entrepreneur. From Analytics to Advertising, it is worth getting a Google Account set up for your own Publisher. If you have a website, be sure to register it with Google Analytics to see what sort of traffic you are getting, that way you can work out what your target demographic is and make use of that data on Social Media.
You can also use Google to purchase advertising, but unlike Facebook Ads these ones only require you pay when someone clicks your ad, and you can have a fixed budget, so no matter how many clicks your ad gets you will not end up paying more than you have registered your plan with.
Also make use of Googles search algorithm: add keywords and tags to your site to make it appear on searches more often. This is how small businesses obtain traffic themselves; by applying hidden tags to their site using key words describing what they do, sell or what themes and topics they may cover. The more tags you use, the higher chances of your site getting seen, and more views to your site can create a chance for your target audience to make a purchase of your book.
#3- Get Local Exposure
Take your book to the library and local charity shops and donate them; while you make nothing in terms of sales doing this right away, the purpose of this action is to give you and your book exposure. They will be sitting on a shelf in the library or shop in public view, with a steady flow of people coming and going, and chances are someone will see the book and either rent it at the library or buy it at the store and then want to buy more of your work, or recommend it to friends or family.
If your local paper is looking to fill up some column space there is no harm in approaching them with a free copy of your book and asking them to publicise a review of it in their paper. Again, this might not mean instant traffic to your site or a storm of sales flooding in, but it is still exposing your work to the public.
if you know any book clubs at your local school, church or community centre then it might also be worth dropping a free copy to the club and asking if its members can review it when they finish reading it.
#4- Reviews matter. Always ask for them!
Using all the previously mentioned ideas are no good to you unless those who sampled your book leave a review online. They can do this on their own website/blog, or via Social Media, but really what they should be doing is leaving the reviews on Amazon. Obviously you want your work to have glowing 5-star reviews, but not everyone will read the same book and feel completely satisfied. If those you gave a sample to didn't like the book at all it might be best to find out what they didn't like about it, to help improve your next project reach either a new audience or just expand into a wider one. If your reviewers thought it was OK or just liked it, or loved it, then kindly ask them to leave it a review on Amazon as all good reviews matter; Amazon does not display books on the front page or even as recommendations unless it has had at least one review, so the more of them you get the better your chances of being spotted are.
#5- Attend Conventions and Meetups
Doing all the above suggestions are great starting points to getting your book off the ground and ready for a big launch; you have your website set up and Social Media followings, you have your book up for sale and reviewed, now you have to kick it into hyper-drive!
Look in your local area first for any media conventions such as Comic-con or Film Expo, as regardless of what these conventions are titled as they do support and encourage authors to attend them. Go to one of these conventions as a guest first and look at how other authors and artists set their tables up, see how much they price their goods at the convention compared to on their website or elsewhere. Once you have a feel for how these events work you can move on to testing the water...
At the next local convention, book a small "artists alley" or "comic-village" table. Make sure you have more stock than just your book to sell, as people tend to be drawn in by seeing plenty of items on display rather than an empty table with just one item for sale. Get yourself a few book-stands or make your own and prop up a sample for people to see as they walk by without them having to lean over the table, and pop another copy at the front for them to look through. Most sellers like to badger their potential readers as they walk by, but I believe this is bad practice and should be avoided; if someone is hovering over your work, strike up a friendly conversation with them, let them ask questions about you or your work, and ask them what sort of things they are into. Chances are they could be a potential reader, or indicate to you that you may be reaching into more audiences than your original one. If you try to get the attention of someone who is just glancing at every table, chances are they aren't interested to begin with, and you would be wasting time trying to sell your book to them.
Your first convention or meetup is not guaranteed to be a huge financial success, but this gives you the most exposure out of all the above options and can be a lot of fun at the same time. Once you have had your first local event, be a bit daring and try for a much larger one; I took the plunge and went for the London MCM Comic-con and while I didn't sell many books at the time, it did bring me a lot of website traffic, and I learnt a lot about setting up the table properly too. Plus, I just really loved being able to draw at the table and talk to guests!
Following these 5 simple steps is a great way of getting your project on the road to success. Self-publishing is far more difficult than what mainstream media portrays it to be, but it doesn't have to be difficult for learning what steps to take just to get seen. So long as you remember: Use Social Media to spread awareness, give free copies away to people and get them reviewed, make sure you have a website with good tags and is easy to find, and get out to conventions to meet potential new readers!