Second, you’d be amazed how often I hear that question in LinkedIn’s author groups. With some 3,000 new books published every day, I have serious doubts that you can just sit back and wait for readers to stumble on your book, or for word of mouth to work its magic. The chances of that happening are probably similar to that of winning the lottery, in which case you don’t even need the long hours and hard work that goes hand-in-hand with a career as an author (if you don’t believe me, you may want to check out this post by Pedro Barrento on Indies Unlimited).
So, what are the next steps after publication? Before I can answer that, I need to ask one question of my own first: is this your first book? You see, until you’ve written at least three books, the simple answer is, “get started on the next one.” Once you have a minimum of three books, promoting them gets so much easier.
1: Platform Building
In the meantime, you should do what you’ve hopefully been doing since the day you decided to become an author: expand your platform. This refers to the social media you visit. Don’t make the mistake of tweeting incessantly about your book. Instead, be yourself, be helpful and courteous and have fun. Make new friends, exchange ideas and view the whole thing as an experience authors would kill a dozen years ago to have. The ability to share manuscripts, beta-read and network with people across the globe is a thing of beauty. Be sure to take full advantage of it by offering people what they need.
When are posts about your books interesting to readers/followers? When they are engaging. For example,
- When the posts are about them, not about you, as when you’re running a discount/free day, and want them to have the best possible deal;
- When you want to share something really wonderful and you’re genuinely enthusiastic;
- When you’re asking for their help/opinion on something;
- When they’re helpful to your audience.
- Find a cool/inspirational/chilling quote from one of your books and tweet that
The golden rule is, don’t think of people as buyers, but as friends. And the test here is, would you want to read the post you’ve just written if it had just arrived to your timeline? If not, chances are that few others will.
So, what can you do to expand your platform? Write engaging, helpful and unique content. The idea here is that people will think, “Here’s someone with something interesting to say. Perhaps their book will be equally interesting.” There is no silver bullet for building one’s platform. I often see people agonize over metrics: ratings, number of followers/tweeps etc. These are only useful as an indication of whether you’re moving in the right direction, and little else. If, for example, you notice that a specific topic is of interest to your new friends, write more posts on that topic. Other topics that bore them, can safely be dropped. We are authors; by definition this means that we can research and write up posts on a number of subjects. Take advantage of our chosen profession’s strengths to help people.
When should you start working on your platform? Ideally, a few years before you publish. If it’s too late for that, you can start right away; just remember that you’re an author, not a social media expert: first and foremost, you need time to work on your writing.
2: Choose Wisely, Young Padawan
The following applies to Amazon specifically: When you publish a book, you’re asked to put it under two categories, and submit up to seven keywords. Many people make the mistake of choosing a broad category – e.g. “Fiction – Romance.” As a result, even if they sell a thousand copies, their book will still not make the top hundred in its category.
What you should do instead, is choose as specific a subcategory as possible. This is because when you’re listed under a subcategory, you’re automatically listed under the main category as well. This makes sure that, by making a few dozen sales, you may find yourself with a best-seller!
In the previous example, the category Fiction-Romance has 193,606 books. However, Fiction-Romance > Historical Romance has only 24,447 books. And Fiction-Romance > Historical Romance > Ancient World has a mere 440 books.
Choose carefully, and may your book never leave the top 100 paid books in its category. To help you with this, I’m including a MS Excel spreadsheet with all of Amazon’s book categories/subcategories, listed according to competitiveness: categories at the top are the easiest to break into. Use the keywords to add more subcategories. In the above example, if you have already used up your categories, add “Ancient World” and “Historical Romance” as keywords – the effect will be the same.
Hint: The spreadsheet includes many categories unavailable from the KDP page. If you want to list your book in one of those, just mark one category as “Other,” then contact KDP to ask them to list your book under your desired one.
Update: As my friend and fellow author Dylan Hearn points out, don’t think that once you have chosen your categories they are fixed forever. You may wish to change them every now and then to expose your book to new readers. Just make sure your book does fit into the category you’ve chosen. There’s nothing worse than facing the wrath of a romance reader upset you’ve put your zombie horror (with a bit of hand holding) into their category.
He also says that some categories may be available in one Amazon market – e.g. amazon.com – and not in another (e.g. amazon.co.uk). I haven’t been able to verify this, as the categories are based on BISAC, but it’s something to consider.
3: Free Days
I’m aware of the controversy surrounding free days, and here’s my take: Free days work completely differently if you have a few books under your belt, and if you’ve only got the one. You should adjust your strategy accordingly.
In the former case, you give one book away (usually the first in a series) so that people get to know your writing. If they like what they’re read, there’s a good chance they’ll come back for more.
If, however, you just published your very first book, then free days are useful to put you on the map. When even your mother would be hard-pressed to identify your book in a lineup, chances are no one will find you on their own. Why not reward your platform friends from their support by giving away your book for a few days – and notifying them well in advance? This will help push your book to the coveted top 100 group, as long as you’ve chosen your categories carefully. More importantly, though, it will please your friends and create buzz around your book – the much coveted word of mouth.
You can read my experience with free days in my relevant post, A-Z Guide: How both my books reached #1 on Amazon.
Step 4: Countdown Deals
Countdown Deals are Amazon’s answer to the diminishing returns of free days – a problem of Amazon’s making, since they have reduced the impact free downloads have on a book’s ranking. This seems to be part of a conscious effort to increase books’ value, for example by only offering a 70% cut for books selling for over $2.99 (just a year ago, that was $1.99).
Countdown deals are a fancy word for sales, although Amazon has added a couple of nice little extras. One is a countdown counter next to the price, notifying visitors of when the deal ends. The other is the ability to increment your price with time. For example, the first three books of my epic fantasy Pearseus sell for $3.49. A countdown deal lasting three days may sell it for $0.99 the first day. The next day the price will go up to $1.99, then $2.99 before finally reverting to the original price.
You can read my experience with countdown deals in my relevant post, A-Z guide: Increase Sales with Countdown Deals.
Step 5: Advertising
My take on advertising: banners offer very little Return On Investment (ROI). This is especially true in the case of full-priced books, when you have to compete against bllions of other ads. The fact that so many websites offer quite expensive ads bemuses me. I have only been able to cover my expenses when I use banners to advertise a promotion (obviously, not a free days one).
Don’t get me wrong – I use ads to announce my countdown deals, sales etc. The chances of people finding out about your free days without you spending money to tell them, are about as many as winning a second lottery ticket, after word of mouth alone has made your book a best-seller. In which case, you’re Gladstone Gander and I hate you.
Anyway, as I was saying, ads do have their uses. In October, I’m starting a “rolling ads” campaign to promote my books, culminating at Christmas. I will be making one of them available at a discount for the duration of the month, and placing an ad on a different medium every five days or so, to target different audiences. I’ll let you know how that goes, and which media were the most successful.
Apart from that specific use, however, I have not seen any particular benefit from placing ads and banners. I have even tried Google ads. This led to some sales, but when I did the math, I was paying people to read my books. A nice short-term strategy, but a lousy long-term one – kinda like the cobbler who didn’t mind selling his shoes for less than they cost him to make, in the belief that he would make it up by volume sales.
Be the Change
I self-published my first two Pearseus books on October 17th, 2013. I didn’t know what to expect, but using the skills I had picked up in my twenty years of Internet marketing was not in my agenda. In fact, I started writing because I had tired of promoting other people’s products and wanted a change.
It turns out that Internet marketing is possibly the most useful skill an Indie author can possess, after writing (the irony is not lost on me). The good news is that Amazon is making everything in its power to help you out, by being ready to push your books, as long as they make the top 100 paid in any subcategory. This is great news: you’re not on your own, but have the world’s best and biggest salesman watching your back.
At the end of the day, however, it’s all up to you. Write, then write some more. Marketing is a great tool, but you can’t sell dross – and if you do, people will notice as fast as you can spend your lottery money (what are you still doing here, Gladstone? Go pester Donald). Work on your craft, improve your writing skills – the ones that really matter, in the end – and, most importantly: Don’t give up!
Update: The Stinky Ink Guide to Publishing
I came across a lovely resource the other day, courtesy of Stinky Ink. The free Stinky Ink Guide to Publishing includes information on everything, from getting an ISBN to cover design tips and recommended proofreading and editing companies. It is aimed at both Indies and writers interested in being traditionally published. Why not check it out and see for yourself?