What they say is true: Hind sight is 20/20.
Or this fabulous/painful old adage, “I wish I knew then what I know now.”
Or my favorite, “Youth is wasted on the young.” :0
I've been in this indie publishing thing for 5 years now, and here's a list of 15 things I've learned:
1. The importance of a strong series (characters and genre).
I just wanted to publish a book and sell it. I didn't think in terms of series. In fact, the idea kind of scared me. I found out soon enough that readers loved to keep reading about characters they've grown attached to. Character attachment helps to sell books. This was first driven home to me when I published Clockwise. I thought it was a stand-alone book, but my reader-fans wanted more of the main characters Casey and Nate. That led to what is now called The Clockwise Collection. Sales of my series books out-perform my stand-alone books by FAR.
2. Branding (pen names, website)
When I started out I had no idea about author branding and book branding. I didn't have any marketing experience at all. Not only was I embarking on a sharp learning curve when it came to writing, I was heading into a roller coaster ride when it came to running a business.
Branding is basically setting up reader/buyer expectations. When they buy X's book, they want a certain kind of experience. Vendors like Amazon want to know what shelf to put your books on, and branding helps in that. What genre are you writing in? Make sure your overall brand reflects that, which includes your social media presence and website. It's important to have a website for readers to find you, or to find out more about you.
Pen names can be useful if you write in more than one genre, but they are also more work to manage. I now have three. Lee Strauss – mystery and spec fiction, Elle Strauss – young adult sci-fi/fantasy, and Hope Franke – inspirational romance.
3. The need for great covers
I think this is self-explanatory. Again, five years ago there wasn't a lot of places to go for cover design. Now it's a vibrant cottage industry. My main cover guy: http://www.novakillustration.com/bookcovers.html
4. Build a mailing list
No one talked about this five years ago. The thing about a mailing list is that you own it. No one (cough – FB – cough), can suddenly decide you need to pay them if you want to tell people about your news. However, you can't let it go cold. You need to keep a connection with your list by regularly offering them something of value. There are many email providers out there. Mailchimp is the most popular, but there's also Awebber and Convert Kit among others. I've recently switched to Mailerlite.
Many authors like myself offer something free as an incentive. If you're not yet subscribed to my list, do so now and you'll get 3 free short stories.
5. Email automation
Once you have a new reader on your list, you want to engage them a little at the beginning so they can feel like they're getting to know you. Automation allows you to set up a sequence of emails delivered several days apart, triggered when someone subscribes. You want to warm them up with interesting facts about you and your books, get the used to receiving emails from you and working your way to buy links for your books at the end.
6. Stronger writing
Like everything, you get better at writing the more you do it. We all should see improvement after doing something consistently over a five-year period.
7. Front and back matter funnelling (smart url)
Front and back matter of your book is valuable real estate. Use it to encourage people to leave a review, check out your other books and to tease them with an excerpt of the next book in the series. And to sign up for your email! You can track links by using a service like Smarturl.it – Smart URL delivers the vendor country to whatever country the link is clicked in. So, if you click on the Amazon link while in Canada, the Canadian store will open up. There is also the advantage of changing the link once on your smart url dashboard, instead of having to go into every book file and re-upload. For instance you can advertise your pre-lease book with a link to your author page via Smarturl. When the link is live, simply update the smarturl link from your author page to the book page and all the back matter in all your files are automatically updated!
8. Business plan
Highly valuable exercise for monitor growth in your business. Author Kimberley Grabas does a great breakdown in this video. http://selfpublishingadvice.org/the-indie-author-business-plan-the-basics-kimberley-grabas/
9. Frequent release (shorter books more often, quick writing system – step sheet, dictate rough draft scene sketches, revise adding details to setting, clothes, actions etc, polish each chapter, run through spell checker, copy/proof edits)
Amazon algorithms have always been a mystery. However, time as shown that publishing frequently helps to keep the author visible and thus selling and ranking well.
The other vendors algorithms are also an enigma to most people.
Writing quickly comes easy for some people, but can be really hard for others. I've developed a 5 step quick writing plan for myself that I'll share next week.
10. How to work social media
Quite honestly, I still don't have this one down. It's the tension between being a private introvert and having to regularly engage with strangers for the sake of your business. I see the value and importance when it comes to visibility and even SEO (coming up on website searches), so it's an important skill to learn. Plus I do enjoy getting to know people, especially people who like my work. 🙂
11. Knowledge of Paid advertising including FB
I've done quite a lot of paid advertising. The best ROI, as everyone will tell you, is a Bookbub feature, but they are expensive and hard to get. Facebook ads can be quite successful, but you have to be prepared to invest a lot of time and money learning the ropes and even then there's no guarantee. That is why email lists are the way to go. They're relatively inexpensive to build and hopefully your subscribers are actually waiting to hear about your next book and eager to buy!
12. Amazon first before going wide (importance of the right keywords and strong sales page)
This one is up for debate, so you have to decide what's best for you. I actually went wide first (meaning I uploaded and promoted to all vendors – Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and Google Play). Looking back on the last five years, I believe I would've done better had I gone with Amazon only, at least until I'd built a strong readership, before going wide. The reason for this is Amazon has a MUCH better system for selling books within its own ecosystem, making it easier to find readers and make them fans. The other vendors fall way behind in this. Once you get a fan base at the other vendors you can sell well too, but it's a much slower road getting there. Many authors are uncomfortable at the idea of having all their eggs in one basket, even if it means making less money for a while, and go/stay wide on principle.
Check out this debate between authors Susan Kaye Quinn and Pippa DeCosta: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/should-indies-go-wide-fbf16/
13. Self-publishing helpers: Booktrakr, Bookfunnel, Instafreebie, smart url, dragon dictation, Vellum, picmonkey, pixlr, canva, photoshop/ element, scrivener
Like I've already mentioned, five years ago there weren't a lot of support industries available to self-publishers. Now the world is your oyster! Above are some of my favorite. I've blogged about some of them HERE.
14. Don't spend money on audio or foreign until English language digital sales can support it.
Most authors who make good money from audio and foreign are already making really good money from e-books and print. Audio and foreign books are expensive and unless you already have a fan base eager to buy, you might find it takes a lot longer than you'd hoped to make that money back.
15. Author community
This is my favorite one. Five years ago self-publishers were still finding each other. The fact we were all in the trenches together, sharing and learning with and from each other was very bonding and wonderful. I've made a lot of writer friends, most I haven't even met in real life, that have really made this often difficult and stressful journey worthwhile.