The quality of books you can produce now is almost indistinguishable to the reader to anything put out by a major publisher […] I was just never really sure why they didn’t succeed.
– Mitch Benn
This extract is from an interview with Mitch Benn on the Guardian. In the first line of the quote, Mitch is right. In the second part, Mitch is also correct, but he could be wrong. The majority of self-published authors fall into that group, so why do some succeed where others fail?
One of the biggest mistakes self-published authors make is not building an audience before they publish. Most authors write their book, publish it and then investigate how to best promote their book. Wrong. You need to be building an audience as you are writing, ideally before. With so many free social media platforms and free newsletter providers like SubStack, you can start building an audience at no cost or a very minimal fee. Having an audience when you launch will mean immediate sales.
Don’t Genre Bust
The dreaded “my manuscript crosses many genres and doesn’t fit one designated genre” fills me with anxiety and dread. It’s okay to have multiple genres and facets to your story, BUT you must have a lead genre. The reason? Your primary genre is your sales channel. Genre is just a sales category. It tells retailers and distributors where to place your book online. It is also a signal to readers that they might be interested in your book. People don’t search for ‘genre busting novel’; they search for thrillers or romance.
This one is a little cheat code. Don’t just self-publish in eBook and paperback if you can afford more formats. Amazon in particular, along with other retailers, rewards multiple formats. Amazon loves to give its customers a choice. If your book is also available in audiobook and hardback, it will get preferential treatment in the Amazon search results. The irony is you can’t add a hardback when self-publishing on Amazon, so you have to go via Ingram.
What did you last buy on the internet? You don’t need to tell me – I’m sure I’d be shocked, and I am confident you checked the reviews? You looked to see what other people said about the item you purchased. This is of paramount importance for a self-published author. You don’t have the stamp of approval from a mighty traditional publisher. How do readers know your book is worth their time and money? This is why you have to beg, borrow and steal reviews. Get your friends, family and professional networks to read and review your book. Don’t ask them to give a good review just because – it’s also not legal. Ask them for their genuine feedback. Then you need other reviews and that is where you need to start grinding.
The writers who once gathered on Twitter now convene on Instagram. This is a tremendous opportunity to build an audience and connect with your readers. Don’t worry about how many followers you have. Do worry about how many comments and likes you get. What you want is for people to engage with your content. One of our self-published authors, Laura Bird has used this platform to her advantage, and she has a tiny following. She uses funny, witty and emotionally engaging content to engage with her following, making her book a success.
The book launch is alive and kicking. As we exit the grasp of the coronavirus pandemic, don’t underestimate the value of the physical book launch. Pitch one of your local Blackwells or other relevant retailers. Then source a lovely cushion for your bottom and pop yourself in a chair with a stack of books and your favourite pen in hand. Local bookshops are always really open to such propositions as it is good for all parties.
Your self-published book needn’t wallow in despair at the bottom of the sales charts. There are so many options for self-published authors to promote their books. The key is starting early and marketing as much as you write.
Patrick Walsh started PublishingPush.com to make sure authors could publish professionally, keep 100% of their NET total royalties and own their copyright. I have been a voracious reader my whole life and saw an opportunity to make sure authors got a fair deal.