I’ve been reading a lot of author success stories after the author achieved huge levels of success and I wanted to change the conversation. If you’re not familiar with me, here’s a link to my author page, my twitter account, and the official website for my first novel.
While Kindle authors don’t typically get recognized as being officially “Indie,” there’s a huge opportunity on Kindle that nobody’s really taking advantage of online. I’m sure you’re familiar with Hugh Howie, and his overnight success as a Kindle author. He did nothing BEFORE he found success aside from writing a ton of other books. But there’s a lot you can do throughout the process. So, for the scrappy writer out there who wants to sell more books, I wanted to share a couple lessons I’ve taken from him and others I learned myself which have earned me more activity on the books I’ve self-published through Kindle in the last few months. Just to be clear that’s more frequent reads through Kindle Unlimited, more free downloads, and more purchases. A combination of the following things helped me get there:
1. Collect feedback as early as you have the chance.
This is the digital age. So here’s something embarrassing. My first novel was written on pen and paper, because I can’t focus on writing fiction when I have access to the Internet. I’ve never really conquered self-control in that sense. But then I figured out how to use the Internet. So when I’d written enough that I thought I had a book, I asked around and got maybe three dozen people to agree to read a few pages and offer me feedback. I did this on Facebook, at events, and I posted flyers around town. The end result: 100 people signed up for my email list, and I got about 9 people to give me some great feedback.
You can use a Google form for this, and you can ask for detailed notes. Include a link at the end of your sample chapter and think about questions you want to ask. This should include age, reaction, location, whether they’d tell a friend about it, what they’d tell that friend the story was about, whether they wanted to read more, and whether you can use their feedback to promote the book. I had friends, family, former coworkers, some blind responses who saw that I posted the flyer, and people I’d met at networking events. All of their feedback was useful. The point of this is that I’d never written a book before, and I needed to know how my writing affected people. The most value came from the negative feedback because it helped me figure out what I’d need to work on if I wanted to continue writing. The last thing you want to do is write the entire book without understanding how various people react to your words.
2. Run a blog. Maybe two.
Okay. So, there’s going to be a part of you that says “why don’t people want to feature me on their blog/podcast/vlog?” Well, you can write the best novel ever written but if you don’t put any content out there, you just have to hope someone has the attention span to read your book and say “FUCK YEAH, LEMME TELL EVERYONE I KNOW TO BUY THIS!” This has never happened in all of publishing, or maybe in the history of mankind. It’s so hard to get someone to read a book. So terribly, terribly hard. Although, there is that story that someone agreed to pay Bukowski $100/month to quit his job and focus solely on writing. That’s great for Bukowski, but that’s never going to happen to you. You probably won’t even get an advance. Ever. But you can blog, and you can blog about other writers. And in fact you can help other writers by writing about them. I’m doing this on my personal blog, because I like writing, and I genuinely want to build up the community. If you help the community you’re giving yourself a chance to get noticed for the right reasons, and people are more likely to remember that when you release something.
I also run a separate site to promote my book, because if I’m going to get featured on a blog like I was here, I want to have somewhere to point readers and I want to make sure I’m converting them to email signups, and book purchases on amazon. The bottom line is that you need to put content out there so people can get familiar with your voice as a writer, that it should be consistent with your brand, and that you have to really love saying something.
3. Find book review bloggers on your topic and offer them content for their blogs
I spent a week sending out personalized emails to a couple dozen bloggers who listed themselves as reviewers and barely any of them got back to me. Why? Because they were probably inundated with people looking for reviews so they can sell books. One of them got back to me and said “I’m not accepting reviews right now, but if you want to send me a blog post I’d be happy to publish it.
So go find some bloggers who are looking for books to review, and content. Write that content for free, put a link to your site in there, and send it out. In a lot of cases they’ll tell you what kind of content they’d like you to write if it isn’t already obvious. So go find someone who you can write for and do it.
There’s probably other sites like this out there. All you have to do is Google it.
5. Always be writing.
It doesn’t matter if you wrote the best novel ever written if you’re not writing now. The likelihood that writing one book will make you a successful author who gains a following is nearly 0. In fact if you can find someone who’s written one book ever and marketed it to success I’d love to hear about it (before you say it, you’re not Harper Lee either).
I’ve committed to self-publishing at least 6 short stories this year, and then one long story. In January and February, I released two short stories as part of a series, and I’ve started to see more downloads/reads/purchases because of it. The bottom line is that when readers like a writer, they always want more. Which means the more books you’ve written, the more likely they are to buy from you.
6. Advertising sucks.
I’ve paid about $150 dollars to various platforms to advertise including facebook, and Google, although I had to be creative with this. It’s not easy to advertise a title like Sh*tty Beijing Bike, not even on Amazon. Advertising is probably a waste anyway when you realize that you need real human beings who are going to spread the word about your books. Once people know your name, and you’ve quit your day job you can probably figure out a way to take advantage of advertising, otherwise it’s probably going to be a waste of money. For now, focus on ways you can build an email list, blog or socialize with others online to grow your platform, and keep writing.
I hope there’s at least one nugget in here that’s useful to you, otherwise you can ask for your money back at the box office.