How to Succeed at Self-Publishing
This is Part 3 in my Self-Publishing Plan to Succeed series on my blog. CLICK HERE to read Part 2.
Part 3 – Building Your Author Platform
So you've written some books and, if you took my advice I gave in the previous articles, you've written in a series and you've packaged your books well. Now you have to get people to buy them. This is where marketing comes in. Yes…unfortunately, we cannot just write our books and cross our fingers, hoping readers will find them. Gone are the days where the publishers did all the marketing for authors. So if you have a contract with a Big 5 publisher, or even a small press, you still have to market your own books.
The main problem authors have these days with marketing is EVERYONE has a book or books to sell. How do you make your books stick out above the competition? As you may have already noticed by the other articles on my website, I'm a huge advocate of building a mailing list. If you don't have a mailing list, then this is definitely something I recommend you work on. CLICK HERE to see all the articles I've written on this topic. But mailing lists are only a part of what is known as your Author Platform.
What is the Author Platform?
Your author platform contains many elements, but put simply, it's the perception AND foundation of you and your books. Basically, it's…
- Author Branding – How people recognize you as an author
- Author Presence – How they can find out more information about you and your books
- Retail Presence – Where they can purchase your books
An author platform is different for each author, based on what they feel most comfortable using. I'll discuss the above three items in a bit more detail below, give you examples and provide some resources.
When I was struggling to build my author platform, a marketing friend asked me, “When people hear the name Anne Rice, what do they think of?” I answered, “Vampires. Maybe even witches.” Then he asked, “So when people hear YOUR name, what do you want them to think of?”
Wow! That really set me on a quest to try to see how I could stick out as an author. I wrote about Vampires. Anne Rice was my inspiration to be a writer. But since she was already the Queen of Modern Vampire Fiction, there was no way in hell I could compete with that. So I had to examine the books I'd already written. What made MY books stand out above all other vampire fiction? To my knowledge, no one has really written about Scottish vampires…and that's the main subject of my novels. My main character – a vampire – is Broderick MacDougal and he's a Scotsman through and through…from the 15th century, no less. And my books are REALLY steamy! The sex doesn't happen often in my books, but when it does, it's down to the glistening folds details.
So I began BRANDING my website and social media presence with “Arial Burnz – Author of HOT Scottish Vampires”. When people ask me, “What do you write?” That's exactly what I tell them: “I write about hot Scottish vampires.” It sticks in their minds! I get either an, “Oooo! Where can I get your books?” Or they chuckle and ask questions.
What about you? What is a common thread through all your books? Even if you genre-hop, what is the consistent element in all the stories you write? Do you write about kick-ass heroines? Heroes with a tough shell, but teddy bears inside? Are all your stories set in a certain area of the world or time period…or both? Do you have a popular series of books that have a unique twist? Some authors are known for their series. Robert Jordan is the Wheel of Time series. Deborah Harkness wrote the All Souls Trilogy, or is more commonly known as the author of Discovery of Witches. Stephanie Meyers – Twilight. J.K. Rolling – Harry Potter. Do you have a memorable character? “The creator of Broderick MacDougal – hot Scottish Vampire” is another route I could have chosen.
Don't be afraid to get specific. If you're too general, your branding might get lost in the obscurity. As an example, “Author of Vampire Romance” is much too broad to use. “Kick-ass Heroines” is also a bit broad, so how can you put a memorable twist on it? “Kick-ass Immortal Heroines” is a bit more focused. “Kick-ass Scottish Immortals” is even more focused. But think of that question: “What do you want people to think of when they hear your author name?”
Your fans need to have a way to contact you and/or learn more information about your books, your book signings, etc. There are many different ways you can do this, so stick with the methods with which you feel most comfortable. Here are some examples and my recommendations:
- Your Website or Blog – Though this is not necessary, I highly recommend having some kind of real estate on the Internet. Whether you use a free blog platform (e.g., Blogger or WordPress.com) or create a free website, like many authors do with Wix, having a website gives people somewhere to go. I'm a big fan of WordPress.org websites (a private hosted version of the same platform used with WordPress.com, but much more flexible and more bells and whistles), but you have to feel comfortable enough with building your own site and getting your own server. WordPress.org (NOT the free blog, which is WordPress.com) has a ton of flexibility with the use of plugins. You can easily add features and functionality to your site just by installing a plugin, and most of them are free or very low-cost. Examples are shopping carts, pop-ups for gaining newsletter subscribers, slideshows for your home page and so much more. If you do use a free blog, I would at least recommend buying a domain name (e.g., my site address is www.arialburnz.com) and forward that domain to your free blog address. Not only does it look more professional, but when you can afford the paid website hosting, you won't have to worry about changing all your marketing materials to reflect a new website address. You simply forward your domain name to the new website location. If this is all Greek to you, check out this video from GoDaddy.com to get a crash course on what Domain Names are and how it applies to websites. Although I usually buy my domain names through GoDaddy.com, because they're affordable, I don't necessarily recommend GoDaddy for hosting or website design. They can be REALLY pushy with all the products they sell and I don't like their web design tools. I personally host all my websites on pair.com hosting services. I've been using them since 2004 and their customer service is excellent as well as being affordable. AND installing WordPress to create your website is super easy! At least I think so. If I get enough requests, I might be able to provide some tutorials and classes on how to create a WordPress website. CLICK HERE if you'd like to request a class. I'll contact you to discuss your needs, experience and if I plan on creating classes for this in the future or if you'd rather do a private, online tutorial session.
- Mailing List – This is something else I highly recommend! When people signup for your newsletter, not only have they already shown an interest in your books, but if all other methods of communication were to shut down (e.g., if Blogger or WordPress free blogs went out of business/shut down or social media venues were replaced with something else), you would still have the email addresses of your fans in which to reach out to them. And it has happened!! When the MySpace audience did a mass exodus to Facebook, all the businesses and creative people on MySpace lost contact with their fans. If you're relying exclusively on social media, you might be in trouble! Here are some services authors are using now: MailChimp, MailerLite & MadMimi…to name a few. I personally LOVE ActiveCampaign. I moved to them this April 2017 and I haven't looked back. Check out my review for them and why I love them so much.
- Social Media – There are a hundred different options from which to choose and it can get overwhelming to be everywhere at once. My recommendation is to stick with what you like best. I will give you a few tips, though. According to the annual survey Marie Force conducts, many readers find recommendations for books through their friends on Facebook. I've never been a huge fan of the platform for many reasons, but the simple fact is…that's where everyone socializes online. So at a bare minimum, I would recommend Facebook – at least until something better comes along. Twitter is okay for socializing with your readers, but unless they're active Twitter followers, your messages get lost in the constant ticker-tape-type flow of tweets that pour through the platform. If you love Pinterest or Instagram, then socialize there. The important thing to keep in mind is social media is another option for people to find you. So if someone asks, “Are you on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/whatever?” You can say YES and tell them how to find your page or profile. It is more effective for socializing with CURRENT fans and not very effective for gaining new fans.
This is simply where people can go to purchase your books. If you're with a publisher, you might want to refer people to your publisher's website…but that can work against you. Consumers are pretty lazy these days and don't like to go through extra steps to make a purchase…and your publisher might have a registration process or a shopping cart feature that's complicated. Most people ask, “Can I get your books on Amazon?” or “Can I find your books at any bookstore?”
This is one of the reasons I recommend all authors have a website or a blog. It allows you to create a menu to list all your books and from there, readers can click on the buy links to purchase your novels. Here are some examples of what you can do to make it easy for readers to buy your books:
- Create a menu on your website or blog with a list of all your books. You can create a page for each book OR a single page listing all the books in your series. If your books can be found on multiple retailers, list all the buttons or links on this page. Make it easy for them to click and buy!
- Whenever you mention one of your books in your newsletter, be sure to give them a buy link to click!
- On your Facebook “About” page, be sure to provide a link to either your author page on your favorite retailer OR your website.
- On Twitter, I recommend linking to your website where readers can click on “My Books” or “Books” and browse your backlist. See why a website/blog is so useful?
- On Pinterest, you can create a board for each series, each book OR one board for all your books. No matter what, provide the buy links! CLICK HERE to view a sample of the board I created for my books. CLICK HERE to learn about the Pinterest browser button, which makes it easy for you to pin your books to your boards!
At a minimum, give readers the link to your Amazon author page or whatever retailer you're using. If you use Draft2Digital.com to publish your books wide, they have a free related service called Books2Read.com, which allows you to list ALL retailer links to each of your books. It's a great place to refer readers for a single link to a book regardless of their reading preferences. CLICK HERE to visit the link I have for the first book in my series as an example.
I primarily use my website to list my books AND my newsletter to push exposure and sales to my backlist.
Amazon Exclusive vs. Wide Distribution
This is something I (and many authors) struggle with every day. Should I list my books exclusively through Amazon for the KDP Select advantage? Or publish my books on all platforms to give readers more options. I have personally gone back and forth between both. Going exclusive with Amazon means putting all your eggs in one basket, so not a comfortable choice for authors who only have one series or are just starting out…but it might be the best option until you publish more books. However, this is a good option for those authors who have multiple series. If you have the luxury of putting at least one series in KDP Select, then by all means, take advantage of that. I only have one series right now, so it's all or nothing for me. But I am trying different strategies. I'll be publishing my results at a later date.
The bottom line to consider is 75% or more of online retail sales for books go through Amazon. Going wide means flexibility for your readers, but most readers are on Amazon anyway. So unless you have a strong fan base through the other retailers (e.g., Kobo, Nook/B&N, iBooks/iTunes), going wide might hurt you. I'm in the process of researching methods to build fan bases in the other retail platforms, so be sure to subscribe to my mailing list to be notified when I publish those findings.
If you're just starting out as an author and you have at least three books in a series, I would recommend giving KDP Select a try to get you started. Amazon promotes their Kindle Unlimited titles (those books in the KDP Select contract) to boost activity in their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. This gives authors a leg-up on the competition and has a few promotional perks. But try to get more books published with the other retailers so you can start building that fan base in those other areas.
Part 3 Conclusion
Part of marketing your books is giving readers the ability to find you. Though most of your marketing consists of driving people to your books and website through ads and marketing materials, you can't use those effectively if you don't have a solid author platform. Be memorable! Be YOU! But be out there for people to find you!
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