Switching gears from writing to marketing was quite possibly the most excruciating brain shift I’ve had to endure. That being said, I’ve learned a lot! So I thought I’d share my experiences to help anyone who is considering self-publishing. I also plan to revisit this page if I ever do this again for another novel.
Number 1 — Begin PR Planning at Least SIX Months in Advance
Six months seems like a long time to wait after the novel is done but trust me when I say it will fly by before you know it, and there is a lot of prep work. I’ll get into the nitty gritty later in this post, but allocating enough time to send out massive amounts of e-mails and get responses takes a long time. Had I known what I know now I would’ve started this process at the same time I began querying agents.
First things first, and I cannot stress this enough: GET A BOOK COVER. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” be damned. EVERYONE is going to judge your book by its cover first. And you’ll need the cover to jumpstart everything else.
Then, get your ISBN numbers. You will need two — one for your Paperback and a different one for your e-book.
Also, there are 3 basic e-mails you will need to prepare, as you will be sending out thousands of e-mails.
a) Query Letter — If you haven’t queried before you should. Rejection sucks, but having an agent will help you avoid many of the mistakes I’ve made going it alone.
b) Book Review Query — The concept is very much the same as your Query Letter but you have to include book information. Here is a sample if you need help.
c) Newspaper Book Review Query — This one I found to be the least useful, since I got a 0% response rate, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for someone else. Here’s a list of Newspaper contact info — if you have any luck with this please comment below. I’d love some tips.
Create a Press Release — I used PRweb (a paid service) because I had no idea how to even begin writing one. You don’t need to send out a Press Release right away, but having the PDF file ready will you save you lots of time and a headache later. This is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but when you’re ready to release it (and please do check with someone who knows PR) here is a list of sites compiled by Mashable, where you can do so for free.
Number 2 — Get all of your Social Media Lined Up and Ready to Go
Setup/Update your: Personal Website, Facebook Author Page, Twitter, Goodreads Author Account, Amazon Author Account, Google+, etc.
Make sure you have a full page dedicated to your book: What’s it about? Where can I buy it? What are others saying about it?
Start building a Twitter following. There are useful apps out there for this. Hootsuite is great for planning out tweets in advance and Justunfollow helps you find people to follow via keywords (ie. #author, #books, #amwriting, etc.) This will ensure that you’re building a reader network and not just a bunch of random Twitter followers who just want a followback. Also, you’re building a network, so for the love of God, just follow people back. Unless you’re Stephen King and get 100,000 followers the day you sign up for Twitter, you need to look at social media as a reciprocal networking medium. I can’t vouch for other networking communities, but writers genuinely want to help each other out and you’d be surprised at how many people will retweet your book tweets.
Facebook: This will feel like you’re pimping yourself out a little bit, but GET OVER IT. Invite ALL of your friends and family to “Like” your author page. You’re going to need all of the support your can get and it begins with them.
At first, it’ll feel kind of lame to have these pages up with no news to post, but be patient we’re getting to that next.
Number 3 — Submit Your Book for “Reputable” Industry Book Reviews
Yes. You have to pay for some of these. And No, this does not guarantee you a good review. They’re pricey (~$250-$500 each) but a good review from just one of them is HUGE. This is where strangers begin taking a chance on your “Indie” book.
These are the 5 I’d hit up first:
BookList — Booklist is part of the American Library Association so getting reviewed here is a big deal. It’s free to request having your material reviewed. However, you MUST to submit to Booklist no later than you submit to any other pre-publication media AND they do not review an e-book unless it’s available in libraries already (one of those industry Catch-22's).
Kirkus Reviews — If your browser is as keen to your searches as mine is, you will see ads for Kirkus Reviews EVERYWHERE. This made me wary of course, but make no mistake they are the Creme de la creme of indie book reviewers. Kirkus has been around since 1933 and for indie authors, getting a good review by them is like getting a good review from the New York Times (I have yet to figure out how to get The NY Times to review a book). It costs $425, but your review is automatically considered for their “Indie Book of the Month” promotion, which means A LOT of free exposure to book buyers via their website and bi-monthly magazine.
BookLife — BookLife is the Indie arm of Publishers Weekly. They’re still in Beta as of now, but they are accepting Indie books for review and it’s FREE. However, if you want to advertise your review with them it does cost $149.
Readers Favorite — It takes 3 months to get the free one and they review over 50% of their submissions. But if you’re in a hurry you can pay $59 for a rushed review and get it within 2 weeks.
Foreward Reviews (If you do this 3 months prior to your publication date, it is possible to get a review for free.) If they choose to review your book, you will get a spotlight in the Magazine as well.
Clarion Reviews — Clarion is a division of Foreword (and the more recognizable industry name). If you miss the Foreward deadline (as I did) you can pay $499 for Clarion to review your book. Both reviews are conducted by the same group of people.
Number 4 — Submit Your Book to Bloggers for Book Reviews
This is what grassroots campaigning all about. Book bloggers have your target audience hooked into their reviews so it’s the best way to promote your book and it’s FREE. It does take a long time to e-mail everyone, but if you’ve done the first 3 steps you will a pro by the time you get to this part. Book bloggers get a lot of e-mails so they need at least 2 months to schedule in your book.
Depending on your genre, you’ll need to do research on the blogs that best fit your book, but for anyone writing women’s fiction here are the sites I used:
Additionally, Digital Pubbing wrote an amazingly comprehensive article on how to find reviewers and readers, among other things.
Update: Once you get 25 or so positive blog reviews, watch the pages and request book reviews from other bloggers who comment. Your response rate will be higher and it’s direct targeting.
Number 5 — Figure out Printing/Pricing
I made the mistake of doing this part first. But could you really blame me? I really wanted to see it in print! It does take a lot of time and research to find the printing press that is best for your needs. I went with IngramSpark and you can read why here. But there are definite drawbacks — the major one being the $25 fee to upload new versions of your book. If you’re tight on money, make sure you have everything proofed several times before uploading. This is not a problem if you go with CreateSpace. The other perk to CreateSpace is being able to set up pre-orders. That being said, with IngramSpark the book fits in easily with any book you’ll find in a bookstore and you better believe book buyers take that into account when considering your book!
As far as pricing, if you’re like me and all you want is to have it out there for people to buy, you’ll want to set the price as low as possible. However, there are several things to consider still.
a) Just because your e-book is $.99 cents it doesn’t mean people will buy it. Sometimes pricing it that low makes people think it’s of poor quality. Look up books in your similar genre and price-match to stay competitive. OR just price it at $2.99. It’s a respectable price for an e-book and even popular New York Times Best Sellers go for that low. I mean it’s the price of a cup of coffee.
b) Paperbacks are a little more nuanced. There are hard costs to Print On Demand, but then you also need to consider that retail book buyers will want a wholesale discount and to avoid paying them to buy your book, you’ll need to raise the price. A 50% markup is where I’d start because wholesale buyers typically want a 35%-55% discount. Besides, you presumably spent a long time writing this thing — don’t sell yourself short. I’d say for a first book $9.99-$16.99 is a good range.
Once you’ve completed all of these steps an agent you queried way back in step 1 will probably call you and you’ll think you did it all for nothing. But you would be wrong! What will likely happen is the next e-mail they send you will be a link back to my site with the subject line: Let’s Get This Baby Out There! And the both of you will be simultaneously relieved. You, because Ta Da! You’re done! And she (or he), because they were mentally geared up for the long haul and you took the express train to meet them halfway. They will be so impressed with you for being at the top of your game.*
*Note: If you could kindly remind them that I am still looking for an agent that would be great! Thanks! =)