I would have a better plan. I often interact with new writers who are anxious to be authors, and I regularly say the same things. Build your author brand, your author platform, a collection or series of books to release, and a marketing plan… because I wish I had. What I’ve experienced since my first publication back in 2016, through my twelve publications and two collections, has taught me the importance of those things. I want to briefly go over these for any writers looking to be authors.
Now, I can’t speak to traditional publishing specifics since I’m indie through and through. But I’ve worked with a lot of writers and authors that are, so I know these things are still important. If you go traditional, you’re still going to want to know the author business and what it takes to get the attention of readers. Even if you get early subscribers and end up going traditional and scratching a few of these plans, you’ll still have a selection of people ready and eager to read and review your published works.
This is the basic concept of your author business. What genre(s) do you want to write? What mood do you want to represent? What colors and themes and images do you want to be associated with your name or pen name? Do you want a pen name?
Your Author Brand is the recognizable collection of your work defined by your cover designs, your website graphics, the language you use when speaking to your readers and narrating your work. But it’s more than this.
You need to know why you write and how you plan to determine your success as an author. Do you want to inspire people, make money, be famous, or just publish stories that mean something to you? Knowing these things will help you decide if you need to write for mass market (money and fame) or if you can write niche works and have more freedom in your content. If you want money and fame, you’ll especially need to understand the genre tropes and expectations and how to effectively implement them in your work.
You’ll want to think about your target readership and what they’ll be interested in. Research websites of authors in your preferred genres and look at how the design their pages, what content they’re including, and which other media platforms they’re on. Take a look at those other platforms to get a feel for how their author brand shows up. This is a critical component of your author brand: being recognizable. You’ll want to replicate, as best you can, your author brand (fonts and their colors, portrait, images, etc) across those accounts so readers will immediately know if they’re where they want to be.
It’s important that you use the same author portrait for your professional author accounts. By this I mean your publishing platforms, inside book covers, any posters or media representing book signings or speaking gigs, and your main social media accounts that engage mass amounts of readers. You want them to know your face.
As many publishers don’t permit avatars as author photos, you’ll have to put your best picture up for the world to see. And you’ll want it everywhere. Don’t worry, you’re not posing for Vogue. You’re a writer. Readers know that. So don’t worry about what you look like. Just be presentable and avoid hugging your dog or significant other or mother in the photo. They didn’t write the book. You did. Be proud of that, and let yourself shine for that tiny moment.
This is a pretty hefty part of being successful in any way as an author. If you have no platform, there’s no real solid way for anyone to discover your books. So what is a platform? It is the collection of locations that readers can interact with you and find out more about your writing and publications. This is where you’ll put to use your author branding.
Your biggest, most important first step is to build a website. Build always sounds like such a hefty word, but really this is very easy. There are tons of websites that let you set up an account for free. Fill out the About section and make sure you give people that visit a way to contact you. Start a blog related to your books or your writing. If you’re not ready for that, then you can always write about other books you enjoy, ones you hope to write similar content to. Do book reviews. Study the science or theories of something you’re interested in that has influenced your work. Build mood and inspiration boards with pictures you find online (either royalty free like with Canva or provide credit of course).
Next will be to set up a professional email account. There are several sites online you can use to do this. I use MailChimp because it’s free for one email list and up to 2,000 subscribers. I’ve broken mine into two sub lists for my Science Fiction Fantasy Fleet and my Sweet and Spicy Romance. I hope to expand in the next year and need to purchase the next step up to include my self-help books, dark romance, and my YA fantasy.
My recommendation: always start out with free services. A lot of authors I know give up after their first book or three because they can’t drum up enough interest or snag enough sales to justify their business. So I suggest you start out free and be very hesitant to purchase anything until you know for sure if your business is going to take off.
I had no help or anyone to talk to and spent thousands on edits and courses on edits and marketing… and books on writing and publishing. This is all money I’m still trying to earn back. I don’t want you to have to go through that, especially with the world’s economy struggling through this pandemic. When you get to the point that you need to upgrade (i.e.: you’ve got too many subscribers, you want to integrate something on your website that requires a different package, or you’re making so many sales you need professional bookkeeping) then do it. But not until you need it.
Integrate your email with your website if you can. If you can’t because it costs money, then put links on your website that connect to subscriber landing pages you’ve set up in your email account. That way, if someone wants to make sure they hear about your newest release or the upcoming Advanced Review Copies before publication, they can sign up to be on your email list.
This is a critical part of your author platform. Email subscribers are by far the most likely to purchase or download (free early copies – I’ll get to this in a minute) your book and post reviews on your platforms. Social media doesn’t do nearly as much for you as consistently as those people who have specifically subscribed to your content. Friending or following someone isn’t the same as saying, “I like this book I spent hours reading, or I want to spend another 8 hours buried in your stories.” But social media can be good for other things.
Social media as a component of your author platform is a great bonus. I’ve often found other writers and writing groups to talk with and exchange ideas. You can run ads on most platforms for your books. And if you research how to do it well, you can make a lot of sales that way (but only via ads. Most regular posts don’t get you any decent interaction). Social media expects high numbers of followers to give you any attention. And everyone is on social media for themselves, not to research quality content. It’s like flash fiction… a momentary story people forget about seconds later when the video of the cat falling in the bathtub scrolls into view.
What I suggest is that you have a presence and link your website and or publishing platform to your account so people can find your content if they only really use that one account. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LibraryThing, LinkedIn, BookBub, and Goodreads. I think that’s all of them. But I really only use the first two and the last two. Twitter and Facebook have great writing communities, and we often support each others’ publications. BookBub is huge for running ads and connecting with readers. Goodreads is a wonderful review platform that gets far more interaction than BookBub for me. But they each have their perks when it comes to finding new readers and bringing them to your profile page.
You’ll want to consider also being on Reader Magnet or Advanced Review Copy sites like Prolific Works, Story Origin, and BookFunnel. There you can give away an early polished copy of your work so readers can have reviews ready to publish the day your book goes live on your publishing platform of choice. Of those sites, Story Origin is currently still free as of the time of this post. Prolific Works is unless you want to integrate your email list (for $20/month) so subscribers can auto-opt in without having to click a link in your book (though that is an alternative). And BookFunnel, last I checked, is $20 a year for new authors and has 500 downloads max and 5 books with no email integration. You can integrate your subscription system for $100/year. BookFunnel has more package options as well. Again, I would start with the free options and upgrade as necessary.
One of the biggest perks of these RM/ARC sites is the ability to join group promotions where all the people will share the link to the page displaying your ARC copy and everyone else’s. Of course, you’ll have to share this promotion page with your email followers, or at least your social media accounts if you’re just starting. There are ways for the group promo coordinators to check and see if you’ve driven any clicks to the page (via a special tracking link). So you’ll want to make sure you use the right link when sharing.
But the benefit is if you have, say, 50 people in the group promo, that’s (hopefully) 50 people promoting it. If they all have email lists of maybe 1,000, that’s 5,000 people that will receive an email about the promo. That said, most often, there’s about a 30-40% email open rate and a 10-20% click rate. So it’s more likely that 500 or so people will actually visit the page and download free books… but that also means they’re (usually) signing up for the email lists of those authors to get the books. Some will undoubtedly unsubscribe because they don’t want more emails. Others will become unresponsive, and you’ll have to clean them out of your email subscriber list due to inactivity. (And you’ll want to do this to make sure your prime readers who actually pay attention get the good stuff and you don’t unnecessarily go over your subscriber limit with your email provider.) At the end of this though, you’ll have gained subscribers you can send further early copies to, tell them about publications, and remind them when and where they can leave reviews.
Reviews are crucial to convincing people on publishing platforms like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc. that they should buy your book. This brings me to the next point. You’re going to want to know where you want to publish before you do. Research each location and the rules or requirements for publishing works with them. Amazon has KDP Select which is fantastic because you can earn sales on your books at 35-70% royalty rates and when people read pages from your books through the Kindle Unlimited subscription program they sign up for. The catch is that you cannot publish those books anywhere else, not even as a trilogy, series, collection, or omnibus. You’re in KDP Select for 90 days. Those are the kind of rules you’ll want to know about before you decide where to publish. There are also aggregate publishers that can help you distribute your books to multiple publishing platforms for free, such as Draft2Digital and Smashwords.
I won’t go into detail regarding types of publishers here, only the basics. Independent publishers like Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble (to name a few) have a website you can go to and upload your book and your cover. You will be in charge of handling pricing, marketing, and the book sales content like blurbs and editorial reviews. An aggregate publisher has one site that you upload your content to who distributes the book to many online stores. Vanity or Independent presses make authors pay them to do the work of uploading and formatting content, but marketing is still up to the author. Traditional publishers are hardest to get on with due to the querying process. Authors can either submit book queries to them or an agent can do so on their behalf. If authors have work accepted, they will go through edits with that publishing house and often receive a sum of money that is part of anticipated sales upon publication, though each individual situation varies.
Collection or Series of Books
My biggest mistake was being trigger happy when it came to my first book. I’d worked for 5 years on it and was finally ready to just throw it into the universe. So I did. Then I had nothing else to give my subscribers. My sales fell on their face. It wasn’t until I’d published my third book in that first series that I started to see sales pick back up. Now I have another series started and one almost complete. I’m writing the fourth series at the end of this month. But it took me a long time to realize one simple thing that would’ve changed the last four years: write the series first. Not one book. Not two. Three or more. Have them ready when you publish the first. Rapid publishing is far more enjoyable to readers. Many don’t like waiting for the next book to come out (unless it’s super famous like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, or Red Rising) in which case a year or two between books is tolerable. But for most of us, we’re forgettable… another book in a sea of paper and ink and e-readers online.
Writing three books might seem like a huge task. So start with short stories or take a novel and break it up into three or four parts and make them begin and end like short stories. This will give your readers a gradual taste of your writing, providing them a spread of content to engage with while you write the next book or books. Starting small and easy like this will take your stress level down and help you learn to write succinctly and be very engaging with your narration, dialogue, and descriptions in a limited space. Some of the common pitfalls of first time writers include: backstory and dialogue dumping, too much daily life, and not being precise in their language. Their narration will take on copious description that could be condensed into language that paints a more vivid image or implied sensation in fewer words. They need to be concise. See what I did there? Super long versus the ultimate point. Short stories are just a great way to engage with potential subscribers more than once.
If short stories aren’t your thing, I still recommend at least three books you write, edit, and prep for publication before you release the first. They don’t have to be in a series or collection, though that will serve you best. Having three books in the same genre or related subgenres to offer your subscribers will keep them hooked and less likely to unsubscribe or just forget about you altogether.
I started with one scifi, one children’s, and one romance, because those were the genres I wanted to write. I had email lists started for those, but they quickly faded to almost nothing because I could not offer any more content to them. It wasn’t ready. I had to basically start over. And that is immensely frustrating. All of that work to build up for the first release was essentially lost until I published the third book in that first series.
I now do my best to have free ARCs available throughout the year to my subscribers. I try to publish three to four times a year in my two lead genres. Sometimes, I can’t make it. When that happens, I search out other free books, reader magnets set up by other authors in my ARC platforms, and I share those with my readers, so they always have free content that I know they’ll enjoy. It’s important to keep them happy and interacting with your content, even if it’s a recommendation for someone else’s work that’s related to yours. It shows you value them and want to ensure they’re happy. If you let your email list(s) die down, you’ll have to do what I did and start over.
Marketing is the only way you’re going to get anyone to notice your book. Most often, people start by sharing on social media and running maybe an ad or two for launch without much luck. Then they give up and move on, or they buy more ads with no real design to their strategy.
Your first marketing is done usually on social media or with your email list if you have one from maybe a blog you started early on in your writing career to drum up reader interest. You’ll share teasers like book cover reveals, blurbs, and expected release dates. What’s worked best for me are quotes from the book on a small graphic with the book cover and some indicator of when or where it’ll be published. Another good one is to use any quotes you can from early reviews. Try to pick ones with powerful words or relevant terms to the genre. Say you write thrillers and someone reviews it with “I love this book.” That’s not really going to send the same message as “Intense, jarring action. Slept with the lights on.”
Next, you’d be best served to set up Advanced Review Copies of your book to get subscribers on your lists and readers who will have potential reviews to post on publication day.
At this time, or possibly earlier if you’re confident on your publishing date, you’ll want to set up a preorder to start gaining purchases that will process on publication day (at least on Amazon). It’ll help create a professional presence online that proves to readers that you mean business.
A trick I’ve learned with Amazon publishing, is to publish the paperback first so that readers can leave reviews that will show up on the day the ebook publishes. To ensure they do this, send out an email to those subscribers in your list that you gave ARCs to and let them know where they can leave reviews. (Preorders only work for ebooks, at least on Amazon’s site.)
So say you’ll have 50 preorders process on the day of publication and you get twenty reviewers to post feedback that day. That will give your book a huge advantage on the top-selling book charts Day 1. This will help Amazon’s algorithms show potential readers (who read in your genre) your book via the recommendations list or customer also-boughts. Having those twenty reviews up there will boost the likelihood of those potential readers clicking the purchase button.
If you want to give your book that extra kick, plan to run a few outside ads (not through the publishing platform) that first week. I usually run three ads spread through that first week if I can afford it. A few sites I like to use are Written Word Media, Just Kindle Books, and Fussy Librarian… because they don’t have review requirements, and I don’t always hit my expected review count or rating the day of publication. I then try to run one ad a week after for the first month, then one a month for each month after to keep drawing interest. But I do highly suggest varying which sites you use and which days you advertise on so you don’t end up showing your ad to the same people that always look for books on, say, Friday at a particular site.
If you can leverage ads on the publishing platform of your choice, do so. Anyone who is actively searching for something to read is going to be more likely to purchase what they find. The fewer steps they have to take to get their content, the better. There are plenty of low cost ways to advertise your book. You just have to research the right advertising sites for your budget.
But if you’re super broke and have zip for funds, you can search for readers in your genre who have reviewed books and contact them directly to inquire if they’d be interested. You can also contact bloggers who focus on your genres and ask if you can do a guest post. I recommend that before you contact anyone that you avoid spammy chatter like “here’s my new book, you want to read this.” Research them and their site. You can do this early on, before you publish, or after. Find out what they like, and see what you can offer them as a post with a mention of your recent book at the very end.
If your book will be free, you can check out AskDavid. It’s a free site that advertises free books in a few locations. I usually get 20-30 downloads that way. So if you just can’t manage anything else, check out this site.
Whatever you do, don’t self-promote where it isn’t warranted. Random people do not want a direct message (DM/PM) from you telling them where to buy your book, especially not immediately after you’ve friended them. You’ll get blocked and irritate people. Reply bots are only good if you’re being helpful or kind. Jamming buy-links down their throats will get you to lose their respect. It’s not a useful way to spend your precious marketing time.
Always make your work and your interaction about others. If you don’t put the reader first, your work won’t go anywhere because it won’t connect with them. Readers are the lifeblood of our publications. If we don’t treat them right, they’ll leave. If we don’t engage with them, they’ll never know we exist. Marketing has to be done, and be done effectively.
Decide on your Author Brand: how will readers recognize you?
-Images you’ll use
-Genres you’ll write in
-Theme/mood of content
-Same author portrait
-Email Subscriber Provider
-Advanced Review Copy distribution sites
-Set up Preorders
-Remind readers where to leave reviews
-Run outside ads to draw readers to your sales page
-Keep promoting (within your budget)
BONUS: If you can, put subscriber links at the ends of your published books that take them do your subscriber landing pages. Set up a way to send them a free book or short story as thanks for subscribing. When you’re ready to upgrade your subscriber system, build an email campaign workflow that sends several emails over a course of a few months that includes other freebie stories. The more you keep your subscribers engaged, the more likely they are to notice your email amid the tidal wave of promotional messages they get every week. It’s easy for us to get lost. Be memorable and they’ll hunt for your content!
Know your audience and what they want. Know where to find them. Know how to engage with them. If you can get these things under control, you’ll be off to a far better start than I was. I send my best to you and hope these tips help you build your author business into a thriving force to be reckoned with!
Upcoming Book: I Want to Be an Author – Where Do I Start?
The release date isn’t set yet as I’m finalizing content before editing. But my hope is that this book will help other writers who dream of being authors to get started on their journey. All I wanted was something that told me where to start and what I was getting into when I began looking into publishing. But there were so many best seller courses and books on writing and editing and marketing that I felt turned around. I’ve written this book to guide those unfamiliar with the process. I go over writing and publishing a first book with everything I wish I knew when I began plus all the lessons I’ve learned through my twelve publications. I hope you’ll stick around to see it publish!
1 thought on “If I Could Start Over as an Author…”
Wow! You certainly have addressed a lot of issues that are noteworthy when a writer takes the plunge to write and publish. Thanks for sharing the many steps you have taken, the wisdom you have gained, and the advice you have for aspiring writers.