People, if you haven’t heard of Joe Hempel, you have now. Joe runs Top of the Heap Reviews and delivers a fantastic service to readers and self-published authors. Joe has great points to make on how indie authors should go about writing and promoting their work.
WHO SAID WRITING ISN’T WORK?
Let’s face it: Writing is tough!
You first have to have an idea that you think is good enough people want to read it. Then you have to actually dedicate the time to put it on paper. After that, you have to go back and make edits, and once it’s back from the editor you’ve to do more edits, and re-writes, and rinse and repeat! Oh, and don’t forget an eye-catching cover! And after all that, you have to decide weather you want to send it to publishers or go the self-publishing route!
But even then, your work is not done! If you are lucky enough to land a publishing deal with your first, second or tenth book, you still have to let people know that it’s out there! Most publishers will delegate you to the back of a list, and some publishers make you PAY to have the book that THEY PUBLISHED put on a list that’s in a type so small you need one of those brand spankin’ new bionic eyeballs to see!
So what do you do? Obviously it’s a little easier to get seen if you have a publishing deal. I mean, your book will probably get into stores, and you can physically walk in and pick it up, go to the counter and say “Hey, that’s me! Want me to come in a do a signing?” and the local stores might be able to set you up. But your name is on a book, and it’s in stores, and while it might get lost within the shelves, it’s easier to get people to buy something that has been traditionally published.
If you are self-published, then that’s just a whole different story. With the advent and wild popularity of the eBook and with KDP from Amazon and Pub It from Barnes and Noble, and Smaswords, and Feedbooks, and etc. etc., the list goes on; hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are putting their stuff out there to be consumed by e-reader owners.
So how do you make your stuff stand out from the rest?
First off, make sure it’s good. If the product is good enough, it will get read. Word of mouth is a very powerful thing, but it works both ways. If you didn’t do your job and hire an editor, and do re-writes, and please for the love of God don’t do your own cover in paint and a digital camera, and actually put the amount of work in that is required, then word of mouth will be that it’s horrible. The result will be that any future works won’t sell because the first one sucked. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Unless you’re Dr. Who.
Second, you need to hit the Internet hard. Get involved on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, Reddit, Linkedin, and any other social network than you can think of. Get involved in forum groups; just don’t show up and say, “Hi! My name is Jim, buy my book,” though, then never come back. Hit up sites that do book reviews. Make sure the book reviews are honest and good. If you see a site that generally just goes a couple paragraphs for a full-length novel, you should probably steer clear.
If you have a relationship with your readers, they will buy your stuff regardless. Just look at Scott Sigler: He gave his stuff away FOR FREE in an audio book podcast format, and hit the New York Times bestseller list. Hugh Howey was self-published and his Wool Omnibus hit the New York Times bestseller list, which has also been optioned by Ridley Scott for the movie! He now has a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster.
What do these two authors have in common? They are very connected to their readers in one way or another.
Third, hit the pavement. Even though you may be self-published, it really can’t hurt to get some business cards and pamphlets made and then pimp them out to local bookstores. If you get even one person to pick up that card or pamphlet and then buy your book, they could go on to tell people how incredibly good it was. Then you’ve earned yourself a few more sales, and maybe one of those people will be driven to write a good review. And as most of you know, reviews drive sales.
So, let’s talk about ratings. For me, a five star rating doesn’t hold as much weight as a three or four star rating. Why? Some authors like to tip the scales and pay for reviews. Yes, it’s unethical and in no way, shape, or form should it ever be done. Recently, John Locke, the first independent author to sell a million eBooks on Amazon, came under fire because word leaked that a lot of his five star ratings had been purchased! Sometimes, he gave his book away in exchange for a good rating. Other times, he asked people to buy it but promised a full refund for a five star review.
On the other hand, if there is a three or four star review, I’m more apt to believe that the book was actually read by that person and even more so, was inspired to write an honest review for it. Ido give five star ratings, but rest assured if you see my name by that review, I’ve read the book. The moral of this story is that yes, ratings drive sales, but just because it’s not five stars doesn’t mean people won’t buy!
Fourth, you need to brand yourself. When people see your book, you want them to say, “I want a book by that guy.” An eye-catching cover is a must in a world of sub-par eBooks. If they didn’t spend time to create a good cover, they probably didn’t spend time to make their product good, either. Place your name close to the title and a like type font. Make your name stand out, and over a couple books, people will see the name before the title. And if your previous work was good, they’ll buy newer works because the name on the cover is you and the book couldn’t possibly be about ice cream and unicorns and entitled Spiders are Gross. (Okay, maybe that’s extreme but you get my point.)
None of the above is going to guarantee that you become independently wealthy, or that you’ll even make enough to support yourself. It’s not even a guarantee that you’ll gain a single sale. But you’ll be out there and you’ll be seen.
Now what you should not be doing is posting on the forums every day and spamming your book. Or, if you have sent it out for review, don’t pester the reviewer about when it will be done. Most good review sites will get to it, but have a three to four and sometimes SIX or more month backlog. Don’t be the squeaky wheel, because it won’t get greased.
It takes time to build an audience, and it takes even more time to retain them! You need to have a consistent flow of content, be it tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, etc. And it needs to be things other than your book every single post. After all, socializing is what those sites were intended for, not advertising. Be social.
Most importantly, you have to take criticism on the chin, get back up and do better next time. You aren’t going to please everyone, and the sooner you understand that the better off you’ll be.
The moral here is to love what you do. This world isn’t third grade story time; this shit is hard! If you are doing it to make money, buddy, you are in the wrong field. This is a high risk, no rewardbusiness, especially if you don’t really love writing. Believe me, it will show up in your work if you don’t like what you do, and it Will. Not. Sell.
As NYT Bestseller and co-author of the Walking Dead books, Jay Bonansinga, told me the other day: “Fall in love with the work itself… not the rewards.”
I’m Joe Hempel, the founder of Top of the Heap Reviews, and I thank you for reading.
You can get hold of me about this article and read my book reviews or author interviews at www.topoftheheapreviews.com.
You can like me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/topoftheheapreviews.
Or you can hit me up on the tweety bird @topheapreviews.
If you would like me to review your work, just use the contact form in the “For Authors” section of the website by clicking the e-mail link and filling out the form. I will put you on the list and I look forward to reading your work!