Before you publish, Part 10 – What platform(s) do I use?!

Before you Publish - 10

As you’re probably aware, I’m busy with my first ever author event to promote Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. However, thanks to the magic of WordPress, I’ve scheduled this to keep the series going, because it’s helpful to think through what I did, and why, and why it was all not very well thought out, in spite of great advice telling me how to do it properly.

When I first made the decision to self publish, platforms didn’t even occur to me. I mean, they did. Hell, I even did a series of interviews on the topic, but I didn’t ask the truly relevant questions until I was pretty far down the road and I didn’t ask enough of the relevant questions. Initially, however, I didn’t put a lot of thought to it. I can’t say why I didn’t think of this. It should have been the very first question I was asking myself. It really started to roll around in my brain after speaking with a cover designer. Then, I started reaching out to other writers and artists and that’s when I realized just the magnitude of the oversight. You can get to that series here – there are some really great authors and perspectives. The short story is that there seem to be two basic approaches (among loads of other publishing options, which I’m not going to cover in any detail just now). These are Amazon or “go wide.”

If you’re publishing on Amazon, it looks like this: eBook, paperback, Kindle Unlimited. That’s it. That’s all you’re going to do. A lot of people going this route don’t even bother making a paperback available. The key benefit of Amazon is that it’s super easy. It used to be that Amazon had Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which have their own history. I came into the game after Create Space. Based on what I read, lots of people liked Create Space a lot better. In my experience, KDP makes it so easy that nobody should have an excuse for not being able to get a book up there. I mean, I do have complaints, and there are quirks, but on the whole, this is super easy.

Going wide means a lot more, and I’m not even going to pretend I understand the full scope of it. What I can give you is what I learned so far. To start, you have to answer the following questions

  • Who is going to print my book? Amazon, Lulu, Blurb, BookBaby, Ingram Spark, The Book Patch, someone else?
  • What are the ramifications of Amazon sales if I print my book through IngramSpark?
  • Do I even want to attempt trying to get my book listed in local book stores (this is possible, but not always – small towns seem to be the best options.)
  • What platforms will I distribute to? Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Others…?
  • What aggregation service should I use (I don’t even know where to start on this one here, I gave it one google search groaned in pain and closed my browser – If anyone reading this wants to guest blog on this one, I’d love to do that.)

At face-value, going wide seems like the absolute best option to get your book in front of the largest number of possible readers. I think this is true. However, for a debut author, I’m not convinced this is actually a benefit. However, I don’t really know for sure – for the millionth time, this is my first experience in the publishing universe. What I do know is that the overwhelming majority of books sold are sold on Amazon.

When I first started, I figured I’d “go wide.” Then as I started going through the process, I realized this wasn’t necessarily a good idea. In part, because there is too much to learn that you won’t learn until you actually do it. The other part is that the expense starts to become a factor. Amazon aside, other platforms charge. If I were to start over again, here is what I would do – this may not be for you:

  • Pick a date to release, and spend at least 1-month marketing. I don’t know how frequently or how much, but this is something that I should have done.
  • Plan a launch event – this should be something you do in person if a local bookstore is willing to host, all the better. If not, maybe something creative? I really don’t know
  • Start out with Amazon only, and give yourself at least 5 weeks to get author copies AFTER you’ve taken a look at the proof and made changes.
  • Launch an e-book, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited (KU) all on the same day or within days of your launch event.
  • While you advertise and promote yourself, Prep for a ‘wide’ release –spend time researching etc… whatever that looks like for your genre.
  • Release more books, using Amazon’s extended advertising options for KU, I’m thinking of countdown discounts and free book offerings.
  • Use Amazon’s add words and reports to figure out what sorts of things gets your book sold
  • Remove your ebooks from KU (you’re enrolled for 3-month periods, this will probably be after a significant amount of time, maybe as much as 2 years!)
  • From what you’ve learned in step 2 (I don’t have advice on this yet), launch wide. This is effectively a re-release, and you can use that as a marketing tool. I don’t know that this will actually DO anything for you, especially if you find that KU is making you money.

Part of the reason for taking this approach before even considering going wide is two-fold. First off, lots of people make real money on KU. If that’s happening for you, then you don’t want to let that revenue stream go. It’s going to fund future books and in time could lead to real income. The other is that other platforms, such as IngramSpark, are difficult to use and more expensive. By going exclusive with Amazon, you can get your book out there and correct issues after publication – FOR FREE – before making it available elsewhere.

All that said, I’m not claiming that this is the way to go, what I am saying is that if I had done better planning to debut as an author, this is the route I would’ve taken. In the end, this is where I am anyhow, except that I’m only planning 2-3 books over the next year and a half. My result was a very sloppy release, which didn’t do me any favors. When you first hit Amazon and let people know your book is out there, you’ll have more interest in a narrow period than you’re likely to get at any other time. It’s essential to capitalize on that. I didn’t, and I absolutely regret it.

What do you think? For a debut indie author, go wide right out of the gate or hit hard with Amazon first, then re-launch wide after about a year? Leave a comment below.

Interested in the rest of the series? Click here.

Before you publish, Part 9 – Book events and pretending to be a people person.

Before you Publish - 9

I meant to have another post published yesterday (08/14/2019), but I didn’t put it up in favor of writing a different post which is, I’m sorry, pretty darn long. Not to worry – the original post is coming in a few days.

In the checklist I put together at the outset of this series, I noted that you should be prepared to approach local book shop owners to see about signing events. I also said that you need to be prepared to talk about your book. When I said that I was thinking about going beyond your pitch. That’s just the thing you do to quickly communicate what your book is about so you can efficiently identify potential readers and not really offend or bother people who aren’t interested. Tackling someone who isn’t interested just sort of looks desperate and it’s pretty awkward. However, it’s just as awkward to not be able to chat with people. I had planned on setting this particular post later in the series, but seeing as how I’ve got a book signing event on Saturday, August 17th at Black Birch Books in Wasilla from 2-4 for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I felt now would be a pretty darn good time to talk about these things.

At face value, talking with book store owners and talking about your book aren’t really super related. In fact, they could be two different posts. However, these two things make a point, which is, as an indie author you’ve got to be ready to sell yourself. As I said, the pitch is only the introduction and the seed for your Amazon or Goodreads ads. However, in the event you’ve found someone interested, they’ll ask you questions and might want to talk about other books, reading and writing in general. You need to be prepared to do this. It takes quite a bit of social courage, just like it takes courage to call your local bookstores and see if they’ll list your work or host an author event. Some will and some won’t. Either way, this is where these two topics are related. You have to talk to people you don’t know about a thing that is very close to you and wound into your ego like nothing else.

On Saturday, I’m going to need to turn up in what I consider ‘business mode’. I’ll have on my biggest smile, and be absolutely ready to be sociable while focusing on making sure I’m watching for social cues. If you take anything away from this post it’s thinking about social cues. Not everyone wants to talk to the author, some are there to see if they’ve got a book by _______ for their _______ or some such (in any other setting this holds true, and a lot of people aren’t readers keep that in mind). You need to start by looking for body language. If a person doesn’t want to deal with you, they’re not going to make eye contact and they’re only going to spare the briefest glance at your table. You might get a smile, but then that person will make a lot of obvious signals they’re off to do something else. Let them do that. Other folks will be brought in over the course of their normal day or curiosity about the author and might approach me out of general interest or politeness. This is where the pitch comes in, a “Do you like fantasy or humor?” followed by “This book is about witches….” And so on. If they’re interested they will ask questions. If not, they’ll politely examine the back of the book without reading it, put the book back down, smile and move on. That’s when a “Thank you” is in order, and that’s it. Others yet will come in specifically for the event and want to have a chat about the book and what’s next and how things are going etc… You might also get the odd person who you didn’t expect who comes in and wants to talk books, maybe even about their own books – Go ahead and engage them, but don’t ignore other interested parties.

The whole point is: Be Prepared to talk about your book, you, your writing, and other related topics to include what YOU like to read and your favorite books. Also, you need to pay attention to what people are telling you without saying it. This is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. An interested person will ask questions or make eye-contact or linger if they’re also more of an introvert, but someone not interested will make every sign they want to ignore you without straight-up telling you to jump off a bridge. You are not going to find a reader by pestering a person. I fully understand that a lot of writers write specifically because it’s a solitary endeavor. Publishing and bookselling, however, is very much NOT. I know I put this in the context of my own upcoming event, but my main experience actually goes beyond that, and I’ll relate that because I’m not an outgoing social butterfly. I’m more of a talkative toady.

I used to be painfully shy. Actually, I still get a tremendous amount of social anxiety. To wit, I didn’t ask out my wife for our first date, she approached me. I’m confident I’d still be single if she hadn’t. Then, my first summer at college, I took a summer job at Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, AK. The job was data entry, which meant I got to sit in a room with manifests and a database. It was awesome. I never had to answer a single phone, make a phone call or generally talk to anyone. Workplaces, however, are social places and I struggled for the first several weeks doing little more than being able to politely grunt or smile and nod in the best of cases. In retrospect, this was just as well as many of the gals there seemed keen to kick up a conversation and I was not. This put them off the hunt and I wasn’t any the wiser until I was older and a hell of a lot more equipped to deal with a social situation that I’m unlikely to ever encounter again.

Now, let’s fast-forward. I’m in a job that requires sociability, public speaking, and talking to random strangers as if my sole goal in life is to get them something they need or want. I’m not talking about my colleauges here – I’m talking about researchers across the pacific northwest who have an interest in the data I help manage or members of the public who expect public service to be just that – service. That experience has acclimatized me to talking to strangers without passing out. All this leads me back to the topic of talking with people. I’ve gotten a lot better at being able to talk to random people in unfamiliar circumstances. Not that I always talk about books or my books or writing. However, what the launch of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks has taught me is that this ability is one of the KEY elements in being able to market. Remember, you’re selling yourself as a story-teller almost more than any individual book you’d like people to read. We talk about favorite authors quite as much, if not more, than we talk about favorite books. If I were still shy Dave, I would NEVER have been able to launch this book or even begin to discuss with people, and that’s just a total deal-breaker.

I think my whole point here is that learning how to go into ‘business mode’ and become a sociable person who can engage a potential reader a conversation about reading and books and the stories you like to tell is critical. Knowing when you’ve met someone who is not interested is also important. Remember, if you make a positive impression on a person, you might actually get a referral even though they DON’T read your book – this HAS happened to me. Further, from the reader’s perspective, the vast majority of authors I’ve picked up in the last several years have been via word of mouth and once I get hooked on an author I’ll keep going back to the well for another drink. I can think of only a single exception to that in recent memory. To leave off, I want to make it clear that I do like people and I like to talk, actually, it’s just getting beyond that self-infliced awkwardness is where the pretending comes in. So, on Satuday, I’ll be down there smiling and chatting with anyone who is interested, but my blood pressure will be making my head spin.

What’s your experience? Am I over-selling the people-person thing, can you sell yourself as a story teller without the direct human interactions? Leave a comment.

Before you publish, Part 8 – Networking with other authors

Before you Publish - 8

In the initial post to this series, one of the items in the checklist involved networking with other authors. In a lot of ways, most of us do this through critique groups, conferences, meet-ups, and social media. Some of us don’t. I don’t participate in a critique group and haven’t in about 10 years. It’s not that I don’t want to, but there are a lot of reasons for it. Really, if I expect to be serious, none of the excuses are particularly good. In retrospect, if had I spent some time pushing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks through a critique circle, it would have been made a stronger product. The characters aren’t as good as they could be, and the plot could use a bit of patching. Not only that, there are a lot of things you can learn from other writers, even if it’s a better sense of what not to do.

The other aspect of this that I feel can be a little bewildering is trying to understand the publishing process better. I did spend a lot of time connecting with authors and researching this side, and if I were to start over, I’d do even more. Trying to connect with writers on social media can be a bit of a mixed bag. To start, my experience on Twitter and other social media platforms tend to stick to the writing side of the business, like characters, editing, motivation, and none-too little self-promotion. While this is great for that side of things, more detail and coaching is necessary for the business side. I mean, it does come up, and not infrequently, but you’ve got to ask for specifics to really get useful stuff. In my experience, authors help one another out.

The frustrating part of networking can be some groups miss the point a bit. I’m in a couple of Facebook groups where most of the time these groups wind up being: “Please give me advice on this cover/blurb,” or “I’m going to humble-brag about my sales.” When folks bring up nuts-and-bolts mechanical publishing stuff, they are often shut down with a “this is not what this group is for” or a “We’ve already covered this topic elsewhere on the group, go looking for it.” It’s a bit irritating and not particularly helpful. Not that the content or groups isn’t useful, it’s just very, very focused. When you’ve been turned off the group by thirty straight humble-brag posts, and start ignoring these groups, you’re potentially missing out on a valuable resource.

I think what I’m trying to say is: Yes, you’re going to get into groups and discussions that aren’t helping you at all. Maybe they’re even somewhat irritating, but don’t let that discourage you from connecting with other authors. One of the most valuable things I did leading up to the publication of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks was reaching out to ask authors what their experience had been and what they would recommend. If you want to know about keywords for Amazon – throw that question out to a group. If one group shuts you down, reach out to another. Frequently, someone will have a moment where they really want to pay something forward and will give you precisely the roadmap you need. This happened to me more than once, and it makes me want to reach out and help others in a meaningful way. Really, this is a community –a loose, disorganized community, but a community nevertheless. We all have to stick together and help each other out, and a lot of people feel that way.

I think my point is that before you publish –do this. Don’t just connect with fellow writers for a critique or editing, reach out for advice on all aspects from font choice to advertising tactics. Most importantly, keep in mind that other authors aren’t your audience, they’re your colleagues, and the sales pitches need to stay somewhere from minimal to 0 when reaching out. When you hit publish and begin letting folks know, they’re likely to lend you a hand getting the word out as you’ve probably done for them.

What’s been your experience networking? Leave a comment below.