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Opinion: Why Indie Authors Shouldn’t Pay for PR Services

In response to recent reports on ALLi’s Facebook forum from indie authors disappointed by poor results from professional PR campaigns, bestselling novelist Linda Gillard, a long-standing member of ALLi, draws on her own experience to explain why she thinks self-published authors don’t need to splash out for such services and how they can build a large and loyal readership without them.

Headshot of Linda Gillard

Linda Gillard

I’m sorry to hear that so many self-published authors have paid out for PR services and been disappointed, but I’m not surprised. I’m one of the veterans here and some of you have heard me say this before (here’s my previous post on the subject), but for the benefit of new members, this is how you get discovered…

  • Cultivate readers, *one by one*
  • Give away books to individuals
  • Do talks & workshops for free (to begin with)
  • Give books to BookCrossing.com so they can circulate them
  • Donate books to organisations concerned with the issues raised in your books
  • Cultivate bloggers (but only after you’ve researched their blogs to see if they’ll like your books)
  • Ask any reader who contacts you if s/he’d be so kind as to leave a short review on Amazon & Goodreads
  • Get quality promo postcards made & have them with you at all times so that when you get into conversation with people you can offer one (I handed mine out to nurses on my cancer surgery ward and to the ambulance men when I was knocked down by a motor bike.)

People will remember you if you do things like that & if you’re a struggling indie, you’re never off duty.

Make people remember you. If we feel overwhelmed by the quantity of books, imagine how readers feel – and they’re pushed for time. Give them a reason to remember your name, to choose you, to stay faithful to you. Readers want to discover a new author who has a backlist so they don’t have to shop around.

The people whose help we need to enlist are chatty readers who go on forums, tweet a lot and have hundreds of friends. I acquired some of those through BookCrossing and similar activities. They drip feed stuff about me to other people, so I’m always acquiring new readers.

Focus on Readers

I don’t see any way to crack it other than via readers, and by sincerely focusing on readers, rather than sales. . They hold all the power now. I think it’s up to us to create authorial personalities, become star authors (like Hugh Howey & Neil Gaiman) that people want to read and read *about*.

Do all this (and more) for five years, and publish a book a year. Then get in touch & tell me it didn’t work, and I’ll apologise for wasting your time. But I guarantee you will have made a lot of new friends.

Over to You

Have you tried this approach with your books? Is it working for you? We’d love to know, so please join the conversation via the comments box.

Easy Tweet

Twitter bird outline“Why indie #authors don’t need paid #PR services by Linda Gillard via @IndieAuthorALLi: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/no-PR/”

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27 Responses to Opinion: Why Indie Authors Shouldn’t Pay for PR Services

  1. Marianne Aleck August 16, 2016 at 1:13 am #

    I sold a copy of my book, The Liberty Club, at my aunt’s funeral. To be fair, the gal asked me, I didn’t approach her. So, I would also add, always, and I mean ALWAYS have copies of your book/books in your vehicle. Thanks for the tips!

  2. floridaborne February 10, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

    This post is timely and provides a lot of information in a short post.

    One idea I wanted to get more information about; “Get quality promo postcards.” What does one look like?

  3. Rhonda Rees August 5, 2015 at 9:51 pm #

    I have to say as a successful PR book publicist, I have handled a number of authors over the years. Public Relations is still quite valuable. There’s nothing like it to help an author build their name, reputation and brand. Good exposure in the media can be far more beneficial to an author’s success. Article mentions in magazines and newspapers, or radio and television talk interview shows are worth their weight in gold. An experienced public relations person is highly trained — and knows the ropes best in how to present a client to the public. The value of having this type of media coverage — money can’t buy. Information can be posted to social media, websites and blogs, and can also increase the profile of authors. I have written an award-winning book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success, whereby I give solid tips, ideas and suggestions for just how to do so.

  4. Deborah Smith April 7, 2015 at 7:18 pm #

    I agree. Been there, done that, etc. As a former trad pub author at one of the major houses, I flushed thousands of dollars down the drain on a private publicist. I wish I’d donated that money to my local humane society, instead. Now, as a small press publisher, I deal with publicists who clearly have no clue how the marketplace works, what sells, and how to help an author succeed. One even sent me their own cover art design for my author’s book–it was abysmal, amateurish, WRONG for the genre, etc. It was rejected, to say the least. I advise authors not to hire a publicist–ever.

  5. Helen Hart (@SilverWoodBooks) October 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    This is good advice if you’re a novelist, and all authors should do the things Linda’s recommending. It’s immensely encouraging to have support like this from a writer with such a wealth of experience.

    Having said that, if you’re a non-fiction author then the right kind of paid PR can work immensely well, leading to national and even international coverage that can boost or underpin the hard work you’re putting in by yourself. I second Steena’s comment, too. The key is being strategic and doing what’s right for you and your book. Have a plan, be flexible, be relentless, be passionate, and keep going…(and keep learning – there are fresh ideas about book promotion being shared all the time).

  6. Anna Castle August 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    I LOVE the image of the doughty author handing promo postcards to the emergencey response crew as she’s being loaded into the ambulance! That alone is inspiration for the day.

    Thanks for an encouraging and useful post.

  7. Steena Holmes August 13, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    I’ve worked with a PR firm on four books now and it was probably one of the best decisions I made as an indie author.
    I think it’s important to find the right fit – for you and your brand. It’s also important to know what your goals are and to realize the outcome isn’t about sales but finding more exposure, expanding your reach and finding new readers. Keeping those readers is still on you – it’s your responsibility to interact with them.
    I love what you said about keeping your focus in your readers and not your sales. That’s been my goal of branding and marketing since 2011 and its is the #1 thing I would recommend to all authors.
    I think indie authors can work with PR firms successfully – if they are aware of their goals and needs are and are strategic about who they sign with.

  8. Linda Gillard August 13, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    There’s been some interest in the promo postcards. I use Vistaprint and the coloured side is just my ebook cover. They aren’t cheap but the quality is good & reliable.

  9. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 12, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Linda,

    Thanks for linking to your previous post, too. “I write contemporary fiction, and its themes (mental illness, disability, bereavement, PTSD, romance in middle age) have provided fertile ground for lively forum discussions” caught my eye – because that is exactly where my interests lie.

    I’m hoping to publish my first novel this October – and, because of personal issues, it is going to be hard to find the energy you talk about. But I do blog, and the greatest reward for posting a new scene from Pride’s Children every Tuesday has been the people who read, and come back every week, and support what has been a very long WIP. They have kept me writing when the end looked very far away.

    I love interacting with my tiny band of readers. I’m worried about extending that group, and finding my efforts diluted, but also looking forward to it. I took the plunge and added Wattpad last night to the places I’m posting PC – my amazing beta reader is 22, and I hadn’t even considered that demographic as a major source of possible readers.

    I appreciate all your tips – and will find my own subset. I’m glad you think the paid PR approach is bunk – phew!

    Alicia

    • Linda Gillard August 13, 2014 at 11:45 am #

      Alicia, having “issues” to hang your marketing on will make life easier for you. My first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was about a 47-year old bipolar textile artist. It gave me 3 hooks – mental health, mature women at a crossroads, textiles. That covered a lot of women;s fiction bases. 9 years on that book is still collecting new readers but I do little to promote it. It’s all word of mouth.

      I think as indies we have to guard against spreading ourselves too thin. Aim for quality interactions with individual readers. You know what they say – people never forget how you make them *feel*. They might forget your book title, but they won’t forget you took time to thank them for a review or suggest another title they might enjoy.

      I don’t tweet but a lot of people tweet about me. I don’t have a blog but a lot of people ask me to guest blog. You don’t have to devote your life to social networking. Do only what you are comfortable with and if the writing is getting squeezed, take stock. The balance is wrong.

      Good luck with your writing journey and when you publish, let me know. I use my FB author page to tell my followers about books that might interest them and it sounds as if my readers could be your readers.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 13, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

        Thanks very much, Linda. I read your website and added you to the list of writers to check frequently, and your books to the ‘read’ list. Most indies are genre – bless them (and I intend to write SF and mysteries again soon) – but mainstream novels is what I’m doing now, and for the foreseeable future, so I’m glad you posted here – and I discovered you.

        I’m already thinking about your categories of audience – and thinking how to make each group more aware of my existence (I have a few readers in each group already, but not nearly enough).

        My untackled biggie: Goodreads and similar sites where readers post. I’ll get there – just added Wattpad. Little by little wins the race, and I have a lot to do before Book 1 is finished, much less the rest of the trilogy, so there’s where the focus goes first. ‘Write a good book’ is first on everyone’s list.

  10. Joanne Phillips August 12, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    This is the best post I’ve read on here in a long time! It’s so important to step back sometimes and remember that the ‘one reader at a time’ approach is the one that really works. I’m also going to check out Book Crossing, and I’m certainly going to start talking about my books more to people I meet in the local area. Thanks for this timely reminder, Linda.

  11. Warren Shuman August 12, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Excellent advice Linda:

    Indie Authors must realize that they never stop marketing their Name and their Books. The ad-agencies call this Branding. I wear four hats: Author, Editor Publisher and Marketer. Paid PR agencies and Lists requires research to find the most readers of the author’s genres, to eliminate waste. Personal attention is the best PR tool.

    Best of continued Success…

    Warren. .

  12. Nicki Chen August 12, 2014 at 2:52 am #

    After reading your post, I tried to join BookCrossing, but to do so, I need a Referring Member. Could you refer me? I’d really appreciate it.

    • David Penny August 12, 2014 at 7:50 am #

      I think it asks, Nicki, but it allowed me to set up a profile without completing that fields.

    • Linda Gillard August 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

      Tell me what to do Nicki and I’ll do it, but I haven’t been active with BC for some years.

      If you post your request on my FB page, I’m sure there will be BC volunteers to do the necessary.
      https://www.facebook.com/LindaGillardAuthor?ref=hl

  13. Dave LaRoche August 11, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    I certainly agree. Readers are the market, period. Write a good book and hand it out, and one will tell two will tell four..Make yourself known a an author with creds. Every smile at the end of your story will bring many more. We trust our reading friends to recognize good writing and with that they will be your PR.

  14. Melanie Robertson-King August 11, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    Great post, Linda. Leaving postcards with your cancer ward nurses reminded me that I left some in various places in the hospital last summer when my husband was a patient. I need to start carrying them with me at all times, though.

  15. Keith Dixon August 11, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    Hi Linda
    Nice idea about the postcards … will try that. I think the turnover rate has probably sped up a little lately … various writers suggest writing more than one book a year if you want to get that quick uptake. Quality might suffer, though!

    • Linda Gillard August 11, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

      Keith, I’m sure a lot of authors think one book a year is slacking! I certainly can’t produce more than one a year (and I write fulltime) but all my books are different from each other, even different genres.

      I think it would be difficult to build a following without producing at least one book a year and my advice to would-be indies is don’t publish until you have 2 or even 3 books ready. If you manage to make a splash with your first, then you need a quick follow-up. If you don’t… you need a quick follow-up.

      Like any other indie, I’m always wondering, “How can I give sales a boost or raise my profile?” The answer is always going to be, “Publish another good book.”

      This is tough when you feel invisible in the marketplace, but when a few readers discover you, imagine their joy when they see there are 5 other books they can order! And that’s what they’ll do. (And readers who do that will also tell their friends.)

      The best use of any indie author’s time is always going to be writing the next book. We shouldn’t let anxiety and peer group pressure deflect us from our real purpose which is to write.

  16. Jane Steen August 11, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Linda, you do a couple more things that you (modestly) haven’t mentioned. You’re frequently found commenting intelligently on Facebook and on blogs (which is why I approached you to do a review, something I very rarely do) and you write extremely good books. Those are both great reasons to remember an author’s name!

  17. Anne Stormont August 11, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Such good sense from Linda. Don’t expect bestseller status – overnight or at all – but work at building a loyal readership in the way she suggests. Great advice. Thanks ALLi and Linda.

  18. Theo Rogers August 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    This has certainly been the gist of my own approach, although I haven’t yet tried Book Crossing. I have found that if you contact old media and journalists in much the same way as Gillard suggests contacting bloggers, sometimes you get lucky. There’s a much lower success rate, but provided you have an interesting story to pitch, it can be very worthwhile.

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