Ricardo Fayet is a co-founder of Reedsy, an online marketplace connecting authors with the best editorial, design, marketing and translation talent. A technology and startup enthusiast, he likes to imagine how small players will build the future of publishing. He blogs about writing, book design, and in-depth marketing on the Reedsy blog, and today's he's sharing his insights about The Power of Collaboration.
Collaboration in the 2.0 Era
It’s safe to say that “self-publishing” doesn’t mean the same thing it did ten years ago. As the number of independent authors continues to grow at an exponential rate, the act of self-publishing is beginning to take on many shapes and forms. In fact, we’re now at the stage that many at the Alliance of Independent Authors have taken to calling “Indie Author 2.0”. But what does this mean? To me, personally, one of the defining aspects of this exciting new stage in indie publishing is widespread collaboration.
The idea of collaboration is obviously not new. Since the early days of the “indie movement” authors have worked together, offering help, and learning from one another. When forced to take charge of their writing careers, authors benefited from the open exchange of information and quickly realized the value of surrounding themselves with trusted professionals and colleagues.
So how do I see interdependency and collaboration further evolving in 2017? To get specific, I’ve noticed three trends taking shape in the past year — all of which could have a massive impact on the careers of indie authors moving forward. Allow me to elaborate.
1. The newest addition to publishing teams
As authors publish more books, in more formats, and in more countries, they will inevitably learn more about the business of publishing. Indie authors who started back in 2010, putting out several books a year, now have a larger catalog than many small publishing companies.
As authors evolve their process to become more professional, I have seen them increase their reliance on other professionals — often replicating the structure of a publishing company. Of course, editors, proofreaders, and formatters have always been used by (serious) indie authors. The new thing here is the progressive introduction of marketing professionals into the teams of most best-selling authors.
Attending the Novelists, Inc conference last September, I was amazed how most authors I spoke to already worked with either assistants or proper marketers on the promotional part of the business. This is a fascinating evolution, at least from our perspective at Reedsy. Though book marketers have been on our marketplace for almost year, we always struggle to define exactly what they will do for an author.
Marketing is a skill that authors need to learn, as opposed to, say, book design, where they can just hire someone to take care of it. You really can’t hire someone to take “marketing” off your hands. You can, however, follow the lead authors who hire freelance assistants or marketers to help with some part of it. This help can take different forms, which are best illustrated by these examples.
- Successful authors are outsourcing certain tasks and hiring a virtual assistant. These helpers will answer reader emails and messages, update the website and the books’ back matter upon new releases, compile lists of reviewers/influencers to reach out to, handle social media accounts, etc. Joanna Penn has an excellent podcast episode on working with a virtual assistant.
- Debut authors may hire a professional marketer or consultant to help prepare a marketing plan and work with them to implement it. The idea here is to “learn by doing” — with the supervision of someone who’s been through it before. This is what our “book marketers” do on Reedsy.
- Authors looking to test a new marketing tactic (Facebook ads or Amazon ads for example) will hire a specialist to help them get started
Of course, we’re still at the early stages here. There are few good marketers around ready to help authors on a one-to-one basis — they generally offer courses instead — and even fewer advertising experts. But as more authors see the value in hiring specialists for that part of the business, I can see the profession of “freelance book marketer” quickly emerging.
2. The new forms of cross-promotion
Cross-promotion is not new in the indie world either. When it comes to marketing, the collaborative spirit of self-publishing authors is actually one of the things that has allowed so many “new” authors to succeed.
Collaboration in marketing takes on many forms, from a simple (but vital) exchange of information to the creation of author bundles and group promotions. The last two are of particular interest to us, as they represent a progressive shift from “Amazon-based” book marketing towards efforts driven by your “mailing list.” Of course, Amazon will continue to prevail as the most important discoverability tool, but rising competition has made it much harder for indie authors — even best-selling ones — to get their books to stick on the algorithm and sell well off the back of their ranking.
So what happens when you can’t rely exclusively on Amazon anymore? If you're a proactive author, you take matters into your own hands, hence the growing emphasis on developing mailing lists. As a result, we've seen a new form of collaboration emerge — one that focuses on that very goal.
In the past year, I've heard less talk about ebook bundles (or “boxed sets”) and much more about group promotions, especially with the rise of the latest player on the scene, Instafreebie (if you’re unfamiliar with them, here’s a good post here on this blog):
Rather than boring you with my take on the different forms of marketing collaboration, I sought out the opinion of Instafreebie’s CEO, Jason Freeman, along with his predictions for the year to come.
Over the past year, we've seen authors take off with the idea to support one another, and collaborating for mutual benefit. Successful authors we work with understand the power of coming together to excite readers with their content in a variety of ways. Not only do we see authors help with plot holes, character development and cover images; they also work together to create group promotions with exclusive content, bonus materials, and free to discover ebooks, which they all promote to readers. These activities accelerate the growth of each author brand, and their visibility among the right readers. In 2017, we'll continue to see authors work together to build their mailing list and fanbase of highly engaged readers through increased collaboration. — Jason Freeman, Instafreebie
I’m personally subscribed to several indie authors’ mailing lists, and have definitely noticed an uptake in cross-promotion through their newsletters. In most cases, these are recommendations for other authors and book deals in their genre. There are opportunities to go even further in “mailing list collaboration” with authors of your genre. For example, sharing mailing list contacts directly; not to email them (that’d be spam), but to generate lookalike audiences for the purposes of Facebook advertising. If you’re not familiar with these, this interview with Mark Dawson is a must-see video.
Note: I’ve never heard of authors exchanging list contacts for cross-lookalike generation, I’m just throwing ideas out there. If anyone tries it, though, I’d love to hear the results!
Before I move on to my final point, I’d like to share a 2017 prediction from author David Mark Brown. He pretty much sums up one of my strongest sentiments, albeit in a gloomier way:
The only indie authors to survive 2017 will be the ones who a.) established themselves before 2015 b.) pool their resources with others. Consolidation! — David Mark Brown
3. Collaborative technology
The changes in book marketing collaboration isn’t just about what we can do (add expertise to your publishing team, cross-promote in new ways, etc) but also how we do it. As I’ve already mentioned, more indie authors are taking a business approach to their writing activities. The result is that many of them are adopting the same project management and communication tools used by startup companies.
In particular, I’m thinking of applications like Slack and Trello. If you haven’t heard of these, allow me to share a bit of background, along with how authors can take advantage of their features.
- Slack is basically an online “message room” for teams where conversations are organized by topics into “channels”. You have public channels, where everyone can contribute; private ones, where you can invite only a part of your team; and direct messages. Here’s a good example of how it can be used in an author-editor relationship.
- Trello is a project management app that was recently acquired by Atlassian for $425m. On Trello, projects are represented by “boards” that are similar to old-fashioned cork boards. These boards contain a series of “lists”, and “lists” contain “cards”. Companies use it to organize their teams’ tasks, but it can also be used for other purposes. For example, here’s how one author uses Trello to outline her novels.
Both tools are free to use. Certain advanced features only available on a ‘premium’ subscription but those functions are mostly for larger organizations. As an author, you can make the most of them without paying a single penny.
As “author publishing” becomes more professional, I expect such tools to get more widely adopted in the years to come. If you publish several books a year, and for each book you need to hire an editor, a proofreader, a designer, a formatter, and a virtual assistant… you can’t afford to confine your communications to email.
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