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How Self-Publishers Reach Readers

We had a wide-ranging discussion on the ALLi Member-Only Facebook Page recently about book promotion and how to reach readers, that deserves a wider audience.

It started when Susanne Lakin (see below) posted one of her great links, to Russell Blake’s exploration of Amazon’s KDP algorithms and free days.

And then, as is wont to happen on our lively discussion page, the chat started:

  • Natalie Wright His observations seem true based on what a lot of authors are saying. Since the most recent change in the algorithm, there just isn’t as big as an increase in sales as there was at the end of last year/ beginning of this year.
  • Joni Rodgers Interesting. I think free has its place, but we have to be more strategic about it than we were during Kindle Select shakedown cruise. I just launched a book in Kindle Select, hoping to get some little bullet point ( ie “#1 mystery download!” “Top 10 on Kindle Select”) but I’m not keeping books enrolled.
  • James Calbraith So how does a new author increase their visibility now? Kindle Select used to be the last thing that still worked…
  • Natalie Wright That’s a good question James.
  • Joni Rodgers: ‎James, that’s the question that’s always been asked within corporate publishers as well, and in recent years the responsibility has shifted increasingly away from in-house PR folk, squarely onto the author’s shoulders. I still do Big 6 ghostwriting gigs, but on my own books, if I have to fund and legwork my own PR, I want to retain the money and creative control. The good news is that the Berlin Wall between indie and corporate publishing has been effectively dismantled from the reader perspective; they don’t know or care who pubs a book. The bad news is, indie publishers have to accomplish the same production and PR goals the corporate publishers accomplish, only we have to do it with a fraction of the manpower and financial resources. But there’s more good news! Indies have agility and maneuverability that the muscle-bound corporate entity does not. We’re not restricted by a launch window; we can do opportunity based marketing with a long tail strategy. (Justin Beiber’s memoir sold a shmillion copies last year, but how many will it sell in 2019 when John Logan‘s book is still being read in book clubs and literature classes? Logan probably won’t outsell the Bieb, even in the long run, but he will have made a nice steady income from a grand piece of work.) I don’t compare my indie books with my corporate books. Corp is WalMart. Indie is boutique. Corp is a cruise ship. Indie is a JetSki. There are advantages and disadvantages either way. I think one has to be Buddhist about it and release that very human attachment to results, and we have to make the best use of the advantages of being indie. Yikes. This got long. Apologies.
  • James Calbraith : ‎Joni Rodgers This is all well and good, but while you give the examples of people who succeeded, you don’t give any answers. Yes, I have control and agility, but so do thousands of other indie writers like me. It’s them that I compete with for attention, not the corporate publishers. The really effective ways to publicize yourself at the start of your career are getting more and more sparse, and if even Kindle Select is not good enough anymore to make a splash, then what is?
  • Joni Rodgers I have to disagree, James. Unless Amazon has some indies-only mosh pit I haven’t heard about, your book is competing with every other book out there, corporate and indie alike. I don’t think there are any easy canned answers – every author’s journey is unique – but perhaps the journey starts with that paradigm shift.
  • Linda Gillard: ‎James, I’ve blogged about author visibility for Alli. http://selfpublishingadvice.org/blog/guest-post-independent-authors-and-visibility-by-linda-gillard/ You build up your readership reader by reader. Unless you’re miraculously lucky, there are no quick fixes. I endorse Joni‘s comment about being Buddhist about it. We should attach ourselves to building relationships with readers. Focusing on sales instead of readers & writers is where trad publishing has foundered. Guest Post: Independent Authors and Visibility by Linda Gillard Self-Publishing Advice
  • Catherine Czerkawska I’ve been thinking about this a lot, recently. (haven’t we all?) and have to agree with both Joni Rodgers and Linda Gillard above. I’ve done pretty well with Select freebies and after sales recently but that’s probably because I have spent half a lifetime writing and interacting with readers. And I’d be the first to say that none of this is easy! Even with a traditional publishing deal you should never underestimate just how long it takes to build some kind of profile as a writer. There’s no magical formula. There are no set answers. But I would say that it involves building relationships with readers through the work – as Linda says, a reader at a time – and what the work is saying. You are inviting readers to share your own journey as a writer and that takes time and a lot of work. It isn’t going to happen with the first book or even the second. Maybe it does very occasionally – but that’s the exception rather than the rule, the winning lottery ticket. And maybe it involves thinking of ways in which you might engage potential readers with your particular obsessions as a writer, whatever they may be! In a sense, you’re publicising aspects of the work, rather than yourself. Finding out what you can give over and beyond the work itself. And using those ‘extras’ to draw people in to the fiction.
  • Linda Gillard I’m nodding in agreement, Catherine! Promoting aspects of my work rather than myself is exactly what I did right from the start (2005). Because I wrote issue-led fiction, that wasn’t difficult. I’ve engaged with readers interested in mental illness, bereavement, disability, dysfunctional families, the problems of carers, because that’s what my novels have been about.
  • M Louisa Locke I know the fact that KDP Select has worked for me affects my views on these issue. I too faced diminishing effects over time–but I think that I had temporarily saturated my niche market (historical mysteries). But after 2 months I just had another free promotion that was very successful in terms of downloads and results. My goals for these have always been simple-to get enough downloads so that my 2 novels show up higher on the historical mystery bestseller list. Because in the mystery genre if a book isn’t visible, and you are a relatively unknown author, all the social media activity in the world isn’t going to get a lot of people to buy your books… this blog post-that gets to the point I was making-that no matter how good the book, if no one can find it, no one is going to read it. My use of free promotions gets me good reviews, and greater visibility, and as a result, people buy my books.http://www.vqronline.org/blog/2012/08/21/quality-work-lowell/#.UDe4_449uZa
  • Steven O’Connor While Russell Blake’s post is highly important, it is also a rather depressing read. As someone preparing to launch his first indie book, it has dampened my excitement. But only a little – thanks to the more uplifting remarks back here at ALLi Facebook. ‘Build up your readership reader by reader.’ I like that. Thank you, Linda. Also, self-promotion doesn’t come easy to me. So Catherine’s ‘publicising aspects of your work’ is a nice perspective for me and something I’ll try do more on my fledgling website – if I can work out how!
  •  Joanna Penn I agree with Linda Gillard. At the beginning you hand sell each book, by soliciting reviews, social and anything else you can do. You make sure you try to get people onto an email list by having a link at the end of the book so they can sign up for the next one.
    You repeat this process, building up your list over time. Then when you have a new book to release you already have people ready to buy it. You may get one or two signups every day at first but over time it adds up. I know John Locke now has 10,000+ on his list and when he emails with a new book, he goes straight up the charts.
    This process also means that you can still make sales even if Amazon suddenly go bust, or do something that prejudices indies.
    Seriously, the best thing to do is write good books & start an email list 🙂 and remember it’s a slow build process … but luckily we’re in it for the long haul…
  •  Linda Gillard I personally think one enthusiastic reader comment on a book discussion forum read by 100s of people is more useful than any 5-star review. No one can prove readers click because of reviews, but what I’ve often seen in forums is, “I just read the latest LG ebook in one sitting” followed by other forum members saying, “Have clicked” or “Have added to the TBR list” or “I’ve heard a lot about her. Is she any good?” The thing about reviews is, buyers have to have found your books to read them. Forum discussions are a better sales platform because readers get ambushed by recommendations, even when they aren’t looking for them. Good reviews aren’t enough to sell books, however good the book or the review. You have to get people *talking* about your books or you have to find people *you* can talk to about them (eg have an email list asJoanna suggests.)
  •  Susanne Lakin So what I”m doing now is keeping one book up on Kindle for free indefinitely to see how that helps. One author that sells 6,000 novels a month says what does that for her is to keep two ebooks up all the time for free. That way readers discover her. So far in the last week, my book has stayed in the top 300 overall in the Kindle store and in the top ten for family saga. I think over time more readers will discover me as they read this book (which is the best example of my writing and style). I will NOT do KDP anymore not because of the algorithms but due to my disliking the exclusivity for the global market. I’m tempted to put another book up for free but I’ll see how this goes. A lot of people are tweeting that they’ve gotten the book and will check out my other once. Loss leaders have always proven to help sales over time.
  •  Steven O’Connor :‎Linda Gillard, I have a quick Q, if that’s OK. I really like what you’re saying. However, more than once I have read fellow authors warning that, if you mention on a forum (even in passing) that you have written a book, you run the risk of ‘trolls’ purposely giving you one star reviews back at Amazon. People say this is especially so with the Amazon forums.

    Perhaps it would depend on the kind of forum you visit? I write YA near-future fiction around video games, so I would be going to sci-fi or video game sites. (And obviously I would have to stay away from teen-based forums altogether, for fear of looking predatory!) (Sorry, this was meant to be a quick Q.)

  • Linda Gillard I don’t go near Amazon forums. The kind I’ve used are the sort that you have to join as a member and are moderated firmly. I hang around on the forum to check it out first anyway and I tread carefully & courteously. If Google Alerts pick up that one of my books has been mentioned in a forum or blog I thank the poster briefly. If there’s a response, I respond to that. (There narly always is.) I don’t ever plug the books unless in response to a direct Q, but I might talk about the content/setting of the book. (I should mention that I’ve been doing this since 2005 when readers weren’t so anti-author promo as they are now. But we only have ourselves to blame for this.) Something I always try to do is mention other authors’ books where appropriate. I think this is a nice thing to do but it reassures readers that you aren’t there for flagrant self-promo. If someone posts about looking for new romantic suspense authors, I chip in with a few suggestions, even though I don’t write romantic suspense. This probably sounds incredibly calculated! It wasn’t. My approach evolved over the years and it’s only with hindsight that I can see that it *slowly* built up an enthusiastic following. Sometimes there was a huge leap forward. I think every forum I’ve joined has eventually chosen one or more of my novels to be BOTM with me participating in the discussion, or they’ve invited me to be interviewed by forum members. Both of these activities have been fun, illuminating and very time-consuming. Steven, you could approach general book discussion forums because there are always adult members who love YA & sci-fi and who have teenage children. Some big forums I’ve found helpful and very supportive are Book Club Forum, Kindle Users’ Forum UK, Read it Swap it. (I put some of my slightly damaged pbs up for swaps.) If you’re new to all this, try KUF as they are big, friendly and have special areas where authors can promote their books, but I recommend joining in wherever you can on the forum (with a nice promotional sig illustrated with your book covers!) I think the secret is to find forums that if you could spare the time from writing, you’d like to join anyway. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to be sincere. If you aren’t readers will resent it and the exercise becomes counter-productive.
  • Linda Gillard To demonstrate how it’s worked for me, this is a quote from an Amazon forum, July ’09 in response to a request for new authors: “I haven’t read much of it yet but my entire book club forum swears by Linda Gillard’s “Star Gazing”; it’s an unconventional love story whose protagonist is a middle-aged, headstrong blind woman. Amazon reviews are also pretty uniformly positive.” I recognised the name as a member of Book Club Forum http://www.bookclubforum.co.uk/community/ She hadn’t shown any interest in my books on the forum, but obviously she’d absorbed the posts. This was someone promoting me on an Amazon forum without me having to go near the forum. The hours you put in on forums can pay off, but there are no guarantees and obviously it will only work if readers like your books.

  • Linda Gillard I should perhaps reiterate that I’ve used forums alongside a very active FB author page (which is as much about personal stuff as books.) I don’t have a blog and I don’t Tweet. I’ve guest-blogged a lot but I see no evidence that this has led to significant sales. What it does lead to is invitations to guest blog elsewhere. Each time you do this you’re hitting a completely different readership (and I tailor the guest blog for that readership.) I can’t prove this scattergun approach works in terms of sales. My ebooks sell very well in the UK and this is what I’ve done, but it might not be cause & effect. Maybe they’d have sold anyway. But I think it’s forums & FB.
    —–
    So what’s your experience? Anything to add?
This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. There is some room in the new matrix of ebook placement strategies which we are developing that may add some spice to this equation based on ‘bookware’ marketing. Try the link we noted for some ideas along this line.

  2. Several people have mentioned the importance of free books on Amazon. Am i doing something wrong? On Kindle direct the minimum i can list a book at is 99c. I have two books on amazon at 99c. One is discounted to free, presumably because someone has notified Amazon it’s free elsewhere. The second book languishes at 99c because it’s KDP select. Any suggestions?

    1. Dear Tom,

      If you put your book up in KDP Select (three months agreement) you get to put the book free for 5 days over that 3 month period, but you have to agree to only make your ebook available on Kindle for those 3 months. Your books is also available to borrow my people who subscribe to Amazon Prime, and you get paid for those borrows (the amount varies month to month). Some people are able to get their books free on Amazon by making them free elsewhere like Kobo or Smashwords and Amazon then price matches. But it took Amazon a year to price match one of my short stories, while others get their books price matched right away so this isn’t a good strategy for short promotions.

      Here is a link https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/KDPSelect

      Mary Louisa

  3. OK, I am biased because I coach authors how to get on TV. That said, it is really hard to beat the sales you get after you are interviewed on a morning TV show like Good Morning America. And if you use the right system, it doesn’t cost you a cent. It is hard for authors to stop being authors and stop talking about their books, but that is what is called for in order to land a guest interview slot on TV. TV producers want experts, not authors, so you need to position yourself as an expert and let the book sell itself. And believe me, it will. Oh and the fact that you are self-published and don’t have a lot of reviews won’t make any difference either, which is great for most of us. OK, thanks for all these great views. Edward Smith.

    1. Edward, You hit the nail on the head. Books and authors are lost to the mass chaos of choice and noise – leaving readers overwhelmed. Their kindles are loaded with so many books that one would be lucky to get through the TBR list in a lifetime. That said, things change when a reader gets to ‘know’ an author. TV is a perfect medium for that, but the problem is how does one get onto a morning show? One way that I’m exploring with my project is to use YouTube and our mobile app (I won’t promote it here). It’s true that readers buy authors not books and I believe that video blogs and trailers on YouTube can help in this process. It also helps the authors cultivate their following. What I’m encouraging authors to do is this – give the readers the ‘Why’ behind the writing vs. simply giving the synopsis. Readers are interested in what inspires story, where characters come from and how plots develop. They want to feel part of an authors work, in the same way we connect with a character in film or TV. And it’s this connection that sells books. People don’t buy what you do they buy ‘why’ you do it.

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