Advice for new Indie Authors . . .

Originally published on Indie author Rachel Abbot’s blog. 

So, you want to be an Indie Author. Where do you begin?

The Beginning . . . 

• Write a great book in a genre that people want to read

This is a really obvious one but you are making life very hard, if not impossible, for yourself if you try to promote a book that nobody is interested in. ‘Drain filtration in Lower Basildon’ may be the subject of endless fascination for you and one or two others, but you have to be realistic. It goes without saying that, for fiction, the story must be compelling, the characters must fascinate and the theme must be something your readers can relate to.

• Don’t rely on friends for feedback

Sure, they’ll say lovely things about your book, but they are not professionals. You may be in for a shock if you use only friends as a yardstick by which to judge the merits of your masterpiece. Amazon readers are a discerning bunch and they won’t pull any punches. You have been warned!

• So, if you can afford it, employ a reputable book critique service

I thoroughly recommend Hilary Johnson’s Author Advisory service. Hilary and her team know what it takes to write a great novel and the tips and lessons I learned from these professionals have proved invaluable. It is an expense, yes, but I would suggest that you use this or a similar service at least for your first novel. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache; first timers make mistakes – often basic ones. As a novice, you need a helping hand to begin with. Then, and only then, will you be able to freewheel on your own. When I started I couldn’t ‘get’ the viewpoint thing (a tricky mechanism to master). Hilary put me right on that and a number of other fundamental problems with my work which I have kept in mind as I moved forward to new projects.

• Make sure you proofread your manuscript. More than once

Seriously, enough said. Oh, all right then, I’ll say a bit more, but really . . .

‘The trouble with Indie novels,’ Mr X of Yarmouth says, ‘is that they’re not professionally edited. I was reading one the other day and you wouldn’t believe the typos in the first chapter! I had to get my red editing pen out and . . . ’

Rest assured, this gentleman will not be reading any more of your books. And if he decides to post a scathingly negative review you may well lose potential customers. I’m not saying that the odd poor review will wreck your sales figures for ever, but why take the risk? Get it right first time.

• Don’t proofread on screen. Print out the MS and proofread the paper copy

This is a weird phenomenon. For some reason our brains are wired to pick up typos on screen far less efficiently that we do on paper. Must be the old school mentality dying hard. Try it – I bet you’ll find it’s true for yoo, I mean you.

• Better still, employ a good proofreader

I am very fortunate to have a lovely lady by the name of Louise Maskill to proofread my manuscripts. An independent reader is of incalculable benefit. You may not realise it but you are often way too close to your manuscript to pick up the most glaring error, omission or even plot hole. Louise has sorted out a veritable cornucopia of my disasters: clumsy expressions, continuity errors, timeline problems, wrong assumptions, plain old typos and so much more.

• Make sure your book blurb is appealing, brief and to the point

Hook ‘em in ten seconds. Make it punchy, exciting and unusual if you can. ie ‘Narrowly escaping death in a bloody skirmish with an Irish war band, Marius is forced to undertake a hazardous journey . . .’ etc. Finish the blurb on a cliff-hanger if you can, perhaps with a question, ie ‘Can Marius rescue his daughter and survive against overwhelming odds?’

Take your time with the blurb; it’s the ‘selling’ mechanism of your book. If you can’t get it right, there are copywriters out there who will do it for you – at a price of course. But come on, now! You are a writer, are you not? So stick with it and it’ll come good with a little patience and a spot of author tlc. (Have a break; eat a hot cross bun/bar of choccy/ice cream . . . you know you want to . . .)

• Make sure your formatting is correct. Use the right template

As Indies, we are competing with professional authors and publishers. We owe it to ourselves and to our readers to ensure that we produce the best possible quality books. We don’t want to give Indie publishing a bad name. We want the fact that our books are independently published to be transparent to our readers. They don’t want to have to squint at wacky fonts, or wonder why there are no blank lines between scene changes, and so on.

CreateSpace have a good selection of Word templates for various paperback sizes. Download the appropriate template and away you go.

• Make sure your introductory pages (front matter) are correctly ordered

Look in any published paperback to see where the acknowledgements, dedications, etc are placed and do the same.

• Get your page numbering right!

No excuses. There are many helpful forums out there to help you with the vagaries and peculiarities of MS Word. Drop ‘em a line and be patient. You’ll get there in the end – if I can do it, you can too!

NB Page numbers do not normally appear on front matter, or on pages introducing a new section or part of your book. Make sure the numbers follow on correctly, in sequence.

• Make sure your cover is professionally designed AND looks good as a thumbnail

My advice here is not to attempt to design your own cover – unless you are a graphic designer, of course. There are lots of packages out there which promise great results, but you really have to have artistic flair and good skills with the requisite software package to pull it off. Don’t be tempted by ‘off the shelf’ cover templates either. Don’t, just don’t go there, OK? You are unique. Your writing is unique, so come on; make sure you nail a brilliantly unique cover design!

Remember that most punters are initially attracted to your book by the cover. It’s not fair that this should be the case, but life’s not fair. It has to look good as a thumbnail. Keep it simple. Make it striking. Tell your designer what you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions. Sign off when you are happy with the result.

Oh, and make sure your website URL goes on the back cover.

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Marketing . . . 

• Find local book clubs and reading groups in your area.

Ask them if they would like you to come along and give a talk, or just chew the fat about writing, reading, publishing and so on. Bring copies of your book – you may sell a few!

• Print business cards

Give them out at the book clubs you visit. Keep them on you at all times. Make sure your email address, Twitter and Facebook ids are clearly visible. Make sure the card looks good (apply the same principle as you did for your book cover). People will keep a business card, but that piece of paper you scribbled your details on will be bin-bound within the hour . . .

• Have a Facebook fan page

This is an essential piece of kit. Use it to connect with your readers. They will feel more involved with you as a person and with your writing. But don’t spam people all the time about your books. It will have a negative effect, trust me.

• Use Twitter sensibly

That means no spam about your book. Spam is when you drop Tweets like confetti and they’re all about YOU!  (You can tell I don’t like spam, right?). Tempting though it may be to tweet twenty times a day exhorting people to buy your novel, don’t do it. It’s the surest way to alienate your public and lose followers. By all means respond to questions about your writing and refer followers to your website, new publications, books for sale on Amazon/Kobo etc. Now I do a fair amount of book promo via Twitter and I can’t claim that I have the balance right, but I am at least aware of the possibility of just annoying readers rather than enticing them. Chat, communicate, be friendly. Offer good advice (as I hope this is!)

• Make sure you have a professionally designed website

This I think is vital. It’s your primary connection to your readers. It should showcase all your available books, and most importantly, a link to buy. It should also have a contact form, and an ‘About’ page. You’ll need to post frequent updates to make sure that people revisit the site. Provide a mailing list option (try Aweber) and send out monthly bulletins, offer something useful or enjoyable like a free book/short story/bar of chocolate …

• Use services such as BookBuzzr cautiously

Have a look and see what’s on offer. Some facilities are helpful, others not. Don’t set up an auto-spammer re Twitter (see above)

• Price your book realistically

This is an endless debate. Should we sell ourselves and our work cheaply? Or do we price according to an equivalent ‘traditionally published’ novel? In my view, and in my experience, the public (especially the Brits) love a bargain. When I reduced my novel, ‘The Trespass’ from £1.23 to 0.99p it shot into the Amazon top 100 and went on to achieve a highest position of number 14 in the Amazon paid charts.

OK, so the royalty is correspondingly lower at 35% rather than 70%, but 70% of no sales is still 0.00p. I have found that readers are happy to take a punt at a book and author they are not familiar with if the price is right. And that price seems to be 0.99p. Have a go. Experiment to find the optimum price point for your book. Once you have an appreciative readership they will understand that authors have to make a living and won’t begrudge paying a reasonable price for your book. I’m currently charging £2.99 for the Brendan Moran Crime series books, which is the same price you’d pay for a cup of coffee in the high street. It’s not bad is it?

• Choose the correct distribution options

If you want to get your printed book into Waterstones, you’ll need to make sure that whichever distribution package you pick will register your book with Gardners. This is the wholesalers where Waterstones order their stock. If your book is not registered with Gardners it won’t appear in the Waterstones database, and consequently you will not be able to offer yourself for a book signing at any of their stores. (See below).

• Ask your local Waterstones if they are happy for you to do a book signing **

I did just that at my local Waterstones and had a great afternoon chatting to the browsers and buyers in the Reading Oracle store. The bookshop was very accommodating, buying in enough copies of my book to cover the signing and everyone seemed happy at the end of the day. I now get a cheerful wave from the shop assistants when I go into the shop – they like connecting with authors, so make the most of it!

** As a caveat to the above WS have recently implemented an ‘only famous, crowd- drawing authors’ signing policy which even the store assistants and managers despair over. Why smother a two-way, helpful, interactive activity in favour of quick-fix celeb signings? Let’s hope they see sense and retract this ludicrous policy soon. Remember we still have the small, independent book stores on our side …

• Talk to your local radio and newspapers

Offer free review copies. Offer yourself as an interviewee. Offer your body (just kidding). Try to find a ‘story’ behind your book. There are lots of Indies at it now, so your local press/radio won’t automatically be impressed if you call them and say ‘Hey, I live in Reading/Scunthorpe/Birmingham and I’ve written a great novel!’ You are most likely to get a ‘so what’ reaction. Think about your pitch. Make it an irresistible news story.

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This is not an exhaustive list of marketing options, but it should point you in the right direction. Indie publishing is an exciting, demanding venture. Therefore, be professional, determined and single-minded. It’s a steep learning curve but there are rewards waiting at the end of that curve for those with the motivation and verve to pull it off.

Happy writing!

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