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Sunday, December 3, 2017


Five years ago, I set up a blog called Publishing Your Novel on Kindle, which was a guide to formatting,  editing, and publishing a book on the Amazon KDP platform, which proved unexpectedly popular.  Many thousands of hits and over a thousand thank-you letters later, I have finally got around to adding the final hint, which is called ....   


You’ve published your book: it is available on Kindle and a raft of other devices, and it is out in print, too, probably through either CreateSpace or Ingram’s Lightning Source. It looks great, and you feel justifiably proud of yourself.  But the trick is to get people reading it.

It can be done.  There are Indie authors who have managed to be wildly successful, as witness the following . . .

Back in 1931, Irma Rombauer invested half her life savings to pay a local firm to print 3,000 copies of her cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, each of which she sold for one dollar.  Within a generation, it could be found in every American kitchen, and 18 million copies had sold. 

Thirty years earlier, Beatrix Potter self-published The Tales of Peter Rabbit, after umpteen rejections. Another Indie success was John Grisham, who self-published his first book, A Time to Kill. In 1992, James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophesy, copies of which which he sold out of the trunk of his car.

All of these books became bestsellers — but only after the authors had been picked up by traditional publishers. So, do modern Indie authors have to wait for the same kind of luck?

Maybe not. Some have been wildly successful on their own.  One is Amanda Hocking, who self-published 17 digital novels, and sold over a million copies before being picked up by St Martin’s Press.  

E. L. James self-published her Shades of Gray trilogy with the help of a network of Indie authors, and achieved remarkable sales even before traditional publishers took over.  

And then there is the interesting story of Richard Paul Evans, a Mormon who self-published an inspirational novella called The Christmas Box.  He originally intended it as gifts for family and friends, but — perhaps because he was an advertising executive — he soon went further than that, offering it to stores in Utah, his home state.  It became a local bestseller, and after being scooped by Simon & Schuster, was the first book to top both the hardback and paperback bestselling list in the same issue of The New York Times.

 A personal favourite is Hugh Howey, the author of the amazing Wool-Shift-Dust series.  He published with Kindle Direct Publishing because he liked the freedom of Indie writing.  The series quickly gained both cult status and the interest of a mainstream publisher.  Shrewdly, he sold the distribution rights of the print edition, while retaining the right to sell online himself, along with all digital rights.  Somehow it is no surprise that his next ambition is to sail the world on a catamaran.

How did these Indie authors achieve such remarkable success?  Was it just because of luck?  Obviously not, as the authors put a great deal of effort into getting their books read. So, what devices are there for getting your book into readers’ eager hands?

The most obvious internet marketing ploy is an author’s website.  The cost of this varies — the Authors Guild has no set-up fee, but maintains the site for $3 a month, a facility offered only to members. A simple google search will find many more avenues.  While it can be quite a task to keep the website lively and up to date, there are lots of advantages, the foremost being that traditional publishers like them, and if your ultimate aim is to be scooped up by a traditional house, having a well-kept website will help.

Setting up and maintaining a blog is more demanding, but also a lot more fun. Instead of a monotonous recitation of publications, events, awards and reviews, entertaining bits and pieces can be posted, incidentally snaring a lot more readers, who might enjoy it enough to become a follower, and check what is posted every day. Keeping to a certain theme is a good idea.

A simpler version of a blog is a newsletter, which does not have to be maintained so regularly, and which comes out only when there is something to announce, such as the publication of another book.  For this, you need a good mailing list, preferably not just of family and friends.  To add to this, set up some sort of competition, with a copy of the book as the prize, which is a cheap way of collecting a whole lot of new email addresses for your next newsletter. If the new book is the latest in a series, it is a good idea to offer a free copy of the first book.  Not only does it attract new readers, but it adds to your mailing list, too.

You can link your blog or newsletter to Facebook, which despite its controversial reputation is a remarkable marketing device.  It helps a lot to belong to a number of specialist groups — maritime enthusiasts if your books are about the sea, animal rights groups if you write passionately about endangered species, WW2 enthusiasts if that is your topic, and so forth and so on.  And that is just one example of the use of social media. Twitter is another that springs to mind.

And then there is cooperation.  E. L. James, who wrote for a fan-fiction website after being inspired by the Twilight series, was part of a small Australian independent publishing venture called “The Writer’s Coffee Shop.” A slew of favourable comments on Goodreads followed, leading to such stratospheric sales that the Writer’s Coffee Shop couldn’t handle the distribution.  A phenomenal sale to traditional publishers followed — along with the inevitable fights and court cases over allocation of royalties.

So, what is an independent publishing venture, and does it help to belong to one?  The Writer’s Coffee Shop describes itself as “an up and coming independent publisher based out of New South Wales, Australia. The company launched in October of 2010 with the vision of working alongside talented authors while providing quality e-books to the growing marketplace.

“The Writer’s Coffee Shop has a deeper history than simply publishing books. The original site was launched in September 2009 as an online community “Where friends meet” to discuss books, blogs, serial fiction, news and more.

“It didn’t take long for the community, which called The Writer’s Coffee Shop ‘home,’ to outgrow what the site was currently providing. On January 26, 2010, The Library launched. The Library is a friendly, easy-going environment in which anyone can post and read original and derivative works. The Library is also used by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House to host regular fiction writing contests.”

No mention of E L James, you note.  The lesson is plain, though — that any Indie publishing venture has to set out its goals precisely, with some sort of legal framework in mind. The chances of one of the authors becoming a mega-seller are remote, but it does happen.

Otherwise, there are great advantages.  Rich Spilman’s Old Salt Press, for instance, is a group of maritime writers who support each other with ideas, the publishing and editing process, and marketing the books after they come out.

And so we come to marketing.  This is a lot easier with print books, which can be carried into stores, sold out of car trunks, put on display at book fairs, given away as promotional presents, and sent out for review. Only some of this is possible with digital books.  As I have already pointed out, they can be given away, but only if you have a mailing list, or use social media.

Both Smashwords and Amazon provide the facility for this kind of promotion, but it only works if people know that the promotion is happening.  And, even if the free books fly off the shelf (as it were), there is no guarantee that the readers will post reviews — and it is the reviews that you really want. The Fifty Shades of Gray phenomenon started with the slew of good reviews, remember — and readers want to be reassured that the book is worth picking up, before they shell out money, or even download for free.

So, how can you solicit reviews of your digital book?  I was inspired to write after receiving a letter from an enterprising independent author, who gave me permission to reproduce it in this post.

Hi Joan,
I'm a new Aussie author and I've written a new release Space Opera with a difference called "The Devil's Dragon"

I am reaching out to you specifically because I noticed that you wrote an Amazon review of Dune & you're a fan of Frank Herbert (as am I). I feel that you may indeed enjoy the characters, drama and the social commentary of my work. 

Set in the near future, the story follows two main heroes, Nelson Jones and Alene from opposite sides of a first contact conflict known as the Aesini War. Nelson and Alene must decide whether or not to risk their lives to do what is right for the future of all.

The Devil's Dragon is getting great story reviews, some I've put on my website:

Happy to send you a free PDF copy of my work.

I am asking for you to read The Devil's Dragon in its entirety and leave a review on Amazon &/or Goodreads.

Thank you for your kind consideration, please let me know if you would like my work and I will send it to you! !
Jason F Boggs

Original, indeed. It’s risky to liken one’s book to a classic like Dune, but when I asked Jason, he said that about a dozen readers had taken up the offer.  So he has does his homework, used his imagination, and deserves what good luck he gets.

Another ploy would be to post a rave review of a book that is in your genre, and has been written by a relatively new author, and then write to the author with the same offer of a review copy of your own book.  Naturally, the letter would mention how much the author’s book was liked — all authors love praise, and not just the new ones.  This would take even more research and patience, but it would add valuable names to your mailing list.

And that mailing list is your basic tool.  The more people who know about your new book, how it is being promoted, and are tempted to read it, the more reviews you are likely to get.  BookBub has a very useful blog — — with more ideas for building up your audience and getting reviewed.

What it all comes down to, though, is that with the publication of your book, the hard work has only just started.

Good luck!


Helen Hollick said...

Hi Joan, very good post! I am an established author (indie and traditional) and the founder of Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction. (Hopefully an article giving more information will be posted here very soon.)

I do have one quibble with your advice, however: In general it is not a good idea to send out PDF copies of a novel for potential unknown readers to review. PDF can be easily copied and then made available as a pirate copy, plus PDF can very often become corrupted when transferred to an e-reader or i-phone, i-pad etc., thus giving a false impression of the quality of production - and poor production can mean poor reviews.
Far safer is to offer a mobi or an e-pub version (preferably and/or). Yes these can still be copied, but not so easily, which means the author is better protected.

I would also add - never complain or whine about a poor review! Smile, say thank you and walk away!

World of the Written Word said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Helen, and I will be absolutely delighted to have a post about Discovering Diamonds, which is making buzz already. And it is a pleasure to hear from such a good and popular writer.

I'll mention the pdf problem to Jason Boggs, as it is a very good point. A lot of people send me books in that format, because it is (theoretically) then very easy to post it to yourself on Amazon, and thus get it onto your Kindle or iPad. I say "theoretically" because that's the way it used to be, and so much easier to read that way than it is on a computer monitor. But, alas, Windows 10 has made it impossible. You have to link your documents file to some sort of mail server, but the server isn't named, and no one can say how it is done.

It's difficult to know what to do about piracy. Some people think of it as just another form of marketing, but -- as you say -- the pirated version can look awful, which is a very bad advertisement for your hard work.

Helen Hollick said...

It is just as easy (easier?) to forward a mobi file to a Kindle -and much safer, ditto e-pub for anything not Kindle (Apple ipad for example) It is more technical to format a novel in mobi/epub but FAR more professional.

Personally I don't want pirate copies of my books out there making a profit for these thieves! Illegal copies can be monitored by Google's Blasty .... VERY well worth joining!

World of the Written Word said...

Excellent advice! Many thanks for your thoughtful advice, and I appreciate it that you share the bounty of your writing and publishing experience. I shall definitely join blasty.