Sales Model of an Indie Author

writing

This article was originally posted on my Quora blog. I’m posting and summarising my experiences in writing and marketing my novels, both as notes to myself and as advice from the trenches for other budding authors.


One of the worst aspects of becoming an author, is marketing your own book. I mean, if I was some kind of extrovert, I wouldn’t have chosen to sit alone in a dark room for hours, typing by myself – would I?

But this is the life of an indie author. And, increasingly, of traditionally published authors as well. Unless your last name is Rowling, King, Martin etc., you just don’t get “little people” to do it for you. Most publishers actually would prefer you come with fans, before picking your title up.

This post is about reaching an audience – namely, my novel sales model, both current and planned.

It’s going to be a tad lengthy, but I hope it’s going to be useful for anyone who’s ready to progress from closet writer to published author. It might be useful to other indie artists as well.

Highlights:

  1. Personally engage potential readers to get reviews
  2. Get into premium promotional sites
  3. Reach a critical mass, where I can focus on writing again

One of the things you realise after you publish your first novel, is that nobody cares. Really, nobody. Friends and family give a brief “yay”, but you hear only crickets from the rest of the world. So now comes the hard part of marketing.

First you should realise that all the web-algorithms, prime promotion sites etc., work on the basis of reviews. You need to have good reviews for you book to be picked up (from Amazon’s “customer’s also bought…” placements, to paid services like BookBub).

So you need to get reviews. And for that you need readers. Who judge your book by previous reviews.

Unless you’ve been savvy, forewarned, or (and) just lucky, you probably haven’t built up your author platform. An “author platform” is your media presence. It’s all your social media and mailing lists. It’s how you reach readers with news about new books, promotions etc. So you probably have no way of reaching readers.

The second important concept is the “sales funnel”. In short, this is how you move people from total strangers to committed fans. Because there are more strangers than people who heard about you, more people have heard about you than bought your product etc. – this triangular shape is referred to as a funnel.

Here’s what I’m doing. First, I’ve built up a basic author’s platform. No, wait.

First, I’ve published Murder In Absentia. THEN I went and built the author’s platform. Learn from my mistakes, young padawan.

My platform is based on a blog, on which I publish short stories and news about the novel. I’ve also been active on many social platforms: Facebook, Twitterand Goodreads are a must. Each one is different, and your experience may vary. I find that Twitter is particularly useful in engaging potential readers.

Here are some common mistakes:

  • Book Whacking. That’s the process where an author whacks everyone they meet in the face with their book.
  • MeMeMe. That’s when the author’s message reads pretty much like “me! me! me! It’s all about me!”.
  • Spamming. Quite simply, appropriately mentioning your novel in discussion boards that aren’t interested in it.

So avoid all those. Think of how you react to others, how you would like to be approached, and make your message about them, the readers. Be respectful, and pay attention to participation rules. Always remember that you need to engage and converse with someone, not just put a buy link in front of their face. Think back to the last time you bought something – was it because you saw a link in a tweet, or because you spoke to someone and liked what you heard?

What I do, however, is offer almost anyone who looks interested a free review copy in exchange for an honest review. The copy is given no strings attached, and all reviews are honest. It’s just that by having a conversation and getting to know the person a little, I’m more likely to end up giving it to someone who’ll enjoy the novel, and the result would be a higher likelihood of them posting a review, and for the review to be favourable.

Next come the premium book promotions. There are many, MANY, book promo sites out there… and it’s hard to tell which are effective, and which are just spammy and a waste of money.

At the top of the list is BookBub. They have a mailing list of dedicated readers by genres, and they vet the books they send out. Next are other, similar services, and at the bottom are probably the “twitter blast” kind of services. Your own experience might vary with various providers, depending on genres and luck. Keep a tracking list of which service you’ve used for which promotion, and go back to the good ones.

I’m now at this stage. I haven’t gotten into BookBub just yet (they are notoriously difficult), but I’m close. My last promotion put Murder In Absentia – briefly – in the top 10 for the Roman Fantasy category, and even when it’s ended it’s still in the top 100. It’s also sitting quite nicely in the more general Historical Fantasy category.

Expect that the higher the place in the category, the more noticed you will be by users, the more downloads you will get, followed – hopefully – by more reviews. The kind that you don’t have to chase.

Now, most of these sites and lists advertise books on special. I’m mostly using Kindle Countdown Deals – prearranged temporary price reduction, with nice counter to urge viewers to get a copy.

What I don’t do is free days. I know many authors who swear by it, and say to believe in the power of free. However I also know many readers will download a copy just because it’s free, and then never actually get around to reading it. Paying for something, even if it’s only 99 cents, creates more of an emotional commitment, and a higher likelihood to be read sooner.

If I offer someone a free copy (and, as mentioned above, I do it often), I’d like to think that they will read it and post a review. They don’t always do, but the percentage of those that do is much higher than the blind freebie downloads.

Lastly, the critical mass. I’m not quite there yet. But it’s getting there. And possibly contrary to what I said above, I keep on writing. Daily. Having more books on the market is a big boost in getting readers. If they like the first book (at a discount), they’re more likely to pick the next book (at full price).

So get out there and meet readers, and keep writing!


Part two of my Sales can be found here.

13 Comments

  1. I started focusing on these over the last few months. I’m a little weak with engagement though. I try to mix in boosts and then work to have growing, consistent sales otherwise. I’ve been working the review angle – using BookReviewBuzz and got quite a bit of interest. I’ve also started posting in Goodreads groups where reviewers are looking for books to review. It’s targeting and begin active in a way that catches attention in your reading demographic. Also, it helps to be active on your blog with posts, reblogs and comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this, I so enjoyed it!
    I’ve published my first ever book last March and I’m still in the ‘learnign the ropes’ stage. Luckily, I had started building my platform some two years before actually publishing the book and I think that made things a little bit easier for me. But I’m a complete novice on the side of promotional sites.
    Would you give some more advice on it? For example, I’ve seen authors using a main site to promote and quite a few other sites to sustain the main promotion. How do you tell one kind of site from the other?

    My first ever promotion was a disaster, but I’m happy I did it because it allowed me undertand I didn’t know how that’s done.
    My next one will come up in a month. Let’s see whether I’ve learned anything 🙂

    Like

    1. No worries! Glad you find this useful 🙂
      I’ll do another lengthy post about the services I use, but mostly I’m referring to those that have a mailing list where they send to subscribers based on genre. Even there, there is a lot of variety, and varied success as well. Your experience will be different, just as your book is different.

      Good luck with the upcoming promotion!

      Liked by 1 person

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