Many literary entrepreneurs seek to brand themselves and generate revenue by way of self-publishing–publishing books at the expense of the author with the hopes of maintaining creative control and keeping the lion’s share of the revenues generated once the book sells. Leslie Esdaile Banks (pictured, above, who uses the pen name L.A. Banks) is a New York Times bestselling author (for her co-authored 2004 paranormal novel, Stroke Of Midnight) who is now navigating the world of self publishing. Bank acquired her Vampire Huntress Legend Series novels back from St. Martin's Press and now self-publishes. To date, the series has sold more than 1.2 million copies. Here, the successful author offers advice for those looking to self-publish.
<strong>Make sure you have a comprehensive strategy</strong>. Ask yourself where you will market your book online. Book clubs, reviewer sites, individuals, organizations? Will you approach libraries, schools, independent booksellers, and major chains (possible through Amazon’s expanded distribution channels)? Is there a blend of on-line and off-line options you can employ to drive sales?
<strong>Build a social media and website platform <em>before</em> you begin.</strong> If you do not have an interconnected presence between your website/blog, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et al, then how will people find your book and how will you blast it out to the largest constituency possible? The Internet is vast and a small cry in the dark for attention will get lost without a true platform.
<strong>Invest in your product and make sure it meets the highest quality standards.</strong> Spend the money on a <em>good</em> editor—that’s job one. Many times people get caught up in the cover design (packaging is important, true, but not the end all be all), or they focus on having a jazzy interior layout… but if the book is not well-edited, then everything else gets a failing grade by your disappointed readers.
<strong>Be flexible.</strong> Know what you don’t know, and then pay for the talent that does. As stated, packaging is important, although not the end all be all—but it <em>is</em> important. It comes in as a very narrow second to having a well-edited book. A bad cover design can be disastrous to sales and can get your novel overlooked. But oft times authors have their egos so invested in a specific design, (and not being cover designers or graphics pros), that they can’t see that what they want on a cover simply doesn’t work. Let it go. Get a pro.
<strong>Don’t become a social media pest.</strong> Sending multiple tweets and blasts out on facebook is one thing; dive bombing into people’s personal Facebook inboxes with “buy my book” pitches is annoying. Adding people to groups without their permission and loading up an inbox with 50 people who don’t know each other so you can pitch your book is both rude and counterproductive. People tend to get annoyed and tune you out.
<strong>Run promotions.</strong> Just because the book is an ebook or a print on demand project doesn’t mean you can’t run contests or do book giveaways.
<strong>Use the technology to reach your audience.</strong> Do twitter chats, blogtalk radio, VYou, Skype book club meetings, OVOO, webinars, podcasts, chats from your website, guest chats at other sites… the list is endless, and there’s probably an app for that!
<strong>Build a sales team</strong>. Do you have any family or friends that can help you broaden your social media platform? Are there dedicated readers who love your work that would be willing to help you out? Volunteers are amazing when passionate. Or if all else fails can you find a local college student that needs an internship, someone savvy on the web that would be willing to work for you?
<strong>Monitor your progress</strong>. Use the reports coming in from your distribution portals. Amazon (via CreateSpace), Barnes & Nobles (via Pubit), and Smashwords all print sales reports. When you run a promotion or have a flurry of activity, like a series of Twitter chats, be sure to go back and see what worked to spike sales. Keep that in your arsenal and repeat that successful activity on a regular basis.
<strong>Answer your fan mail.</strong> People want the dialogue to go two ways—not just you constantly telling them to buy your product. They also want to engage <em>you</em>. They want to give you feedback on something that you wrote, they read, and they either loved or hated… but they want that connection with you, the author. Give it to them. It’s not only part of your job, it not only increases customer satisfaction (thus sales in the long run), but can be extremely rewarding.