Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Indie Publishing Success- Best Practices

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This post is going to be very beginner-oriented, but hopefully vets will find something of value.

If you spend time on indie publishing forums or in author/publisher groups, you'll likely hear the term "best practices." While there's no hard-and-fast definition, "best practices" are the things indie authors can do that are generally a good idea, and have often proved effective for commercially successful authors. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but it's my belief that emulating the best practices of successful authors improves your odds of success greatly. Here are a few:

Produce a Quality Product 

Pay Attention to Craft 
 We covered this topic in detail here
*Attending to craft includes, but is not limited to things like:
*Writing Workshops
*Critique partners
*Reading widely

Identify and Study Your Genre/Subgenre 
*Make sure your work fits the tropes
*Study the bestseller lists and learn from the successful indies.
*Figure out what's selling and what isn't. Mass market readers don't necessarily want "unique," "new and different," or subversion of tropes. Most of the time, they want "more of the same."

Have a Good Book Cover
This should go without saying, but it doesn't. Take a look at Lousy Book Covers.
*Emulate the bestselling indies in your subgenre.
*Remember, the book cover is a sales tool, not an artistic reflection of the contents of your book. The cover needs to entice the reader and capture the general spirit of your book and subgenre. Don't pass up an amazing book cover because the cover model's hair is too short, etc...
*Don't clutter your book with a bunch of images from your book.
*If you can't afford a custom book cover, look for premade book covers. Lots of professional designers are making high-quality covers for a very reasonable price, and the price is only going to get lower as more and more artists offer premades. (I won't list sites here. A simple Google search will turn up plenty of results.)

Product Description
Some people call this the "blurb," "synopsis," or "back cover copy." In short, this is the description/summary of your book that will appear on your book's Amazon (or Nook, iBooks, Kobo...). There are many things that could be said about this, but in general:
*It's an ad, not a summary.
*Open with a hook. A couple of examples:
-A lost world has been found again... and no one is getting out alive. (The Valley by William Meikle.)
-Sometimes, the legends are true.(Primordial by yours truly and Alan Baxter.)
*Keep the description snappy and not overlong.
*Focus on what the story is about and what the character will face.
*This is not the place to load up on back-story. Don't tell us the history of your fantasy world, your character's life-story, etc...

*Learn from bestselling indie books in your subgenre.

Proofreading and Editing
*There are many editors professional content editors and proofreaders doing freelance work nowadays. Many are working both freelance for indies and traditional publishers. If you can afford it, it's possible to get trad-pub quality editing for your work.
*If you can't afford the best editors and proofreaders (yet), take steps to make your manuscript as clean as possible:
*Before making your final pass over the manuscript, change the font and font size. Some authors find this helps put them in different headspace and helps them catch errors.
*Read the book aloud to yourself.
*Read the book page-by-page beginning with the back page. This prevents you from focusing on the plot.
*Use a text-to-speech program to read the manuscript back to you.
*Use a program like Grammarly to help check for errors. (Note- a program like Grammarly will identify possible errors, but you will still have to be the judge of whether or not what you've written is incorrect. It will be of little help if you don't understand the rules of grammar and punctuation.)
*Get as many eyes on your manuscript as you can. Perhaps you can find people among your street team who are skilled editors.
*Network with other indies to find affordable editors and proofreaders. Check the Kboards Yellow Pages.

None of the above is intended to suggest you shouldn't hire an editor or proofer. I simply recognize that, for some people, it might be years before they can afford those services. I believe that if your book is well-written and you make it as clean as possible, readers will forgive a few mistakes. My first books had many mistakes and I've had them re-edited and proofed. It's not ideal, and I might have lost a few readers along the way, but that's my journey and it's turned out all right. I do encourage you to engage the services of good editors and proofers as soon as you can afford them.

*Learn from the indie authors who are enjoying success in your subgenre. Look at how they go about their business. See if they've written blog posts or articles, or have given interviews in which they talk about their best practices. Understand and emulate those practices. (Please, do not contact authors and ask them to be your mentor. The successful authors are almost certainly too busy to take on a mentee and they'll feel guilty about saying "no.")
*Listen to podcasts like The Creative Penn, Self-Publishing Formula,  and Sci-Fi Fantasy Marketing Podcast for info and advice on the business and shows like Writing Excuses or The Roundtable Podcast for advice on the craft.

Be Careful About the Advice You Take
*Give greater consideration to those who are where you want to be in terms of commercial success. especially those who are succeeding in your genre.
*Does the person giving advice share your goals? If your goal is commercial success, the person whose focus is elsewhere might not be the best person to offer guidance.
*When it comes to business decisions, take the advice of indies who have "made it on their own" rather than "name" authors whose brand identity can overcome their publisher's bad marketing decisions. Also, if an author whose small-to-midsize publisher has cultivated a solid niche audience, beware when that author tells you "I don't worry about branding or marketing." In short, look for apples-to-apples publishing circumstances.
*Before handing money over to advice-givers, check to see if they're actually making a living selling fiction, or if they're actually making their living selling advice to authors in the form of workshops, books, etc... (It's a red flag if they say- "I make all my fiction money through my super-secret pen names.)
*Don't believe every indie conspiracy theory you read, especially about Amazon/algorithms.
*It's not all about luck. This could open a can of worms, so I'll cut to the chase: the harder I work, and the smarter I work, the luckier I get. Focus on what's within your control. Using best practices and learning from successful indies is no guarantee of success, but it gives you your best chance.

Publishing/Writing Considerations
*Be productive! Producing regular content is essential
*The longer you go between new releases, the sharper the sales decline.
*Writing novellas is a great way to keep a series going and produce regular content. My novellas sell almost as well as my full-length books, and the occasional "this is too short" review doesn't hurt sales.
*Short stories have their uses, but aren't particularly effective as tools for generating new sales/keeping momentum in the sales rankings.

*Writing a series tends to be much more effective than writing a variety of disconnected works.
*Putting out a new book in a series tends to lift the sales rankings of previous books in the series.
*Don't believe the old publishing "truism" that an author's books compete with one another. The opposite is actually true. Some indies have even found they can put out a book a month without detrimental effects on their catalog.

Consider Your Own Consumer Behavior
*Before spending money (or time) on a given strategy, ask yourself: has this particular strategy ever led me to buy a book? If so, how often?

*Here are some things that have never persuaded me to buy a book:
-SWAG (stuff we all get) bags
-Book Trailers
-Author TV/Radio appearances
-A Facebook ad proclaiming a given author as "better than..." This is an automatic "no" for me.

*Here are some things that have often persuaded me to buy a book:
-Recommendation from a friend who shares my reading interests.
-A sharp-looking book cover
-Finding the book in the also-boughts of my favorite authors.
-Finding the book in the besteller lists of my favorite genres.

Whew! This was a lengthy post. If you've made it to the end, thanks for reading and I hope you've found something useful. 

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