This article was originally published on Yahoo! Voices.
I’ve been an entertainment lawyer for 14 years, and have spent most of that helping authors self-publish. If you’re going to self-publish, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. While producing a great manuscript can feel a lot like giving birth, the hardest part about the process isn’t the hours of writing, re-structuring, more re-writes and proofreading. It’s the promotion.
Promotion is the one area of book selling where there is no magic formula. Writing a manuscript is a very structured process. As an author, you develop a road map for your story, and you follow that road map to a finished book. Promotion doesn’t work that way. Effort doesn’t necessarily equal success. There are so many factors that go into successfully selling a book, and many of those factors are out of your control.
However, that’s not to say that you have no control over the process. After many years of helping people launch their books, I’ve noticed a pattern. Authors who successfully self-publish have a certain attitude. They do certain things, and they do them consistently. While doing these things does not guarantee success, not doing them most certainly guarantees failure. Here are the do’s and don’ts:
Do produce an outstanding book. You have a lot of competition. Even outstanding books are hard to sell; books that are only “good” can’t compete. That means your book should be meticulously edited and proofed. This is not a place for shortcuts.
Do have a stellar cover for your book. A cover you designed using clip art on your word processor looks unprofessional, and readers will judge your book without ever looking at the first page. With a little homework, you can find a professional who will provide you with a great cover for very little money. It’s worth it.
Do treat your writing as a business. If you want to make a living as a writer, then that’s exactly what it is. Just like any other business, this means your writing business will require a marketing plan, a budget and operating capital. Don’t just throw your book out there. Do your homework first.
Do tell everyone you talk to about your book, one way or another. Put a blurb about it at the bottom of every email you send. Put another blurb on your business cards. Post your book cover and any coverage that you get on your Facebook page. If you had your book printed, carry copies of your book everywhere you go. The person you’re talking to might be interested in giving your book a try. If you don’t talk to them about it, you’ll never know.
Do target your audience. While this may seem to be the opposite “tell everyone,” it really isn’t. Telling people you are already encountering about your book makes sense because it can be done with little to no additional effort. On the other hand, when you’re trying to use marketing efforts to connect with people, additional effort, and possibly money, become a factor. You don’t want to waste effort and money on people who are not interested in what you have to offer. Do a realistic assessment of who your book would appeal to and target that group.
Do cast a wide net. A lot of promotion, especially on a budget, involves trying to get free coverage for yourself (interviews, book reviews, magazine features, etc.). If you are willing to pay for coverage, then you will certainly get it. However, aside from the fact that most self-published authors aren’t made of money, people are bombarded with advertisements every minute of every day. Features and interviews are more likely to catch someone’s attention. They are also much harder to get. Therefore, the key to success with free coverage is to hit as many outlets as you can think of, with the expectation that only a small fraction of your efforts will pay off.
Don’t be afraid to sell to your family and friends. They’ll give you a chance when no one else will. Plus there’s a very good chance that they’ll brag about you to their friends, especially if your book is outstanding.
Don’t insist on being paid for every book. Your goal is to get people to read-and love-your books, and if it takes freebies to make that happen, consider it marketing. You won’t make money in the beginning. Save that for when you have created a demand for your books.
Don’t get discouraged if you can only sell one or two books at a time. In fact, expect it.
Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want or like your book. I have so many clients tell me that “everyone” will love their book. Everyone won’t. It’s human nature. Understand that people’s tastes are different and expect some dissenters.
Don’t define success as a listing on the New York Times best seller list. If that is the only way you will consider your writing successful, you’ll get discouraged very quickly. Set reasonable goals, then consider yourself successful when you reach them.
Writing is a difficult profession, and self-promotion of your own writing is even more difficult. However, with a little determination, some planning and organization, you can build a fan base for your work. This leads to one last “don’t”-don’t give up. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to get traction. Keep trying. If you give up, you’ll never sell another book.