The dreaded author marketing plan, something that makes us indies cringe until we realize even most traditionally published authors are on their own these days. In fact, many on the traditional side won’t even get published if they don’t have a platform or a plan, regardless of how good their work is.
Which is why I decided to go indie after leaning toward submitting to traditional publishers. For me, the 70% royalties for books plus knowing I was going to go at it alone regardless if I published myself or went traditional was a no-brainer.
Plus, it gave me ability to discover Wealthy Affiliate where I was able to place several niche sites under one platform to augment my business ventures, including an author website, a blog, and this little avenue that teaches new authors how to succeed.
So, given the fact most indie authors bring in an average of $500 a year in royalties, does that mean we can’t earn a full-time living self-publishing or even writing?
To be honest, we can earn a full-time living if we know what to do. There’s no luck involved and indie authors aren’t successful by accident. Instead, they find ways to succeed. If your book isn’t selling, it doesn’t mean the work is bad; but your cover, description, and Look Inside feature might lack, which will scare readers away.
Simply writing down an effective marketing plan will help you succeed in this endeavor.
So, marketing in the indie arena is a two-way avenue, because you can either become an instant success or realize that your income will come later after you’ve published a few works.
How do you become an instant success?
Take about three years to build a platform and a following, which will then allow for preorders and reviews of your first book. This, in turn, motivates Amazon to rank the new book high in the rankings early and royalties will be aplenty.
Notice I said it’ll take a few years to build an audience before you even publish. So the ‘instant success’ claim is a long one.
Or, you can take the road I decided to take, which was to publish and realize that sales were going to be slow in that first year, and possibly in the second year as you found your target audience and grew organically over the same time frame.
So, why did I take this avenue?
Because I wanted a product new fans could purchase if they liked what they read, so between August 2018 and April 2019, I released Trilogy I in Lord of Columbia, which was initially going to be one huge book, but in the end I broke it into smaller works consisting of 63,000 words to 78,000 words apiece.
Much better than the initial 210,000-word super-novel I initially had.
The choice is yours, but this article is geared toward the path I took, watching my organic growth come over time rather than grow a platform then come out with something.
Here are the steps every single indie author needs to take if they want to see results.
It’s Not Cheap
So many indies wonder why no one’s buying their books and when I dig deeper into their concerns, it’s usually because they’ve invested zero dollars in marketing courses, platforms that will connect them with other authors, book promotion, and even book covers.
It’s likely they used a free cover creator, which if you compare The Skyehawk Chronicles cover with the initial novelette Neo Skyehawk Series, there are zero comparisons as to what looks more attractive to the reader. The Skyehawk Chronicles cover cost me about $85 and it was money well spent.
I forked out $497 to create lordofcolumbia.com through the AuthorCats theme. While there’s a learning curve involved with AuthorCats, it again was money well spent because everything, from stored files for The Skyehawk Chronicles to links to my books are in one hub.
Just take a look at lordofcolumbia.com and you’ll see the magic of AuthorCats in action.
AuthorCats allowed me to create landing pages rather than go through an email service like MailChimp, where I’m using someone else’s page and domain for landing pages. I was able to connect my email list to the site, where readers could simply click the welcome email would be funneled back to my site to download their free e-book. It’s better than using Google Docs or Drop Box, where you’ll often get an email from an annoyed subscriber stating they can’t download the work.
Trust me, I’ve ben there and it’s likely the subscriber no longer sees you as a legit writer.
As for promotion, these authors often scour the internet looking for free promotion sites that never guarantee a work gets selected. In fact, it probably won’t, as only one in one-hundred are selected for a free promo and if your cover isn’t professionally designed, good luck.
I invested in Stephenson’s First10kReaders and it literally changed my entire mindset on author marketing. It’s no coincidence that I’ve sold nearly 900 copies of my Perma free Northern Knights since starting his system. I’ve added another 100 subscribers in that time frame, and have even sold some paid works.
And in all honesty, I’m only on Module II, which focuses on how to drive endless traffic, so I just finished getting warmed up.
Stephenson’s system costs money but again, it’s money well spent.
So, if you’re not willing to invest in your business, again, I’m going to tell you good freaking luck, because you’re going to be in the same predicament as 99.9% of all indies.
If you have a full-time job, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be investing, and if you decide to go out with friends on weekends or on other days you’re off (I’m down to a three-day work week anymore which is awesome), you have no one to blame but yourself. It’s not society, it’s not Amazon readers, it’s you failing to take control.
Plain and simple.
So, what are steps you need to take?
Define Your Audience
Okay, Lord of Columbia is an urban fantasy with Libertarian/AnarchoCapitalist-leaning themes and concepts.
My upcoming side project, Braden Hawk, is a thriller with similar themes, except it takes place in the real world and obviously, is a different genre.
So, it’s unlikely those with Conservative or Liberal backgrounds are going to like the work if they’re reading for the message. However, most urban fantasy readers will like the work regardless of their leanings since while the message is there, it’s not in your face or anything like it.
I’m sure even Libertarian readers would be like, “WE GET THE POINT, TODD!” if I were too blatant about it.
But what I’m saying is my work isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. It’s not supposed to be for everyone.
And neither is your work.
For example, you’ll never see me reading a Western, so if you write fiction in that genre, I’m not reading the book. I don’t mind romance, but I can’t stand books in that particular genre; instead I prefer it as either a sub-plot or just a tiny part of the story, even if Missing in Columbia might fit the mold for some.
So for me, readers who like urban fantasy, magical realism, action, war, and revolutionary concepts will like Lord of Columbia. Those who read in other genres who have strong political leanings outside my Ron Paul-like beliefs will probably hate them.
But again, I’m not going to market my books to a crowd who I know won’t read the content within my work.
Ditto for when I release Braden Hawk; I’m not going to market the work to the urban fantasy crowd. For those reading for theme, sure, they’ll like Braden Hawk as much as LoC. But I’ll never market LoC to the thriller crowd.
So, if you write in multiple genres as I do, it’s best you don’t market to those who prefer different genres. However, while my genres are different, my themes are alike in many aspects, so if your audience is more theme-based, then you can definitely market to the same people unless your work contains a different theme.
What I’m ultimately saying is your books aren’t for the masses. They’re for a small niche market, something Wealthy Affiliate hits hard on.
Invest in Paid Promotion
No, you don’t have to break the bank as there are great promo companies out there like Book Doggy, Just Kindle Books, and Book Rebel which cost somewhere between $18 and $45, so you have a pretty decent shot at garnering a good deal of sales.
There are others out there like Books Butterfly, Freebooksy, Robin Reads, E-Reader News Today, and Book Bub which will feature an insane number of downloads, but do come at a higher price, so if you aren’t strapped for cash, they’re also great ventures.
In my experience, the best thing to do is set Book I in any series or if you write standalones, just a single book in your backlist to perma free. You can do this via an aggregate site like Draft2Digital, which will send your books to all the major platforms like Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks.
Simply set the price for free on Nook, Kobo, and iBooks, and set the price to 99 cents on Amazon. Then, contact KDP support and inform them of the book being set to perma free on the other major sites, provide links, and a rep at Amazon will manually set your price to free. Don’t try the price matching tool on your book’s page as this rarely works; instead, contact KDP support directly and they’ll take care of it from there.
Now that your book is permanently free, you can then pay for promotion through a list of the best promotion sites. I like using the blog at Reedsy as well as Paid Author to select promos, as using these tools as resources have yet to fail me. They’re also updated regularly.
It’s especially brilliant if you set a book to perma free if you have a large backlist, because if you do so and you invest plenty of money in promotion, new readers will discover your work, so if you garner 1,600 downloads over the course of a promotion and just ten percent of them like what they’re reading, those 160 readers will likely purchase the rest of your catalog.
This is why perma free books plus promoting them works long-term. Now, if they don’t immediately buy your other works, don’t get discouraged. Usually, readers buy free works in bulk, so it might take a while before they get to yours. Over time, however, you’ll see a nice little increase in sales and some readers will immediately purchase your other works.
Blog, Blog, and Blog Often
As stated previously, having a blog is another good way to generate new readers. While you don’t have to pay a fortune for a blog, it’s best to have a domain, a self-hosted platform like SiteRubix which is available through Wealthy Affiliate, a keyword tool like Jaaxy, and a domain-specific email address, which is also available through WA.
Go with a self-hosted platform over a free domain like a WordPress.com or Wix subdomain. This isn’t your brand; instead, you’re using someone else’s platform. It’s no different than having a Facebook account. It’s not your real site; it’s someone else’s.
But a self-hosted blog is yours that no one can snatch from you. Your own site email will immediately raise your professionalism and recognition as a legit business entity. A keyword tool like Jaaxy is fantastic for finding which keywords in your niche are hot and will likely help you get to the top rankings on Google and other search engines. Finally, being a member of a platform like WA will help your blog garner engagement which tells Google that people are coming to and interacting with your blog, which bolsters your rankings even more.
Meaning potential readers will find you on Google.
Meaning potentially more sales.
Meaning more prospective fans.
Meaning you’re one step closer to doing what the name of my blog implies.
Meaning you’ve moved farther than 99.9% of all other indie authors.
Blog at least twice, if not three times a week. When a blog matures, you can get away with fewer articles, as you’ll have enough content that fans will never get tired of looking through your site.
Engage with Other Authors
You know, most authors like me are introverts. We want to write, write, and write, but calling others to action is a chore; this is one reason why I wasn’t compatible with my original career, personal training. I loved training, I loved the gym, I still love the gym, but man, telling people they need to purchase a training package (and usually apologizing for it) didn’t serve me well.
But, the good news with the Age of the Internet is that we don’t have to approach others face to face. If I read the book of another author and I love their work say for either the theme or the genre, I might send them a message via Prolific Works or the Dream Team Network to say the following:
“Hey, I read your book and loved the pro-liberty theme. It would really be a hit with my audience, where I have an X number of subscribers along with an X number of blog traffic. Why don’t we do a cross promotion where I promote your book ‘Liberty Always Prevails’ to my audience and you can promote ‘The Skyehawk Chronicles’ to my audience. I noticed these books are reader magnets, so it’ll grant us even more exposure as well as an uptick in our own respective audiences.
So, say if I had 2,000 readers on my list and Author X had 2,000 on their list, we just doubled our exposure with one tiny promotion.
You can also do joint promotions where you team with multiple authors in your genre or overall theme. Say if you teamed with five other authors, all of whom also have 2,000 subscribers, you just put yourself in front of 10,000 other subscribers who are just now discovering your work.
Pretty cool, right?
And most indie authors aren’t doing this!
What’s funny is that these four points in this article are just a tiny handful of strategies you can undertake. First, I recommend you define your audience. Tailor your book to fit your audience, which I did most of except ironically the bad guys wear the Libertarian colors of black and yellow, but I also make it clear that I’m a Cleveland Browns fan, so protagonists wearing black and yellow WASN’T HAPPENING!
Second, the best way to find new readers is to set one book to perma free. It could be the first in series, a prequel, or even a novella that ties into your main series. But set it to perma free and invest in paid promotion, especially if you have a backlist full of other works. I get that this is a loss in profits, but at the same time, if you have a whole series waiting to be discovered, you’d be crazy not to utilize this strategy.
You have to be willing to blog and make sure readers know you have books out. Lordofcolumbiaseries.com is my official blog for Lord of Columbia, and I’m usually able to put two new articles up a week. The blog talks about the books, but mainly the themes and influences behind the work, as well as the awesome sport of shotball, which I included as a sub-plot in Northern Knights. The niche is really just what to expect in Lord of Columbia and how I came up with the work.
Finally, you need to engage with other authors and no, I don’t mean joining Facebook groups, as you’ll often find these:
Don’t even try to join these groups unless such a group is one that you can only enter if you are using a service like the Dream Team Network, which only includes authors using the actual network itself.
Again, there are many marketing strategies out there, but these four are cost-effective and something most indie authors can handle, even if they’re on a tight budget.