I stayed up late to watch the Alliance of Independent Authors’s Self-Publishing Advice Event with Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords). His advice for ebook publishing success resonated with me, because so little of it was about marketing your book.
Indie authors perversely focus on marketing, social media, and “getting the word out” about their book because they are loathe to address and fix the real problems (the book itself may not be very good, or their cover or website is ugly, or the book doesn’t have any reviews).
So here’s a quick summary of advice from Mark Coker (whose insights come from the collected information of the tens of thousands of books on Smashwords).
#1 Create a great book
This isn’t just about writing a great book. It’s about slowing down. Your ‘just-finished’ first rough draft needs several more rewrites. When you finish, put it in a drawer for a month and start working on something else. Get some distance. Your heart is taking over, and you need to be cold and practical. Reread, get some feedback, rewrite several times, then hire an editor.
Hiring an editor too soon is a waste of money. Sure you can get the book out there and it may be pretty good and do pretty well… but that’s a low bar. Why not become the next breakout novel and make millions? You can, but you need an amazing story. Get it edited. Pay to get it formatted (because doing it yourself will have you pulling your hair out in frustration, and it still won’t look as good as it could have).
#2 Get a great cover
The cover makes a clear promise, that is fulfilled by the great book. Mark presented the following case study of the romance novel “Playing for Keeps.” A great book with a very boring, text only cover. It didn’t do anything for several months. The author changed it to a better looking, still text-only cover. Still no change.
Finally the author just put a huge picture of an embracing couple, and the title and author very small and plain, at the bottom. Just having the picture made her jump into the bestsellers list.
YES you can make your own cover, and readers will forgive a plain or homemade cover, but you must use a powerful picture that makes an emotional connection and gives a clear promise of the content.
#3 Write another book
I would’ve made sure the sales description/summary was good enough first and double-checked my cover, but yes when it’s all done, writing another book is better than marketing.
#4 give some books away for free
Free works. Almost all the bestselling indie books (Mark said something like 91% of downloads on Apple) were free. Free downloads means more readers and more reviews – and reviews last forever, and will drive your sales later if you raise prices.
Free is also why having more than one book is crucial. Don’t market, keep writing.
Some books just take time to build up steam and connect with the right readers.
#6 maximize availability, avoid exclusivity
Which means: use Smashwords (as opposed to KDP select). Personally I prefer to do the first three months with Amazon to build up steam and create demand for the book, then use Smashwords to reach the other markets…
#7 Build your platform
Authors have control over their book’s success based on how much personal reach they have. Platform includes your own website, relationships to other bloggers (so you can guest post). You build your platform by offering valuable content for free.
It takes a lot of work, and time, and is about contributing and helping people, not selling your book, which is why most authors fail. It’s hard to get serious about your platform if you’re just doing it to sell a book. If you’re doing it as a life-time career choice, however, and are planning lots of books, then start now. Blog twice a week. Give guest posts on huge blogs. In a year or two, if people like you, you’ll have a platform.
If your book is not selling as much as you’d expect, and you’re getting good reviews, take a look at your cover. possibly a cover retouch is all you need to break out.
There are more tips in Mark’s book, but I think it’s telling he started with these – essentially non-marketing steps – that determine the success of an ebook. Spend much more time focusing on making a great product. Clean, flawless, beautiful, enjoyable. Real publishing success depends only on readers loving and sharing your book, and that’s something you can’t fix with advertising, marketing or promotion.