I wrote an article a year ago about what I see most self-publishing authors doing wrong.
They’re still doing it.
So I made a new post… with a big infographic. If you want to help indie authors and self-publishers succeed (and gently nudge them away from being annoying and spammy) please share – you can add this infographic on your own site or blog and link back. Down below I’ll explain each item, and I’ve also made a video talking through these things. If you agree or disagree, let me know in the comments!
10 Things Indie Authors do Wrong
Firstly, let’s define “wrong.”
A lot of indie authors are motivated by passion and say things like “it’s not about the money.”
But if we can’t agree on the goals of publishing, we can’t agree on the best practices.
I think, no matter what kind of book you’re writing, we should be able to agree that it would be nice to get some people to read it, and it would be even nicer to get lots of people to read it. And even if it’s not about the money, few authors would refuse it if it started pouring in.
So let’s start there: indie authors want more readers, and possibly more money, and are trying to do things that bring both. The problem is, the methods they are using do not produce the results they’re after.
So by “wrong” I mean, “inefficient” – as in, these are things indie authors do, but that they should stop doing because they don’t produce positive results (and can actually do more harm than good).
Not considering the market
Most indie authors write the books they want to write, and don’t think about reaching readers until after they’ve finished writing. That’s OK for experienced writers who are writing in popular genres. But beginner writers don’t even bother to learn what kind of stories resonate with readers, and they think they don’t need to learn.
Which means, they are producing a product that won’t be enjoyed.
And most indie authors think “fine, I don’t care, I write for myself and my enjoyment.”
But beginning from the belief is a fundamental flaw in the writing behavior of anybody who actually wants to make a living with their writing. You must consider readership if you hope to please and entertain readers. You must read in your genre to recognize what type of writing and stories are successful to readers of that genre.
And you must give a shit about being as good, or better, than those kind of stories.
If you are willing to face this idea, you can deliberately craft commercially successful books.
If you are unwilling, you’re relying on luck and chance, and frankly you don’t deserve success, because it’s nobody’s responsibility to fund your hobby.
Does your website get traffic? Do people sign up or buy books? Then what’s it for? Most indie authors try to model their website after major bestselling authors. That’s a problem.
Bestselling authors are already famous. People are searching for them by name. They don’t need to worry about being found; they don’t need to use their website to sell books or build credibility. They just offer a cool space for fans to learn more about the author.
If you’re an indie author, your website needs to be a workhorse. It has to pull in the right readers with natural traffic (to reduce your marketing and advertising costs). It has to build trust, attract the right readers, and get them to sign up for a free offer or sell a book well enough to get strangers to take a chance on it (with lots of reviews, an excerpt, and amazing cover, etc).
Ugly book cover
How many indie authors have ugly covers? At least half. Probably more.
Book covers are such a trivial and silly thing: you spent a ton of time writing your book, but that simple JPG will make or break your success. People won’t read your description if your cover doesn’t hook them. The cover has to appeal to the right readers enough to get them to read the description – that means it has to convey mood and genre immediately. I understand it can be too expensive to hire a professional designer, but there are plenty of super cheap options to getting a cover design (fivver.com, wordswag, canva.com) that are still better than the majority of crappy, homemade book covers I see on Amazon.
If you’re not sure you’re being spammy, read this post. Lots of authors just copy what they see other indie authors doing. The majority of indie authors rely on spam, and consider it “book marketing” – which sucks because it makes us look unprofessional, desperate and annoying.
Anytime you talk about, mention, or link to your book to a stranger, you’re being spammy.
When you Tweet quotes of your book, when you share your awards, or sales, or special offers, or new reviews, you’re being spammy. It’s OK to do it to YOUR followers, if they really followed you because they liked your books, but YOU DON’T NEED TO MARKET to those people, because they’re your fans.
So just stop.
Instead you need to be building relationships with peers and fans, because it’s OK for them to share your news, but not for you to share your news.
Marketing, however, is getting NEW fans – and strangers on the internet don’t give a shit about your book.
You need to make them care first, by producing great content that gets in front of them; cool and interesting stuff that isn’t spam and gets shared. Then people come back to your website to find out about you.
Think about everything you post or share: are you giving or taking? If the purpose of what you post is to ask for a sale, you’re taking. If you don’t care anything about whoever is reading it, other than hoping they buy, it’s spam.
You need to be giving 90% of the time.
It’s OK to share a book launch, for a new book, and talk about stuff you’re doing surrounding the launch, but you shouldn’t keep talking about it for months after (you should have produced a lot of content during launch that brings in continuous traffic.
Another easy test of whether you’re being spammy: do you know who you’re talking to and what they want? Or are you just “shotgunning” the internet, hoping somebody accidentally takes notice and buys your books?
PS) On any platform that is mostly spam, your own spam will be ignored. That’s why paid Book Blasts by Twitter accounts with tons of followers won’t work, because they post that stuff all the time and people tune them out. You need to find people with a specific, tailored audience, who have readers who trust them, to share your book.
PPS) Advertising is annoying, but it isn’t spam: it’s OK to advertise your book directly to your target readers and make it look and sound good, just make sure you either put your ad on a very targeted, genre specific website, or you use Facebook advertising to narrow your audience. Don’t just advertise your book anywhere, for anyone, without knowing who is going to see it.
I get that you want to safeguard your work, and plagiarism sucks. Here’s the truth: if you make it big, sites will pirate your books. And even if you don’t make it big, some sites pretend to pirate your books so they’ll get clicks from people, even if they don’t actually have your books. And sometimes, although it’s extremely rare, some crazy author will actually just take your work and claim it as their own.
But the legal fees to correct such a thing are probably more than you’d ever earn from the book itself, and for the vast majority of authors, none of this stuff matters because your book is invisible anyway. Don’t be worried about sharing your book with editors or beta readers. They’re doing you a favor. Don’t make them sign NDAs.
Just sell so many damn books that everybody knows it’s your story.
Paying too much
Indie authors are usually overwhelmed by “publishing” and feel more comfortable signing with a small press, even if they have to pay for it, because they think it’s like being “really” published instead of self-publishing.
Vanity and small presses charge big fees for publishing packages that include doing things for you.
But to publish a book, you really only need cover design and formatting (and probably editing, but that’s your choice). Then you have to learn how to upload your files, and maybe build a website.
If you sign with a publishing house, it’s fine – you’re paying extra for hand-holding. It’s like paying for an author assistant (and if you need one of those you could probably hire one for less). It is really nice, and does save a lot of time, to have someone on call who can just answer everything and explain everything to you.
But the truth is, most of those companies selling packages outsource all the work, so the critical pieces like cover design are marginalized. They do an adequate job, which might look professional to you, but probably isn’t good enough to be successful. Most small presses (and even big companies like Createspace or Lulu) show at best very boring cover design samples, and at worst tragically ugly ones (and those are their best examples!)
If you self-publish, it means you can choose the best designer and give them the money directly, instead of paying someone else who is going to take a big chunk just for administrative work. Educate yourself, learn to self-publish on your own, and use your money economically to get the best design you can afford.
Promoting without reviews
You can’t launch your book, or do marketing or advertising, if it doesn’t have any reviews yet. I think you need at least 15 before you can even begin, so I hate seeing indie authors who have had books out for a year or two and are still struggling with marketing, and still have less than 10 reviews.
Yes, getting book reviews takes a lot of work and effort, and it kind of sucks to ask people (especially strangers) to take chance on your book. You’ve got to suck it up and do it anyway. If you’re sending out requests and nobody will review your book, it’s probably a sign that your book cover sucks (they never even started reading) or the writing isn’t good enough. Also, read this: why people won’t review your books.
Betting the farm
Most authors go all out for their first book and spend lots of money. It’s understandable, so I’m not saying don’t do it. Just keep in mind, since you don’t know what you’re doing yet, you’ll probably waste a lot of money and not see the results you want (trust me I’ve been there).
Firstly, your first book probably isn’t your best; secondly, a profitable writing career is usually built up by launching a dozen or so books, as quickly as possible. So do the best you can on your first book, but make sure you also have ideas ready for your second, third and forth. Each book you publish will probably do a little better, because you’ll be learning and improving all the time, and growing your author platform (unless you’re one of those writers who is completely ignoring your author platform, not learning anything about marketing, and just hoping to get lucky).
Asking people to like their page
It’s cute when indie authors trade likes and all support each other by liking each other’s pages.
But it’s also pretty useless.
Yes, you need more likes on your author page. Until you have about 1000, new readers won’t take you seriously. You can get a bunch of likes quickly by running book giveaways (and you should totally do that). But you shouldn’t ask people to like your page.
Why should they?
They either like your page because they like you and your writing, or you’re asking them to lie and pretend to like your page. That’s a terrible, self-serving practice; everybody only likes your page so you’ll like their page, and nobody actually gives a shit about each other (I’m being dramatic, actually indie authors are very supportive and nice, but I’ll talk about that later).
You want to get readers of your genre to like your page.
But actually, having lots of likes is still useless, because when you post content to your page only 10% or less will actually see your content (Facebook is funny like that). Instead of scrolling through a thread and liking dozens of other author’s pages, you should be focusing on growing your email list.
EXCEPT FOR…. it’s a good idea to like the fan pages of other authors in your genre, and share all of their great content on your page. Instead of needing to think up new content ideas all the time, if you follow a hundred awesome indie authors, with or without big platforms, and reshare all their content, your own platform and followers will grow quickly and those authors are more likely to share your content out of gratitude.
So yes, liking and sharing can be smart marketing.
But don’t just ask people for likes. It’s lame. Post remarkable content. Be helpful and useful. Follow others and get on their radar by sharing their content.
Complaining that people don’t value books.
Indie authors sometimes complain about how low ebook prices are devaluing literature, but they’re really just grumpy because nobody is buying their books. But people don’t buy based on price.
Readers value books and are willing to pay for them.
They just don’t value your book yet.
Convincing them that your book is worth 2.99 or 9.99 is your job. If you can’t convince anybody to buy your book even at 99cents, then give it away for free.
But when you say “Buy my book! Support indie authors!” you’re asking for charity to support your writing habit.
7 Things Indie Authors do Right
OK, maybe that was harsh, but I’m trying to be helpful. The nice thing is, so many authors are doing so many things wrong, publishing successful is actually pretty easy when you do everything right.
Here are some of the reasons I’m proud to be in the indie publishing community.
These are really cool things that some indie authors are doing, or should be doing.
Indie authors believed in their books enough to self-publish them, even if they tried to go traditional and couldn’t get an agent or a publisher. That takes guts. I love that we can now publish and reach our readers directly, even if the traditional industry doesn’t think our book would be profitable enough to publish.
I know authors who have a lifetime of manuscripts tucked away in a drawer and hundreds of rejection slips. Keep trying, and if nobody else will publish you, publish yourself and get it out there.
Support Each Other
Some indie authors are weird and crazy, and I think writers are naturally awkward people with poor social skills (I certainly am)… but there’s a tremendous amount of support in the indie publishing community, with organizations and watchdogs and bloggers trying to help one another.
The only danger is hearing a bunch of other authors “support” you when you’re making big mistakes (like when you ask for feedback on an ugly cover and everybody says they love it). It’s true you need a lot of support and encouragement, so it’s awesome that indie authors are so kind and friendly. But make sure you’re getting expert advice on the things that matter. Remember, only %.000625 of authors are actually making any money.
Find the ones that are making money and learn from them, or imitate what they’re doing.
Are Willing To Learn
Indie authors have a ton to learn and do the best they can. It can be really frustrating, especially if you hate computers. I had to force myself to learn ebook formatting and then InDesign when I got sick of paying others to do it for me. The more you publish, the more skills you’ll learn. The more skills you have, the cheaper and easier it will be to market your books and make a profit.
I think all readers probably love their fans, but indie authors are grateful, because they’re overcoming a lengthier period of insecurity. When you’re traditionally publishing, you already know that somebody found some value in your work. It’s nice to hear from fans, but you’ve already gotten paid. For indie authors, you often have no idea whether your book sucks or not until you’ve published… so when you start getting actual feedback from strangers who enjoyed your books… it’s a powerful feeling.
If you’re self-publishing, it’s good to be patient…. as long as you’re building your platform and publishing more books. Things take time to catch on. However, don’t think, if nothing is happening and you aren’t selling, that things will just magically happen later. If you aren’t selling, you probably have a problem with your platform (either no visibility, or nobody wants it because it isn’t presented well enough). You need to be patient and think long-term. Be flexible with deadlines, and don’t freak out at your editor/formatter/designer. These things take time, and everybody is dealing with their own crises. Try to keep positive, and relax, even if things seem like the end of the world.
The first book might take years to write, but I have at least a dozen friends who can (and do) finish a book a month (both fiction and non-fiction). Most successful indie authors publish every three months. It’s important to keep Amazon ranks high and engage with our fans. Of course this is easier if you’re writing series and know what happens next. But if you want to make a living, you need more content, and you’ll need to be producing quickly. Traditionally published authors waste years sending out queries, waiting for answers, then trying to sell the manuscript, then preparing it for publication….it’s one way to do things, but it’s much slower.
Taking responsibility is probably the key to success in any field. Don’t blame others. Don’t complain. Everything is under your control, but only you care enough to take action and make things happen. It’s not enough to want it really badly, you need to be willing to learn what it takes to succeed and do what’s necessary. I know a lot of authors whose only limiting beliefs about money or art are crippling their success.
You CAN do this – there are people lazier and dumber than you (not that you’re lazy or dumb) who are making money with their writing. You’re a smart, likable person (I can tell). If you want to make a living with your writing, you can do it, but it won’t be handed to you, and it doesn’t happen by luck.
What do you think? What else are indie authors doing right or wrong that you’ve noticed?
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.