Years ago, if you said you were an indie author or self-published, you usually received this look.
Being an indie author usually meant to most people's ears that you've been rejected by the big business traditional publishing houses and you were like a mere mortal standing outside the building of vampire gods. It meant that whoever you told outside of your family members about your book was probably not going to read it, let alone touch it with a ten-foot pole or they might get "Unsuccessful Author Syndrome." Nowadays, the scene is a lot better. Times have changed and as more and more people talk about the distress the traditional publishing system is undergoing, more and more people are undertaking self-publishing, not just because some of the stigma has disappeared, but because it now seems--if you can pull it off--like an attractive venture with the potential to make you greater financial returns, and give you more control over what you put out and how quickly you put it out. I don't believe the traditional publishing route is dead at all. Hey, I still like it. I'd much prefer to see indie publishing and traditional publishing step out of that boxing ring a little and act like friends, but that's not what we're here to talk about today. If you're going to take on self-publishing, recognize that you've got some specific challenges. Learn from the mistakes of your peers who have taken on that venture. You won't do everything perfectly, but at the very least you can avoid the FOUR CARDINAL INDIE AUTHOR SINS.
1) An Unedited Book
Jack pulled oof his shirt. Marissa's heart melted like a stick of hot, greasy butter under a Tuscani sun. That smoldering gaze fried her senses. "Jack...I love you." He was different than most men she knowed. So intense, passionate. If she only could say the words her heart were feeling. Jack, take me know.
No.....Just no. A reader shouldn't have to struggle through your grammatical mistakes and poor metaphors. In order for a story to be properly communicated, the brain needs to be able to decode it. But you say, "My God, editors cost so much!" I agree with you. They can cost you over US$300 to do basic edits of a full novel manuscript. It can be pricey, and chances are if you're purely a writer, you're no Donald Trump. You could and you should shop around for an editor that works for YOUR budget. There are plenty of freelance editors out there and editing companies with great, reasonably-priced services. Find one at a good price and arrange to see a sample of their work. But, if that's still too much for you, at the very least you need to have another pair of eyes looking at your work. Preferably a teacher, another author, or what we in the indie world call beta readers who comb through your stuff for errors, mistakes, and things that don't seem quite right. It stands to reason that whoever you get to check over your grammar and syntax actually know the rules of English and the rules of writing. You're editing to make it better, not make it worse.
2) A Lame Cover
You cannot guarantee a book cover that everyone will like. That's like saying you're determined to write a book that everyone on earth will like. It just doesn't happen. Many traditionally published books by some of the bigger names have awful covers, so don't think that indie books are alone in this. But at the very least your cover should be intriguing, eye-catching. You're battling big competition here, folks. Your cover should make me, as I stream through dozens of works on a shelf or in the e-catalogue on smashwords, stop and say, "Hmm. This looks cool." Some indie ebooks don't have covers at all and miss that opportunity to snag a reader by the jugular if even for a second to entice them to read your blurb. Designers can cost you a lot. That's where your friends come in. Remember Paul, your artsy friend who is married to Adobe Photoshop? You need to give him a ring. Remember that camera collecting dust on your counter? You need to start taking original pictures that can be implemented. If you don't know what stock, royalty-free photos are, they're basically free photos offered by websites that you can use for your projects. They also have stock video sites that you can use for your trailers. They won't cost you a penny and the pictures can often times be gorgeous and high quality.
3) Shameless Promoting
Your book is your baby. You love it, you nurture it. You want others to read it. But indie authors especially need to be careful of shameless promotion tactics. Let's not confuse "tiger blood" promoting for shameless promoting. To get your name out there it takes hard work. You should use every convenient opportunity to tell others about your book rather than using every opportunity, convenient or otherwise. If you see P.Diddy doing an interview about St. Jude's Children Hospital but then in the midst of it or even at the end he drops an uninvited, "Yeah, my album drops March 12th. Go pick it up in every major outlet," not only are you, a potential buyer turned off, you don't appreciate it. That equates to you as an indie author going onto a Kindleboards forum or Book Blogs forum in a topic where everyone is peaceably talking about the weather and then you drop something inappropriate and self-promoting, "Yeah! My book has weather in it too. On a cold and stormy night, my..." You get the drift. So, what can you do to not come across as a creepy sales person but still have some upfront, aggressive marketing?
DO get reviewed by book blog sites that accept indie books. Request that they put their reviews on the sites that you sell your material. A great place to find a list of reviewers who support indies is here.
DO have a website and also a blog where people can catch up with you. You are also a brand.
DO make use of social media. Have a twitter account, a facebook acount, and interact with people. DO use these methods to promote your work in a friendly, interesting way.
DO make use of twitter hashtags. The best way for people to find your interesting tweet is when it falls into a twitter hashtag category. Got an ebook you're promoting for the kindle that's 99 cents? Then hastags like #99cents, #ebook, #kindle and #amazon will apply to you.
DO make use of topics in forums on book sites like goodreads and book blogs, etc. that allow you to promote your book. Create your own topics as well and engage others.
DO talk to other authors and spread the word about your book.
DO find blogs that will feature your indie book and do Q&A's.
DO have your indie ebooks available in various formats for readers to get access to. At the very least, DO have your book available on Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
And don't worry. You may have at one point done a shameless tactic before. Everyone who has ever had to promote something has made the mistake of pushing a little too far. It's just important to become aware of how best to take advantage of promotion opportunities.
4) Taking Bad Criticism Badly
"Ho, what do you mean 'she carried her stocky build down the street' ain't a proper sentence?!"
Responding negatively to criticism is actually something anyone can do. But for indie authors especially, often seen as the underdogs, it's extremely important to always display a high amount of professionalism when dealing with criticism. Not everyone's going to like your book. Some people or reviewers may even be unnecessarily nasty about it. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the game. You do have to develop a tough skin. Trust me, it is not easy. But when you do receive negative criticism, it is important to say your thank you's and be on your way.
If a reviewer says they hated your book because it was too boring, you may be thinking: How's a book about 9-11 boring, you unpatriotic, dungeons and dragons playing, attic-living, mama's boy?
What you should be saying is more like: "I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy the book. I do believe that 9-11 is still a very interesting and relevant topic today. Thank you for taking the time out to review my work. Best regards..."
After that, you move on to the next reviewer. Yes, a bad review can hurt your sales. That is too the nature of the game. But the more reviews you seek from those interested in your genre, the higher your chances of gaining notoriety and better reviews. Don't have a meltdown. The last indie author who did is now the poster-child for indie author meltdowns and her book on amazon went from having a good dozen 5 or four stars reviews to having well over 60 1-star reviews. You get the picture. Always be professional because it may hurt your career. You will thank yourself in the end that you brushed yourself off after that scraped knee and kept moving forward.
Now go forth indies everywhere and do your best to produce the most impressive quality of work you can.
If there's anything I missed or you'd like to contribute another tip or cardinal sin, you can drop a comment below.
baby pic courtesy of Mediabistro.com