#IndieApril Guide for Authors

#IndieApril Guide for Authors

In the spirit of #IndieApril I am sharing a few tips for new authors, or authors that feel like they've yet to make traction.
I've pulled together some tips. Many of these are basic and easy to do, and I just want to show authors that it really is worth doing these little things.
I will also try to include budget options for each tip (where applicable), because I definitely didn't have any spare resources when I first published.

A bit of background - I am the UK fantasy author K.S. Marsden. I have ten books published, and a reasonable income from them.
I am also a prolific reader and reviewer (hence this blog). I read up to 100 books a year, and try and promote as many authors as possible. Which means I'm part of your target audience, and can give advice from both sides of the book industry.

1. Does your book look the part?

Now, be honest with me, and with yourself. Does your book really, really look the part?
Even when I am selecting which book tours I want to sign up to (and get free books for), the cover still plays a massive part.
I have a limited amount of time, and can't read everything I am offered.
That is a shame, because I can think of a couple of books that I've read in the last 12 months, that were amazing and I gave 5 stars to - the covers both gave off an amateur vibe, and I honestly wouldn't have picked them up if I wasn't already a fan of these authors' works.

Unless you are a professional cover designer - DO NOT DESIGN YOUR OWN COVERS.
It might be cutting some expenses, but if I'm being brutally honest, most of the covers don't look as good as they could.

Example A:
Yes, I'm guilty of doing the same. Although, it was my sister who did this, not me.
This was the first cover for The Shadow Rises (Witch-Hunter #1). I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I thought that the most important part was the book inside, and the cover was just checking a box, to get it published.
I had an emotional connection to this cover - the gravestone was a picture my sister got from the same graveyard our nanna was buried in (the original northern witch).

At that point, you have to decide if this is a hobby, or your profession.
If you want people to buy your book of their own accord, you have to make it look professional.

A few months after my debut released (2013), Beth Sylar designed my new covers. 

She did a fantastic job, and the covers still look great.

But you also have to move with the times. Just because it's my best-selling book, doesn't mean you stop working on it.

Last year, I released a shiny new version that appealed to a whole

new audience.
Cover by the amazing Creative Paramita

Facebook has some amazing groups showcasing book cover designers. It is well worth checking them out, and finding out what you like/dislike, and start to follow artists you love.

Budget options

2. Establish your online platform.

a) Website

Having a website is great, it helps prove that you are a real author, and directs readers to your books.

If you decide to have a website - keep it up-to-date, and make it look modern.
I personally use Wix.com they make it really easy to build a website, you just drag and drop the parts you want to include, no knowledge of HTML necessary.

You have to pay if you want to own your domain, but it makes it look so much more professional (i.e. a nice short www.ksmarsden.com instead of www.wix.com/ksmarsden/home... which just looks messy).

BUT here's the thing to keep in mind - most of my traffic & sales go through my FREE social media accounts, rather than my website.

b) Facebook / Twitter  /  Instagram

They are FREE to set up, so there is no reason not to join them.
At the very least, you need to join Facebook, because everyone is on Facebook, and there is a lot of group interaction there, which is missing on other sites.
(tip: I have two FB accounts - one for my friends and family; and one for my author profile. This means I don't spam my family with book stuff, and I choose what level of personal stuff I share on my professional account. I also have an author page.)

Twitter and Instagram - they are free, it is worth signing up to both.
A lot of your posts can be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Insta, so it's not really much more work to have all three.
You might find you prefer one over the others, and that's fine, you don't have to keep them all.

You need to post regularly - once a week would be a great target. Once a month is the absolute minimum, because if you post less than that, people using unfollow programmes will unfollow you...

All of these social media sites have paid advertising options. Facebook's is probably the strongest, and it's definitely worth playing with.

c) Goodreads

I cannot say this enough - you NEED TO JOIN GOODREADS.
It is free, and it is the biggest reading & reviewing website there is.

As stated before, I am a prolific reader, and I track ALL of my books on Goodreads. Like many readers, if a book is NOT listed on Goodreads, I am less likely to take a chance on it.

If an author has not claimed or completed their author page - I am less likely to read their books.
(p.s. anyone who reads your book can add it to Goodreads, so you might as well get there first, with all the official info).

Rubbish, blank & unappealing author page: 

Vs. completed author page:

Which would you rather buy a book from?
It's really easy and free to claim and update your author's page. 

Goodreads is invaluable for looking professional in front of readers.
Let me stress - this website is aimed at READERS AND REVIEWERS.
This is a place for readers to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on various books. As an author, please make sure that you give them that freedom.
You can find groups to share your books. You can start following reviewers, and leave reviews on books you are reading.

Tip: don't do paid advertising or book giveaways with Goodreads, it is not worth it.

3. Get reviews

OK, this one seems obvious.
Readers are more likely to take a chance on a new author, if the book has reviews, and they in turn will hopefully leave their own reviews.

Just waiting for buyers to leave reviews is not very productive. My debut has been downloaded about 30,000 times on Amazon, and has a grand total of 166 reviews.  So that means 0.55% (or 1 out of every 200 downloads) leaves a review.

a) Ask friends and family to leave reviews

We've all done it. There is nothing wrong with getting people you know to leave honest reviews, to help jump-start your book.

b) Approach 'professional' reviewers

You can find professional/passionate book reviewers on Google and Goodreads.
Don't spam everyone. Find people who you think will genuinely be interested in your book, and be grateful for any review they give you, because any publicity is good publicity.
(You don't want to be known as the author that kicked off over a negative review.)

tip: You will have to provide these reviewers with a free review copy of your book (often called an ARC). Check whether they want paperback or ecopy, and bear this in mind when approaching them.
Do not pay individual reviewers for reviews - this is against Amazon policy and the reviews may be removed.

c) Book review services

These are companies that connect your book with readers who can download it for free, in exchange for an honest review.
Many of these are paid services, but get past the Amazon policies because you are paying the company - the readers do not receive any money for their reviews.

Paid services
  • Netgalley - the biggest site, and most expensive. You can read more about it on my old blog post: Netgalley or Not.
    • I would not recommend until you have established yourself and your books.
  • BookSirens - they are selective over which books they take, but the listing only costs $10 and you are only charged $2 per review, so it is worth a go.
Free services
  • Booksprout - I've been using the free service for years, and usually get about 10 reviews for each new book. The $10 plan is also useful for getting your book on the front page for readers.
  • Reviewers Favorite - has a free book review option, and gives you a shiny badge if you get 5 stars. They can't post to Amazon, and do not have to post on Goodreads, but it's great for promoting on social media.

4. Build your newsletter

Newsletter followers are greatly underestimated.
Mine are fantastic. I email them once a month with updates on what is happening, book releases, and I share other author's book deals. I often run competitions or discounts exclusively for them.
Whenever I share a book deal with them, I always see a spike in sales, often bigger than what I get from advertising on my combined social media.

It's never too early to get started.

a)  Newsletter host

Don't be tempted to try sending out emails to a list manually. It doesn't look professional, and the professional newsletter hosts out there will cover you for privacy laws etc, and let your followers unsubscribe, if they wish.
I would recommend using Mailchimp - they have a pretty easy newsletter builder, and you can have up to 2,000 subscribers on the free version.

Once you get above that level, you should have gotten familiar with how to use a newsletter, and what aspects you like/dislike.
It would be best to go onto Google or Facebook, and research your paid options.
I moved to Mailerlite, which is very user-friendly, and allows me to delete any inactive subscribers, which means I'm not paying more than necessary.

b) Gaining subscribers

So, how do you get people to sign up to your shiny newsletter?
If you have a website, you must add an option to join the newsletter - you won't get many sign-ups this way, but it is expected by people who are looking for your newsletter.

I have previously tried to get people to sign up to my newsletter when I've gone to events, but for the amount of time this takes, and the low number of subscribers, it's not worth it. Your time at events is best spent on selling books, and chatting to readers. If they want to sign up to your newsletter, you can direct them to your website

Newsletter sharing services
  • Bookfunnel - readers get a free book in exchange for signing up to your newsletter.
  • Prolific Works - as above. Has a free option.
Subscriber services
  • Fiction Atlas Author Builders - readers sign up to author newsletters as part of competitions. Claims to get you 400-1000 subscribers. I can confirm that I had 1000 on my first, and 500 on my second one.

5. Promote your books

Again, this may be obvious, but there are a million books out there, and the chances of a reader stumbling onto a new one by an unknown author is pretty slim.
We need to improve these odds by advertising - the right way.
Please do not spam your friends and followers, these guys have already seen it, and if you keep pushing it in their faces, they may become negative towards your book.

a) Post on social media - just don't spam!

Get a great image to promote your book/sale/event.

(Image by Lily Dormishev)

You can pay your cover designer to make them; or find other image designers on Facebook/Google.

If you are feeling confident and want to experiment, you can create your own. I personally use Pixlr Editor, because I don't do this enough to merit buying an Adobe Photoshop package.

b) Amazon ads

You can use Amazon's services to make your book appear at the top of readers' searches.
This can be as basic, or as complex as you like.
Start out simple, set your ads at a low cost-per-click, and start adding target words (words, book names, authors in your genre). See what works, and build on it.
If you would like to learn more on Amazon ads, there are many courses on offer, designed for authors.

c) Paid ads

These are mainly newsletters that readers have signed-up to, so they can get mainly bargain books.
Paid Author gives a handy list, and offer special discounts to many of the recommended sites.

Here are some of my favourites:
  • Bookbub - the best of the best. You are unlikely to get one of the big promos, but Bookbub offer an ad service similar to Amazon, which can be worth checking out.
  • Freebooksy / Bargain Booksy  - expensive, doesn't always get enough sales to cover the cost; but worth it for the ongoing boost.
  • Fussy Librarian - Excellent for downloads of free books. Bargain book sales aren't great, but the promo is cheap enough to give it a go.

And that is it, my 5 basic tips that are often over-looked.
If you have any more tips or services you want to share, please comment below.


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