Some indie authors sell thousands of books. Most don't. Here are five marketing mistakes we see indie authors make that land them in that "most don't" category, and a few suggestions on how to do better.
5. Write a lousy book
Fail: It's hard to sell a bad product. Especially when there are lots and lots and lots of good products around. Lots of indie authors have a bad case of "I-can-do-that-itis." You read a book and think, "I can do better than that." True, you may be able to write better than someone else, but being better than someone else doesn't mean you're good enough to warrant an audience's time and money.
Fix: Don't confuse talent with skill. Get some training. Sure, there are people who are naturally gifted with words, but I have never, ever met anyone who was naturally gifted at grammar. And very few of us are naturally gifted when it comes to spelling or vocabulary. Take classes, read books, watch webinars, join peer groups, attend conventions. Learn your craft; hone your skills. Do you need an MFA in creative writing to make it as an author? Not at all, but plenty of published writers found they got better at their craft once they had one. Did they get more talented? No, they got more trained.
4. Act as Author, Proofreader and Copyeditor
Fail: Typos, misspelled and misused words are common in indie books.
Fix: You are the worst person to proofread and copyedit your own work. You already know what you mean so you glide over "close" when it should be "closed." The skills of a good author are not the same as the skills of a good proofreader or copyeditor. Get someone to proof and edit your book who isn't a friend or relative (translation: someone who doesn't love you and isn't afraid to tell you the truth about your work even if it might hurt your feelings).
Can't afford the high cost of a professional, experienced proofreader or editor? Research low-cost options. Start-up companies usually have lower prices than their established counterparts. Dig around and you should be able to find one that offers quality work for a reasonable price. Negotiate a barter or trade.
3. Use a Bad Cover
Fail: Book covers are supposed to attract a reader's attention and convey a sense of the genre, tone and focus of the book. Unless you are a graphic artist, don't design your own book cover. Again, you already know what the book's about so that bookcover with one drop of bright red blood falling on a crumpled dollar bill might mean something to you, but won't give readers enough information to prompt them to pick up the book (or click on the link) to find out more. (One drop of bright red blood falling on a crumpled dollar bill could be the cover for a murder-for-hire mystery or a BDSM romance set in a check cashing store. Don't make readers guess.)
Fix: Work with a book cover designer. Preferably one who knows about the genre, tone and focus of the book before he or she starts working on the design. (You might luck into a usable cover at one of those stock-art mix-and-match websites, but a usable cover isn't the same as a wonderful cover.)
2. Market to "Friends" only
Fail: I recently got a message on social media that read: "Please buy my book ABC. It's my first book and It would really mean a lot to me to be able to get on a bestseller list. It would really help me out if you could buy a copy. Pretty please, with sugar on top?" (Most such messages I get are along these lines, though the majority thankfully omit the "Pretty please, with sugar on top" part.)
Nowhere in her message did the writer mention the genre of the book, give any indication of the plot or in any way refer to the quality of the book. Surprise - I buy only high-quality books in particular genres that I'm interested in reading. I don't buy books in order to subsidize your dreams of being a bestselling author. Besides some friends and family members, no one else will, either.
Fix: Create a multi-platform marketing plan that doesn't depend on your personal appeals to social media friends and followers. Focus on selling points beyond the "Do me a favor and give me $2.99 just because" approach.
For one thing, chances are you will never make enough friends or get enough followers to insure a real market for your writing. For another, friends who do a favor for you expect you to do a favor for them in return. So they buy your book and you're going to...wash their car? Buy tickets to their next church raffle? Babysit? How about I give you $2.99 and you give me a book I want to and will enjoy reading, without having to overlook typos and other glaring errors, and we'll call it even?
1. Believe that In-exchange Reviews Directly Result in Sales
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Fail: Lots of indie book marketing involves in-exchange reviews from independent bloggers. The reviewer received an advanced readers copy/free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The author and blogger agree on a release date for the review and often on length, forum and minimum rating. (Working under the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" principle, most bloggers will only post four or five star reviews.)
I've conducted a casual, completely unscientific survey and found that readers most often buy a book because they know an author's work or got a recommendation from a friend.
A handful of reviews from uncompensated readers who purchased a book and genuinely enjoyed it outweigh 100 reviews from bloggers who received the book in-exchange for a review and are too polite to give you anything but a glowing review. You earned the reviews from readers; you paid for the reviews from in-exchange bloggers (even if it was only with a free copy of your book). Some bloggers do a great job reviewing books and almost all of them are well-intentioned readers who just want to share their opinions, but how much can a reader trust a paid-for review coordinated by the author?
Fix: Build a fan base of readers. That means having your own blog, being active on Facebook and Twitter, having a newsletter, meeting fans at signings and conventions, reaching out to booksellers, librarians and book club members, newspaper and magazine reporters (the kind that don't charge for coverage) ... in short, building relationships. Writing your book may have been a solitary, stuck-to-the-computer-never-saw-the-light-of-day experience. Selling your book is not.