This page lists everything I can think of that’s involved in becoming a successful self published author. I speak with absolutely no experience or authority on this topic, as my book is currently wallowing in the mid range on Amazon’s lists. I am however a very technically oriented, methodical person, and I plan on implementing everything on this list that I haven’t and still can. I skipped a few items on this list, for which I am eternally kicking myself, so I’m writing this partially to make sure others don’t make my mistakes. The things I’ve gotten wrong I’ve seen other people do correctly, to their extreme benefit.
Writing your little bridge troll is the easy part. Most successful indie authors will say this, but they get family vague when you ask them what it means. Almost all successful authors get incredibly vague when you ask them what they actually did to become successful. This list is my attempt to address this topic, in my usual technical manner.
Most of the task on this list need to happen before you finish writing your book. Many of them need to happen before you make much progress at all on your book. What it means is this – if you think your job is to first write your masterpiece and then market it, you are doomed to fail.
A temporary word of warning
I’ve only just put this page up and it’s still missing a lot of detail. I plan on going back and adding in a lot more soon, and a lot more detail on these entries, but I’ve opted to publish the skeleton before I polish it, pad it out with everything I can think of and get it perfect with references, evidence, etc. The outline’ll be useful to people, so why not make it available before it’s a perfect checklist.
At this point (and always, but especially now) I’ll say please, please, please email me with any other ideas you have for this page. As a collaborative effort, it might become something very useful, at least for saving people’s time. Send all ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reply, add, etc.
Before you start writing
Where do you need to be?
As an indie author, there’s a lot of places you need to have a presence. Here’s a quick list. It’ll grow over time. The point of this list is this – create all of these accounts today. Even if you haven’t started writing yet – today!
|Administrative Services||You’ll need these services to maintain the infrastructure of your writing life.|
|https://www.gmail.com/||Don’t use your private/personal email address. Create one specifically for you – as an author – and use this one to register with all of the following services. It can be any email provider. It really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s secure, reliable and has a client for your phone. I chose Google because it’s easy.
You can also create your own domain (maybe http://www.raymondclarkeauthor.com/). It’s not complicated these days, but costs a bit more. The cost is almost negligible, but I didn’t think it was worth it. It’s a personal choice.
|https://www.dropbox.com/||I worked in IT back in Australia. Do you know how many people I’ve had to help who worked for days (weeks, months) on a
document then lost it all because they had no backup? Too many. I save all of my data to a cloud storage service. This should
be your default location for your work, not the copy. Forget USB drives and other fallible junk, your work is too important. As
an added benefit, it automatically synchronises between my laptop, tablet and phone. I can’t possibly lose my work.
|https://evernote.com/||You need some form of note-taking app, even if it’s actually a book and pen with real ink in it. I’m a tech guy and greenie, so
I hate paper. These are simple but powerful tools that allows you to record ideas when you have them and save them for when
you have time to sort and implement them. I have a lot of my best ideas on the treadmill and dictate it straight into Evernote.
|https://www.paypal.com/||If you already have a Paypal account, I’m not sure what the rules are on opening a second, but I highly recommend you set
one up under your author email address ASAP. You’ll need to use it to pay for promos and accept payment from Smashwords
and potentially other places.
|https://bitly.com/||If you’re serious about tracking how people find out about your books, blod, etc, you’ll need a free link shortener account.
There’s lots of them. This one’s popular.
|Sales Channels||If you expect to sell your books, you’ll need accounts at the places that the public go to to buy them. Don’t create these
when you’re ready to publish, the process can be long and slow.
|http://www.smashwords.com/||Smashwords is the biggest indie sales channel in the world (probably KDP in reality, but they’re not “indie” – it’s a technical
distinction). They’ll distribute your book to almost all other sales channels, so this one’s mandatory.
|https://kdp.amazon.com/||Kindle Direct Publishing. This one’s mandatory. You can get by with only Smashwords and KDP, but you need both because
Smashwords only distributes to Amazon if your book’s already popular, and realistically, it can only become popular on KDP.
|https://www.createspace.com/||CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and publishes print editions. It’s not mandatory, but who doesn’t like to see themselves
|https://www.kobo.com/writinglife||Smashwords’ll publish to Kobo but the process is easy yourself so you can add this one manually if you choose to to keep
10% of your list price.
|https://itunesconnect.apple.com/||Apple is a massive pain in the dupa to publish to, which is actually a good thing as their cumbersome process ensures
quality on iTunes where KDP will publish any old dross. Both approaches have their merits. I highly recommend using
Smashwords to manage this process (which is a must if you don’t live in the USA or a few other countries anyway).
|https://www.nookpress.com/ebooks||Barnes & Nobel is a mandatory place for your book, but the process of registering here is almost as annoying as with Apple.
I recommend going via Smashwords.
|Social Networking||Check out the next section on building your platform. Here’s where you do it and you need most of these services (and
more) registered under your author account.
|https://twitter.com/||You need to have a Twitter account for you as an author. Many authors also create Twitter accounts for each book and a
bunch of other stuff, but I’m too lazy. The standard Twitter client will manage multiple accounts, so go nuts.
|https://www.facebook.com/||With the largest number of active users in the workd and an endless range of groups, you simply need a presence here,
even if you hate it.
|https://plus.google.com/||Google Plus is supposedly starting to overtake Facebook as the place to be (other than Twitter). Not because its numbers
are higher, but because its groups and people are nicer. Supposedly.
|https://www.pinterest.com/||If you have the ability to create artwork, or find it, then you should be here. Again, it depends on your genre. I know an
author who puts together a lot of simple artwork-ads using free images sourced online. It could be helpful.
|http://instagram.com/||Same deal. I haven’t tried it yet.|
|https://www.linkedin.com/||LinkedIn is debatable, depending on your genre. I haven’t found a way to make it useful for the fantasy genre, but then I
haven’t really tried.
|https://about.me/||This is a basic service that makes you more discoverable. It’s an hour’s work and I find people view it a lot.|
|Social Networking Support|
|https://hootsuite.com/||Social media is time-consuming, and if (like me) you live 8 times zones away from most of your target audience, you’ll need
a social media manager to fill in the gaps in your presence (for example, when you’re asleep but your readers are looking for
|https://web.crowdfireapp.com/||Twitter can be a beautiful place, or a mean place. One practice that’s common but really unkind is people who follow you,
wait for you to follow them back, then unfollow you. It increases their follower list but they (I guess) don’t care what you have
to say. This is just rude. I use Crowdfire primarily to find and cull these accounts from my list.
|https://wordpress.com/||An author needs a blog. Apparently. It doesn’t really matter hwich one, as long as you’re doing it. You need to use social
media and your blog to build a huge following long before you publish, or you book will sink like a rock.
|https://www.mailchimp.com/||You also need a mailing list, to find and talk to those who’re seriously interested in your works. There;s lots of them. I chose
Mail Chimp almost at random.
|https://www.goodreads.com/||Goodreads is the place to be for all indie authors. It’s simply a must.|
|http://www.kboards.com/||KBoards – Kindle Boards – bills itself as the biggest forum for Kindle books in the world. If you’re on KDP (which is mandatory then you should be here too, be active and be friendly. Basically, don’t be a dick.Note, there’s a difference between using the service for social networking and for advertising. Check out my blog spew on KBoards advertising for more info.|
|http://indiebookdiscovery.com/||There’s plenty of other, smaller services that can help you get your name out there. A lot are crap, these have been good
Build your author platform
This is my biggest mistake. Here’s how the aberrant thinking goes: I can’t tell the world about my little bridge troll until I have a little bridge troll to show them. How can I advertise a book that doesn’t exist yet?
Bla bla bla. Go and read literally everything on http://www.erindorpress.com/. Nat Russo – an actually successful indie author – talks endlessly about building a platform, and I won’t repeat it here. Bookmark his blog now. The question is though, how? No-one I’ve seen actually gets specific on this topic, so here’s my checklist.
Create a Twitter profile now. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t started writing your book yet. It’s actually better if you haven’t. If you want it to be successful, you need customers, and you should find them before you publish. Twitter’s an incredibly important part of that process, even if you can’t actually sell anything directly on Twitter – and trust me, you can’t.
- Create a Twitter profile. For you, you as an author (as I did) your book, your book series. Whatever.
- Tweet anything you find useful, interesting, funny. Whatever. Do it because you like to share, then read Nat Russo’s 10-part blog post on Twitter.
- Actively build your follower list. Actively! Don’t wait for anyone to find you. Go to other authors in your genre, go to their Followers page and click Follow on every real follower they have. They won’t mind.
- Use http://hootsuite.com/ or http://buffer.com/ to auto-tweet useful and/or interesting things on a schedule so your feed is never dry. Don’t spam or promote. Just be there. I started with http://buffer.com/ but switched to http://hootsuite.com/ when http://buffer.com/ started failing to post tweets. They’re both good, so it’s a personal preference thing.
- Use http://web.crowdfireapp.com/ to purge non-followers – and worse, unfollowers – from your list. If someone follows you then unfollows you they’re breaking the social protocol of Twitter and being rude. You also need followers, not unfollowers. Real people who’re interested in what you have to say, even if it has nothing to do with your book(s).
- Setup your profile properly. Use a photo of you as your pic if you want, or some cover art. Definitely use cover art or something cool for your background image. Add your blog address. Don’t have a blog? Scroll down.
- Setup Twitter to automatically spam all of your tweets to Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Twitter is a tool for building an audience of people who care that you exist, not a sales tool, but you need it, and it’s better to have 50k followers when you publish than 0.
- Setup an author page. Follow Facebook’s process and change the generic website address to a customised one. Here’s mine: http://www.facebook.com/RClarkeAuthor. It didn’t start out with only “RClarkeAuthor” after the main website name. You change it using the generic link http://www.facebook.com/username
- Setup a book page. Again, change the generic name to a customised one. Here’s mine: http://www.facebook.com/EquivocalDestines
- Setup a book series page, if your book’s part of a series (as many are these days). Again, change the generic name to a customised one. Here’s mine: http://www.facebook.com/UpheavingNidola
- Go to each of your author/book-related pages and Like every other page.
- Setup an Author app on your author page. I’m using one just called Author App. I’m not convinced this one is the best choice as it’s currently listing an out-of-date price for my novel. I’ll research the best options in more detail later.
- Find all of the popular (and maybe unpopular) groups that you can on Facebook which are related to your genre(s) and join them. Be active if you have the time.
To be honest, I’ve been lazy here. I promise to get useful on Google+ soon. It’s just not popular enough for me to invest the time in it when I have so much else going on. That said, the word online is that it’s much better than Facebook now for actually engaging real readers, so my laziness is probably hurting my sales.
Ditto here, but in my defence, I don’t think my genre is really suited to this professional medium.
Create your sales accounts
Absolutely. Now. If you on’t have a obok to sell yet, why create an author account on Amazon, Smashwords, etc? Because it all takes time and you’ll need them before you publish, so do it now. It doesn’t matter if the accounts exist a year before you publish. They won’t get shut down. Also, you can go through the authorisation processes, find the problems and fix them before you actually need the accounts. See my Amazon section if you’re in doubt.
Create an author account and populate your profile with every piece of info you can.
Before you can sell books on Amazon, you need to complete a tax declaration. Didn’t know it? Well, if you live outside the USA it’s a pain in the ass, so work through this long, annoying process while you write, unless you want Amazon to keep 30% of your royalties.
Just create it now. It’s a simple process.
I haven’t tested this yet but the word is you’ll need an Apple device associated with your Apple ID to be allowed to sell books here. You can apparently get Smashwords to publish to Apple for you if you don’t have an Apple device, but then they keep 10% of your royalties. Get this whole process sorted out before you need it.
It’s a very simple process.
Learn how to format your novel
Yes, learn how to format it before you write a lot of it. Wouldn’t it be simpler if you wrote the whole thing in a template file that you can simply upload to Amazon, Smashwords, etc? Well, a lot of people will probably use a dedicated editor like Scrivener, but I’m using simple Word – Kingsoft Office, actually. Either way, at the end of the process you’ll eed to format your novel into a paper-based layout and a few ebook formats, so learn what these companies expect before you waste time writing it the wrong way.
Amazon has a lot of professional information on its sites about how to format your book for publication, in both print (http://www.createspace.com/) and ebook (http://kdp.amazon.com/) forms, and they provide template files. You should familiarise yourself with all of this now, so you know what to do at the time. Haven’t thought about the blurb for the back cover, your exact Copyright terminology – and the legal issues surrounding your choice – your dedication, etc, etc?
Smashwords has produced a very nice book, which is a free download, call the Smashwords Style Guide. It’s available here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52. It’s not exactly professionally-written, but this is a deliberate choice on the part of the author – the guy who owns/runs Smashwords. It’s actually a much better document than anything I’ve found on Amazon though, so read it before you publish anywhere. I highly recommend this book. If you read it before you write your novel, it might save you a lot of hassles later one.
Publishing your book
General Sales Tips
- Setup your book to have a period where it can be pre-ordered. This will build a sales volume where all sales will accrue on publication date, which will give your book an immediate boost in the rankings. It’s recommended by lots of people and seems like a smart idea. I didn’t try this, but should have, and will for my book 2. The question is, you’ll soon learn that you can’t easily setup the pre-order system until your book’s available for sale, so why would you want to have it ready to sell and not able to be bought? I’m going to cheat with my next book and upload the not-completely-edited form so the pre-orders can begin while I ad the final touches. That way, basically, the pre-orders can begin when it’s not ready to be sold, but Amazon et al will think it’s ready. I hope it works, but don’t quote me on that.
Sales Tips – Amazon
- Do not – repeat, do not – waste your time of Amazon’s free promos. If you don’t know, Amazon allows you to sign up for their Amazon Select program where you can reduce the price of your book to free for 5 days out of every 90 and run countdown details where Amazon lists the book’s original price as well as the discounted price, etc. They also set it up so a whole slew of websites will find your discounted book and advertise it for free for you. The problem is, free promote don’t result in sales in the future, don’t generally give you any reviews and don’t seem to build much loyalty. They might when you already have 50k fans and/or 4 other books, but it’s all a big waste of time for your first, unknown book. Also, if you sign up for Amazon Select (for the 90 day period) you can’t publish anywhere else, which you should do on day 1.
- Do not – repeat, do not – get your friends and family to immediately buy a copy of your book and write a review for it. Sounds completely different to absolutely everyone else’s advice and to logic? It is, but I’m right. Here’s why. Anyone who’s ever given Amazon any money when they’ve bought anything can review any book, so get everyone you know to review it based on another method. If you trust them, email them a .pdf. If you don’t, lend them a paperback. Definitely get everyone you know to buy a copy, but coordinate them all to do it on a single day when you’re advertising it to the whole world. Add their sales to the public’s sales for a bump in popularity.
- Add a Shop Now Call to Action button to your author page, book page and book series page.