A couple of years ago, I wrote a list of my ten rules of the road for fiction authors who are just getting started with sales and promotion. Some of you may have seen it before. It's aimed at self-published authors or traditionally published who want to become hybrids. When considering how best to frame this month's post, this list continues to be my best answer.
Rule 1: Be interesting.
The fastest way to be interesting is to be interested. If you're not engaging with people, they have no reason to care what you say. When you become part of their experience, they become part of yours. This is a good thing. Make friends, not sales.
Rule 2: Don't be dumb
This shouldn't need to be a rule but way too many authors are trying for attention with the same verve as the half-naked drunk dancing on a coffee table with a lampshade on his head. Don't. That is not the attention you really need. It's the kind of attention that gets you uninvited to the good parties.
Rule 3: Publish it
You don't get fans for the things you're going to write. You only get fans of stuff you've finished and they can get. Farting around with agents, trying to time a release for the next advantageous month with the appropriate full moon, anything that stands between you and "publish it" is a problem. *
Rule 4: Niche, Niche, Baby
You are not trying to sell a million books. In the beginning your goal is to sell one book. A book that your mother doesn't buy. A book that a fan purchases and lurves with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns.
That's your goal. That one sale.
You're working in niche markets. You will get fat and sassy with a thousand people who lurve your work as much as that first one because that means there are 10x that many who will probably buy your work as well. It means there are probably 10x more who will buy one of your works if it strikes their fancy that day.
Do the math, but it starts with one. Just one.
5. Face to the audience.
Stop messing around writing blog posts about how to make good characters or twenty-five ways to aggravate the establishment. Face your audience and write to them. Yes, I know you have none yet. Write to the ones who'll find you next year and want to see how this all started.
Fans care about who you are (not what you do). They care about where the next book is (and where they can find the older ones). They care about where they can meet you, hear about you, learn more about your work.
Fans do not care about writer's block, how you learned to write up to 500 words a day, or where you find the minutes you need to write them.
Answer the question: "What can I do for them?"
Anything else is pointless.
6. Network at your back.
Your fellow authors and word herding colleagues are not your competition. They are your reinforcement. Make friends. They can help you by doing things for you that you cannot do for yourself -- like telling their audiences about you if they like what you do and they think their audiences will, too.
A good network can give you beta reads, cover blurbs, and help you prime the sales pump so you never have to be that guy who says, "Buy my book!"
7. Back list - You Need One.
Make that happen. Tomorrow is good. Today would be better.
Social media is the fulcrum against which you will press the lever of back list. If the lever is too short, you will have a heck of a time gaining purchase.
Don't make the common mistake of writing a few short pieces to attract people to your one novel. While that's marginally effective, you're dealing with two different markets. People who read long, don't necessarily read short and vice versa.
You are looking for the one person who lurves your book. Not somebody who likes it, kinda. Write for that one person. Bite the bullet and write the next book. The majority of successful indie authors have five or more novels in circulation before they begin to gain traction.
8. Advertising, reviews, SEO
Unless you've got a back list to support spending money on advertising, skip it.
Advertising is unlikely to pay off and will probably not find that one person you're looking for. It's not a tool for early-stage publishing unless you've got deep pockets and a risk-taking mentality.
Reviews do not drive sales. Sales drive reviews. Reviews are a gauge of marketing reach, not quality. Spending time pursuing book bloggers - particularly in the beginning - seldom pays royalties.
SEO ... see 9.
9. Discovery Happens At The Bookstore
For non-fiction authors, having a strong presence and a reputation for knowing what you're doing can help you sell books. For non-fiction people, SEO can help people who are looking for your level of expertise to find you.
There is no search in the world that will help somebody looking for a good SF book to find you.
Except the search on the Amazon/B&N/Kobo website. Your website SEO doesn't matter there.
You don't go to the grocery store to buy 2x4s and you don't go to the hardware store to buy mangos. Readers don't look for fiction on Google.
Your blog is for collecting people who already know your name. The only searches that matter are 1) your name, 2) your titles, and 3) your characters.
In the bookstore, the trinity is Cover, Blurb, and Holy Sample. You cannot afford to mess-up any one of those or your books will sink into the purgatory that are sales ranks below #500,000.
Notice where reviews and ads fall on that list.
Yes, you need good meta-data. You need to find the right keywords for Amazon. No, you don't need to optimize your website to maximize time on page. You don't want people spending time reading your blog. You want them reading your books which they will find at the bookstore (or on a handy catalog page on your website).
10. Email List
Yes, it's old school. Yes, it's frequently abused. Yes, you need one. Mail Chimp. If you haven't already, start now.
Don't send them junk. Your freebie stories are not incentives. The one piece of information they've signed up for is "The new book is available. Here's the link."
See the previous point about not being dumb.
None of these will guarantee success. I know great authors with over a dozen titles out there who can't seem to get traction.
Over the last nine years, I've observed that the authors who have the most success are the ones who have followed these guidelines.
No question that luck is involved, but luck favors the prepared.
I'll take questions...