Indie Authors… working overtime

by Katie Versluis, NetGalley Sales Assistant

Did you know that over 725,000 books are published independently each year? It’s tough competition out there in the book world, and without the support of a traditional publishing house, every indie author who wants to find some level of success has to work tirelessly to reach the right audience. They have to be their own publicist, communications expert, and social media guru — and that still doesn’t guarantee their beloved literary baby will find fame and fortune.

So, how hard does an indie author have to work to get your attention over those 724,999 other authors? I, a Sales Assistant at NetGalley, attended the first annual Bookbaby Independent Author Conference 2017 to find out!

Over the course of the conference, there were three main areas of discussion: writing, production/publication, and marketing.

Writing

To those of us who have never written a book before, the writing stage seems to be the simplest; you have a good idea, you write it down, you edit it, you write more down, and then continue the process until you have a finished book. But it isn’t always so easy, as Eva Lesko Natallo mentioned in her presentation “A Self-Publisher’s Journey from Rejection to the New York Times Bestseller List”. Eva discussed having an epiphany that involved coming up with a great book idea… for someone else to write some day.

Like many indie authors, Eva never intended to be an author; her book idea kept nagging at her brain until one day she discovered she had the beginning of a manuscript. But even for a book that would later become a bestseller, the manuscript wasn’t exactly perfect. It took years of rewrites and several dozen rejections from traditional publishing houses to become the indie success it is today.

Eva stressed the importance for indie authors to hire an editor to make their book the best version it can possibly be. Professional editors (vs. a prolific friend or family member) are expensive but entirely worth it. A second set of eyes can transform a manuscript into a book that readers will love for years to come.

And that’s not all — indie authors spend years doing research, taking writing classes, and reading complex grammar books, all without getting paid for their efforts. Writing can be a full-time job without the benefits — but it’s a labor that many are impassioned enough to take on.

Production and Publication

When it comes to production and publication, this too can be an expensive but rewarding venture. Without a traditional publisher at their back, indie authors have to pay someone to format their books and design an eye-catching cover, which again can add up to thousands of dollars.

In her presentation, “Green-Light It: How Indie Authors can Publish Well in Today’s Exciting and Competitive Publishing Climate”, Brooke Warner of SheWrites Press stressed that indie authors need to work twice as hard to hold up to the standard of traditionally published books.

As readers like you know, the design of a book can have a huge impact on winning you over. Most of the time indie authors don’t have the resources or talent to design and format their own books, which can stunt the success of their book before it even makes it to the shelf. Let’s face it: all of us judge books by their covers (despite what our mothers told us), and indie authors are far more likely to lose their potential audience to a flashier, more expensive cover.

Marketing

Marketing, a big focus at the conference, can be a tricky area for indie authors. It takes a special talent that not everyone has, especially if you aren’t particularly tech savvy.

Without a built-in group of fans following their work, indie authors (particularly debut authors) have to work especially hard to get your attention. The more traditional forms of book marketing, like ads and reviews in newspapers and magazines, aren’t generating the buzz they once did, so many indie authors have to turn to social media and email marketing to get the word about their book out. 

In the panel, “#Essential: Online Book Marketing Techniques”, Ally Nathaniel, Lucy Briggs, Shelley Hitz, and Dana Kaye discussed the right and wrong ways to appeal to readers in online spaces.

It can be incredibly easy to turn off readers when marketing a book online. For example: when an eager author on Twitter promotes their book too often. One wrong Tweet can alienate a readership, so indie authors need to take special care of their online presence.

One strategy discussed was “serving before you sell”, or engaging with your audience before trying to promote your title. It can be a difficult area to navigate — indie authors are understandably proud of their work, but an audience will only tolerate overt selling for so long.

If you follow any indie authors on social media, take note of how they’re engaging with you. Do they respond to your comments, favorite your replies, and regularly post interesting, funny, or relevant content? In her presentation, “Essential Author Led Book Marketing and Publicity Tactics”, Sandra Poirier Smith of Smith Publicity noted that there is, in fact, a strict schedule to follow when trying to promote an author brand. Post too often, lose followers. Post too little, lose followers. Social media is an art — and not everyone who participates is an artist.

Despite the sometimes grueling hoops that indie authors have to jump through to have their voices heard, publishing independently can be a rewarding and lucrative venture. Not only does it allow them to publish faster and with more control, it can even give a much larger slice of the profit pie.

If you like the idea of supporting a single person with the dream of having their book succeed, consider reading indie today. You could find your next favorite page turner!

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