A big welcome to Linda Acaster, my first guest blogger on this site.
Linda is an established author with experience of both traditional and self publishing. Her latest novel, The Bull At The Gate, Book 2 in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, was recently launched as an ebook, with a print version to follow. She writes complex Contemporary Fantasy based on British history and myths.
I asked Linda a few questions about her self publishing experience and in particular how she goes about marketing her books.
P: Why did you decide to go indie?
L: The mainstream publishing industry decided to kick my work into touch. I was writing historical romances at the time and the publisher wanted less history and more beating- heart romance in their historicals. My writing was evolving – as any writer’s should – and I’d found a publisher for a mediaeval fantasy I’d written just to see if I could. As Fate decreed, between being made the offer and accepting it the publisher appointed a new editor for the line who was determined to ‘sweep clean’. I found myself out with the debris. Later I thought I’d found a small press interested for another book, but after a glitch it soon became apparent that I knew as much as they did. Amazon was just opening its digital doors and so I stepped through as an indie author, something I’ve never regretted.
P: How does it compare in your experience with being traditionally published?
L: Wonderfully. I’m in control, which makes me sound like an anorak, but I put a lot of effort into both my writing and the historical detail I use, and twice having anachronistic covers foisted on my books made me wary. Now (nearly) all the decisions are mine to stand or fall by. Do I make a living selling books as an indie author? No, but I never did as a mainstream published author, either. Very few do.
P: You are very active on social media. How important is it for indie writers to have a blog and a presence on Facebook and Twitter, in your view?
L: Very – end of reply. But don’t think this is down to only indie authors; mainstream published authors have to do exactly the same. Not until you are a big name in its list will a publishing house spend time and effort on an author’s behalf – usually if a substantial advance has been paid and the publisher is desperate to recoup that plus a profit.
A blog (or website) is the hub where the author stores information: about themselves, their writing, their research, their books, where to buy said books, and anything related. A written blogpost needs to be advertised, which is where Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc, come in. These provide a tease and a link back to the blogpost where, prominently (ie above the “fold”, on the part of the screen immediately viewable), will be a picture of the author’s book cover/s. Think of a blog as a glossy magazine on a newsstand. The magazine does not exist to elucidate its readers, it exists as a platform for advertising. But who willingly buys a glossy magazine full of adverts? It is the articles that draw the reader in, the advertising set close by these that the reader glimpses, then reads, and hopefully acts upon. Interacting directly with strangers on Facebook or Twitter is akin to a cheery smile on a sullen day. People automatically smile back, become interested, follow links. No one said this is easy, or quick, but each time it’s done an author is getting his/her name out into the world.
P: You’ve done a good deal of guest blogging. How do you find the blogs to write posts on, and how useful do you think it is in terms of selling your books?
L: If a mainstream print author has a new book coming out that author will often organise talks and/or signings in conjunction with a bookshop or community group. They may sell two copies, they may sell twenty, they may sell none, but they will go armed with advertising – postcards (see such as http://www.vistaprint.com) – to give to people they chat to. Finding blogs to host a guest-post works the same way. If you are active on Twitter and Facebook ask on there. I also belong to six writer/reader Yahoogroups and I ask on there. The idea is to piggy-back on the blog-owner’s followers, but again, interaction is the key. Support the post, by Tweeting/Facebook-ing it, answering comments promptly, being cheery. Does it sell books? Ask BMW how often its TV adverts sell its cars, and think how often you see those advertisements. Marketing is a drip-feed process across multiple platforms.
P: I believe you try out your books in the early stages with the help of ‘beta readers’. Can you explain what these are, and how you go about finding them?
L: I belong to a writers’ group. We don’t write at our weekly meetings, we read aloud work-in-progress for constructive criticism. Those fellow writers are, in effect, acting as beta readers for each other. We are a small group of published authors so we know our stuff and don’t pull our punches, highlighting anything from poor grammar to clumsy sentence construction to staid characterisation. Nit-picking is applauded. When a book is finished and polished, we may offer the full script for whoever has the time to go through the entire work, usually digitally employing Word’s comments facility. I know of authors who find beta readers online – via Facebook, Twitter, Yahoogroups (note the trend here). If you write in a recognised genre then chances are you will find another writer willing to exchange beta-reading duties. The trick is to find someone on your wave-length with a good skills set.
P: Apart from social media do you have any other recommendations for marketing for indie writers? Especially those who aren’t familiar with social networking, or whose target readership aren’t likely to be familiar with it?
L: Few writers who didn’t grow up with social media automatically embrace its potential. I didn’t. It is a learned, and learnable, craft. If your target readership isn’t likely to use social media, then I would suggest your priority product should be paper-based, with digital ebook as a back-up. That means gaining speaking engagements with community groups, occasionally with willing bookshops. Hand-selling is still hand-selling, be it on the internet or in person, and it is the only way to sell books, fiction or non-fiction. Have a good product, and don’t give up.
London, April 2014