I used to be ashamed to admit I was a self-published author. People—even someone as ancillary as the hairdresser—would ask me what I did, and I’d blush and mumble. Half of them probably didn’t even know there was such a thing as self-publishing, but I was still embarrassed. Because, you know, it was so not legit.
But I’m not embarrassed anymore. I’m proud.
What happened? I “made it” as a self-published author. I’m not J.K. Rowling or anything, but my ten published books and other related projects have given me the ability to now look that hairdresser in the eye and say proudly and honestly, “I write full-time.”
You’d like to do the same, you say? Well, you came to the right decade. Even better? The process of becoming a successful indie author is easy. Let’s take a look!
Step #1: Write a Bunch of Stuff You Can’t Publish
Being an author means you have to successfully pull off two different aspects of the business: the writing and the marketing. Both are totally different, and while t’s possible to slide by (for a while anyway) on the merits of one strength, if you’re going to make this gig work long-term, you must learn to excel at both.
The first—and, in the long run, the most important—of these skills is learning to write awesome books. That starts with paying your due diligence. Write a million words of dreck. Before publishing my first book, I wrote hundreds of articles, hundreds of short stories and four novels. I need every single one of those “useless” words under my belt to help me reach a point where I was writing something actually worthy of being marketed to readers.
Step #2: Write a Book You Can Publish
Then comes the hardest part of this whole process: you’ve got to write something good. You’ve got to write something that can stand on its own two feet in the same arena with professionally published and edited books.
This is not a process you can rush. Although you may well be ready to produce this awesome book is less time than I was, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re ready when you’re not. With time and practice, this book will emerge—and when it has emerged, you’re ready to unleash it on an astonished world.
Step #3: Get the Best Help You Can Afford
This is where you have to take that first step out of the realm of being a great author and into the realm of also being a great marketer. You can’t publish a truly successful book all by yourself. You’re going to need help: from an editor first and foremost, from professional cover designers, and perhaps from services that will typeset your print books and convert your e-books.
Most of these services are expensive (although not nearly as much as they used to be), but they’re worth the investment upfront. If readers get a whiff of unprofessionalism, they’ll likely walk away and never give you another chance to prove them wrong.
Step #4: Get a Website
Now you’ve written that awesome book and you’re ready to send into the world. This is where you have to grow beyond your role as capital A “Author,” into the joint role of capital M “Marketer.”
Start with a home on the web. The reason self-publishing has become a viable and lucrative option for authors like you and me is solely because of the World Wide Web. You need to stake your claim on it. Buy a domain, use WordPress to host, tell readers about yourself, and showcase your book.
Step #5: Building a Following
It is not, however, enough to simply create a static website. Market is a verb, and it’s one that, realistically, will take up just as much of your time as does your writing.
Here are the six platforms that should form the foundation of your marketing plan:
Post Content Regularly The Internet has a short attention span. You have to be constantly creating ways to stay at the forefront of your readers’ minds. The best and easiest way to do this is with a blog. Short, free articles of helpful and entertaining content will keep readers coming back to you time and again.
Find Ways to Interact “Build it and they will come” holds no water on the Internet. You’ve got to find ways to cut through the static and claim people’s attention. Waving a flag and saying “Look at me” won’t work. Instead, you need to find ways to interact with readers. One of my favorite techniques is my daily Writing Question of the Day (#WQOTD), which allows me to ask my followers a personal question—and get personal answers in response.
Go Where People Are If you’re going to find people to interact with, you first must seek them out in venues where they will welcome your participation in their lives. Where else would that be these days but social media? The options are vast, but Facebook and Twitter remain the frontrunners for writers of just about any stripe.
Make It About Them It’s true: you’re marketing this book for yourself. But readers don’t care about that. If you’re going to convince them to thunk down hard-earned cash, you’ve got to show them what’s in for them. In fact, if you’ll let it, this concept can transform not just your ability to sell books, but your entire life. I started out selling for myself, but my platform as a writing instructor has taught me the overwhelming blessings of being in a position from which I can actively reach out and help others every single day.
Build an Email List Once you have a website, you should immediately begin building your email list. This is your direct line to your fans. If someone is interested enough in what you’re doing to give you permission to email them, never take that for granted. Use that list wisely, generously, and strategically to keep people informed about your new books and other projects. Diversify Finally, as your platform begins to grow, don’t forget about the opportunities of diversifying. I started out with just print books. Now, my projects range from print to e-books to audiobooks to webinars and beyond.
Step #6: Launch Big or Go Home
Finally, when the day comes for your first (or eleventh) book launch, don’t be afraid to shout it to the world! Make as big a splash as you can to raise awareness about your book and help it go viral.
This is also a time to celebrate your accomplishment and give back to your community. I always launch with huge prize drawings and other fun activities. People come for the goodies. Some of even stay for the book!
Remember back up there at the top where I said becoming a successful indie author was easy? That’s no lie. The steps above are all simple, straightforward, and proven.
But, at the same time, they’re also not so easy. They all require hard work, fierce dedication, and massive amounts of patience. If you’re willing to pay that toll, the self-publishing highway has never been more accessible and rewarding than it is right now.
What are you waiting for? Publish that book and make your dreams come true!