Five Slightly Unexpected Tips For Self-Published Authors to Find Success
One thing I hear a lot these days is that “self-publishing” is a misnomer. The reason? There’s no way that one person can do everything necessary to properly and effectively publish a book. (Obviously there are a lot of qualifiers there, but you get the idea.)
Misnomer aside, there are many people out there trying to publish books without the aid of an established publishing company. Some of them gathered at the Tools of Change Author Revolution conference in New York today to share information, network and learn more about the craft of publishing.
Since so much of what you hear and read about self-publishing is common sense or things you’ve heard before, I decided to pick out five things from the programming that are slightly unexpected or things you may not have heard before.
1. Give content away.
“Free is your best friend,” said founder of Wildfire Marketing (and DBW Expert Blogger) Rob Eagar. “Giving away part of your content or sometimes the whole book for free” is one of the best ways to generate book sales.
Eagar cited a client, Lysa TerKeurst, who had typically sold 10,000 to 15,000 copies of her books per year before engaging Eagar. Her new title Made to Crave (HarperCollins) was coming out and she wanted to do something to increase her sales for it. Along with Eagar and her publisher, she developed a new piece of content — the “Made to Crave 21-Day Challenge,” a daily challenge log with e-newsletter component — and gave it away for free as a way to tease the book. The book was on the New York Times best-seller list for 30 weeks and sold 220,000 copies in nine months, said Eagar.
If it doesn’t make sense to create a new piece of free content as a way to promote the book, Eagar suggests giving away copies of the book itself or parts of it.
It’s a strategy we at Digital Book World have recently used, though it’s too early to tell what effect it’s had, if any. We gave away almost 1,000 copies of our new ebook, Finding the Future of Digital Book Publishing. It’s currently on offer wherever fine ebooks are sold and we’ve sold some copies, though I’m not yet sure how many in aggregate. We’ll keep you updated on our progress.
2. Don’t go it alone.
There are self-publishing advocates that will tell you that you can do it all yourself. That you should do it all yourself, especially if someone who might help you wants to charge you for the service.
According to agent Jason Allen Ashlock (head of Movable Type Management and also a DBW Expert Blogger), it’s not a good idea.
“None of us goes it alone,” he said. “Publishing is a team sport. Allies, alliances and partners are more vital than ever.”
It’s slightly self-serving, Ashlock being an agent, but he puts forward the idea that agents — the good ones — are mediators today. Mediators between authors and people and companies that can help authors do the things they need to do to successfully produce, distribute and market their books. He calls these people “radical mediator agents.”
For instance, an author might want to hire a public relations agency to help generate press for her book; or she might want to engage with a publisher in Germany to sell foreign rights; or she might want to hire a cover designer. Authors are, in general, good at writing, at formulating ideas. “Radical mediator agents” are theoretically good at arranging these kinds of services and relationships — and negotiating them favorably for authors.
3. Maintain a relationship with your audience.
The old publishing cycle was: write, edit, produce, pre-sales and marketing, book release, big sales and marketing push, sales fade, repeat. The new publishing cycle is drawn out and never ends. Marketing starts the day the author gets her first Twitter follower. The sales and marketing cycle never ends.
In the old way of doing things, authors would go on book tour and get in front of readers for a set period of time and then likely wouldn’t be heard from much again until the next book. Today, authors — the marketing-savvy ones — are always communicating with their audience, building and cultivating it.
People like being a part of the writer’s life, of the writing and publishing process, according to Amanda Barbara, development director of PubSlush, a crowd-funding platform for books. Essentially, an author who maintains contact with her audience keeps them primed for new releases, new free content, new development, back-list sales pushes and more.
How should authors do it?
There’s the obvious:
— Other social media
The less obvious:
— Online video chats and meetups with technology like Shindig, Skype and more
— Serialized fiction
— Short pieces of content between larger works
4. Know your rights.
Copyright is complicated. You can’t copyright an idea but you can copyright the expression of that idea. You can copyright a book, but not a book title. When you create a work, it automatically gets a copyright attached to it and here’s what that allows you to do:
— Reproduce the work
— Prepare derivative works
— Distribute the work
— Perform the work
— Display the work
If you have those rights on a work, you can sell or license them. And there are exceptions, defenses those who allegedly infringe on copyright can use:
— “Fair use” of the work for published criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including copies for classroom use), scholarship and research.
— First sale doctrine, which says that a user who buys a copy of a work can dispose of that copy as they wish, including sell it. They just can’t copy it. (The digital world complicates this.)
Copyrights last the life of the author plus 70 years.
“You don’t have to give notice [that you have produced a work and own a copyright], but it’s a good idea,” said attorney and literary agent Dana Newman.
Giving notice makes it easier to prove “willful infringement,” which comes with steeper penalties for those who would infringe on your copyright.
This is a complicated area and I would advise self-publishing authors to do a lot of research into copyright and how they can use it to their advantage — or, perhaps, have their “radical mediator agent” do it.
5. Be open minded.
This wasn’t a tip that I heard at the show but it’s one I think is important. The publishing landscape is shifting and today it might be better for you to self-publish. Tomorrow it might be advantageous for you to take a publishing deal with an established publisher. And next week it might be better for you to do something in between.
What you should do may also depend on what kind of book you are publishing, what else you do for a living, what your goals are when publishing and so many more variables. So, keep an open mind when it comes to publishing decisions.
Beware of people who tell you that it’s absolutely wrong to use one self-publishing service or another; or someone who tells you you can’t do it without an established publisher; or that you shouldn’t do it with one.