The 5 Stages of Indie Author Marketing

Brian-Head-Shot-for-ExtremelyAvgThe second best feeling in the world for a writer is to read back a phrase or sentence that is so finely crafted they can scarcely believe they wrote it. The best feeling is to have someone else quote the passage back to them.

This is why we write…well that and the hope of making a decent living from selling our books. (Note: My definition of decent is 100 million per year…I’m not there yet. Your definition may vary…I digress)

“The hardest part about having a successful book is getting it written,” said someone who’s never written a novel and tried to sell it.

Writing a novel is easy. The thing is, one really needs to write four or five…or ten. Hugh Howey who became an overnight success after many years of hard work and eight less successful books hit gold with Wool. If you haven’t read it, go check out his reviews (6926 reviews with a 4.7 average). That’s off the charts!

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Click this lovely image to see my reviews

My best novel, Henry Wood Detective Agency has 120 reviews and a 4.5 average, and over half of those reviews have come in the last month. The book was launched in July 2011.

November was my best month with 1403 sales, beating my previous best of 510. I’m not a New York Times best seller, yet, but I’ve certainly progressed a bunch over the past seven months. It has taught me a few things about the marketing lifecycle of the indie author.

The hardest part is the marketing.

Stage One

The first stage is to get multiple books published while one builds their social media platform.

I had actually finished books two and three in the Henry Wood Detective series by the time I’d published book one. I wrote one non-fiction about the 1986 University of Iowa Men’s basketball team next and spent most of 2012 focused on marketing it through signings and such. We sold about 1300 copies (mostly print). Signings are fun at first, but they are expensive and time consuming. It’s better to push the ebook version.

My social media platform begun on Twitter about the time I penned the first chapter of my first novel, Jan 30, 2010. I didn’t know if I would ever publish it, but in 2010 my father had bought a Kindle and it looked like it might change how the world publishes. I decided it was best to be prepared.

Initially the focus was on building relationships on Twitter and writing daily blog posts. When those two things were a part of my daily routine, I started taking Facebook seriously. When G+ came out I jumped on board in week one, but it wasn’t until March of 2013 that I became active.

The best thing I did over that time was to write guest blog posts on a few heavily visited sites. The PR site Spin gained me a lot of exposure and helped me get to know some rather influential people.

My point is, it doesn’tUnderwood Scotch and Wry cover happen quickly. I’ve been working on my platform for almost four years and I have a long ways to go.

As for publishing, in April 2013, I started releasing more books and am now up to five novels for sale. My satire, Underwood, Scotch, and Wry,  about a college professor who has social media thrust upon him, will be out in the next couple of weeks. It takes multiple books to gain momentum, because one often snares readers through the free book give-a-way and it only works if there are more books they can buy when they love the free one.


Stage Two

Stage two takes place almost entirely on Amazon. Until one has a substantial fan base, one must (in my opinion) enroll in KDP Select and take advantage of the free days they allow. Kobo is a great system and Nook is fair, but one must focus their efforts in the early stages and the best way to do that is to sell on Amazon.

The goal in second stage is to get books to 10 – 20 reviews. This alone sets them beyond the masses of indie books. It’s also a requirement to advertise with most of the sites that have demonstrated an ability to sell books. During this phase I feel like the best method is to market through the 99 cent promotions via E Reader News Today, Bookblast, and FK Books and Tips. There are others, of course, but these have all worked well for me.

For my books, I’ve used an excel spreadsheet to track my daily sales, promotions, revenue, and number of reviews on each book. This has been great in letting me see the progress. It has also provided helpful data when I’ve been asked to write guest posts on the subject. One should never pass up a chance to get the word out! I should have probably started the data gathering in stage one, but I didn’t.

My best month of sales during stage two was 510.

Stage Three

The third stage is when one is able to land their first Bookbub ad and get sustained sales.

They’re the “King” makers of the book business. Each day they send out an email blast to their 1 million plus subscribers with a limited number of books that are free or on sale for 99 cents – $2.99. They’re expensive and they reject 90% of the submissions. It is rumored that they require 40 reviews from indie authors. (I’ve seen books with less, but they were all traditionally published)

Yes, they don’t just take anyone’s money. I was rejected six times before they accepted my $200.00 to run an advertisement for my November 5th – 6th free days. You’re not reading that wrong…I paid money to give away my book. When the promotion was done, I had given away 34,000 copies.

It was well worth it. My previous best month in revenue was $700.00. In November 2013 my revenue was just over $1900.00. Considering the widely publicized number that the average indie author makes only $550.00 per year, that wasn’t a bad month.

Stage Four

The fourth stage is getting one’s book onto the USA and or NY Times list. This takes 3,000 – 5,000 sales in a single week (Sunday – Saturday). My best week is 729. I’ve a long way to go.

FMSS-125x125I believe that to get those sorts of numbers I’ll need to master Facebook marketing. I’m taking a course through Mari Smith. I’m learning that the world of Facebook marketing is vastly more complex than most people realize and the tools allow for target marketing beyond my wildest dreams.

Though Bookbub is great, they only allow one ad per month per author. Additionally, a single title may only run once every six months. The other sites have similar restrictions and there aren’t enough places to spend ad dollars in this way.

So, I’m learning to target market through Facebook and build up my author page. If you’d like to help an indie author out, how about heading over and giving it a “like”.

Yes, that was a shameless plug, but it illustrates one of the most important things an author has to come to terms with…we must always be selling.

Many authors hate this aspect. I know I did, but it gets easier with time. There comes a day when one realizes they’ve written a pretty good book and are proud to shout it to the heavens.

Also during stage four one should start to give some attention to their print sales. It may be a good time to start the process of having one’s books converted into audio format. Conversion to foreign languages may be another thing to consider. What about writing screen plays of the novels?

There are lots of areas where one can generate revenue and each one takes time, effort and money. In stage four there will be the money, so it is something to consider. I’m a firm believer in reinvesting in my book business.

Stage Five

The fifth stage is the Post-Best Seller list, where one no longer uses KDP and makes their books available on Nook and Kobo. The sales of Kindle ebooks would be self-sustaining at this point and one may turn their attention to Kobo and their completely different “Store Window” approach to marketing.

Admittedly, I’m a ways from stage five, so I’ve not given too much thought to it. Perhaps I’ll revisit my five stages after I finish stage four, or maybe I’ll be too busy writing novels from a beach in the Bahamas…either way, if you get to stage five, you’ll probably have your own ideas about how to proceed.

I wish you luck my friend. Keep writing…well…after you go to my Facebook author page and hit “like”.


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