Quality over Quantity
As with all self-published authors—and a good few traditionally published writers—my challenge can be summed up in one word—marketing. Or, how best to promote both author and product? The core question for me is “what is the best use of my time?” Like many independent authors, at this time my books do not generate sufficient sales revenues to justify me being a full-time author. Hence, time is a precious, limited commodity.
With three books published and one about to be released, my primary marketing focus remains product quality. My group of beta-readers and book reviews form the primary benchmarks of the quality of the story and writing. Along with many self-published authors, I face the challenge of encouraging readers to give a brief review and star rating. Most of the reviews I get are excellent. There is just not enough of them. I have given books away based on the promise of a review, yet it is rare that the recipient fulfills his/her side of the bargain. I found the “old” Goodreads Giveaway program to be reasonably effective but it is hard to justify the fees now required to participate.
It should go without saying that published books should be well-edited and have as few typos as possible. It annoys me to see a badly edited book, especially from an indie author. The challenge to be accepted as an author is already a factor, without giving traditional publishers, reviewers, and authors, ammunition to criticize or stereotype us. I see no excuse for not achieving what I term technical excellence.
My first three books were edited by someone who had an excellent command of English, although not a professional editor. I write strategies and reports as my “day job” so my level of knowledge of style and grammar was already high. My beta-readers added a further layer of editorial review. For my fourth book, I engaged a specialist in historical fiction editing—Andrew Noakes. It was well worth the money. I only wish I had engaged Andrew earlier for my previous novels. Totally objective edits and genre insights are invaluable.
As a rule, I believe in engaging experts for specific tasks. This is costly but improves the end-product. High-quality cover art and interior formatting are critical for the success of any novel. I have seen too many books where poor artwork has made me choose an alternate. Readers need to be drawn to the book and the first impression is usually the cover. Ida Jansson of Amygdala Design is responsible for the amazing cover art for the novels and has also taken over the interior formatting. Poor interior formatting, eBook and print, can be a real turn-off. My map illustrations are drawn by well-known fellow Belfast-born international artist Michael McEvoy. Michael is “old school” and draws his illustrations by hand, which goes to add to the ancient ambiance of the novel.
Build an Audience
To date, I have tinkered with Facebook and built up my Twitter account to 10,000+ “followers.” I also commissioned a great video trailer. So far, all have had a negligible impact on sales.
More positively, I participated in my first author event in 2018—The East Texas Book Bash, Tyler, TX and I just recently participated in the North Texas Book Festival (NTBF), Denton, TX. I judged both to be highly successful from several perspectives—new sales (during and post event), raising awareness, and getting to know my market much better. I also find that the readers who attend these events are well-informed and more likely to provide a review. This channel goes to the top of my marketing priorities for 2019 and 2020. The challenge is cost. Within state, it is a long but manageable drive and overnight accommodation; out-of-state, then it becomes flights and the cost of sending books and marketing materials in advance.
Finally, I find it amusing that due to my age, I’m considered someone who can offer sage advice to younger authors. Yet, I have only been writing for about five years. At the recent NTBF, one promising young author asked me about marketing and promotion. After going through a litany of possible options and channels, I came to realize that she had one great advantage over me—her age. My advice was—do not give up, keep writing, and keep improving the product quality. Time is on her side. I need luck to be on mine.