A Tough Sell: Going it Alone

Going indie may look easy on the surface. Today, a writer can write a book, format it, photoshop a cover, and throw an ebook on Kindle.

And that’s as much of a curse as a blessing.

Unprepared amateurs who operate in this manner will be sitting around waiting for sales of their masterpiece to roll in, only to find that nobody’s biting. And why? Probably because he or she didn’t bother getting the book beta read, didn’t pay for an editor, and has rotten cover art.

Feedback, polish, and a first impression are are all essential ingredients that make up a good book. Skimp on even one and things are liable to end badly. This is why preparing a budget after finishing your last round of self-edits is so important. You need ALL of these elements working in your favor to even stand a chance of getting your foot in the door with readers. And that’s not the worst of it either. Because even if you busted your ass to produce a first-rate book, that’s not going to be enough to sell it on a large scale barring a massive stroke of luck.

Why, you ask? Well, that’s simple. Because as an indie writer, chances are nobody knows who the hell you are.

Readers (myself included) tend to gravitate toward authors or publishers with which they’re already familiar. It’s hardly something you can blame them for. Money in our current economy is tight and they feel safer spending it on a writer or publisher who consistently puts out work they like.

The writer has two courses of actions to help get around this problem, both of which are viable. The first is to double-check the price he or she is charging for the book. Does it reflect the price of other works of similar length? If not, adjust it to something more reasonable, but don’t undersell yourself either. There are a slew of novels available for under a dollar or even free. While that’s perfectly acceptable for a promotional sale to gain new readers or up stats, it’s not a price practice you want to emulate for your book’s regular market price.

The second course of action goes hand in hand with the problem and is far more difficult to overcome. Since no one knows who you are, you have to find ways to tell them about yourself and your work. Given the introverted nature of most writers (and again, I’m no exception), this is arguably the roughest part of the job. The first thing you can do before you even publish is try to find a respected author who might be willing to provide an endorsement for your book. This should of course be done as politely as possible, providing a mini-synopsis or back cover description in the request. Do NOT send the manuscript with your message, and do NOT send your request to someone who doesn’t work in the same genre as your book.

The next thing to arrange is reviews. Those ratings readers leave on your Amazon page do matter. In fact, any people you’ve interested are probably more likely to use them as a deciding factor in buying your work than anything else. Fortunately, writers can generate reviews without relying solely on their readers. There is a large selection of review blogs and sites that are interested in checking out new books. While it’s generally harder to find reviewers that will accept submissions from indie writers (and horror writers in particular), they are out there. If you find someone who might be receptive, be sure to check the submission policy on the site. Should one not be there, contact the reviewer in much the same way you did your blurb authors. Always be polite and provide accurate information (let them know the book is an indie work, novel or novella, etc.). Remember, you are making a request. Most reviewers leave copies or summations of their reviews on Amazon (again, check the policy), boosting the odds of your next sale if they liked your work.

And finally, promotion. This is where things really get sticky because a lot of it comes down to money. There are numerous sites that offer services ranging from blog tours to syndicated listings of your book and ads. Many of them cost a considerable sum, so be sure to research any one of these services both regarding price and reputation before making a commitment. However, there are also some more cost-effective routes to take. Organizing giveaways or sales through Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter are all useful ways to connect to readers if you can get the word out (making use of groups if you don’t have many contacts is a good idea here). If there is a print version of your book, you may be able to organize a signing with a local bookstore, or if not, at least ask if you can hang up an ad or flyer on a community board should you come across one.

And regarding those social media sites, make use of them, but not as a salesman (at least not most of the time). Just be yourself and connect with people who have similar interests, offer advice if you’ve found something that works for you, and engage people. It’s also a good idea to make a blog/site for yourself and your book too so any interested readers have a place to get more details.

Finally, I’ll say it here: reader beware. I am not an expert in selling work by any means. I’m new to the indie scene myself, and while I do know enough people who get by to have learned some of the things that helped them, I think they’d be the first to admit that chance factored a great deal into their initial success. And as always, keep your eyes open and take notes on what attracts you as a reader and what puts you off. You might just find a trick I missed.