If you are independently publishing a book - that is, doing it yourself rather than depending upon someone else to do it - the first practical barrier will not seem very practical initially, but the fact is that unless you overcome it, you won’t get very far.
It is your own struggle with the idea of marketing your own work. ‘Surely, this is what publishers are for?’ you might say. And the answer is that you are exactly correct: traditional publishers exist to deal with all of these commercial aspects, the advertising campaigns, customers, and everything that might seem very foreign to a writer, who has sat alone typing a manuscript and trying to avoid people for so long in order to get anything done. That’s mainly why writers outsourced the task of selling their work in the first place, because it was so alien to have to do it themselves.
But really, finding authentic ways to make direct and meaningful connections with an audience is just an extension of what you have been trying to do all along.
All of the commercial aspects of this are simply about sharing your fiction with others. That’s how markets started back in the dim reaches of history - they were the means by which people (mainly farmers) shared what they had produced with those who wanted to buy. Direct contact with the people who were going to buy your goods gave you a market, but also made you better at whatever it was you did because your work needed to be good enough to sell itself. If you have learned the secret language of fiction and incorporated all kinds of quality into your work (by utilising the key data in How Stories Really Work, for example) you will be amongst the most skilled fiction writers out there - only this time your marketplace is global. You have direct access to a world-wide market through the Internet.
But where do you begin?
You begin organically.
Even large publishers now require their authors to develop what they call an ‘author platform’ around their work and connect with people in different ways.
Developing an author platform means reaching out to real people and working out why they would care about what you have written. This can feed back into what you write, of course, when you find out what it is that they require - but we’re starting from the viewpoint that you have produced a book and you want to move forward into selling it.
An author platform also gives you a direct connection with a living, breathing audience and an inside look as to how your work is interpreted. As you broaden out into wider audiences, you will learn new things from the process of selling online and connecting with others via social networking. You’ll discover distribution possibilities that you didn’t existed.
Step 1: List out your closest connections.
Start with those who you know already care about your work, family and friends. Include a local book club or writer's group. Drop off a couple of copies at your local library or bookstore. Share your work with the people geographically close to you.
Step 2: Plan your diary.
Look at what’s coming up over the next couple of months. Take a copy of your book along where appropriate and sell it to people you meet at events, gatherings, parties. You don’t have to ‘sell’ it unless you feel comfortable doing so, but you can certainly talk about your book and show people a hard copy of it.
Step 3: Connect with your immediate online community.
You already have a network of social media connections, in all likelihood. Talk about your book. What do you say about it? Use what you learned about marketing above. Don’t say:
‘It’s all about Xarl’s adventures, and how his eyes are opened to wonder, to the joy of victory, to the idea that overcoming great evil is possible. In his final encounter, he is left with the lasting impression that some kind of spiritual life is real.’
Say something like:
‘Xarl is a character with a huge burden who falls prey to despair, and faces total defeat. He fails at overcoming the great evil in the world even after great sacrifice, and rapidly forms the impression that any kind of spiritual life is an illusion. But his story is just beginning.’
The vacuum thus created will draw attention in.
Step 4: Start a blog about your book.
Focus on various chapters as discussion points. Just chat through the blog to a tiny community of friends and a small number of others, i.e. people you’ve never met but who seem to be interested. Create mysteries, touch upon core issues, talk about all those things outlined in How Stories Really Work: engage the reader.
Step 5: Develop the blog into a full author website.
This is far easier to do today than it might sound. There are many ways of creating a website for free - using Wix.com, for example - and you can then expand the subject, making excerpts or free chapters available, make a video, publicise your appearances if that’s appropriate to your situation.
You can also make it possible for people to buy the book directly from your site. Amazon have made this very easy for you. All you have to have on your own website is a link to your page on the Amazon site. Once readers click that link, they are taken through to the Amazon machine which will run everything else: selling the book, printing the book, distributing the book and making sure that the money arrives with you.
Step 6. Stay in touch with people you don’t know.
Put a sign-up form on your website. As your circle expands beyond the people you know, you’ll start to accumulate identities of people you don’t know. Keep that database of identities! It is worth gold to you, and represents your first faltering steps into a bigger world.
Step 7: Set up auto-responders to keep in touch with people you don’t know.
Apart from engaging with people live through your website, through social media, through a blog, answering comments, sending out news and so forth, you can have a company like AWeber or Mailchimp send things out to your small database automatically. Of course this takes extra work writing whatever it is you’ll send out, but it will be worth it over the medium and long term.
Step 8: List the book on Amazon and/or other global marketplaces and use their facilities.
If you haven’t already done this, putting a book on Amazon is an opportunity to connect with the world at large and make an impression. Use the facilities provided by these sites to introduce yourself to strangers who will want to know who you are and what your work is about. The blurb on the back of your book will go digital when your book is listed online, and will start to show up on Google search results. Also, the ‘Look Inside’ feature which Amazon provides, allowing browsers to read a free excerpt to help them decide if the book is something they really want, is important for you in particular, if you are trained by How Stories Really Work to concentrate on the right things: if you can get readers to engage with your actual writing, even a small excerpt of it, then the things you have learned from that book will have a chance draw them in deeper.
Hopefully, some of the people who read your book will go on to write reviews for you on Amazon too, which act like intermediaries between your work and other readers, adding to your attractive power.
Step 9: Use the Six Degrees of Separation.
You’re probably familiar with the idea that we are all connected together and that we are only six connections from knowing anyone else on the planet. In other words, I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else who knows another person who knows yet another person who knows you - six people form a connecting chain between me and you. Make a list of people you know and see if you can find out who they know, and so on. Politely ask for contact details and permission to follow them up, and you will soon see that the world is your oyster.
You could go so far as to send a copy of your book to someone on this chain - not too far down the chain, say someone who knows someone you know. They might like it and spread it further.
Step 10: Create a press kit.
Outline the book and provide some contact information. Include only the best or most influential or glowing reviews. Make sure your strongest selling points are on the first page.
Step 11: Send press releases to local newspapers and bookshops.
Find out who the individual people are who accept submissions to newspapers and who make decisions in bookshops by making some phone calls or doing some research to find out the specific person who reviews books in each place. If you are a local author, the bookshop will be more likely to accept your book as a community service than if you're not. Make an appointment to go in and show them the book. When contacting the shop, telling them that your book is available through online-only booksellers or your personal website is not a good idea - they want customers to physically arrive at their shop.
Leave a copy of the book with the manager or buyer and let them know that you would be available for author signings and readings when the time comes. Ask the contact person if they would like a complimentary copy of the book, but don't expect or ask them to read it themselves.
Every month or so, check that have taken the book and ask if they need more copies. Don't be upset, though, if, when the contract time is up, they ask you to take back any unsold copies. If the book didn't sell, it will be largely because you didn't promote it enough.
If you're in a busy bookshop, get in and out as quickly as you can. Like any other reader, they will take a quick look at the book and make their own decisions. If you are ‘vacuum-tuned’ enough, the book itself will attract and glue their attention.
Step 12: Advertise in local publications.
Approach your local bookstore and let them know that you're marketing the book locally so that you can put an ‘available at …' line in ads if they will accept the book for sale.
Step 13: Contact local TV and radio stations for interviews.
You might shy away from this. But radio is easier than it might seem - no one is looking at you! Ask friends to recommend you to media people they know (the Six Degrees of Separation at work again - you will find people who know media people).
Step 14: Create fliers containing information about your book.
Include the ISBN and a brief summary. Post fliers on public bulletin boards to create local interest.