"Self-Publish Like a Pro" is a monthly column that provides indie authors with self-publishing tactics and tips from a digital marketing professional and self-publisher.
Nothing diminishes an author’s self-publishing dream quite like watching sales stagnate after a title’s release. An author aggressively promotes the book on social media platforms. Her friends, co-workers, and family members buy copies and write reviews to show support. But within days or weeks of the book launch, the author is hit with the sobering realization that sales have dropped off because no one outside of her immediate social circle is looking for it.
Building a fan base is quite a different process from marketing a book. It’s a longer-term initiative, but for an indie author, having a large group of loyal readers and a platform for regular communication with them can generate consistent book sales as well as demonstrate marketable value to an agent or publisher. Numerous authors have earned six-figure deals by amassing enormous followings through writing fan-fiction and blogging. (Amanda Hocking and Cassandra Clare come to mind.)
It may seem like a daunting task for an author to seek out and aggregate fans before even having published a book. In fact, any author who’s already producing a blog probably has firsthand experience with the difficulties of generating traffic. However, there are several places where an indie author can connect with fans and try to shift them to other social media platforms to “continue a dialogue,” as marketers like to say.
First, an indie author should make her peace with the idea of giving writing away for free. This is a tough concept, and I would never advocate that an author give away all of her writing. As with everything related to self-publishing, an indie author has to think about what makes the most sense to share, and how it will benefit her goals. Blogging is essentially writing for free, and author John Green has over two million active "nerdfighters" -- ardent followers of the video blog, Nerdfighters, he produces with his brother -- largely because he makes the time to regularly produce content for his fans.
I've been fortunate enough to work with the team at Wattpad for the last three years, and they’ve been generous to feature two of my completed works on their site and app. Initially, I feared that posting chapters of novels as I drafted them would hurt the number of my books’ downloads when I finally published them. Both of my author profiles on the site (Caitlyn Duffy for YA romance and Zoe Aarsen for YA horror) have over 18,000 fans, and, as an author, it’s a pure thrill for me to see how many readers rush to the site when I post a new chapter.
And, whenever I inform my Wattpad fans that one of my titles is available for free or at a reduced price, the book rockets up the Amazon list. Wattpad hasn’t been a huge revenue driver for me on a consistent basis because many of my fans are too young to have their own credit cards, and some live in countries where Amazon and iTunes aren’t accessible. But establishing a loyal fan base on Wattpad has had unexpectedly wonderful benefits. One of my young readers in the U.K. drew character art for my horror book, and many others have sent me impressive cover designs, which have been fun to share on social media. My Wattpad fans are also the world’s best (and least expensive) fact-checkers.
In addition to Wattpad, sites including Figment, Miss Literati, and Booksie offer similar opportunities for an indie author to share work with readers. In these environments frequented by teen readers, I have found that the response an author receives is equal to the effort she puts in. An indie author may not feel like a real author yet, but readers on these sites often don’t differentiate between traditionally published writing and self-published writing. Authors who conduct themselves as professionals are viewed as such.
After selecting a platform on which to share work and communicate with fans, the next step is to spread those fans around. An author should shamelessly ask readers to visit her blog, “like” her Facebook author page, and follow her on Twitter. Any aspiring or published author should join Goodreads and encourage readers to connect with her there. Many an author is shy about her work, but loyal readers who have already demonstrated an affinity for a writer's efforts will leap at the chance to interact with her on social channels. When readers discuss a writer’s work on social channels and leave positive book reviews, they become active marketers, which is exactly what an indie author needs most.