Posted in books, creative writing, marketing, publishing, self publishing, social media, writing, writing advice

Indie Author Basics: Author Platform

What is an author platform, and what is it used for?

Learn more about what an author platform is, why you need one, and how to make use of it.
Use your platform to build and engage your community and to boost your reach and visibility.

An author’s platform is their ability to market their work using their overall visibility to reach reader. This includes:

  • Reach of social media accounts
  • Connections with other authors, publishers, agents, literary people
  • Relationship with media
  • Measured by their ability to use their influence and reach to sell books and boost their career

What do you need to start building an author platform?

Setting up a website is an important step in building an author platform. It provides basic information about you and your books, and is an easy way for readers and industry professionals to make contact with you.

Email list are key in developing a platform that can be used to sell books. An email list is a direct route for sharing news, sales, and updates with readers who are already interested in what you’re doing. You’ll have much better return on your time an investment than cold advertising.

Social media is necessary in today’s publishing and marketing world. Social media allows you to share updates and expand your visibility easily. Regular posts and accounts are free to setup and use. Social media also helps you start cultivating a community and building trust with your readers. It also help readers to forms bonds with other readers as well as with you.

How do you make use of your author platform?

Make the best use of your website by listing all of your books (in order if you have series!), contact info, official bio, other platforms readers can find you on, and your blog if you decide to have one.

Start building your email list as early as possible. Don’t wait until you have a book published. Send regular updates about you, your writing, and what sales or releases you have coming up in the next month.

When getting started with social media, start with one account and expand in accordance with the amount of time you have to put toward social media. Don’t go overboard and overwhelm yourself! Share regularly, and keep in mind that pictures and videos often get most engagement.

Share updates, personal info you’re comfortable sharing, news releases, sales, funny posts, informational posts, whatever else you think your readers will find interesting. Limit advertising posts to 25% of total posts. Use social media to build a community more than to push sales. Engage the community with questions, polls, giveaways, and ask for input when you need it or when you think your readers will enjoy participating in the process.

Posted in book reviews, books, creative writing, marketing, publishing, self publishing, writing

Indie Author Basics: Contacting Book Stores and the Media

Reaching out to media and bookstores can be intimidating for many authors. Initiating those contacts can be an important part of your marketing plan.

Newspapers

The first thing many authors might think of when considering contacting a newspaper is getting their book reviewed. Fewer and fewer newspapers provide book reviews anymore, but there are other opportunities available.

There are always paid ads with newspapers, but many papers also offer free briefs/PSA spots for announcements and events. Each paper will have their own guidelines, but in general: submit at least 2 weeks in advance of an event, write the in third person and don’t use passive language (Say “will host” instead of “will be hosting”), write in an informational rather than sales-y style, and provide all the relevant info (date, time, location, contact info).

You can also submit events like books signings or readings to newspapers’ community calendars, A&E section, calendars or event listings, or suggest a story idea to the Arts and Entertainment editor or reporter (especially if it’s a local paper and your book has local ties.)

If you do want to submit your book for a review, keep in mind that most papers will only accept paperback copies, not ebooks. You will also want to have a media kit ready with JPEG files of the cover and an author photo, as well as a description of the book, availability, ISBN, etc.

Radio

Radio interviews can be challenging to arrange. Most private radio stations will charge you a fee to be interviewed. It’s basically like buying airtime. Public radio stations will usually do interviews for free, but there may be fewer opportunities. Check out what types of interviews local radio stations typically do, and where you might fit best.

Podcasts

One of these days I’m going to get back to my Author Life podcast, so feel free to hit me up if you want to be interviewed!

If you’re not familiar with podcasts, they’re basically downloadable radio programs. They’re great because listeners can access them any time they want, and easily listen to older episodes.

Another great thing is that there are tons of writing-related podcasts out there, many of which accept guest hosts or interview authors. Check out The Author Hangout, Kobo Writing Life Podcast, The Self Publishing Show, and many others!

How do you get onto a podcast? Take the initiative and reach out to the host via their contact information published along with the show (Apple Podcasts) or on the podcast’s website. Follow the guidelines and pitch a topic, interesting writing-related story, or area of expertise.

It also a good idea to keep an eye out for posts on author groups. Many podcast hosts will post calls for participants in these groups.

Blogs

Ignore people who say blogging is dead or irrelevant. Lots of writers are still blogging and lots of industry professionals are too. It’s a great way to share content and spread the word about events and announcements, especially for people who don’t want to read long posts on social media.

Blog opportunities for writers include interviews, guest posts, promotional posts, and character interviews. Promotional posts or guest posts are sometimes paid opportunities, depending on the blog.

To get featured on a blog, pitch yourself! Check out the blog’s pitch guidelines, then make a case for why you have an interesting story, a book worth featuring, or a great topic to blog about. If it’s a smaller blog that doesn’t have guidelines posted, use their contact form instead.

Bookstores/Businesses

Bookstores love writers, but setting up a book signing or author event can be a little tricky, depending on the store.

Independent stores are more likely to work with independent authors. Traditionally published authors will often have an easier time getting in with big, chain stores than indie authors will.

The main reason for that is because big stores usually won’t take books on consignment, and if an indie author’s books don’t have a buy back option (most POD printers don’t allow this) then the store won’t order the book. Independent stores are more flexible.

When contacting a book store or business to set up an event, do so one to two months in advance. They may have other events planned or need to make sure they have staff on hand. Bookstores usually have a specific person in charge of setting up events. If that person isn’t listed online, call the store and ask who to speak to.

Be ready with specific details about you and your book, and have multiple dates to suggest. Ask if they charge a fee, if they will order the books or take them on consignment from you, what the profit split is (60/40 is common), and what equipment they will provide.

If you want to give an author talk or do a reading, ask specific questions about audio/visual equipment, location in the store/seating, and time frame.

Approaching a business requires most of the same rules, but you may also want to address why you want to have it there and what their fee is for renting the space. Coffee shops, libraries, conference rooms, restaurants, and business specific to the topic or theme of a book can be great alternatives to a bookstore.

Networking with Authors
Posted in creative writing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Collaborating with other Authors

Collaborating with other authors helps to increase your marketing opportunities and exposure to new a wider reader audience.

There are several popular options for authors collaborations.

Box Sets

Example of a multi-author box set I participated in a few years ago

Collaborative box sets are often themed, with each author contributing a novella or full novel that fits the theme. The books are then published together as one product.

Holiday themes are popular around holidays, but trope themes (bad boy, billionaire, sweet romance, paranormal, etc.) are also popular year-round.

Box sets can be list-making runs (selling a high number of books at a low price in an effort to make the USA Today Bestseller list), reader magnets that are usually low cost or free, or profit-centered sets focused on collaborative marketing with the box set at full price.

Joining a box set may be free or require a buy-in. Free-to-join sets usually require authors to invest their own time and money into marketing. Box sets with a buy-in usually have one person assigned to handle the finances and schedule promos, with individual authors promoting through their social media and newsletters.

“Worlds”

Collaborative “worlds” feature multiple books in same world, each one written by a different author. The world rules are set by the organizer or agreed upon by the authors involved. Instead of publishing the books together as a set, each book is published separately by the individual authors with the “world” or series name tying them all together.

The same general rules for free-to-join and buy-ins apply to “worlds” sets.

Group promos

Themed group promo for free books with a gift card giveaway

Teaming up with other authors to promote multiple books at once is a great way to expand your reach and attract new readers.

Many group promos are themed or holiday related. Authors often volunteer for certain tasks such as submitting to promotion sights, contacting bloggers, creating graphics, etc. Each authors then also promotes on their websites, social media, newsletters, and anywhere else they can reach authors.

Promoting the books in a group introduces readers to new authors, and because the recommendation is coming from an author they trust, they are more likely to branch out and try a new book. This works best when their are several authors with big followings involved in the group.

My Book Cave is a great place to get involved with newsletter-building group promos using their reader magnet system. Make sure to sign up for their author newsletter to get updates on what magnet groups and accepting members.

Newsletter swaps

Participating in newsletter swaps help you share fans and find new readers. These are most beneficial when authors have a large amount of subscribers, but any extra eyes on your books is always helpful.

Newsletter swaps tend to work best when the books involved are similar genres and styles. Good times to participate in swaps include sales, new releases, holidays, etc.

The writing community is generally very supportive and helpful. Don’t take everything on yourself if you don’t have to!

Posted in creative writing, marketing, publishing, self publishing, social media, writing

Indie Author Basics: Book Marketing

Marketing is one of the biggest chores for indie authors. There are so many avenues it can be overwhelming. Breaking it down to the basics can help you get started developing a plan and getting your book in front of readers!

Websites

Websites as part of a marketing strategy

Websites are important, even though readers often tell me the biggest reason to go to an author’s website is to find the order of books in a series.

Readers aren’t always your main target with a website, though. So who is? Media, agents, publishers, and other industry professionals. They go to websites to find a bunch of information all in one place.

Many website services are free or low-cost for a basic setup. Popular sites include WordPress, Wix, and Square Space. Yearly hosting fees for paid websites are usually in the $60-$500 range, depending on how intricate the website is and what special features you want.

Domain name registration is $10-$20 per year and well worth the cost! A .com site looks WAY more professional than a .wix.com or .wordpress.com site.

Custom designed sites are the most expensive options, for the design work and for hosting costs.

Blogs

Blogs can be a great way to drive traffic to your website on a regular basis, but only if you’re willing to put in the time to blog consistently. If you don’t have time for that, don’t start a blog.

Social Media

Social media book marketing

Social media account are vital in today’s marketing world. Not only are they great places to grow your fan base and develop relationships with your readers, an account is required on most platforms to be able to run ads.

This doesn’t mean you have to run out and join every social media site known to man. ONLY sign up for the ones you’re actually going to use consistently. The most popular and effective right now are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Amazon ads.

Most social media platforms are free to set up and running ads can be done even on a very small budget.

Book-Related Profiles

Sign up for author profiles and popular book related sites. Unlike social media, you don’t have to actively do anything on these sites. Having a profile allows you to add your books, run ads, and gain followers, though.

Popular book-related sites right now include BookBub, Goodreads (don’t read reviews!), and My Book Cave. Most of these types of sites are free to sign up, but may be a bit pricier to run ads or features on and you have to be approved for features.

Newsletter Features

There are a million book-related newsletters out there that accept free and paid feature spots. The biggest the list, the higher the price. However, many smaller ads (free or $5) can be very effective. Most writers have a hard time getting features on bigger lists without a lot of reviews.

Making a Plan

Marketing Basics for Indie Authors

There’s a lot of trial and error involved with book marketing. Everyone’s book is different and will speak to readers in different ways.

Start small. Test out multiple avenues and keep track of what does and doesn’t work. As you evaluate the effectiveness of different tactics, you’ll be able to start making a solid plan.

Posted in book covers, books, cover design, creative writing, ebooks, editing, publishing, self publishing, writing

Indie Author Basics: Production Costs

What does it cost to be an indie author? It’s question many new writers want to know. When you take on the production cost of a book, you need to know where those costs will fit into your budget.

***Quick note to say I will be moving my weekly posts to Tuesdays***

Editing

The cost of editing depends on what type of editing you need for your project.

Developmental editing is the most involved and the most expensive. A developmental editor will help you work out problems with the story/characters and help improve the flow and style . It will cost you about $0.08/word or $20/page.

Copyediting is less involved and doesn’t dig into story or character problems. It mainly deals with improving sentence structure and readability, as well as generally tightening up the writing. It will cost you about $0.02/word or $5/page.

Proofreading in the least involved and least expensive, but requires the writer (or a previous round of editing) to have cleaned up the manuscript as much as possible. Proofreading aims to catch typos and punctuation errors, not fix major issues. It will cost you about $0.01/word, $3/page.

Cover Design

The cost depends on whether you want an ebook cover only, a full wrap cover for a paperback, or both, as well as whether you want a customer cover (with stock or exclusive photos) or a premade cover.

Premade covers are the least expensive option, but offer the least ability to customize. Most quality premades are in the $30-$50 range. Most premades are only ebook covers, but many designers offer an add on option to turn it into a full wrap if you need it.

Stock photos in a custom cover will be less expensive than using exclusive photos. Custom covers are usually in the $50-$150 range for ebook covers and you can plan to add another $30-$50 to add a full wrap to the package. The range has to do with how many photos are need for the cover. More photos means more cost.

Exclusive images guarantee no one else will have your same cover, but you’ll pay for that privilege. Plan on $500 and up for a custom photo shoot.

Formatting

Formatting for ebooks and paperbacks can be learned by those with knowledge of Word or the willingness to learn software like Jutoh, Kindle Create, or Calibre. InDesign is a professional level software that has a steep learning curve, but is doable if you’re on a tight budget and willing to put the time in.

If you want to hire out formatting, the cost will depend on the type and difficulty. Images will up the difficulty in any project, as will graphics like charts, table, multiple frames, etc.

For fiction ebook formatting, plan on $150-$250. For print formatting, plan on $200-$300. Most formatters will offer package pricing to do both at once.

Setup and Extra Help

Most authors with basic computer skills will be able to create their accounts and upload their documents without help. Those who run into problems or have limited computer skills or access, having someone tackle this part of the publishing process is available. An average cost is around $20/hour.

Production on a Tight Budget

If you are working with a small budget and want to do as much yourself as possible, be honest with yourself about your skill level in each category.

Learning to format in Word is a great way to cut costs. Designing your own book cover when you have no design experience is not. Start with a premade cover and upgrade when your budget isn’t as tight.

Editing your own book is extremely difficult. If you can’t afford a professional editor yet, trade with another author or see if a local teacher could help out for a lower fee.

The goal is putting out a professional product. Save money where you can, but not at the cost of putting out a subpar book.

Posted in book covers, books, creative writing, editing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Responsibilities of an Indie Author

Without a traditional publisher, what do indie authors need to handle on their own?

The list may be long, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Breaking everything down can help you decide which tasks to learn to do yourself and which to hire out.

I’ll break these down in the coming weeks, but here’s a broad list of what indie authors devote their time to when not writing:

Production costs

These costs include editing (developmental, copy editing, proofreading), cover design, formatting, setup, distribution fees. Next week, I’ll break down costs for each of these as well as options for reducing the overall cost of book production.

Marketing

Marketing includes building a plan and carrying it out, learning about paid advertising and booking ads, setting up and managing social media accounts, participating in online and in-person events, writing and sending out press releases, and much more.

Networking

When it comes to networking, it’s important to engage with the author community, join groups and lists, make friends for support, find beta readers or critique partners, and learn from others in the industry.

Collaborate

Collaborations that are popular right now include box sets, worlds, promo groups, etc. These collaborations help authors expand their audience and reach, as well as learn more about marketing and promotion.

Reaching Out

Reaching out to media, stores, businesses, etc. is part of marketing, but for many people it’s a different skill than interacting on social media or booking ads. Different types of stores have different requirements for booking an author signing, and bookstores aren’t the only option for signings. Learning how to approach a business, radio station, newspaper, etc. the right way can make a difference in being accepted.

Events

Without an agent or publisher, indie authors are often responsible for organizing their own signings, publicity events, participation in books fairs, speaking engagements, conferences, etc. Learning about what types of events are worth while, how to get involved, or what type of classes to submit to a conference can help you make solid plan.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be discussing each of these topics in more detail. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a topic!

Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Indie Author Basics: What is an indie author and is it right for you?

What is an indie author?

An indie author is a writer who self-publishes to sell their work, who approaches publishing as a business, who retains all or most rights to their work, and who retains creative control over their work.

Authors today have many more publishing options than they have in the past. The three most common are traditional, indie, and hybrid. What are the differences between being a traditional, hybrid, and independent author?

Traditional: Contract with a publisher to have a book published. Sign over some or all rights to the work for a specific period of time. Most production decisions are made by the publisher. Publishers bear the cost of production and some marketing. Royalties are shared between the publisher, agent (if there is one), and the author.

Indie: Self-publishes all their books. Retains all rights to their work. Earns higher royalties. Author bears productions costs and marketing costs. Retains full creative control. Approaches writing as a business/career.

Hybrid: Publishes through a publisher and self-publishing. At least one book is self-published. Has a non-exclusive contract with a publisher, or self-publishes books that have been passed on/release by the publisher using a right of first refusal clause. Indie titles may be backlist books released from contracts.

When considering which option is right for you, consider some of the following questions:

What aspects of publishing can you learn to do yourself?

What aspects will you need help with?

How much of your royalties are you willing to give up in exchange for help?

How much time to do you have to commit to publishing?

How much creative/production control do you want?

What rights are you willing to give up and for how long?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to publishing and deciding on a publishing route should be well thought out.

Next week, we’ll talk about some of the responsibilities indie author take on to build their career.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Why worldbuilding is important in all genres

Fictional settings, whether modern in the real world, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

The world your character lives in should have an impact on the story

Setting should transport the reader to that location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding, and keep a setting from feeling generic. Highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

When worldbuilding, consider which of these will be relevant to the story:

Layout and geography, what lies beyond the immediate setting, politics, laws, and governing systems, culture and traditions, weather, local plants and animals, jobs, economy, imports/exports, history, enemies, and allies, folklore and urban legends, details only locals would know, and the hero’s feelings and opinions about the place.

All of these will affect the character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle.

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. However, the level of detail depends on the genre.

Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out. Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

What characters eat can indicate location (coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches in the south), income (another Ramen noodle dinner!), personality quirks (all food must be yellow), and more. Irrelevant details confuse readers and cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Once you have the foundation and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Real world example:

Choose the city relevant to the story line -> choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character -> choose a neighborhood with access to or amenities that will help progress the story -> choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict -> develop hobbies that allow for character growth, etc.

Paranormal example:

Choose a mythology base -> tweak the base to suit major plot points -> develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups -> develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy -> develop goals for each opposing group -> develop individuals goals that clash with others/the group -> develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop, etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way.

Incorporate details like region, weather, local plants and animals, etc. into a story to make it feel more real to the reader.
Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Going beyond familiar story structures

Most of us are familiar with the 3-act structure, the hero’s journey, and the classic structure. They work well for many stories, but occasionally another structure is better suited.

When choosing the structure of your story, don’t immediately go to the ones you’re familiar with

Classic: Consists of 4 main sections.

1) Begin with conflict, or throw the character into a bad situation as soon as possible. This might include a life or death situation, the protagonist meeting two love interests back to back, discovering dangerous secret powers, etc.

2) Nearly all actions or choices make matters worse. Don’t give your character a break through this section. Pile on complications and conflict.

3) The hopeless, dark moment. Convince the reader the story might not end well with deep, emotional conflict that doesn’t have an easy solution.

4) Let the hero succeed. Once you’ve put your character through the ringer, give him the spark of inspiration or light at the end of the tunnel that leads them toward a satisfying ending.

In Media Res: Start in the middle of something.

It doesn’t have to be a gun fight, but it does have to have conflict and grab the reader’s attention. The HOOK is extremely important in this structure. It then follows a pattern of rising action, explanation/backstory, climax, falling action, and resolution.

The Hero’s Journey: Begins with a call to adventure/action.

The MC then meets a threshold where their transformation begins. The MC then faces challenges and tribulations, meeting a mentor and one or more helpers along the way. The MC then faces an abyss/dark moment that symbolizes death and rebirth. They should have some kind of revelation at this point that spurs real transformation and leads to atonement. The character then returns to regular life.

Seven-Point: The seven-point structure is similar to the 3-Act structure

It has added structural elements the writers is expected to follow more closely. It consists of: The hook, plot turn 1 (and introduction of conflict), pinch point 1 (apply pressure to protagonist via antagonist usually), midpoint (MC responds to conflict with action), pinch point 2 (more pressure that makes achieving the goal less likely or harder), plot turn 2 (story turns toward resolution), and the resolution (the climax).

Snowflake: Start with one central idea and add to it.

Once you have your central idea, keep adding more ideas until you have a full plot arc. This structure is based on expansion of a central theme or idea. It starts very generally and becomes more specific as the details are developed. This can be very structured (start with one sentence, expand to a paragraph, summarize each character, etc.) or be approached more fluidly.

Three-Act: Based on Greek storytelling/theater.

Specific plot elements happen in each act. Act 1: Introduce characters and setting, present the inciting incident. Act 2: Introduce a problem that grows more complex as the story progresses. Act 3: Raise the stakes, characters face challenges and growth, protagonist finds a solution.

Disturbance/Doorway: Something disturbs the character’s regular life early in the story.

Doorway 1 pushes the MC further into the story. There is no turning back once it happens. Doorway 2 brings the MC to the final battle. Again, there it no return, and it often leads to disaster before a resolution is reached.

Five Milestones: Focuses on five main plot points and leaves the detail to be more flexible.

1) The setup introduces characters and the world.

2) The inciting incident introduces the main plot concept.

3) The 1st Slap sets the stakes and introduces the larger plot. The conflict is usually external at this point.

4) The 2nd Slap makes everything worse by adding more layers of conflict and barrier to the MC reaching their goal.

5) The climax should be tied to the inciting incident and wrap up the plot arc in an exciting and memorable way. It should then naturally flow into a resolution.

Narrative: Focuses mainly on story and plot.

It is less restrictive on when and where story/plot elements occur. It also uses the Fitchean Curve of crises driving the rising action to the climax, then falling action leading to the resolution. Exposition is limited and the story focuses more on the action and crises.

For some film examples of unorthodox story structures, check out this list!