FOR THE past six months, I’ve been searching for the secret to self-publishing success. I’ve listened to hours and hours of podcast interviews with full-time self-publishers, watched webinars hosted by authors who sell coaching services, and read several How To books on the topic. I started noticing a pattern early on, and now I want to share it with you.
Before we continue, I want to note that I might make a resource list of all those podcasts, webinars, and How To books for anyone else who wants to dive deep into this subject, but for now I’ll summarize what I’ve learned, which is that many–if not most–successful self-published authors employ the same tactics to build an audience, and turns out it’s pretty darn simple–though there are costs.
So what’s the model for self-publishing success?
According to the research I’ve done, there are three primary components: consistency, traffic, and reader collecting. Let’s go through them one at a time.
If you want to build a fan base large enough to provide you a full-time income, you need to be ready to write. It’s not enough to put out a book every year or two. Just like your favorite television series or the tweets of your favorite tweeters, you have to provide regular content or your audience will forget about you.
This means you need to publish at reasonable intervals. People who serialize Sci-Fi stories or put out a new romance novella every twelve weeks know what I’m talking about, but let’s say you write 100,000 word standalone novels. Is there a way for you to provide content to your readers more frequently?
Of course there is. It’s called a short story. The great thing about ebooks is that there’s no word count minimum. You can even use short fiction to promote your upcoming release by writing and releasing stories that are thematically similar, act as prequels, or take place in the same world. But no matter what you write, you need to be present and active so your readers’ anticipation of your next release is not in vain.
Consistency also applies to your branding. You need to be consistent in the kind of content you’re providing. You can’t switch from YA fantasy to adult murder mysteries to historical romance because fantasy readers might not like murder mysteries and mystery readers might not like romance. I’m not saying don’t write in multiple genres, but you should create a new pseudonym for each.
Okay, now that you’re committed to writing your ass off, we can move on to the next component.
Unfortunately, your Twitter account will not drive much traffic to your book, and neither will Amazon (at least in the beginning). You might as well give up on actively promoting your new release to the Writing Community. Post about it on release day and occasionally thereafter, appreciate the few sales you see from your writer friends, and get ready to take a more proactive marketing approach.
The easiest way to drive traffic to your book is to pay for it. Facebook ads and Amazon ads both appear to be effective. You’ll probably have to do a little research and learn how to write ad copy, and your book cover, blurb, and sample pages will have an impact on your conversion rate, but ads are the most direct way to get eyes in front of your book.
You can also pay for listings at places like Ereader News Today, Freebooksy, and BookBub. There are hundreds of paid book promotion sites that will list your title at full price, for a sale, or for a free promotion. (A free promotion is another useful tool, but I wouldn’t bother unless you’re pairing it with a paid listing somewhere, which will ensure hundreds if not thousands of downloads, and only after a second or third book is available for purchase.)
There’s an important thing to note here: none of these advertising options are a golden ticket that will launch you to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. Each one will have a short-term impact, and a couple days later your book will fall back down in the ranks. It’s a grind. You utilize every single source of traffic you can find and afford, because you’ve also implemented the most crucial component, the one that makes it all worth it.
Every reader who gets to the end of your book finds themselves with an offer: “Sign up for my newsletter to be notified of my next release and you’ll receive a free, exclusive ebook.”
Yes, the newsletter is the most important part of this strategy, and a reader magnet (a free, exclusive story) provides the incentive for people to sign up. Don’t bother begging people to sign up for your newsletter on Twitter. Those signups don’t matter. The only ones that matter are those that come after someone has read your book and loved it enough to want to know when you release something new.
Since you’ve decided to be consistent, you’ve been writing your ass off and have a new release coming up three months later, only now you have a handful of newsletter subscribers, and instead of selling three copies to your friends on release day, maybe you sell 50 copies and get a handful of early reviews, which will help the conversion rate on those ads you’re running. You keep collecting new subscribers, and maybe your third release enjoys 250 sales in the first twenty-four hours.
If you’re a good writer releasing good books, eventually you’ll have a subscriber base so large that you don’t even need to pay for ads, but by then you’re making so much money it would be stupid not to increase your advertising budget.
“But I Have No Money”
Join the club. But guess what? There’s a solution here. It’s called erotica. Did you know you can write short erotica fiction, make your own crappy cover, publish on Amazon, and see sales and KU page reads with ZERO promotion or investment?
It’s true. The only crucial factor is learning how to keyword properly, and there are tons of free resources out there to teach you how to keyword your books. You have to write and publish a lot of erotica to start seeing substantial income, but any writer can get to the point of $100-150 a month in erotica royalties with no monetary investment whatsoever. (It does help to drop a little cash on a one-week subscription to a stock photo site and download a bunch of naughty images to use for your covers.)
So if you’re dead broke, write and publish erotica short stories, SAVE your royalties, and use them to invest in advertising your self-published books, buying book covers, etc. Just make sure you’re collecting the contact information of your readers so they’ll be there for the next release.
That’s it. That’s the secret. You can pay $2,000 for a coaching service that will get way more specific and teach you where to get your covers, how to write effective ads, what genres are hot, how to write a book blurb, etc., but what I’ve outlined in this post is the basic structure that any successful self-published author will teach you.
Consistent publishing. Traffic. Email list. Reader magnet. Publish erotica if you’re broke.
That’s it. Now do it. And let me know if you’re interested in that resource list.