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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Indie Writers, Map Out Your Journey Before Hitting the Self-Pub Road (Part Two: Creating a Roadmap).

This is the second part of three on my series of blog posts for new indie writers. Part One discussed the writer's decision to go indie. Part Three, which will be posted next week, will be an outline of my own business plan and rationale.
posted by Saul

No serious-minded indie writer is going to set out on the self-pub journey without first having drafted a solid business plan that includes a vision of what to expect and what to accomplish along the way. Goal setting must be firmly couched in the real world and based on real-world experiences.

So how does a noob acquire such wisdom?

The internet is rife with indiewriter experiences—some positive, many not. The beginner can only get a good sense of what to expect by absorbing as much of it as possible. But beware: the natural inclination is to focus only on the good. Big mistake. Avoid discussions centered around ebook sensations such as Konrath and Hocking and instead focus on the stories of those in the trenches. A good place to start is the Self-Publishing and POD (print-on-demand) discussions on Absolute Write.

What else will you need to know to begin mapping your route?

Your niche.

What are you writing? What’s your genre and age level? What are the conventional story lengths, language complexity, styles, structure, world-building devices, etc. Yes, this is all true of any writer, whether trade or indie, but without really knowing this about yourself and your writing, you can’t move forward to the next step.

Your niche becomes your brand. Know it, embrace it. Be it. Your readers will more easily associate you with your books if you have a strong brand.

Your audience.

What do your customers like? What do they not like? Who are their favorite authors? Which authors don’t they like? How do their likes/dislikes trend?

Your market.

Once you know your niche and your audience, now you can begin to define your market. How big is it? Will it support you as a writer?

Your offering.

Tell a good story. Don’t be lazy or cut corners with your characters or the plot. Provide meaningful problems and unique but appropriate solutions. Write what you know.

Provide a quality product. Revise, revise, revise. And then revise some more. Then edit. Then revise again. Then get some readers and revise and edit and revise again. Then use the services of an editor (there are lots of freelancers selling their services; get recs and don’t just go for the cheapest or the most expensive, but do get the services of an editor). Once the story is finished and polished, do the same with formatting (see below); then with your cover. A good place to start with both is Joel Friedman at The Book Designer.

Remember: quality sells as long (as the promotional machinery is in place); poor quality won’t.

‘Nuff said about that.

Your package.

(Ignoring the snickers and snarky comments) You'll need to publish your work, of course. Do you want to be exclusively ebook, print, both? You must familiarize yourself with the various ebook formats, their strengths, weakness, foibles and conversion requirements. There's .mobi and .pdf, .doc, .text, .html, ePub and... Anyway, you get the picture.

For POD, what do publishers require for imput file? Word or PDF? Rich text? Html?

For ebooks, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is, of course, the biggest and easiest, place to go, but be aware that titles sold there are only readable on their Kindle eReader. The KDP community forum is a good place to get a sense of the size, scope and dynamics of the Kindle authors and readers community.

After Amazon comes Smashwords, a service that converts your text into several formats through their Meatgrinder program and then distributes it to Barnes & Noble (for Nook ereader), Sony (for Sony ereader), Apple (through their iTunes store as an app for Apple products), Kobo (for Kobo ereaders) and a few others. Amazon is on their list for future distributors, but they’re not active yet. The Meatgrinder does a decent job, as long as you have fairly straightforward text and formatting and little internal illustration, but it’s not perfect. The Smashwords About page and the Smashwords FAQ are good places to start.

For print books, Amazon’s POD service Createspace is, again, the easiest. There’s little to no up-front cost, though you can purchase services such as formatting and design. Lulu is a POD printer that works well.

Again, Absolute Write has some good discussions regarding POD offerings.

Your Selling Strategy.

Ideally before you even publish, you’ll need to start your book promotion activities. Just because you push out a book doesn’t mean the world is going to flock to your door and gush over it. But where? How? Now that you’ve identified your target audience, that shouldn’t be too hard. Why focus? Why not simply blast the web with yourself? Because broadcast marketing rarely works. Unless you’re Apple. And you’re not Apple. Be focused.

Social media is the easiest and least intrusive means for building contacts and an audience. Twitter allows you to connect with like-minded individuals. Facebook and Google+ as well. Those are the major players. It all takes time, though, so start early, and provide value in your content stream. Be interactive.

Blog sites. Set up your own blog or guest blog. Comment on other blogs.

But for all these activities, don’t simply go to sell. Engage your potential customers in conversations about subjects related to your book. Let your book come up in the conversation organically. Blatant selling is a turn-off.

Get a website. Wehether you choose to use one of the blogging services or go with your own domain, do it. You'll need more than a presence on social media. You'll need a place for customers to come and get more information about you and your books.

I chose to go with my own domain tanpepperwrites.

Off-line: Pass out business cards and bookmarks. Participate in discussions with other creators and consumers in your area.

Network. Network. Network. Readers buy a lot of books on the recommendations of trusted sources. Your best approach to selling should always work toward getting readers to talk about your book.

Your book’s value.

Research optimal price points and pricing strategies for your type of book (including how your genre, length, etc affect perceived value). Don’t overprice. Don’t under price. Offer coupons and incentives when necessary to drum up business.

Your value to your customers.

So, you’ve got a book out. The best possible scenario is that I read it and like it. Well, guess what? I’m going to want to read more. So, write. The best promotion for a story is the momentum you can build by publishing more, assuming of course that the quality remains high.

And what if I don’t like it? Well, write a better story next time. Put out a better product. Customers will find you. Do what needs to be done in terms of the above and you’ll be on your way to self-pubbing success.

Next week I'll talk more specifically about my own business plan and how I plan to build my business.

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