For a long time, I thought that one of the best ways to get the word out about my writing was through legwork. Get to the conventions, meet readers, talk about writing and horror and books. Maybe make some connections, maybe get some review copies to the right people.
There were several reasons for this. Firstly, I knew very little about marketing. Secondly, all the advice I’d read about book marketing appeared to be recycled advice from authors I’d never heard of. Bloggers posing as experts, churning out received wisdom they’d not put into practice themselves. None of it filled me with confidence, for those reasons. Also, frankly, I was nervous about trying something new, gambling money and time I thought I could better spend elsewhere. Like on writing, for example.
The problem is, whilst my writing has improved dramatically since I put out Reformed, my marketing hasn’t. As a consequence, sales of my fiction over the past few years have been depressingly steady. In contrast, and as a testament to simple word-of-mouth marketing, I have done no promotion of my non-fiction books. Sales of these continue to grow, albeit very slowly. However, those books are written for a specific, niche market that is not well served by the publishing industry. The horror market, however, is very well served. Lesson number one: know your market.
Lesson number two: know your experts. The self-publishing industry has few giants, but those who do exist are well known: but what do they have in common? Well, they’ve all done pretty well out of the self-publishing market. But “knowing your experts” means knowing not just their achievements, but their backgrounds. Looking a little closer, and you’ll see a pattern. You’ll see ex-city lawyers advocating unrealistic expenditure on advertising. You’ll see former trad-published authors and people who’ve spent years working and making connections in the mainstream publishing industry. Ex advertising executives, successful freelance writers, people whose partners are lawyers or judges or... you get the picture. People with money to spend on pro editors, pro book cover designers, pro formatters, and also on advertising.
All pretty daunting.
I’m not saying their advice is bad. Hell, I’m following the techniques they advise for building a mailing list. But it is increasingly clear to me that the once level playing field of self-publishing is tilting further in favour of those with the largest financial head start. Which leads me to...
Lesson number three: know your costs and your budget. All of those things mentioned above are achievable. But for those of us with ‘normal’ day jobs, the key things are to prioritise and budget accordingly. Treat your writing like a business or it will forever be a hobby. I used the word ‘cost’ but each of those things I mentioned should be seen as investments.
At the moment my books aren’t making as much money as I’d like. To save money, I found an art students who designed the background for Reformed. For The Tor series I asked an artist friend to paint the cover; as with all my ebook covers, I used Canva.com to add the text. I later returned the favour by editing a script for her. The cover of The Soul Bazaar was designed by an artist I found on Facebook. My Facebook adverts are delivered on the smallest budget the platform allows, until I’ve worked out what’s most effective.
You get the picture. As an indie author you are a business. To grow, you need to look at where your business’ weaknesses are and find the most cost-effective method of addressing them. On an unspectacular wage from the day job, and with all the responsibilities of a young family, I can’t yet justify spending the amounts on Facebook adverts that other individuals might, no matter how they compare to me as an author. But I can start small and grow. I can trade my time and skills with others. I can use free software such as Canva, NaturalReader and Grammarly. I don’t even pay for Word. WPS is free, and just as powerful.
My current goal is to grow my business to the point where it is self-sustaining. I want my sales to pay for the advertising, the cover designs, the website, the materials (I still draft much of my work using pen and paper), an editor (I currently self-edit everything, which is incredibly time consuming), the lot, before I even think of making a profit from my business.
Being wealthy gives self-published authors a real advantage over the rest of us. Not being wealthy makes the journey longer, and means a lot more work. How long it will be before the scales tip so far that it becomes an insurmountable disadvantage, I don’t know. But it damn well won’t stop me, and it shouldn’t stop you.
What about you? Do you think a limited budget is a significant barrier to success? What thrift tips do you have for other authors?
My ebooks can be found at my Pronoun store. I’m on Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget to download your free copy of The Cauldron.