As I’m out at some busy events this weekend and Michelle has just come back from a retreat, I’ve asked David Estes to post today in response to an appalling blog article from an indie author, telling book bloggers that we were “doing ourselves a disservice” not reviewing indie. Instead of writing a big ranty post, I thought it would be more useful for to hear from a successful indie author who has learnt what to do and not do – especially when it comes to book bloggers and reviewers – over the past 4 years.
I live in Hawaii, where spam is a really big thing. But by spam I mean the mystery meat concoction that never seems to go bad and can be eaten in dozens of creative ways. That’s NOT what I’m here to talk about today. Jeann asked me to post my thoughts on the explosion of spam from Indie authors, as well as my other thoughts on how upcoming Indie authors can start to build their fan base THE RIGHT WAY.
I’m no Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking, whose self-published books exploded primarily by word of mouth. At first I had to fight for every reader, for every review, for every new member of my fan group. It was a ton of hard work, but, four years later, I’m really starting to see it pay off as I approach 30,000 book sales across my backlist. So how have I built my career as an Indie author?
Not with spam!
I’m starting with what NOT to do because doing the wrong thing can give you a really bad reputation and get things off on the wrong foot. What is spam? For Indie authors, it’s any unsolicited attempt to get someone (a blogger, a random person, etc.) to read your book. Although you might direct message 100 random people on Goodreads and 1 of them might thank you profusely and say how much they loved your book and that they’ll be a lifelong fan, the other 99 are likely to get pissed off and never even consider your books in the future. They may even report you as a spammer. Spam. Is. Annoying.
I get a ton of spam myself. I recently had an author who I’d never met, never chatted with in even one Goodreads thread, send me a direct Goodreads message asking me to become their fan on Goodreads and check out their book. Umm, who are you again? That’s just not the way to do things. I thanked them and gently gave them the advice to not spam other readers on Goodreads as it will only hurt them in the long run. This particular author never even replied back with an apology or a thank you for the advice. Not a good start to a writing career.
I understand the temptation. I’ve been there. You finish your book, a labor of love that you poured countless hours and your heart and soul into…and all you want to do is share it, right? Of course! But there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Here are my basic Dos and Don’ts:
What NOT to do is every bit as important as what to do. Here are my top 3 DON’TS:
1) DON’T contact bloggers and ask them to read and review your book if their review policies specifically state they don’t read Indie books, your genre of book, or anything else specific to your book. Each and every blogger has THE RIGHT to set their own policies and read what they want. It’s not our place as authors to argue with them or judge them for the decisions they make for their blogs. I recently read a shocking blog post that basically called out bloggers as being in the wrong for not reviewing Indie novels. That’s ridiculous. There are thousands of Indie novels out there and a lot of them are poorly edited, so I understand why some bloggers would decide not to review them. Regardless, it’s THEIR choice. So leave them alone and focus on the bloggers who might be interested in your book.
True story: In my early days as a published author, I did this a few times and the result was NEVER positive. Learn from my mistakes!
2) DON’T contact random strangers on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, or any other site and ask them to read your book. It doesn’t matter if you’re willing to offer them a free book, don’t do it. It’s the equivalent of shoving a coupon in someone’s face as they walk past on the sidewalk. It leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth and will generally make them run as far away from your books as possible.
True story: Although I’ve never done this one, I’ve been targeted in this manner many times and it’s not a great feeling. Just don’t do it!
3) DON’T post about your book on message boards or in Goodreads groups until you’ve read and understood the group rules. Some boards or groups will have explicit rules against spamming, or they’ll have folders set up specifically for authors to get the word out about their books.
True story: I *stupidly* did this a few times early in my career, both on Goodreads and kboards. NOT GOOD. I got in trouble all times by a site administrator. Please, please, please learn from my idiocy!
If you’re scratching your head now and wondering how you’re supposed to build a fan base without doing everything I mentioned above, don’t worry! There are PLENTY of awesome ways you can attract new readers to your books. Trust me, I’ve tried them, tested them, and had significant success using them. Here are my top 3 DOS:
1) DO contact bloggers if their review policies state they accept books by Indie authors and books within the genres you write. These are the bloggers you should be focusing on. Maybe they’re small, maybe they’re big, but it doesn’t matter. You have to start somewhere, and even a blog with 10 members is a great place to find new readers. Provide any information the blogger requests and offer a free review copy. If they aren’t currently accepting review submissions, see if they’re interested in anything else, like a guest post, interview, or giveaway of your books/swag. ***Finally, if you are fortunate enough to convince a blogger to read and review your book, accept their review regardless of whether it’s positive or negative or in between. It’s their opinion and you should never argue about a review or ask them to take it down.
True story: With my debut series I contacted more than 100 bloggers who said they accepted Indie submissions in my genre, and guess what? I got more than 50 bloggers to accept a free ebook! More than 90% of them posted positive reviews for the book. This was a HUGE step in the right direction. By building up credibility with bloggers, I now regularly have more than 70 bloggers participate in my book launches. BLOGGERS ARE THE TRUE HEROES OF INDIE AUTHORS!
2) DO giveaway free books. I know it’s hard to give away all your hard work for free, but at the beginning no one knows who you are or whether you can write worth a damn. They’re scared of paying money for something that might be poorly edited and that they’ll put down after only a few chapters. The most important thing, however, is giving away books the right way. Here are a few options:
A) Read for Reviews on Goodreads– Many Goodreads groups manage Read to Review programs in which you can provide free ebooks to their participating members in exchange for honest reviews. I’ve given away hundreds of books this way and have loved interacting with members and thanking them for their reviews. It’s one of THE BEST ways to connect with readers.
True story: With my most successful novel, The Moon Dwellers, I’ve participated in more than 15 Read To Reviews on Goodreads, in which I’ve given away more than 200 books. I now have more than 6,000 ratings on Goodreads, something that gives me credibility.
B) KDP Select free days– If your books are enrolled in KDP Select on Amazon, you can make your book free for a set number of days every so often. However, just making your book free on Amazon isn’t enough. You have to really plan how to promote it. There are a number of sites that will help you promote your free book days, some cost nothing and others can be quite expensive. In most cases, you get what you pay for. BookBub is extremely expensive but is THE BEST by far, well worth the cost. Others are less expensive, like Book Gorilla, the Fussy Librarian, and Kindle Tips and Tricks, but they won’t get nearly the results of BookBub. The only issue with BookBub is that they’re quite choosy on which books they promote. Build up your reviews before submitting to them. Plan your attack!
True story: I’ve done Amazon free days for two of my books (The Moon Dwellers and Fire Country), and achieved 57,000 downloads in six days. The sequels started selling like hotcakes and it had a huge impact on my career. I used BookBub and at least 10 other sites to promote the events.
C) Blog giveaways– Remember all those bloggers you’ve been contacting and building relationships with? Ask them if they’d be interested in a giveaway. You can giveaway your ebooks and even throw in other prizes, like Amazon gift cards or bookmarks to sweeten the deal. Request that they use Rafflecopter to run the giveaway and that participants gain entry points by Liking your Facebook page, Following your blog, or Following you on Twitter.
True story: I NEVER turn down a chance to giveaway ebooks on a blog. I’ve participated in dozens of blogger giveaways and have never had a bad experience.
3) DO become part of the book community. This has been really important for me. Goodreads is the main site I use, but there are other sites too. Try them all and focus on the one you feel most comfortable with. Don’t think of it as a place to promote your books—think of it as a fun place that you as a reader like to spend time. Spend an hour or so (or more) a day on the site, interacting with other readers, talking about books you love (NOT your own books!), and giving/accepting recommendations.
True story 1: On numerous occasions I’ve had Goodreads members contact me and say we’ve been friends on Goodreads for more than a year and they never knew I was an author. They viewed this as a positive thing, as I wasn’t constantly trying to get them to buy/read my books. Because of that, they’d decided to give my books a try, all without me ever asking them! I thank them for their support and usually offer them a free ebook.
True story 2: Because I made so many friends on Goodreads, I managed to set up a Goodreads Fan group that now has more than 2,500 members. It’s my sanctuary where I can really and truly get to know my readers and connect with them on a personal level, something that goes a long way these days.
A special thanks to Jeann for inviting me to her AWESOME blog and a huge shout out to all the Indie authors out there! I wish you all the best and hope you have long and enjoyable writing careers!
PS- I have an Indie Author Advice section on my blog where I answer many of the frequently asked questions I get from authors. Check it out HERE! And if you have other questions I haven’t answered or just want to connect, feel free to contact me anywhere I hang out online.
David Estes was born in El Paso, Texas but moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was very young. He grew up in Pittsburgh and then went to Penn State for college. Eventually he moved to Sydney, Australia where he met his wife and soul mate, Adele, who he’s now been happily married to for more than two years.
A reader all his life, David began writing novels for the children’s and YA markets in 2010, and has completed 14 novels, 12 of which have been published. In June of 2012, David became a fulltime writer and is now travelling the world with Adele while he writes books, and she writes and takes photographs.
David gleans inspiration from all sorts of crazy places, like watching random people do entertaining things, dreams (which he jots copious notes about immediately after waking up), and even from thin air sometimes!
David’s a writer with OCD, a love of dancing and singing (but only when no one is looking or listening), a mad-skilled ping-pong player, an obsessive Goodreads group member, and prefers writing at the swimming pool to writing at a table. He loves responding to e-mails, Facebook messages, Tweets, blog comments, and Goodreads comments from his readers, all of whom he considers to be his friends.
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