David Estes Guest Post: Do’s & Don’ts for Successful Indie Authors (Without Spam)

September 6, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | Books, Chatterbox, Features, Indie

by David Estes

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!

David Estes

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.

davidAbout David Estes:

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.

Author Blog
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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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46 responses to “David Estes Guest Post: Do’s & Don’ts for Successful Indie Authors (Without Spam)

  1. Awwww! Thanks so much Marianne! You've been so amazingly supportive to me over the last two years, and I'm so glad your experience with me has been a good one. I feel lucky to call bloggers like you my friend 🙂

  2. I love this post! While I'm not an author (and don't plan on being one), most of the things David mentioned here happen to me frequently and I ALWAYS roll my eyes when it happens.

    It's not that I do not want to help indie authors (hell, I have a great friendship with many indie authors whose books I've reviewed), but I have had some bad experiences because of negative reviews, so now I'm much more careful when approached by one. I never have a bad experience with you, David, so thank you for building such a great image for indie authors out there!
    Marianne @ Boricuan recently posted…{Movie Review} Vampire Academy: Blood SistersMy Profile

  3. Brilliant post and excellent advice. I've not been blogging for too long, it will have been a year by the end of this month, but have already received so many emails from indie authors. A few have been ones that have made me want to actually read the authors books. The other ones, the awful spam ones, have made me want to block them and not reply.

    I wish more indie authors could see this post and take your advice. All the emails or messages I get from indie authors that are just spam then put me of giving indie authors a try. After the 100th email from someone who's clearly not read your review policy and what genres you like to read, you get frustrated and lose hope a bit. If I didn't have to spend so much time sorting through the junk emails, I think I would be accepting a lot more review requests from indie authors. I also prefer when the emails are personalised.
    Reviews from a Bookw recently posted…Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan: ReviewMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your kind words and comment! Congrats on your upcoming blogoversary! Thanks so much for your willingness to support Indies and for pointing out how author spam can be a huge turn off. I think many Indies think bloggers should be so impressed that an author is offering a book to them for free (as evidenced by the awful blog post I referenced above). In fact, it should be the OPPOSITE. Indies should be impressed that bloggers would even consider their book for review. Bloggers have a limited amount of time to read and review books, and if they choose an Indie book we should be HONORED. Keep on blogging, my friend, and thanks for doing what you do!
      David Estes recently posted…Brew Cover Reveal- now available for pre-order!My Profile

  4. This is a great post, and honestly, a lot of it seems common sense to me! I've been blogging a long time, and I have had some GREAT experiences with Indie authors. I've found some amazing people and stories through blogging, and I'm so grateful for that. It makes all the unsavory parts bearable!

    Having said that, I almost NEVER respond to spam from ANYONE, let alone Indies. Spam always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I was spammed on Twitter by a direct message just a few minutes ago actually. I unfollowed that author pretty quick!

    A positive experience and good advice I think–I participated in a blog tour for an Indie Author, David Litwack, and really enjoyed his book. A lot! I wrote a wonderful review for it. This was over a year ago. About a month ago, he sent me an email asking me if I would mind reading a copy of his new book, since I liked his last one so much. It was a very nice email, very personable and respectful. Of course I said yes! So Indie authors, when you do find a blogger or reader who enjoyed your book, don't forget them! I absolutely LOVE it when any author remembers me, its a HUGE compliment 🙂
    Jenny @Juliababyjen& recently posted…Brew by David Estes–Cover Reveal!My Profile

    • Thanks so much Jenny! I'm so glad you've had some great experiences with Indie authors 🙂 And that's fantastic advice for other authors. I believe each fan should be treated like they're your only fan and given the time and respect and appreciation they deserve. It's your chance to turn a one-book-fan into a lifelong fan!
      David Estes recently posted…Brew Cover Reveal- now available for pre-order!My Profile

  5. This is such great advice — I love that you admit your mistakes, because who doesn't make mistakes? And I think #3 of your list is SO important. Marketing an indie book is a huge (probably all-consuming) job, but I think that it's so important for any author to take the time to be a reader, a cheerleader for other authors, and a member of the community.

    Jen @ YA Romantics
    Jen @ YA Romantics recently posted…Just Finished Reading … Winterkill by Kate A. BoornanMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment Jen! And I COMPLETELY agree with what you said. This really is all about community. We're all in this together and because we love books, we love words, we love reading a book and feeling something. And I'm more than happy to admit my mistakes, I've made enough of them to go around! Hopefully I can save a few authors from making the same ones as me 🙂
      David Estes recently posted…Brew Cover Reveal- now available for pre-order!My Profile

  6. Great post, David! I definitely agree that authors shouldn't contact us bloggers if our review policies say we don't read their kind of books. I really like getting review/feature requests (I don't get them often, though) and it's so disappointing to get ones for books in genres I have no interest in.

    I think personalizing requests should be a part of the first "Do"–or, at least it should be a recommendation. I'm way more open to a review request if the author addresses me by my name or shows proof that they visited my blog. It just feels nice to know authors pay attention to who they're sending requests to.
    Kaitlin @ Reading is recently posted…Review ~ Blackbird by Anna CareyMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Kaitlin! And I COMPLETELY AGREE about personalizing requests to bloggers. Bloggers should be treated just like us authors would treat an agent or publisher that we're querying, which most definitely includes researching your site and trying to understand your interests. To me, that's common courtesy and respect. Thanks for mentioning this!

  7. This is such an awesome post and it proves that there are some awesome indie authors out there who know the right way to approach blogers. David is such an awesome person and a great author and he approaches this in the right way. I hope other indie authors learn from posts like this.

    I've met some really nice indie authors and I am open to review indie books, but indeed there are also some who just approach bloggers the wrong way and I really don't like when authors approach me on social media if I don't know them, it leaves me with a bad taste and I likely won't review their book. I prefer it if authors send me an e-mail with the review request although the wording of such an e-mail can still make a huge difference whether I'll review their book or not.
    Lola recently posted…Sunday Post #90My Profile

  8. This is FANTASTIC, and I wish all indie writers would read it. I've had a bad experience when accepting an indie book and it's made me a little bit wary. Earlier this year I reviewed a book by an indie author and I thought I might enjoy it when it was pitched to me – it was NA, set in an American university with an Australian character, and there was {supposed to be} romance. I checked Goodreads before accepting it, to see if people overwhelmingly loved/hated, and the vibe was very positive. To say I was angry when reading the book is an understatement – it was badly formatted and the editing was non-existent. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, the works. It was also poorly researched regarding the Australian character, and I was always going to pick up on that given that I'm Australian. The book was even pitched at me because I'm Aussie! This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems with this book, but it really put me off the whole experience. Not to mention, having followed me on every social media platform as soon as I accepted the book, the author promptly unfollowed me as soon as the review dropped and I never heard from them again after that.

    To be fair, I've been lucky in that I'm not inundated with requests, which I've heard some blogs are. Of the requests I've had, they're rarely ever personalised and almost all have been genres I explicitly state on my blog that I'm unlikely to read. I'm open to giving indies a fair go but it's difficult when this happens.
    Bernadette @ The Bum recently posted…Stacking the Shelves {7}My Profile

    • Thanks so much, Bernadette, and thanks for sharing your experiences! Hopefully you have a few positive Indie experiences along the way at some point too 🙂

  9. These are awesome advice, David Estes. I'm so happy to see an indie author really doing things in a respectful way, that is, not imposing their books on book bloggers' faces like they're entitled for a review just because they have a book. I have so much respect for you now, and I am glad for your success. Your books deserve all the attention they deserve, because it's apparent you've worked for ass off to achieve that! Congratulations and best of luck to future books. I'll check yours out when I have the time!
    Faye @ The Social Po recently posted…Potato Strip #2: Blog Name Part 2My Profile

  10. I SO LOOVE this post! Thank you, Jeann, for inviting David to do a guest post here. As you know, I am one of those bloggers who wrote a lengthy and ranty post about that "awful" post. I wish the writer of that post and the other writer who I also mentioned are reading this right now and learn some valuable lessons.

    Oh David, I agree with all the things that you've said. If only the other indie authors also have the same opinion, I'd be very happy!

    I've stopped accepting review requests months and months ago but that doesn't mean that I don't read and review indie books anymore. It's more like I am still reading them as long as the books are of my own choosing. I know that there are still so many wonderful indie books out there that are waiting to be discovered. And if I had closed my doors on indie books, I would have never discovered your books, Susan Ee's, Missy Kalicicki's, Casey Hays' etc. However, with the constant e-mail/twitter/goodreads/facebook spam that I'm getting from other indie authors, I find myself getting more and more hesitant in reading indie books. Not to mention that I am shocked at how some of these authors managed to get hold of my e-mail address when I have never shared it on my blog. Another thing that really irked me is that some of them would send me review copies of travel memoirs and other non-fiction books when I've clearly stated that I don't and will never review any non-fictions. It's really crazy and stressful because I always feel so awkward whenever I turn down a review request. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

    I really want to support Indie authors but I want it to be on my own terms. I am not blogging to earn power and money. I just want to spread my love for books. I hope that other indie authors out there who think otherwise would realize this.

    Thanks for this very enlightening post and for being such a cool author, David!
    Charlotte @ Thoughts recently posted…Stacking the Shelves {32}My Profile

    • Thanks for such an insightful comment, Charlotte! It's exactly because of bloggers like you that I wanted to write this post. It's not that you don't want to support authors, it's that you don't want to be spammed! I completely understand 🙂

  11. Wow, wow, wow! Amazing post, David! You couldn't have done it better in any way! I am no indie author or expert at this stuff, but you're really a master at this stuff! You have really succeeded as an author. I remember that there were people asking me on Tumblr to read their books! I was really surprised with that one. And a friend of mine once found a website with bloggers, their addresses, emails, and contact info so you can contact them without them knowing beforehand! That's really crazy, if you ask me. Thank you for this inspiring post!

  12. Truer words haven't been spoken my friend! You know what pisses me off the most, when someone, an author, sends me a message on Goodreads and well I accept it and say that I'll review their book but they never respond. Why did you contact me in the first place? I'm really glad you've got to learn from your mistakes! That's the best way. Amazing post! 🙂

    I shall check out your books now. You see how it's done! 🙂
    Tanja recently posted…ARC Review: Kiss of Broken Glass by Medaline KuderickMy Profile

    • LOL thanks Tanja! Your comment made me smile 🙂 That's CRAZY! You were nice enough to respond and offer your help and they DIDN'T reply back? Wow. Nuts. I'm dumbfounded. Thanks for sharing your story and for all your support!!

  13. This all great advice! I get a lot of review requests through my Goodreads account, even though I state on my profile not to do it. It's annoying and I don't check messages often so you'll be waiting for an answer for months, lol. I do understand why they do it, and that's fine, but it's always in your best interest to take a little time to check out their profile, click their blog links and see what their policies say.
    Michelle @ In Libris recently posted…Fan Art Up! (1) – Beauty and the BeastMy Profile

    • Thanks Michelle! Oh gosh, that is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Goodreads is sacred ground for readers where they shouldn't have to deal with direct spam messages promoting random author's books. There are so many great programs on Goodreads to giveaway books in exchange for reviews that there's no excuse for this type of behavior.

  14. I wrote a looong blog post (HI knows of it I think) about that other blog post. One thing I'm really having a problem with lately is that I signed up to blogger lists, as I thought that would be helpful for indie authors. However, as I put that I would be willing to consider sci-fi or fantasy, I keep getting requests for books I would never read, as none of the authors seem willing to glance at my blog and other me sci-fi/fantasy books that would actually appeal to a YA Reader. Obviously this then smells strongly of desperation and I decline.

    Under The Mountain

    • Thanks for your comment, Vickie! Your blog post was one of my inspirations for this post. Happy Indulgence actually sent it to me at the same time as she sent me the post she linked to in the introduction above. I thought your post was fair and balanced and right on point. Great post!

  15. Awesome article, David! As one of those bloggers who DOESN'T review indie books anymore, I agree with everything you said. I spent nearly my first two years of blogging mired in horrible indie books and I almost quit blogging because of it. There are certainly great indies out there, but they are sometimes hard to find amid the rubble. I hope lots of newbie writers take your advice to heart.
    Tammy @ Books, Bones recently posted…Over-Booked (9) – A Book Haul PostMy Profile

    • I really appreciate your kind words, Tammy! And I completely understand your position, and that's your OWN personal decision. NO ONE can tell you it's the wrong thing for you to do. You, as a blogger, should love what you do, love reading (and have a choice in the books you read), and love reviewing what you read. Sounds like you made the perfect decision for your life! Props to you!

  16. This is a great post! I'm friends with lots of indie authors, and I'm a blogger, so I've encountered this sort of thing a lot. I've also come across a LOT of spam – auto direct messages when I follow you on Twitter? Yeah, not cool. So I think this is really great advice for any writer out there, regardless of whether they're indie or traditionally published – and good luck with your writing!! 🙂

    • Thank you, Emily! I definitely agree with that, anything "auto-generated" is generally not cool. It's so impersonal and naturally comes across as spam. How can you know someone will love your book if you don't even know them as a person!

    • Thanks for your support, Jules! And your advice is awesome, my blogger-friends are TRUE friends. They support me, I support them, and we share a lot more than just good books. My life has been changed for the better by meeting readers and bloggers 🙂

      And LOL about my eyes! *blushing* Honestly, they don't always look like that, they tend to change color from blue to green and back depending on what I'm wearing and the scenery around me. My wife (who's an awesome photographer) snapped that shot after I'd woken up from a nap in a hammock in Mexico haha!

  17. This is awesome advice! I wish all indie-authors could read this actually….*sigh* It really frustrates me, as a blogger AND writer myself, when I get spammy messages from indie authors. The worst one I got started off all "personalised" with "I know you like this book by so-so author, so I know you'd like mine!" but trouble is…the writer hadn't researched me right. The books she listed as "I'd read" I'd never even heard of!! Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. I have nothing against indie-authors, I have everything against spam. This is awesome. XD I'm off to tweet it.
    Cait @ Notebook Sist recently posted…Goodbye August || Stacking the Shelves #30My Profile

    • Thanks so much, Cait, and thanks for sharing your story! Ugh, stories like this make me cringe. I want more Indie authors to find great success, but as a group we've got to learn that it's not all about us and our books. It's about the readers and it's about community and it's about respect.

  18. Eugenia

    This is great advice! I've reviewed books for some fantastic indie authors and have been drawn to do so because they didn't spam and initially offered copies for review. It can start with one great book that you love to build up a relationship with these authors, and it's great to see what they write next. I haven't read any books by David Estes yet, but I hope to soon! 🙂