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My notes from an LBF14 Seminar: Top 10 Tips for Self-Publishing

Had I written the seminar title in full, I would have needed an extended title space. The full title is ‘Top 10 Tips for Self-Publishing from Two of the Top New York Times Bestselling Indie Authors’. See what I mean?

Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre

The two authors who gave this excellent seminar were Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy.

I made notes throughout the seminar and have written them up here. I must confess that there are one or two terms with which I’m not familiar, and it’ll be my homework to find out what they mean.  A note of caution (well, perhaps that’s a bit too strong). Barbara and Bella are American, and some of the sites to which they refer may be effective only for novels that originate in the US.

Barbara and Bella’s credentials are eye-wateringly impressive. Both were traditionally published before going it alone, and both now count their sales as indie authors in the millions. I heard this, licked the top of my pencil, and prepared to learn. This is what I found out:

1.  BRANDING is all important. The brand must be recognisable, able to be identified at a glance, be honest about the nature of the novel, be consistent (in font, art, titles, etc) and be fluid enough to change with the ever-changing market.

a) The NAME OF THE AUTHOR, when creating a brand, is the most important thing on the cover.

If the author writes books in different genres, there should be a different author’s name for each genre. To build a brand and make it a success, though, you should write 5 or 6 books in a genre before trying something else. You will, however, make more money by staying in one genre.

Choose an author name that communicates the genre to a potential reader.

The name of the author should be short enough to be written large on the cover.

The picture on the cover should evoke the emotion of the novel. (Some people outsource cover design; Bella and Barbara have learnt how to do it and do it on their own)

b) TITLE LINES. Titles lines are a part of the branding. The line should tell the reader what the book is about. Watch the sales’ figures and, if necessary, alter the title line if you think it might be holding the novel back.

c)  Try to spot a HOLE IN THE MARKET, and plug it. Barbara and Bella spotted that a wave of anti-chick lit criticism had resulted in a slump in the number of chick lit novels being published, but their instinct told them that there was a demand for such novels. The demand from readers wasn’t being met, so they wrote and self-published their own chick lit novels. The title, cover, title line and author’s name proclaimed the genre. Their instinct had been right, and their novels sold in huge numbers.

d)  THE POWER OF THE SERIES.  Series’ novels are extremely popular – they’ve become a part of our culture now. (I’m butting in to tell you that at the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in Kansas City in 2013, I was amazed to see the popularity of series’ novels. Readers couldn’t put them into their trollies fast enough at the Grand Book Fair.)

Don’t write yourself into a hole. Don’t give so much away about a minor character in one book that you close your options for using that character in another book. Keep your novels open-ended when concluding your novel. The conclusion should be satisfying for the reader, but you should leave something in the background that can be developed into another novel for the series.

 

2.  FREQUENCY OF PUBLICATION

Aim for one novel every 2-4 months. You need a consistent production schedule – consistency in all aspects is all important.

 

3.  EXPANDING YOUR MARKET

Look for ways in which to increase your revenue. While you can learn a lot from things such as youtube, for example ebook formatting, you won’t be able to do everything yourself and you may do well to take help. Pick what you’re good at to do yourself, and hire in the people to do the things you can’t do. The increase in income will justify the initial outgoings. Barbara and Bella’s advice –  THINK BIG!

Things you can do are:

Bundle your novels together.

POD.

Print as a subsidiary right

audio books, which can be lucrative (which can also – apparently fairly easily – be put inside the print book). ACX.com has opened up to UK authors now. This is the only site available for royalty split deals right now.

film/TV

foreign translation

 

4.  RETAIL DISTRIBUTION

You will have to choose whether to go direct or whether to use a distributor.  Bella and Barbara do it all themselves.  You can go direct to Amazon KDP, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble NookPress (which has now opened up to authors from outside the US), iBooks, Kobo, google.

The pros of going direct are that:

* it’s easier to change prices, cover, sales’ description, keywords, blurb, and so on. Both authors closely watch their sales and if they feel that their sales are sluggish, they can easily make any changes that they think will enhance their sales

*you have easy, speedy access to sales figures as there’s no middle person. This enables you to spot any sudden changes and to respond quickly to them.

*you can build a good relationship with the retailer

* you will develop the ability to understand the sales’ patterns on specific retail sites, which can be useful.

The cons of this are that:

*you are taking on a lot of work

*you have to learn different forms of conversion.

 

Bella and Barbara advise that everyone chooses the way to proceed with which they are most comfortable.

 

5.  MARKETING & PROMOTION

Your marketing begins with your novel and the presentation of it – the content of the novel, the title, the cover, etc..

Both authors recommend 80% writing to 20% marketing. Each book will sell the next book so you should do more writing than promoting. Weigh up what promotion you do in terms of how much time it will take you from your writing. During your 20% marketing, think like a publisher.

Whatever your feelings about the social media, you will have to use at least one form of it as you need to connect with readers.  To promote on the social media, Barbara and Bella use:

*Facebook page, and perhaps boost posts. Readers need to have a place in which to find the author, and this is a good place.

*Facebook Reader Groups/Street teams. These are outlets for readers to talk to each other.

*twitter.

*join writers’ groups, like Romance Writers of America, if you’re in the US. You want to be part of a community.

*goodreads, with giveaways (To encourage reviews, at the end of the message with the giveaway, ask the reader to sign up for the newsletter, and add that hopefully they’ll love the book. You could add that an honest review would be appreciated.)

*Pinterest, to build interest in the book

*google+, where your newsfeed is shown to everyone in your circle

*BookBub.com

*pixelofink.com

*Ereadernews.com

*Amazon Author Central

*overdrive.com (a library distribution company)

 

Always respond to your readers, no matter how much time it takes.

Generally, network when ever you can, and cross promote with other authors.

 

Both authors were asked if they blogged. They said that they didn’t feel that blogging was necessary. Barbara said that in the time that she ‘d take to think of three paragraphs worth putting in a blog, she could have written another chapter of her work in progress.

(NOTE from me: neither author blogs, but both have a newsletter and have built up an email list of readers.)

 

6. LONG TERM PLANNING.

They have a five-year plan. In your plan, set yourself realistic expectations.

They have a pricing strategy. Write more than one book. The first book in a series is frequently put on sale or offered free. The others in the series would usually be around 1.99. Make sure that when you put out the first of the series at a reduced price or free, there are others in the series that they can promptly click on to buy.

Their advice: think like a publisher. If something doesn’t work, a publisher will change it – so should you.

Always keep an eye on the market – you can learn a lot from what other successful authors are doing.

Make sure that your book is as good as it can be. Don’t shortchange the book or the readers – reviews last a long time. Both Bella and Barbara hire professional editors, proof-readers, artists, file-formatting, audio narration quality control.

That’s it then!!

Good luck to everyone who’s thinking of going it alone.

Over and out.

Goodbye, London Book Fair, till next year.

 

 

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  • A very detailed round-up of solid advice. Thank you, Liz, for taking the trouble.

    These two authors are excellent role models for any writer, whether self-published, trade or hybrid. Writing books is a business as well as an art, but we should all remember that ‘competition’ is not your fellow author but the vast number of people who don’t read or who read only the national average annual of six books.

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, Alison. The point you make is very true.

      The message that came across loud and clear from Bella and Barbara was how empowering it was to be in control. They didn’t attempt to play down, however, the amount of work that it takes to be so in control of every stage of the process.

      They didn’t play down, either, how important it was to pay for the best possible professional editing.

      It was certainly a thought-provoking session.

  • Liz, thank you so much for taking time for such a superb comprehensive report. There is excellent advice here for any writer. I note getting the second book out…say no more..it is on the way.I wait patiently. I also like the 80%/ 20% division of labour. These writers talked so much sense. I was bemused by the anti chick lit comment too. I think I must forward this post to a friend! Again superb. Can we have another LBF write up?

    • Liz:

      Thank you for your comment, Carol. I’m glad you found the post interesting. I certainly thought it worth taking the time to pass on Bella and Barbara’s words since there were aspects of interest there for everyone published, or seeking publication, no matter the method of publishing.

  • John Jackson:

    That was fascinating – and shows the work and dedication you need to put in!

    The Series thing is really good advice. Think Morse, Patricia Cornwell, Bernard Cornwell, etc.

    Slightly salutary in some ways – at the end of the day the writers job isn’t to write deathless prose, it is to SELL BOOKS!

    Keep’em coming!

    John

    • Liz:

      Absolutely, John – we all want to sell our books.

      I was very impressed by the frequency with which Bella and Barbara stressed the importance of making sure that their books are as good as they can be, and that they hired editors, etc, to make this happen. As they said, each novel is the best promotion for the book that is to follow it.

  • Wow Liz you must have been scribbling furiously to provide such fantastic & detailed notes. This is such useful information, thanks for sharing.

    • Liz:

      I’m so glad you think the notes useful, Jules. I thought there were things in what they said for all authors to note, no matter how they are published or if they’re still at the hoping-to-be published stage.

  • Liz, Thank you for taking such detailed notes and reporting back on this session. Yes, the advice given, especially on marketing topics, is useful for any writer – indie, traditionally published or pursuing publication.

    Because of my day job background, I sometimes think I’m ‘brand obsessed’ – nice to know this is actually a strength! The comments about writing a series are helpful too.

    • Liz:

      As I was driving to and from the shops just now, Jen, I was seeing in my head the cover of a novel, my name writ large (think giant-sized letters!!) upon it, and I was smiling. 🙂

  • Great post, Liz. Thanks so much for taking the time. And yes, as John says, the writer’s job is to sell books. It’s a relentless cycle but as long as the writer loves writing and is persistent, ready to learn and adapt to changing markets, the rewards will surely come.

    I love the reminder that one’s competition isn’t other authors but people who don’t read.

    Thanks!

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, Beverley.

      Bella and Barbara’s enjoyment of every stage of the publishing process shone through their talk. It was actually quite refreshing to hear people speak so positively of their involvement in something that was so work-engendering, and to talk of the sense of empowerment and liberation it gave, and the buzz it created.

      All too frequently, marketing is put across as a soul-destroying chore that must be done. Not with these two authors.

  • This is fascinating, Liz, thanks so much for all the scribbling you did on our behalves.

    Would I be right in thinking that the take-home message was ‘treat writing like a business’? It seemed to me that these two authors must spend all their time on their computers – I’m guessing that writing was the full-time job of both, and that they were both beyond the age of having young children taking up time?

    A very interesting piece, worthy of much thought. Thanks again.

    • Liz:

      Both have children, Jane, and not yet grown up children (unless they were conceived when their mother was still in the pram!).

      Yes, the message was that writing is a business – if you want to make money, that is. But all along, the stress was that writers should do what they are most comfortable with. The two authors had other professional lives before this, but now, with their earnings being what they are, this is their sole job. They stressed that it’s a demanding, but enjoyable, one for them.

      To a certain extent, for all traditionally published writers, who write and promote one book a year, writing is a business. A full-length book may well require detailed research before finger can be put to keyboard – a historical novel certainly does – and much of the year is spent in researching and then writing and promoting. For the lucky few, this can turn into mega-bucks. But certainly not for all.

      Barbara and Bella were pointing to a different way of approaching things – a way that can give a greater chance of a high return. There are no guarantees that this will happen, but being in control of every stage of your product gives you a chance to move with the market, and this can only be good.

      Never once did they suggest reducing the quality of their books for speed or money. Their respect for their writing anf for their readers was evident in every sentence.

      Wow! This reply is almost as long as my oriiginal post!

  • Thanks for sharing this, Liz. It’s certainly thought provoking and a bit daunting in places! As always we have to decide what works for us and keep writing because if you don’t none of this applies 🙂

    • Liz:

      Absolutely, Angela. Thank you for your comment. The book is the best marketing tool a writer has – each book sells the next. Their advice about 80% writing to 20% marketing was good advice, I thought.

  • Excellent notes, thanks for taking the time to scribble them down and type them up.

    So they said: “Aim for one novel every 2-4 months.”

    GULP!

    • Liz:

      They didn’t say how long that novel should be, though, Rosie.

      My novella, A Western Heart, which will soon be out (Did you like the way I dropped that in, by the way?), is 30,000 words long. Novellas can be written in a much shorter time span.

  • Nina:

    Hi Liz
    Many thanks for the notes. I was at the Book Fair on the Thursday and Bella gave an excellent interview where she mentioned several of these points in such a dynamic and positive way, I was certainly inspired. These ladies are certainly very business savvy and not afraid to go for what they want.

    Thanks again. Nina.
    PS> on point 5 – I think you may mean: http://www.pixelofink.com/

    • Liz:

      I thought that both Bella and Barbara were excellent speakers. How interesting that you heard Bella talk, too. All four of my seminars were really enjoyable, but in this one particularly, I felt that there was something that could be of interest to all writers.

      I’ve amended the pixelofink.com in the blog. Many thanks for drawing my attention to it. As the name was new to me, I should have checked the spelling prior to putting it in. *slaps hand*

  • Excellent post, Liz. Barbara Freethy is on the selfpublish yahoo loop so I often hear her views. She is echoing what seems to be the general concensus of the most successful indie publishers – write more books and make them the best they can be. Plus the 80%/20% is widely accepted too.

    I’ve managed the branding, and fortunately have been able to keep them coming with backlist books, but it does take a lot of work. It’s taken me more than a year to find out which promo sites work best, and these two writers have named them. To my mind, it’s much more a case of what you can afford than what you “prefer” to do. You have to do so much yourself until the books start bringing in enough to outsource.

    Personally I don’t upload anything, and have always paid my tecchie savvy nephew to do it for me, otherwise I’d be tearing my hair out! But there is always more to learn, and your post has provided me with several new ideas! Thank you for taking the time.

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for taking the time to comment so fully, Liz. I felt that Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre spoke from the heart and knew what they were talking about. It’s great to see you speak in such positive terms about what they said.

      Your comments have also given food for thought in terms of the time that it takes to publish a novel oneself. Barbara and Bella have been doing this for time now and will have every aspect of the process down to a fine art. The comments you’ve made, based on your experience, may well prove invaluable for someone considering following the two authors’ path. Thank you for making them.

  • Thanks for taking the time to do this, Liz – some great advice. I’m at the start of a massive learning curve, but the one thing I WAS aware of when I set out was brand. I have two books on Amazon, Face the Wind and Fly http://amzn.to/1hGByxC and Loving Susie http://amzn.to/1pfOeR2 . You’ll see they are quite strongly branded, my main point in my brief to my designer – and I have more to follow. Looking forward to putting this into practice – and also to catching up with you at the Summer Party or Conference?

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, Jenny. I shall be very interested to look at both your books, and will be doing so as soon as today is over – a giant turkey, with trimmings, is in the oven and forcing me to wait.

      I shall be at both the RNA Summer Party – albeit jet-lagged as I’ll have just returned from the RT Booklovers’ Convention in New Orleans – and the RNA July Conference, where I’m giving a talk. I look forward to see you at those events.

  • Just to echo the other comments left. A great blog post, Liz, thank you. Have printed it off and will read and inwardly digest as I work on #3. I’m still happy to be self publishing my novels but the time will come when I want something different., or the market has changed. I haven;t gone down the road of paying BookBud, ENT or Pixelsofink to promote me, not yet – but its always there if I want/need it. Good l;uck with your own writing and I hope to see you at the summer party or the conference in July.

    • Liz:

      Thank you for the positive echo, Lizzie. I hope that the information proves helpful to you. I’m very much looking forward to having at a chat at either the RNA Summer Party or the July Conference, or both. I wonder what your ‘something different’ means!

  • That was terrific, thank you, Liz, but it left me feeling quite faint! The amount of work these women do is incredible. I have sort of visions of being a best selling inde author, but I know it will never happen, so I’m content to be a mid-list trad pubbed. One thing they said, though, was about series. I’ve always read and loved series books, particularly in my own genre, of course, and when Accent bought my first (unfinished) Libby Sarjeant book and asked if it could be the start of a series I was delighted. I’m quite positive that I wouldn’t be making a living if it wasn’t for the Libby Sarjeant series.

    • Liz:

      Yes, your Libby Sarjeant books are an example of a really successful series, Lesley. As with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot novels, the central character runs through all the stories, and the reader looks forward to reading his or her further adventures.

      Listening to the talk at the LBF about series’ books, I thought back to all of the books over the years which have taken a set of characters and put them together in a house/school playground/hospital/street/factory – the list is endless – and written the story of each, interlinking them with each other at times.

      What the popular series today seem to do is take each of those characters and put them in a separate book, giving them a story of their own, but unifying the whole thing by their common setting. Instead of one thick book with eight characters living in a house, for example, they end up with eight slightly thinner books, each telling the story a character living in the same house as the others.

      It’s an interesting thought.

  • Thank you so much for your excellent summary of the talk on self-publishing at LBF. My first self-published novel is almost ready to go and I see I have a lot more to learn! As you said, it’s important to use professional expertise in areas one feels less confident about but there is so much one can do oneself – not sure about producing a novel every 3 months though!

    • Liz:

      Good luck with your novel, Heather!! I wish you every success with it, and look forward to reading it when it’s been published.

      I don’t think anyone could write a 95,000 word novel in three months. At least I know that I couldn’t. A shorter one, though, is a different matter.

      Of course, if you’re self-publishing, you can give yourself realistic deadlines in the terms of the time you can commit to the novel. You could allow two years to complete four or five shorter novels. I imagine that the key thing is that when you publish the first novel, there are a couple of others in the wings so that the reader who’s enjoyed the first, can promptly click on the link and buy the second.

  • Liz, thank you so much for sharing this richly informative list. But it is difficult to become too enthusiastic about self-publishing after reading these words near the beginning: “Both were traditionally published before going it alone.”

    Although my memoir has been picked up by a traditional publisher and will be coming out later this year, what you said about branding and switching genres, I believe, is critical. My published memoir is NOT going to help sell my novels. So my question is, is it possible to become a successful self-pubbed author without that first traditional publication in your chosen genre? I’ve been struggling now to achieve traditional publication with two of my completed contemporary romances/women’s fiction novels for three years. I’ve had them professionally edited. I’ve had beta readers scratch their heads as to why they are not selling. It’s getting over the virtual wall with that first one that’s so hard…yet I keep writing, with one more complete and two others in various stage of development.

    Bella and Barbara obviously had already achieved that before going it alone. So, is that the only way to succeed self-pubbing?

    • Liz:

      Congratulations on the publication of your memoir, Frances, and good luck with finding a publisher for your contemporary romances. It’s very difficult in the industry today to find a publisher, and I do hope that you are successful in your hunt.

      One of the first questions put to Bella and Barbara was that to ask if their traditional publishing background aided them with their self-publishing success -ie was there already a fan base for their previously published novels into which they could tap. Their reply was that there was quite a gap in time between the two, and that the names under which they became self-published were new names. Bella Andre also has a Lucy Kevin series, and she didn’t identify herself as such for a time. Each of her names reflects the different genre of the series. They felt, therefore, that their traditional publishing background didn’t account for their self-publishing success.

      That they’d been traditionally published must have given them confidence, though. They knew that they could write fluently and maintain a story for the length of a novel.

      Instead of traditional publishing helping an author to be successful in self-publishing, I have heard of the reverse situation, where a successful self-publisher has, on the back of self-publishing success, become traditionally published.

      An author shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year 2014 told me that she’d self-published six novels which went on to do well, and then, out of the blue, a large publisher contacted her and offered her a contract. Her first traditionally published novel was shortlisted for the RoNAs this year.

      This is not the first such case I’ve heard. It would seem that traditional publishers are looking to the ranks of self-successful self-publishers in order to find future authors to publish. In a way, the self-published novels could be seen as a sort of slush pile.

  • Thanks for this write-up, Liz, and the blog before. I haven’t been to the LBF for several years and it’s good to know that it caters more for the writer these days, and not only the publishers! I might even go again in 2015!

    • Liz:

      I definitely felt that authors were welcome, Jean. The very name, ‘Author HQ’, for the area in which many of the seminars took place speaks for itself. And the advertising for next year suggests that an even warmer welcome awaits the authors who go. I felt that my day there was very worth while, and will definitely go again next year.

  • I glanced quickly at this yesterday, Liz, but didn’t have time to comment. What useful information, thanks so much for sharing. It’s so difficult knowing what works best. Usually I end up with fingers in so many pies I don’t have any left to type. I shall be taking a leaf out of these girls’ books. 🙂 xx

    • Liz:

      Good luck, Sheryl! I shall watch your progress with interest. You are such a dynamic person that I’m sure that if anyone can achieve success, you can.

  • A valuable post. Thank you for taking the time to share your notes, Liz. I have copied and filed them for reference.

  • Much to digest.
    Thank you, Liz

  • This is a really great post, Liz. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Liz:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sue. I’m glad that the contents were of interest. I certainly thought that Bella and Barbara made some excellent points.

  • Cara Cooper:

    Fascinating stuff Liz. Just goes to show that it really is all about hard work. No writer got anywhere sitting in a garret twiddling their thumbs. It’s a job of work and although an enjoyable one, still requires huge amounts of application. I think if time is limited, it’s always better to spend it writing than in endless amounts of social media. They may not blog, but please don’t stop yours! I don’t drop in often but there’s always something interesting when I do.

    • Liz:

      What a lovely comment, Cara. Thank you for making it. You picked out the keys words when you made your comment – ‘enjoyable’ and ‘hard work’. The two writers clearly found being a self-published author both of those, but any despair at the latter was completely negated out by the former. They clearly loved writing and also relished the control they had over their physical product.

      If I pick up anything interesting at the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in New Orleans, which takes place in just over two weeks, I shall be blogging about that.

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