Having covered the steps of the editing process, setting up your author platform and choosing distributors in this blog, it’s time to talk indie book launch tips. On to self-publishing step 8!
8. Book Launch (Marketing Plan)
Your marketing plan depends on publishing on KU or publishing wide, and your goals. For KU you’ll want social media posts, perhaps a paid cover reveal, a giveaway and or other to ‘generate buzz’ about your book. Your goal will be to get as many pre-orders as you can, ideally at least one a day every day of the pre-launch period, to chase a good Amazon ranking on launch day. If you plan to publish wide, Amazon rankings won’t matter so match, but you’ll still want to do a cover reveal and spread the word about your book. If you’re aiming for a softer launch, this blog detailing Emma Lombard’s marketing plan and experience is worth a read. Whether you choose a buzz filled hard release, or a soft release, many things bellow will need considering.
Research Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
To put it bluntly, from reading, viewing and talking to fellow indies, it seems that paid advertising offers many ways to set your money on fire. Step one to avoid that seems to be take a course before spending money you don’t intend to entirely lose on Facebook or Amazon adds. For any other paid services, I highly recommend talking to other indies to see what they recommend based on their experiences. If you don’t have many to talk to, read the article bellow.
Resources: 17 Author Tips and Biggest Blunders by Emma Lombard.
Set Up Pre-orders
If you’re going for a hard release (and particularly for later books in a series, when you’ve already got a reader base), you may want to set up pre-orders well in advance. You’ll want to plan social media and other pre-order promos daily in the week leading up to release day. Before that, you’ll need to set up pre-orders on Amazon. For that, you’ll need your blurb, and the the details (key words, categories, meta data and price) unpacked under Step 12: Uploading Your Book (near the bottom of this post).
Book Links. Before posting pre-order links, use booklinker to generate a link that will take people clicking on it to the Amazon store selling in their local currency. If you’re releasing wide, use bookstoread to create a link to a page displaying icons linked to your book’s page on each retailer your ebook and paperback are available at.
Grow Your Newsletter
Consider newsletter swaps with writers in the same genre, writing for the same audience age. Building your list means more people to tell when your book drops. Your reader magnet can get its own landing page on BookFunnel, where you can organise newsletter swaps. Story Origin is another good site for swaps. If you write SFF, here’s a facebook group for organising swaps with SFF authors (though you may want to file it for it for later as these FB lists seem to be 2k+). If you don’t write SFF, its worth searching for FB newsletter swaps in your genre. This is something you can put more focus on after the book is out if you run out of time beforehand (which is my post-launch intention.)
Also: Keep Subscribers Engaged. Here’s some content ideas from Bookfunnel to help with that.
Again, this is something I’ll keep in mind for perhaps book two or three’s launch, but you may like to consider Social Media Author Hops with other authors. for a Facebook example. see this guest post by Anna Campbell).
If you’re on Book Funnel, here’s a FB Group for organising multi-author promos.
Resources: Designing Your Own Virtual Book Tour Basics.
Reviews and Blog Tours
Reviews don’t just show potential readers what they may enjoy about your book, getting enough of them makes you eligible to be featured on Bookbub, and can make your book more visible on Amazon (displaying it as an ‘also bought’). But don’t pay for reviews. Amazon don’t like that and I know people who have been rigorously policed by them, losing reviews Amazon suspect they paid for. The alternative I’m finding works well —especially as I’ve only released my debut book— is blog tours. This isn’t paying for reviews, its paying for a tour organiser to make your book accessible to reviewers and or book bloggers, and for your book (and sometimes you as an author) to be featured on blogs and or social media.
Which tours are worth the cost? I’d say the ones that get reviews, though reviews may not be guaranteed. Rachel’s Resources has been recommended to me by indies who were happy with reviews they received. Itsy Bitsy was also highly recommended to me by two indie author friends and I had my debut’s Book Spotlight with them for three weeks and was very happy with it.
Promotion Sites & Paid Newsletters
Check out platforms which host giveaways, or otherwise promote newsletters and books, the big one being Bookbub, Bookfunel also being popular . Think about whether you may participate in giveaways, in which case sites like BookSweeps may help. Another option is Prolific Works.
A relatively safe way to spend money when you’re still learning how to market books wisely can be paying for a feature in paid newsletters. First: ensure you did get critical reader feedback on your blurb, that your cover is genre appropriate and up to scratch (for more on these see part 1 of this blog) and your price appropriate. This can still waste money if any of those three need work (I know because my first paid newsletter was an expensive way to sell books 😉).
Again: ask people publishing in a similar genre what they’ve had success with, or read this post of paid newsletters Nicholas Erik has had good experiences promoting a range of genres in.
I’ve seen so many authors say that Facebook adds or Amazon adds ‘don’t work for them’, yet for some authors they seem to be AM-A-ZING. I haven’t tried either, but the fact people have designed week long courses and written whole books about one or the other tells me that if you plan to use either without thorough research -you’re wasting your money. Even with study, you may still find one, the other or both just aren’t your jam. So proceed with caution (and see the free courses linked below).
Book Report is handy for this, and syncs with Amazon Kindle to analyse your sales data.
Its not like a newspaper, or magazine is going to interview me, random indie author is it? But they may (as Emma Lombard can tell you). And if they do and they ask you questions, do you know what you’ll say? If they want easy access to pertinent info, do you have a page on your website they can refer to, to check any details and ensure their interview article is accurate? For an example press kit, see mine.
Facebook Group 20booksto50k is a great space to discuss and learn to market indie books.
Free Courses: Amazon Add Challenge, a 7 Day Course by Brian Cohen.
5 Day Amazon Add Course, by Dave Cheeson (Kindleprenuer).
Starting From Zero, with David Gaughran.
Google Air, free Google add workshops (you have to register using your Google account.)
Wondering about sales trends? K-lytics is a handy (free) blog to follow, though their paid services are expensive.
9. Set up Your Author Profiles
Before you seek reviews, you need an author profile and your book’s information to be up on review sites. Your book will need to be on sale or have pre-orders to do this, as each review site will want a purchase link for your book. I set up pre-orders for my debut on Amazon (which doesn’t require the book to be finished, though I suggest making an attractive ‘coming soon’ template if your cover isn’t ready), so I could set up my author profiles for reviewers ahead of launch day.
For Goodreads, you have to add your book to Goodreads first, then you can claim your author profile on it. This is worth doing early on, as reviews can be uploaded to Goodreads well before launch day. Tip: get your betas to add their reviews when they finish reading your late draft.
On other sites, you simply need to sign up, add a purchase link for your book, add a profile photo, fill in your bio etc. I suggest using the same profile photo and short bio for all of these sites, and the same author photo on your website, social media etc., so people you ‘meet’ on any digital space recognise you on others. If you seek ARC reviewers, I suggest giving them your Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub profile links, and encouraging reviews on all three. Bookbub reviews may one day help you become eligible for a coveted Bookbub feature, while star ratings on Goodreads will display with your paperback blurb on Book Depository.
I have author profiles set up on Amazon, Goodreads, All Author and Bookbub. –The Amazon and Goodreads links are to instructions to set up your author page while the All Author and Bookbub links will take you to the sign-up pages for those platforms].
10. Update your Socials
Now is a good time to put a book banner on your website’s header and a cover, blurb and pre-order or purchase link front and centre on your site’s home page. It’s also a good time to place a book banner as your Twitter/ Facebook Page or group/ Pinterest header and a pinned post about your upcoming release.
11. Get Your Street Team Set Up
A ‘street team’ for a traditionally published author may be a large group of people excited about the upcoming book, formally organised on a Discord server, or other digital space. It probably has an application form to join and hundreds of applicants. It will definitely be an organised group effort to ‘generate hype’ about the upcoming book. For debut indie authors, your ‘street team’ may simply be a few friends you privately message for help spreading the word about your book. Ideally, it’s (and in my experience it works well to have) a mutual indie support group, which helps in any (or all) of the below three ways. Yes, I have an SFF Author Indie Discord for this. Feel free to reply to this tweet or use my contact page if you’d like an invite link to it.)
Social Media Boosting
True, social media is primarily for socialising, not selling and buying stuff. But you want help telling everyone you’re been interacting with on social media (and ideally potential readers beyond those people) that your book will soon be released. I suggest doing this by creating or joining mutual support groups of indie authors writing similar genres likely to be read by your potential readers. Creating for example Twitter Dm groups to comment on and or RT each other’s tweets boosts your book’s visibility in the pre-launch period and beyond. (Yes I’ve had and seen others have success boosting tweet reach with this, particularly with cover reveals).
I’ve heard that blogging is more useful for promoting non-fiction books, and may have little impact with fiction. But my first interview was met with a detailed reply from someone I didn’t know on Twitter, who had read and enjoyed the interview. Blog reach may be small, but a lot of indies I know are interviewing each other about writing, life and their books. Again, ideally the people you interview and are interviewed by, write similar books and have a similar audience to you, the goal being getting your name and book’s existence out there and helping them do the same.
Ask people interested in your genre, including fellow indie authors, if they’re interested in receiving an ARC (advanced reader copy) for free, in exchange for writing a review (ideally posting on launch day or soon after on retailers, Goodreads and Bookbub). Your ‘review street team’ may include finding ARC readers on Booksprout, and if you’re releasing a fantasy book, this FB group for finding beta readers and reviewers may help you get more ARC reviews.
How do you reach people for social media support and author interviews?
Hopefully, your social media networking since step 2 has led you into author groups, or built you enough of a following to organise your own, or your newsletter has enough reach to do so. If not, again, SFF authors feel free to reply to this tweet or use my contact page to join my Discord for help with this.
12. Format Your E-book (+paperback if applicable)
Perhaps ironically, I found formatting paperback (in Word) easy. You choose your paper size (I chose 5.5 by 8.5 for my YA Fantasy, a common size), set your margins (do this early because when I changed them last, Word re-inserted page numbers into the front matter). I followed Chloe Alice Balkin’s youtube tutorial, using ‘layout,’ ‘page breaks’, ‘next page’ to add page-number-free front matter, created styles in Word for front matter, back matter, titles, chapter headings, chapter header art, dingus and for body text. Then I saved the Word doc as a pdf and the book was uploaded to Amazon without mishap. (Ingram Spark warned my chapter heading art, author bio pic etc could cause print issues, but they didn’t).
Ebook Formatting (in Word)
This I found fiddlier. If you format a paperback yourself in Word, mistakes can insert random blank pages throughout the book, or splice content across pages.
-Hit ‘enter’ for page breaks (your book may format without page breaks, and for multiple pov books this will present to readers as head-hopping.)
-Let Word generate a Table Of Contents for you (there are many ways this can go wrong).
-Leave any images without a style (my chapter header images were displayed on separate pages to chapter headings when I converted to epub because of this).
–Use a tool to do the formatting for you. Reedsy’s tool is popular. Draft2Digital will format your book for you (though check it, as it couldn’t handle the chapter header art in mine). If you’re a Mac user willing to pay a one off fee, Vellum is very popular (no, I’m not an affiliate for them or anyone else linked in this post).
–OR Use a Style Guide. Smashwords Style Guide is good, but wordy.
Formatting In Word
-Use styles for EVERYTHING (headings, copyright page, all images, body text etc).
-Manually create your contents page by bookmarking each chapter and linking the bookmark to the chapter heading on the contents page. (Smashwords Style Guide, page 20 has a video showing you how).
-If you’re wide, upload your interior file everywhere at the same time. Kobo and Smashwords spotted issues with my ebook that Amazon didn’t, while Ingram noted potential paperback issues Amazon didn’t. Cross-checking issues each distributor and or store spots, then making final tweaks, can help you give a better-formatted version to all of them.
–get proofs for every format on every store/ distributor to ensure they turn out ok. (Kobo converted my Word doc to epub without mishap, but Draft to Digital had one issue throughout, while the Smashwords epub conversion was so bad that I converted the epub myself (using Convertio).
Front Matter Tips
-Keep it short so readers can get to the book and online look inside features show the opening pages.
-Look at the copyright notices of other indie books to help you phrase yours.
-Mention other or upcoming titles on your ‘also by author ____’ page.
-Include a digital table of contents in ebooks.
-Consider a map and or personis dramatis for epic fantasy or similar, so readers can see where things are happening and check who is who as they read. (Maps are good in front matter, but for ebooks put it at the back so the ‘look inside’ preview shows potential readers pages that pull them in, not a cast list they don’t yet care about).
Back Matter Tips
-Don’t use your full author name, use some initials, as Amazon doesn’t like it.
-Link to your website, newsletter sign up and if you like, your social media/ Goodreads/ Bookbub.
-You may like to politely ask for reviews, but only include an Amazon link for reviews in the Kindle ebook. Apple will reject your book if it has an Amazon link in it. Tip: link to Goodreads in review requests for all non-Amazon stores, seeing as Goodreads isn’t any store’s competitor.
-Write a book two blurb and in the ebook have a pre-order link to book 2.
Formatting Error Checklist
Is your front matter free of page numbers?
Does your ebook contents page display appropriately and do its contents link correctly to pages?
Does your epub have random blank pages anywhere?
Are your front and back matter spaced as you wish?
Are your chapter headings (and images) spaced appropriately and consistently?
Does your back matter only contain links to Amazon in the copy you’re uploading to Amazon? (Other stores may reject interior files with Amazon links).
Does your Ingram Spark file only contain black and white or greyscale text, styles and images? (NB: They’ll warn you off colour, even colour overlaid with greyscale, but my colour overlaid with greyscale chapter header art, author profile pic etc. printed fine).
13 Uploading your Book
If you’re going wide, I suggest creating a file that has all the meta data you’ll need to copy and paste everywhere you upload your book (your name, book name, genre, categories, tags, blurb, contributors, ISBN etc).
Choosing Amazon Categories.
Check which categories your comp titles are listed under using this category checker.
Have a look at which sub-genre/ fiction headings match your book using Book Industry Study Group’s List.
Check the number of competitors in relevant categories. Standard advice says ‘pick obscure categories you can rank in.’ But my best rankings (in the US) weren’t in completely obscure categories. On the US store they were:
Amazon will initially only let your book be assigned two categories, but you can email them for it to be assigned an additional eight (Go to your KDP dashboard. Select ‘help,’ ‘contact us’ at the bottom of the menu, ‘Amazon store & product detail page’, ‘update Amazon categories’.
Bad category news: every Amazon national store has different categories, so you’ll have to contact them telling them the exact category string for EVERY store you want categories on. NB: English language categories aren’t just on the US, Canada, UK and Australia, India and Germany’s are also in English, Germany being where I’ve had the second highest no. of clicks.
Choosing Amazon Key Words
Use ‘incognito’ mode on your browser, then on Google, Goodreads or Amazon, type your genre and audience age, and see which search terms your browser suggests (popularly searched ones) and which are relevant to your book. You’re not limited to 7 of these —jam as many as you can fit into Amazon’s 7 key word boxes. Also, there’s no need for key words to repeat your category, title or subtitle.
To determine a price in any currency, this article outlines factors you may like to consider.
My best advice:
-Get on the Amazon store of each region of the world it sells to (Important NB: a reasonable $US price converts into what Brits consider to be a too-expensive UK price, so don’t just let retailers convert international pricing, check which pricing appears reasonable by currency and national store).
-Search books of your genre and audience age and note pricing.
-Get an idea of cheap prices, moderate prices and outrageously expensive prices (you will see the latter).
-Observe whether you think a book is indie or traditionally published and how prices vary because of that.
-Check how many pages a books has to get an idea of a reasonable price for a 70k vs. a 100k+ book.
-Choose a price taking the above and your personal publishing/ marketing goals and factors in the article linked above into account.
Check the profit margin in every currency. Does it leave you room to put the book on sale without losing money? In the UK, books are so cheap that you may struggle to discount your book there and still break even, but if you aim to make even the smallest of profits on every sale (as opposed to freebies), you’ll need to check regular vs. sale price profit margins carefully.
If you’re discounting your pre-orders or book, don’t just change the pricing in KDP’s or any other distributor’s dashboard. Sale prices are entered separately. On KDP, as with categories, go to your KDP dashboard. Select ‘help,’ ‘contact us’ at the bottom of the menu, then ‘pricing’ and read the information.
NB: if requesting a price match you’ll need to have links to the Apple/ Barnes and Noble/ Kobo price for each countries store you want price matched on Amazon.
To Distributors. Before you upload your book to any distributor, be clear about which distributor you want to send your books to which retailer (or other distributor), so you don’t double up. After you’ve uploaded, you can sync Amazon to Goodreads so your shelves are automatically updated.
Upload To Libraries. If you’re American or Canadian, you can upload your books to the Indie Author Project to get your book into libraries in both countries. And yes, you’ll earn royalties -see the FAQ page.
Local Brick and Mortar Stores. This involves being bold, but I’ve spoken to indies who’ve told local booksellers they’ve published a book and the booksellers wanted to see it (yeah, carry it or have a photo of your cover on your phone) and then stocked it on consignment (meaning they pay you if it sells, and hand it back to you if it doesn’t). So it pays to be bold! To help you prepare to approach book shops, here’s some comprehensive (Uk sourced) advice on Getting Your Book into a High End Store.
14. Cover Reveal
Post your cover on your social media, share it in your newsletter and share it on any promo sites you’ve joined which feature cover reveals, such as xpressbooktours. You may wish your cover reveal to be the first of a series of social media promo posts counting down to launch day, featuring teasers, character introductions, ARC review snippets etc and containing or naming the location of your pre-order purchase link.
15. Release Day
Put purchase links on your site and author profiles. Post your launch day post on social media and interact with everyone who replies. I hope it goes well for you!
I learnt A LOT of the above from conversations with and between the following indie authors:
Just in case your head isn’t exploding with information already, there are more resources on many of the above topics on my Writers Resources Page. I’ll also point you towards a Self Publishing pro, David Gaughram.
If your head is exploding, I suggest bookmarking this post so you can revisit a few of its steps at a time.
Whichever of the above steps you’re at –Good Luck!