Self Publishing: What and How to Promote Your Writing
Of course, this is all backwards to what a writer should be doing.
And some of the absolute worst advice is given out these days as Gospel Truth. That’s back to Sturgeon’s Rule: “90% of everything out there is crud.”
When I first started out with this research, I took a long vacation from my day job to sort out what it would take to become successful in writing and self-publishing ebooks. The most memorable backwards data I’d read was that an author should spend 80% of their time marketing, the rest writing.
And that’s what I said years ago when I heard it. (Although my language was less polite.)
Our research since has clarified this much closer. Already, Stephen King laid out in his “On Writing” that he wrote in the am, answered emails in the afternoon, and read in the evenings. He certainly didn’t spend 4/5’s of his time on marketing (emails.) And his target was 2,000 words per day. Every day. Along with the daily reading.
Writers write. They read so they can feed their inspiration. Promotion is the other third. Third.
And if you already have a day job, spending 80% of your free time on promoting a book will get in the way of writing it. Serious roadblock. The Sci-Fi writer James Blish wrote most of his books on an hour-a-day schedule. That’s all he could spare from his day job.
Before you can promote, you have to have something to offer. Most of what is being pushed right now is the one-shot promotion for a one-shot book. Unfortunately, this is exactly why most authors fail, no matter how good the book is. I’ve seen this pushed over and over and over. And it’s why your book will fail to sell well if you ever quit buying ads.
The one person I listen to about using ads is Mark Dawson. But I don’t follow his advice – yet. Because I don’t have a decent backlist. And that’s the point you should be working on first – building a great backlist of books that people can find. Dawson tells several stories along this line. His best profits are from advertising later books (new releases) and then having both a positive return on that investment and also having those new readers discover his other books. Another story came from one of his podcasts, where an author (Adam Croft) self-published 10 full novels and then ran across Dawson’s free videos about using FB ads. Croft then became the most highly-paid author on Amazon, and also paid off his mortgage in weeks.
Because he had a backlist, and then readers discovered his earlier works.
A separate anecdote was from a conference (and I don’t remember the author’s name) where she put the rest of the panel members to shame by disclosing that she simply wrote and published a handful of complete novels all at once. Full price. And they sold each other. Like an author just getting their backlist released from a corporate publisher.
Either way, you have years of investment in writing. Not something most people will sit down and do.
That is one reason I recommend writing short stories every week. This is what I’m testing personally this year. And this is exactly what Ray Bradbury and Louis L’Amour did to get started. If the stories are over 2500 words long, then you can publish them on Amazon and elsewhere as a “short read.” Compile them into an 8,000 word document, and they are long enough to print on Lulu (32 pages.)
Dawson says that you probably won’t get positive ROI on your ads promoting anything lower than $3.99 (and ad prices are rising as we speak, so that might not be current data when you read this.)
Meaning you are going to have to write enough that you can put into a collection of 50-80K words before you can promote it with ads. (And that will give you a 200-300 page paperback/hardback which will make your ebook look like a good value.) People expect a novel for $3.99, not a short story.
Meanwhile, you should be promoting what you do produce on Wattpad by releasing weekly. And doing giveaways on LibraryThing and Goodreads to get reviews and reads. As well, include recording the audio as a proof. This gives you an audiobook and also you can put these up as a podcast. (Audio can be collected into a bigger work as well, to match your ebook/print book collection.)
You build your audience as you go, and you get your writing-reading-promoting habits in meanwhile. By the end of the year, at a thousand words per day, you would have about 360K words written and published. That’s over four 80K novels worth. But you start by building the habits of daily writing-reading-promoting. Probably in that order.
There’s the bottom line to this approach:
- Write short, write for the long haul. Write daily, read daily. As habits.
- Promote as you can, but ads are for when you can get positive ROI out of them. Meaning: later. Use your free resources first and foremost. Build your audience and your backlist.
- Utilize everything you have in all possible formats. Publish and promote wide, not exclusively.
- As you build your backlist, you can then make the decision to run ads or not.
I’ve covered elsewhere about using Instafreebie and MailerLite to start building your own email list, and putting a blog on Blogger. You can even host your podcast on that blog, using Internet Archives to host the audio. Some tricks to it, but the point is that you can get started for nothing with what you have right now.
This I had to write to clear my own head on why I was doing what I was doing. DW Smith has a special offer out right now that I had to turn down. Because it was filled with the conventional wisdom ideas of promoting through ads on social media and Amazon for a single book. And I don’t have a single book that is that large ready to go. Ads on what I have wouldn’t have ever paid for themselves.
This approach above is a sensible approach for anyone to get started. Right now, from having some stories you’ve never published, or having never written anything.
The core approach I use, and the only one I promote, is to start with what you have and make your publishing business pay for itself. You aren’t there to keep your day job. You’re there to get your voice heard out in the world. The sooner you can get your writing-publishing business supporting you, the faster you’ll get back all that time your day job is costing you. And then your business can really take off, as you can write more, read more, promote more.
Over to you.
Luck to us all.
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Also published on Medium.