Thinking about self-publishing? Already taken the plunge? When I self-published my novel Speculation last October, I found no shortage of online articles offering advice for self-publishing authors, but most of the advice boiled down to:
edit your work within an inch of its life before publishing
remember that you need to market your work, no one will do it for you
and a handful of other such obviously true but abstract principles.
While I appreciated this brand of advice, I also found myself quickly wanting answers to more concrete questions. For example: if I’m going to run a giveaway on Amazon, should I choose a weekday or a weekend?
So here, for what it’s worth, is a kind of brain-dump of things I’ve learned over the last year, with a bias towards the concrete, that I hope will prove helpful to other self-published authors.
Oh, yeah, the disclaimer: all this was what I found for my own book and in my own experience. I sincerely hope you find this useful, but your mileage may vary.
You’ve got work to do before you publish–and I don’t mean just writing your book. You should be confident that you have a good cover and good description copy before you hit the publish button. The good news is that you can test your covers and your descriptions pretty cheaply, using A/B tests and advertising to buy traffic.
(If you’ve never heard of A/B testing, you should go learn about it before you even consider self-publishing, because you should be doing a lot of it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)
You Can (and Should) Create a Landing Page for Your Book
It can (and should) be pretty simple: a cover image, a description, and a “Buy” button–which, when clicked, should apologize for the fact that the book is not yet available, and offer the user a chance to sign up for notification when it is available.
This landing page will help you get your cover and description right, before you publish. As for getting traffic to your landing page, be prepared to buy some ads…
Facebook Ads: Terrible for Sales, Great for Testing Covers and Tag Lines
In my experience, you won’t sell enough books to make Facebook advertising come even close to paying for itself. On the other hand, since they let you provide an image ad (the cover of your book, perhaps?), and provide decent click-through rate information, they’re great for A/B testing your covers.
Google Adwords: Useless for Selling Books and Testing Descriptions
Perhaps this one is just a result of my own limitations as a marketer, but I could never tame the AdWords beast, even to get significant traffic to my landing page (let alone selling books later). The phrases that generate traffic (like “book reviews,” “mystery reviews,” and so on) were extremely expensive.
Project Wonderful: Wonderful for Testing Covers
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, brew up a pot of coffee, head over to Project Wonderful, and start bidding on all the weird little sites you want your graphical ads to appear on. Then A/B test the tar out of them.
The sites tend to be lower traffic individually, but in aggregate you can generate decent enough traffic to get statistically significant results after running for a few days or a week.
Line Up a Few Reviewers
Do this before you publish, whether they be friends or bloggers you convince to review your book in exchange for a copy. It takes longer than you think (even with friends), so start early.
Reddit Will Give it to You Straight
I ran a pre-publication test of tag line and description using a sponsored link on Reddit, and it was tremendously helpful in that I got actual feedback in the comments–no punches pulled. In my case I learned that a lot of people, when presented with the second person form of Speculation’s hook (“What if your best friend died and left you a choice: ten million dollars or a sealed envelope?”), were not willing to suspend disbelief enough to consider the envelope. I tried changing the hook to a third person statement (“Andrew Wrangles has a decision to make: his best friend has just died etc.”), tested it, and it did better.
When Linking Ads to Amazon, Link to a Review, Not the Product Page
I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this one out. Linking to the product page, like so, is much less effective than linking to a positive and well written review, like so. Even though it’s an extra click for visitors to buy your book, the immediate experience of another reader’s review–rather than your description and a bunch of Amazon information–seems to put readers in more of a buying mood.
Disclosure: since it’s impossible to track conversions through Amazon/KDP, my tests to determine this were not true A/B tests, but crappy time-series tests. That said, the difference was 2-3x conversion rate through several tests.
Goodreads Ads Sell Books (Especially if You’ve Got Reviews on Goodreads and Target Similar Authors)
Yes, rejoice, for there is actually paid advertising that can generate decent returns for you–if used properly.
In my experience there are two keys to using Goodreads ads effectively: get some rankings / reviews before doing so, and then always target to authors whose work you think is similar to yours, or (even better) to authors who show up in the “Favorite Books” section of readers who gave you 4 or 5 stars.
The stats are a little clunky on Goodreads compared to (say) Google, but the results–again, in my case–were far superior.
Weekends Appear to Rock for KDP Giveaways
I’ve run 10 days of Amazon KDP giveaways so far, so this is even more anecdotal than some of the other tips here. However, so far the weekends have blown the weekdays away. Oh, how do I know this?
Track Your KDP Sales (and Others) Daily
KDP monthly reporting is a joke. Get in the habit of logging in and copying your latest figures into a spreadsheet each day around the same time. The data you generate will be tremendously useful for deciding (for example) on when to run a giveaway or buy ads.
Publish on Paper as Well, from the Beginning
I didn’t publish on paper from the beginning, and wish I had.
Again, your mileage may vary, and this is anecdotal, but though I have sold far fewer paper copies than e-book copies, many of the best reviews and most active promoters of my book have come from folks who ordered the dead tree edition. My theory is that the folks who spend the extra money and get the physical object are more invested to begin with–but that’s just a theory.
That’s All for Now, Folks
I hope other writers find some of this information useful.
Are you a self-published author? Do you have tips to add? Leave them in the comments.