How Self-Published Authors Can Improve Our Industry

I asked a group of well-known thought leaders to weigh in regarding what indie authors could do to improve the self-publishing industry. The question I posed was, “What can self-published authors do as individuals that will ultimately improve the process or reputation of the industry in a way that benefits us all? Specifically, what skill or action can we acquire or do – aside from honing our writing skills – that will help enhance this business for everyone?” I received some great feedback, as you will see. Read on!

Kimberley GrabasKimberley Grabas, Your Writer Platform:
As the self-publishing industry changes and adapts to new technologies, insights and interests, so too must the 21st century author. The good ol’ days of publishing no longer exist – if they ever did – and authors are in a unique position to transform themselves from the tortured, lonely artist to a confident authourpreneur with a few simple steps:

1. Accept responsibility: the success or failure of your writing career is ultimately in your hands. No other agency, group or publisher has as much investment in your work as you do, so take control. Invest in yourself and your business and take the time to learn what’s required to get your ‘start-up’ off the ground. The barriers to entry have come down, and your career as an author is no longer a lottery. Grab the opportunity with both hands.

2. Mindset matters: for some authors, the learning curve will be pretty steep. Websites, social media, marketing strategy and platform building all require a certain level of skill and time to master, and at the expense of already limited writing time. But the most important thing to remember is that these ‘tools’ allow you to connect with your audience. If used well, they can amplify your reach and open up new avenues to your readers. Don’t view them as a chore! Your readers will know. These tools can facilitate interactions, but it’s not what makes that interaction interesting, rewarding or engaging. That’s up to you. So change your mindset, embrace the tools, then find and hold a connection with your audience.

3. Focus on discoverability and meaningful connections, not selling: your writing career is not a get-rich-quick-scheme. Get prepared to be in it for the long haul. Focus on building meaningful connections with your readers and not on immediate sales. True, we all need to eat, but every business requires a solid foundation and framework first, before it can grow. The quantity of your subscribers, followers and fans is not nearly as important as the quality, so work hard to establish rapport with your readers, your peers, and other industry professionals. Get noticed for the right reasons and the sales will come.

Joel-Friedlander_OptimizedJoel Friedlander, The Book Designer:
The best thing a new self-publisher can do for themselves is to learn about the book publishing business. Understanding how books are planned, produced, and distributed is key to producing your own successful books. Knowing the players, the conventions of book publishing, and the expectations that others have of publishers – people like bookstore buyers, book distributors, book reviewers, and others – will go a long way toward helping an author make the transition to being an effective book publisher.

Toby Neal
Author Toby Neal:

Improving the industry is a tall order. Most of us are just trying to navigate the rapids of change and make a living! That said, for the book industry to survive and those of us who are “content producers” to thrive, the principles I shared in my platform-building minibook hold true, with an addition. Here they are:

1. Top Quality. Everything we put out should be equal to or better than what traditional publishing is doing.
2. Add Value: Look for ways to do things better and surprise the reader with more than they expect.
3. PIF: Pay It Forward. We indies prosper by gathering into tribes and supporting each other.
4. Innovate. We need to be on the forefront of trying new things, always pushing it out there to capture readers’ imaginations in new ways. I did this in my latest book, Unsound, by embedding a photo gallery and link to actual gorgeous sites in the book. Yes, it was tons of extra work and there were tech glitches to figure out, but keeping readers’ attention in the clamoring marketplace requires innovation.

Duolit-ShannonShannon O’Neill, Duolit:
The absolute most important thing an author can do is to create a marketing plan. Every good business has a plan for how to make sales – Who are you selling to? Where can you find them? What’s unique about your product? How does it compare with other products? Why should someone buy it?

Authors should familiarize themselves with basic marketing principles and start formulating a strategy. It won’t be perfect at first, but you will be able to refine it over time and see your sales grow as a result.

There’s just no point in pouring so much into writing a book, publishing it, and not having a plan to get it to your readers. That’s like building a boat, setting sail, and not having a map to find your destination.

It’s not that difficult to do! Don’t psych yourself out thinking it’s an impossible task. Anyone can, and as an author, you are the *best* possible promoter of your book because no one is as passionate about it as you are! Turn your passion into promotion and you’ll succeed.

As indies, we need to step up our game in the marketing department if we want people to see the value in what we do. It will improve our reputation and lead to more individual success.

…and my humble opinion:
I believe if we approach writing and book sales as consummate professionals and view self-publishing as our business from the moment we begin, we’ll set ourselves up for better success over the long haul and help enhance the reputation of the industry overall.

One way to do that is to take emotion, hyper-sensitivity, and negativity off the table, or at lease keep these unavoidable results of plying our chosen trade semi-private. Just because we have a platform doesn’t mean we should use it to blast others, constantly vent over bad reviews, moan about rejection by literary agents, or rant about the uncertainty of it all.

There’s no denying we feel this way in private, and perhaps rightly so. But habitually sharing dirty laundry with readers, supporters, and colleagues goes against common sense. The question is whether we let that hurt matter; whether we pass it on. I’m no angel, but I’ve never regretted my behavior when I was smart enough to take the high road.

Readers, what’s your opinion? What do you think we can do – or what do YOU do – that will improve our industry?

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36 Responses to How Self-Published Authors Can Improve Our Industry

  1. Anne R. Allen September 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    What a fantastic, comprehensive post! I hope everybody thinking of self publishing will read it. I just had a writer contact me, complaining about her critique group, where everybody now dismisses critique with responses like, “I don’t need to follow any rules. I’m planning to self-publish.” Arrgghh.

    • Molly Greene September 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Thanks so much, Anne. I do believe that what we do to improve and strengthen our skills, attitudes, and behavior will help the industry’s reputation and come back to us. I’m frankly tired of short-sighted, self-interested sorts who jump into this business but don’t try or don’t care to learn best practices and end up making us all look bad. I can’t believe I just put that out there, but there you have it. Like Kim said, the learning curve can be tough. Like my mom always said, if something is worth being done, it’s worth being done right.

  2. Kimberley Grabas September 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Thanks so much for allowing me to add my two cents, Molly!

    Kudos to you for asking these kinds of questions and for getting a positive discussion going that will, in the end, benefit us all. 🙂

    • Molly Greene September 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      My pleasure, Kim, thanks a million for taking part!

  3. Debby Gies September 2, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    What a great post and happy to see all my favourite ‘peeps’ in the business adding something: Joel, Kim and Anne. I have been learning this journey since the beginning of they year, Writing by day, learning self pub and social media platform, marketing by night and by following all your publications as well. I just want to be able to put out the best book that I can through all my learning and I try to post such articles to pass it forward to help others in my same predicament.
    I realize some don’t have or take the time to spend hours every night reading publications and following influential people in the business, but it is in their best interests if they want to do it right and successfully.
    Granted it is a steep learning curve for those like me who really only wants to write, but we must become our own best promoters.
    Also, if everyone takes the right path to self publishing, we can eventually eliminate the ‘stigma’ that seems to somewhat still be attached to it.
    There, I’ve said it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 9:37 am #

      Thank you, Debby! I agree, it takes a lot of time and the people quoted in this article are truly showing the way. thank you so much for your support and I wish you the best on your upcoming book!

  4. Larry Constantine (Lior Samson) September 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Countering the perception that indie publishing is substandard is the challenge. Besides the obvious prime directive of putting forth only the best writing augmented by truly professional editing, self-published authors need to master the basics of book design and learn that attention to details spells the difference between professional and amateur, between quality and inferior.

    Anyone unwilling to take the time to learn what is the correct order and format for front matter does not deserve to be in print and does not earn the right of access to readers. If you are going to be the publisher of your own work, you should act like a publisher and know what a publisher does.

    It may be that one cannot judge a book by its cover–but real readers do it all the time. If you don’t believe in your own writing enough to invest in a professionally designed cover, don’t bother publishing. Even naive readers can spot an amateur cover design from across the room. Unless you are a graphic artist or book designer, get a pro to do the job.

    –Larry Constantine, designer, otherwise known as Lior Samson, novelist

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 9:38 am #

      Thank you so much Larry for the read and comment – yes, we are judged by our book covers, as well as the quality of our work, our social media shares, and the attitude we present to the world.

  5. Connie Rossini September 2, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    There are some great suggestions here. I never thought about looking at the book publishing business in detail. And I love Toby’s idea about the photo gallery. That is getting me thinking about how I can utilize technology to make my ebook version of my forthcoming book unique.

    Does anyone have suggestions about what to read on marketing? I’ve read a lot of blog posts, but I’d be interested in a book with more details. Thanks.

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Connie, if you visit my guests’ websites you’ll get lots of idea about book promo!

  6. Norah September 3, 2013 at 3:59 am #

    What a great post as usual, with lots of helpful advice.
    I am just starting off on my journey into the realm of self-publishing and blogging and certainly find it a steep learning curve. As you say, learning how to use all the tools in addition to making time for writing is certainly a balancing act, and I have drawn up a schedule to ensure I expend some time in all categories of activities. I just wish I would follow it! it is easy to be distracted by reading all the different blogs and advice that is available. But then I tell myself that the learning is necessary and once I master the tools, the writing will flow. It all leads to the achievement of my goal. Actually the learning is a facet of my goal being achieved now.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your advice to remove emotions and avoid blasting others. I have always considered that a positive approach will reap richer rewards.
    Thank you so much for your useful advice.

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 9:41 am #

      Hey Norah, it’s about the journey, right? Agreed: the positive path is always the better choice. Thanks so much!

  7. Thad James September 3, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    This is a great article. I will be sharing it with several contacts who have said, “I’ll just self-publish a book. It will be great for business”. There’s a lot more to it than that and this post can guide them in the right direction. Or at least shed some light onto topics they need to consider.

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Thad, several years ago I thought, “I’ll just self-publish.” Now I can look back and laugh at how naive I was.

  8. Molly September 3, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    Another great resource for self-published authors is Pacific Book Review. They have really helped me increase the sales with my book. Very professional and they have always done excellent work.

  9. Pamela Beason September 3, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks for this post. One trend I hope for from self-published authors is more honesty and information-sharing about the business of writing and selling books, because traditional publishing has been full of hype and a fair amount of deception in years past.

    I’m a hybrid author with both traditional and self-published books, and when I talk to writers, I always try to be straightforward about the advantages and disadvantages I’ve experienced following these two different routes. Knowledge is power.

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      Knowledge IS power, Pam, and you have always shared your knowledge with the rest of us. Thank you for that!

  10. Catherine M Wilson September 3, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    Whenever I hear folks bemoaning the fact that a lot of dreadful stuff is being self-published, I counter it with a couple of ideas that never occur to most people, the main one being that writers can now write what we want. We don’t have to write what was popular last year. We don’t have to toss in a vampire to satisfy our editor. We can cross genres. We can create new genres. Best of all we can write without having the feeling that our agent/editor/publisher is looking over our shoulder, ready to say tut-tut if we stray too far from what they consider “commercial.”

    It’s my opinion that the ability to publish without gatekeepers will result in a new flowering of literature. The chaff will blow away, and the wheat that’s left will offer us stories we’ve never heard before–but need to.

    • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Catherine, so well said! Thank you so much for that perspective. The only thing I’ll add (and I’m sure you’ll agree) is that now that we can write whatever we want, the quality best be top-notch! Thanks again.

      • Catherine M Wilson September 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

        Are you aware of Awesome Indies? I had my trilogy vetted by them. They look for quality content plus excellent execution. You have to jump through a few hoops, but because I had their seal of approval, I scored a major review from the Historical Novel Society, a traditional review venue that just opened up to indies.

        • Molly Greene September 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

          I have heard of them, thanks for the link!

  11. Norah September 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    What a great conversation with lots of useful tips. Thanks for allowing me to join in.

  12. John September 5, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    It would also be helpful if they stopped attacking every/anyone who leaves them a negative review. Too many bloggers have stated they’ll stop reviewing SPAs because of this- the debacle with Lauren Howard being a prime example.

  13. Charles September 8, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    Self-publishing, as with traditional publishing, is about supplying a target audience with entertainment or information in a quality setting. If the information or entertainment is excellent and presented well, it makes no difference how it is published. Each writer/publisher should hold himself to the highest standards.

    • Molly Greene September 8, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Well said! Thanks so much for the read and comment.

  14. A M Barker September 10, 2013 at 3:27 am #

    Speaking personally I love feedback on my work from anyone. However, many times I redraft and look at the work, someone else sees something different. Often the most obvious things come from those least involved.

    Each writer creates a gem stone, the more often it gets buffed the brighter it glows and others will want to touch it and see all its colours.

  15. andy holloman September 10, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    great post molly, i loved the different perspectives, keep the good info coming

  16. John Hoda September 11, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Hey Kim:
    Hope all is well. To answer the question about what we can do to
    improve the self-pub industry.
    1) Figure out who your target readership is.
    2) Write down and execute a marketing plan to sell to those readers.
    3) Create a Professional Cover
    4) Hire professional content/developmental and line editors. (not
    doing this really lowers the bar)
    Otherwise, all you have is a drink coaster on your coffee table 😉
    John A. Hoda
    Phantasy Baseball

    • Molly Greene September 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      Thank you so much, John! Who needs another coaster? O-)

  17. Mike Burwen September 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    I self-published a cookbook. Content-wise it is better than good. Although I know next to nothing about publishing, I’m almost 100% sure that, in order to make significant sales, I will need the right distribution channels and the ability to create demand. In the cookbook genre, I’m certain that demand is created solely by getting positive reviews from famous people, and/or getting the head book buyer from giant retailers to fall in love with your book. I’m finding lots of people who claim they will perform these services for substantial fees (with no guarantee of success), but I wonder if there are any sources out there that can offer substantive help for the do-it-yourselfer.

    I had an interesting email conversation with the head book buyer at Costco, reputed to be the world’s 3rd largest book retailer. She said that she and her staff make the decisions to carry a book, but the book must be available from one of two major distributors like Ingram, and that print-on-demand books would not be considered in any event. I think that means self-publishers are out of luck.

    I attended a book fair recently and met several authors. The ones that moved their books through established publishers told me that the publishers provided little or no help promoting their books, but did take all the hassle of editing, printing, designing, stocking and distributing off their hands. Some said the only reason to go through a conventional publisher was to get a cash advance.

    In any event, I’m wondering if the knowledgeable people on this site can direct me to places that offer solid advice about how to reach the “right” people. I’ve read lots of articles and books on this subject, but the information is almost all generic and not worth much.

    • Molly Greene September 27, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      Hi Mike! Unfortunately, your question is out of my league. Having said that, I respectfully do not agree that “demand is created solely by getting positive reviews from famous people, and/or getting the head book buyer from giant retailers to fall in love with your book.” While many self-published authors have achieved significant success – and sales, most of these indies write fiction.

      I’d advise you to talk to a few publicists and see what they rec’d. One thing I can suggest is that it’s possible for you to build your rep by guest posting on high-traffic food blogs. It wouldn’t be a rocket ship to name recognition, but then, self-publishers usually have to put in a lot of shoe leather before they achieve a high level of sales. Here’s what the Nonfiction Authors Association has to say: Success Strategies for Self-Publishing Your Nonfiction Book. Best of luck to you and hope this helps!

  18. Jacqueline Garlick October 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Some sound, sensible advice here. Personally, I would add to this list, creating a killer cover. Your cover is your calling card. Your first impression. Make it count. Then follow it up with a professionally edited, workshopped, beta read, story. The experience is what the consumer (reader) will walk away raving about, or not. Make it count. Make it the best it can be. 🙂

    • Molly Greene October 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      True on all counts, JG! Everything that goes into every book should be the best.

  19. James W. Lewis January 10, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    “1. Top Quality. Everything we put out should be equal to or better than what traditional publishing is doing.” This says it all.

    • Molly Greene January 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      Thanks, James! We agree.