If you want your self-published book to sell (and gain good reviews) then the minimum you need is a good story that’s been well edited, all wrapped up in a good design. As a professional editor, it’s my job to help you get your manuscript up to scratch – but the rest is down to you.
Knowing that you need professional editing is one thing, but your publishing strategy shouldn’t simply be: write, edit, publish.
That’s not going to work. You’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment, and the money you’ll have spent on editing will feel less like an investment and more like a poorly calculated risk.
So lower the risk.
How? By making sure you’re well educated in the whole publishing and post-publication process. By learning about marketing strategies. And most of all, by making sure you aren’t making the following five mistakes.
1. You have no platform
Building a platform is not about following five thousand people on Twitter and then spamming them with ‘buy my book’ tweets. Nor is it about blogging your heart out into a vacuum. Nor it is about paying lots of money for Facebook ads that push your book in front of people’s faces.
You have a platform if you are repeatedly seen and trusted by a targeted readership who have chosen to engage with you.
Building a platform takes a lot of time and effort. Promoting your book without a platform is tough. At best, you’ll have to approach your marketing with a scattershot strategy and hope that your message gets through to people who don’t really want to hear it. With a platform, you can target your marketing to people who want to hear from you.
2. Your website isn’t up to scratch (or you don’t have one)
A lot of building a platform requires people having somewhere to learn more about you and engage with you. You should have an author website that tells your readers a little bit about yourself and your books, shows them where they can buy your books, and provides some incentives and the means to join your platform (for example, signing up to your mailing list in exchange for a useful or interesting free resource).
Your website needs to contain all the right information and it needs to be meticulously designed. A poorly designed website reflects badly on your author brand and won’t instil trust in your target readers. They’ll think that if you can’t produce a quality website, you probably can’t produce a quality book, either. And they’ll click away and be lost forever.
3. You only have one book
Most authors publish a clutch of books before they start really building up their sales. Why? The more books they have, the more visible they are and (usually) the more their marketing efforts will have accumulated.
The more you have to offer, the more interesting you’ll be to your readers. One author I worked with had a mini-revelation when she realised she never starts reading trilogies until all the books in the series have been published – so why did she expect any different from her own readership?
Once you’ve captured the interest of a reader, it’s much easier to sell more of your writing to them than it is to go out and find another potential reader. So the more books you have published, the more you’ll sell.
4. Your book cover isn’t good enough
As I mentioned in the introduction, your book needs to look the part. People do judge books on their covers, and rightly so: if production values are lax on one part of the book (the design) they are likely to be lax in other parts (the story, the editing, etc.).
A little part of me dies inside when an author spends a lot of money (and I spend a lot of time and effort) making their prose beautiful, and then they slap a truly awful cover design on the front of it.
The trouble is, some people simply don’t have an eye for design – and often they don’t know that they don’t! And it’s not enough to just have a cover that looks nice. It needs to be eye-catching, it needs to work well in black-and-white (for Kindle readers) and at thumbnail size, it needs to accurately reflect your genre, and it needs to intelligently play on trends while also being original. It’s a very nuanced business, cover design.
5. You don’t have any reviews
Think like a reader. Do you buy books you’ve heard nothing about? Reviews are one of the best ways to entice people to buy your book because there is so much value in social proof. Building up your reviews should be one of your main priorities if you want to sell more books.
Don’t be afraid to give your book away for free for a time in order to encourage people to read it. Add a note at the end of your book asking people to leave a review. Get in touch with professional book reviewers for your genre and ask if they’d like a copy. (HINT: If you can’t get people to read your book for free, your blurb isn’t interesting enough and/or your cover isn’t working.)
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I’m not going to lie. It’s really difficult to address all these reasons your book might not be selling. But no one ever said successfully publishing a book was going to be easy. Learn as much as you can from books and blogs on marketing, break it down, get help where you need it, and stick with it.
Building a writing career doesn’t happen overnight. But with the right books and the right strategy, you can be a successfully published writer.