The Ladies have been writing this blog for five or so years, and we’ve all made significant progress in our writing and publishing careers. Despite life changes, major events, illnesses, accidents, day jobs, volunteer work, writers block, and the demands of family, many of us are nearing the goals we set for ourselves when we embarked on this path. Just in the last few days we’ve heard from Jilly, Jeanne, Justine, and Nancy about major milestones. Reading their thoughts on edit reports, blurb writing, and revisions is a good reminder that it takes a lot to put out a book.
I thought of our collective efforts recently when I listened to a podcast by Mark Coker of Smashwords. He talked about best practices of booksellers—and he meant people like us, people who write books and publish them independently. I enjoyed it particularly because he discussed the things we’re doing, and he put them in context, and he included data that Smashwords has gleaned from analyzing the sales of the half-million or so books that authors have published on that platform. There’s a transcript as well as the link to the podcast here. But these are his major points.
- Write a super-awesome book. Make sure it’s emotionally satisfying. Obsess about quality of word choice. Do everything you can to make it as good as you can.
- Longer books—those that are longer than 100,000 words—sell better. Writing to that length builds trust for readers, who can get to know you and your writing style. They become more invested in you. However (and here’s the caveat): Write the length the story requires.
- Write for the right reasons. Write what you have passion for.
- Get a great cover design. Your cover needs to resonate with your target audience. When you work with your designer, target your audience with precision. The image conveys the promise of satisfaction to the target audience you want. Think about the trigger symbols for your target reader. Incorporate those.
- Keep writing! Develop a deep backlist.
- Build a platform that you can control. Market with Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, your web site, and your mailing list.
- Add sales/marketing material to the end of your book. Include a short bio, just a few sentences. Also include the other books you’ve written and link those titles to sales pages. Add your social media coordinates.
- Develop a pricing strategy. Do you want to build readership or build sales with your prices? Most new authors benefit most by starting with building their readership. Offering a free title can help with that: free books get 33 times more downloads than paid titles. The “sweet spot” price points are $3.99 and $4.99. If you price your book at $.99, it won’t earn much money for you. The $1.99 price is a black hole for Smashwords. Coker suggests pricing nonfiction at $9.99.
- Use a free item (book, novella, or short story) to generate readership and reviews. Many writers find the perma-free option on one title very effective. Price the rest of your books at the price you’ve chosen that meets your strategic goals.
- Writing and publishing is a long game. Patience is a virtue. Ebooks are immortal. Spikes can happen over time.
- Avoid exclusivity.
- Readers see value in box sets. Set an attractive bundle price that hooks readers on your series. Multi-author box sets can be a challenge in terms of bookkeeping and royalty distribution (and present tax consequences, as well), but readers like them. Established authors with a wide readership can help boost sales for new authors.
- Be a nice person.
- Be ethical and truthful.
- Pinch your pennies.
- Launch every book as a pre-order. 75% of all sales on Smashwords went to books launched as pre-order.
And that’s it! Rings a bell, right? Although it’s a lot to do, as we’ve discovered. As for me, I’m already on board with pinching pennies, or trying to. What are you doing? How many of your efforts match Mark Coker’s advice?