“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?”
– The Beatles
It seems everyone wants to be a paperback writer. Or at least an e-published author. And with the advent of web-based self-publishing tools like Lulu and CreateSpace (for print-on-demand books) and Smashwords and Feedbooks (featuring a variety of electronic formats), anyone with a bit of talent and know-how can claim the title of published author.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, the surge in self-publishing, especially via electronic means, has led to an unprecedented number of people earning (at least some) income as freelance authors, small business owners, and indie or small press publishers. That’s me, a small press publisher. So small that I use the term micropublishing to describe what I do.
Micropublishing, according to Wikipedia, at least this week, is “when an individual or group uses efficient publishing and distribution techniques to publish a work intended for a specific micromarket.” I can buy that. Very small presses find a niche and fill it by publishing a select group of authors that larger publishing houses might not discover.
And the more options available for the reading public the better. This is why the trend is a good thing. Yes, I know. Everyone and her dog can publish a book nowadays. Doesn’t this dilute the industry? No. The simple yet difficult task of marketing and distribution will prevent most books from ever being read. The stark reality is that while everyone has the opportunity to become a published author, we still have to ask the public to buy and read our book.
Here are some thoughts on that topic from just one micropublisher, me, poking about in the dark as he discovers the path toward publishing success.
Claim Your Niche
If you are an author or a micropublisher, find your voice and stick to it. Gareth L Powell (on whose blog this article originally appeared) is a “science fiction author.” He lets people know it. He updates his blog with current content. He crafts consistent, quality material. He stays on topic. Go and do thou likewise.
My zine is ResAliens.com which is short for Residential Aliens (alluding to both the speculative and spiritual elements of the stories I publish). So my particular niche is “spiritually infused speculative fiction.” That may turn you off. I understand. You’re not my market, evidently. With 6 billion people on the planet, though, I figure there are probably a few others who might be interested in this sort of thing. My job is to simply let people know what I do and update my site regularly with consistent, quality material. You could do worse.
Maintain a Good Reputation
Nothing turns me off more than an arrogant writer or an unfriendly publisher. You probably feel the same way. And because there are so dang many authors and micropublishers out there, I have no problem crossing them off my look-into list. On the other hand, I want to build a reputation as being a friendly and approachable publisher. So even if I do cross someone off my list, I don’t tell anyone.
So, again, if you’re an author or publisher, here are a couple things that I believe will build some goodwill and help in the marketing of your product.
First, interact politely and promptly with your fans. You have them, you do. People who friend you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, or comment on your blog. Stay in touch with them. And answer your dang emails. ;)
Second, treat other writers as peers. We’re all in this together so why not think of other authors or venues as team mates. We're not in competition! Repeat that. Remember those 6 billion people on the planet? More than enough readers to go around.
Third, share the love. Cross-pollinate and help promote or at least hat tip others. See my second point. One suggestion is to read and post reviews of fellow writers' books, articles, or stories.
To Blitz or to Build, That is the Question
Define your strategy to market and distribute your work and then work the plan. How? Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are obvious platforms for getting the word out. Blogging, mailing lists, and posting reviews are also standard and acceptable forms of marketing. But behind these strategies is the simple principle of asking for help. Gareth put out a call for guest columnists. I ask people to review my zine. Since there’s no such thing as a self-made person (we all need some help along the way), we might as well ask others to assist us in accomplishing our goals.
And if they say no, well, there’s 6 billion people out there. Keep asking, keep working, keep honing your skills as a writer or publisher. If your audience likes your voice, identifies with your niche, senses your good reputation, and knows of your vision, then you’re on your way. And if the quality and consistency is there then you will become not just a published author but a bestselling published author. After years of quality persistence, you’ll become an overnight success!
[Note: This article first appeared at the blog of science fiction author Gareth L. Powell, May 2010.]