9/24/12

Five Secrets to Successful Self-Publishing with Denise Grover Swank

Last week I came across a post by Denise Grover Swank about reaching her 150,000 mark as a self-published author. She said she didn't even realize it was coming, and I thought- this is someone I need to learn from. 


I was over the moon when Denise agreed to share her story and some tips to growing your backlist and being a successful self-publisher. One of the biggest things I've learned from Denise is that while we might not all be Amanda Hocking, we can all have a career as an author if we JUST DON'T QUIT!




1. Copy Editing

Okay, this one isn’t really much of a secret, but I’m not sure that authors really understand what copy editing means. How about what it DOESN’T mean:  your mother, brother, sister, husband, aunt, neighbor who was good in English in high school/college going through your manuscript. Being good in English has nothing to with copy editing.

You need a professional who understands Chicago Manual of Style formatting.  Someone who can go through your words, tightening and cleaning up your sentences. You can easily change a cover or a blurb, but you want to put your best foot forward with an AWESOME book. Not a clunky one.

2. Blurbs Matter

Amazon says that 80% of all self-published books sell 100 copies or less. Wow. That’s a sobering if not frightening number. So how can you avoid staying in that 80%?

Part of the problem for unsuccessful books is lack of promotion.  But the need to promote your book isn’t a secret. We’ll presume you’re already doing that. But let’s say a potential reader gets an email from Amazon recommending your book or your book in prominent on someone else’s “Also Bought” carousel on Amazon. That kind of promotion is great (!!!), but that isn’t going to entice the reader to not only buy your book but read it. So what will?

A great cover is obvious (or it should be) and reviews are a huge help. But before the reader scrolls down to read the reviews, they’re going to read the blurb first. You want your blurb to be so awesome that they’ll download it immediately. But if your blurb doesn’t hook them, they won’t even get to your awesome reviews.

Another good way to test your blurb is to make your book free through Amazon’s KDP Select or some other program for at least three days. If you don’t get TENS OF THOUSANDS of downloads after notifying all the sites that will promote your free book, you know something is wrong. Your book is free for heaven’s sake. If the cover, the blurb, and the reviews are great, they’ll download it. Even if they don’t read it for two years.

Have other writers and readers critique your blurb before you publish and after you publish if your sales are lagging. A good blurb is hard to write, but the beauty of self-publishing is that the blurb is easy to swap out. 

3. Don't Alienate Potential Readers with Social Media

Note that it’s called social media. Not sales media. No one likes a door to door sales person showing up at their front door. If you’re tweeting and posting Facebook status updates about your book ALL THE TIME, then you are annoying the crap out of people.

When that sales person shows up at your door time and time again, are you likely to buy their product?  Or are you likely to swear you’ll never buy whatever it is they are selling? If the majority of your posts are promotional, not only are you alienating your present potential readers, but also your future potential readers.  

If you use social media, it gives you an opportunity to connect with readers and other writers. Here’s the amazing thing about using social media to build relationships with readers: when you do tweet or Facebook about your new book, they are excited for you and want to buy it! No coercion needed.

Oh, and one more thing about Twitter. Do NOT set up an automated Direct Message to be sent to New Followers telling them to 1) buy your book 2) go to your website 3) like your Facebook page. If you send me one of those, I’ll unfollow you every time. You’ve just become that sales person. I assure you that sending DMs to followers with the above suggestions will NOT work.   
  1. 4. Make a Business Plan

The moment you hit “publish” on your first book, you became a small business owner. Congratulations!  But with any business, you need a plan. A real one. When I sold over 18,000 books last December, I realized I could make a living as an author. It was an eye opening moment for me, but I also realized up to that point (six months as a self-published author) I’d just been publishing books and thinking short term. I needed to plan releases, promotion, and a budget.  

A business plan is an intimidating task for a right brain person. Trust me. I was skittish at the idea. But I learned so much about my books, my expenses, and how much money I really could make, which was more than I anticipated.  I suggest you get over your fear and make one.

The next question is how? I Googled writer/author business plans when I made mine and found the results lacking. The good news for you is that you’ll find many more examples now. I used a business model plan similar to the one suggested by the Small Business Association. (sba.gov)  
I’ll also be doing a three part series on my blog next week going over my own twenty-three page business plan section by section.


5. You Don’t Have to Be a Bestselling Author to Make Money.


I think this is the best kept secret in self-publishing today. We all hear about the super stars of self-publishing, but the bottom line is that unlike traditional Big 6 publishing, you don’t have to be a bestselling author to make money.  What it takes is a good sized body of work (four or more novels) with moderate sales (1000 a month or more) priced $2.99* or above.  

(*This suggested beginning price point is for novels not short stories. My own short stories are $0.99.)

The more GOOD QUALITY books you have available, the more money you will make.  And each new release—within its genre—will help sell your previously published books. But it takes great covers, good blurbs and quality stories to pull those readers in. Don’t skimp on the quality to get quantity.  You’ll be sorry when those negative reviews come in.

It’s important to remember that self-publishing utilizes long tail marketing. That means your books will always be available for purchase forever instead of being sent back to the publisher after 90 days in a brick and mortar bookstore.  Use this to your advantage. Just because a book isn't selling well now, doesn’t mean it won’t shoot up into the bestseller list later.  Just keep writing.




What tips do you have for a successful author career?

26 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your valuable and tested advice. I read through each tip again and am now encouraged to write more with a solid business and marketing plan in place before my next release.

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    1. That's great, Gregory! I'm glad I could help!

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  2. Excellent post. I have to say that many of the authors that I've unfollowed on Twitter, have been unfollowed because of the constant stream of Buy my book! My book is free today! Buy my book, Like my Facebook page.

    I think it's obvious that when we follow someone, we are interested in them. So there's no need for authors to tweet about their books every two seconds.

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    1. I think it's okay to post that stuff every so often, but when it's a constant stream, it's annoying. I'm not sure why people think that works.

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  3. I'm hoping the advice at the end of your post holds true for me, that if I just keep writing (even though my first book is not tearing up sales charts) I still have a chance.

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    1. Honestly, sales are usually slow to build. So if your sales aren't off the charts, give it more time.

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    2. Another great post, Denise. I think you could add patience and persistence to your list. A successful author needs those in spades.

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    3. Very, very, VERY true, Monica. And the publishing world is changing EVERY DAY. The successful self-published author needs to be flexible and adaptable to constant change.

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  4. And here I am, stalking you again. Yes, your advice is AWESOME! Thanks again for sharing. I love following you and find you to be as personable and fun as your books.

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    1. I love having your for a stalker if you're going to say nice things about me! LOL

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  5. Hi! I'm here via twitter and I must say this is a great post with excellent advice. I wish I could add something here but I'm still learning all this as I go. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Hi Denise,
    Thanks for that great info. I'm new to all this, so anything I can learn about the business is welcome.
    Hopefully, when my first book comes out this December, I'll remember to be patient and keep writing!

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  7. HI Denise, thanks so much for sharing your strategies with us. Quick question on Select: I'd decided not to go with them because of the changing algos, but you make a good point about using it as a tester. But can you do it for just 3 days? I thought you had to enroll in the program for X amount of time.
    Thanks!

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    1. From what I've read, you have to enroll in Select for 90 days Stacy. Then after that you're free!

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    2. That's what I was thinking. But you can do your own free days, so to speak. But sounds like a mess and against Amazon's TOS.

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    3. I'm not entirely sure how going Free on Smashwords works, but Amazon generally price matches. Again, this is not my own experience, just what I've read. :D

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  8. Enjoyed this post, and some good pointers about making a small business plan. Sign me up for the stalker programme:) I think as far as Smashwords is concerned, you just make your book free by putting 0.00 in their pricing page when you upload, or you can adjust by going back into your account afterwards.

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  9. This is one of the better posts I have read about Self Publishing and what to consider. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. I found you on Twitter a few weeks ago and I really appreciate all of the tips and knowledge that you share with your readers. I'm subscribing to you today so that I won't miss any more. I clicked on this link because I thought it would be helpful to me and I was so delighted to see Denise Grover Swank. She is a friend of a friend and a real inspiration to me. Thanks!

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  11. Such a wonderful post. I followed Denise's posts on creating a business plan last week, ant was an incredible and useful exercise! Denise knows her stuff!!

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  12. This is a fantastic post--I learned a lot from Denise's experience, and I was inspired by her example as well! Thanks for sharing her secrets with the rest of us : )

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  13. This can be answered by Denise or Laura, but do you think $2.99 is too much to charge for a full length self published novel if it's the author's first published work?

    whoistheserialreader@blogspot.

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