I ran a poll on twitter asking what kind of content writers are looking for. Thirty-nine percent of you asked for Pre-Publishing resources.
Now, I am by no means an expert on making big debut sales. The majority of my writing career has been focused on being behind the scenes and helping others get their books ready to publish.
What I do know is how to get a book off the computer screen and into the hands of readers. Word is that checklists are mighty helpful. If you want more in-depth information about each step, I detail after the list.
So, I present to you my personal checklist for Indie authors pre-pub:
o Build a social platform
o Plan your distribution
o Start your newsletter
o Pre-plan your cover and ad graphics
o Determine your cohort/platform for advertising
o Define keywords and categories
o Have your blurb beta read by writers and non-writers alike
o Format the manuscript
o Set up your website
o Review other books
This is a basic list. It’s not in a specific order, because everybody will come at this in their own way. I’ve done every step here. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into some of these checklists.
Building a Social Platform
Building a social platform is a double-edged sword in the best of times. These days it can feel more like running across a field of mental health landmines. I personally stuck to Twitter (@CassKim_writes) exclusively because I was tired of Facebook and Instagram had too many strangers hopping into my DMs for my personal comfort level. Now that I’m full-time Book Coaching and Editing, I also have an Instagram (@Cass_Kim_Book_Coach).
I say it’s a double-edged sword for several reasons. Not only does it expose you to the news, and people’s views, and sometimes trolls…but it’s also a big time investment. You can’t just start an account and blast ads on it, thinking it will work. Building a platform is all about engagement, and interaction.
I have a few rules I (try) to follow when it comes to social media engagement.
1) Do not engage trolls – and remain respectful when in discussions.
2) Keep it real, but fairly light
3) Mute or block posts/people that endanger my mental health.
4) Don’t auto-follow back.
5) Never DM new followers or mass DM anyone with book ads or asking for reviews.
I use these rules because they work for me. I also turn off people’s re-tweets on Twitter sometimes. Usually, if they retweet politics a lot or videos that hurt my heart, like people or animal abuse.
As of fall 2021, I have stepped away from social media for a break from the constant news and the "pile-on" attitude that seems to abound there. I may return at some point - but knowing when to take a step back is important. You can always schedule posts without ever scrolling the feed, too.
Plan Your Distribution
This is something that needs to be done early because where and how you plan to distribute your book will have impacts on your cover size, your pricing, manuscript formatting, and how many accounts you need to manage.
Some things to think about:
Do you want to go eBook only? eBook and Paperback? Do you want a hardcover? An audiobook?
If you don’t want a hardcover and want to have your book available on Kindle Unlimited, your life will be easier. Amazon KDP will begin to own your life, though. It’s also pretty easy to set up creating an audiobook for distribution on iTunes and Audible when you use KDP, because ACX (where your audiobook dreams can happen) is partnered with KDP and transfers over a lot of information.
You cannot get hardcover books printed through Amazon. You can get them printed through Ingram Spark and multiple other sources, but it’s an upfront cost. Honestly, in today’s market, if you’re not traditionally publishing a hardcover print is sort of a vanity thing. Hey, I’m not judging. You worked your butt off on your book, and if you want a hardcover copy and don’t mind spending the money for it, I say get that delightful darling!
Also, if you want to provide your eBook perma-free, you need to have expanded distribution. This will make your eBook ineligible for Kindle Unlimited, which is where I’ve had a lot of my personal book income from. If you want to look at expanded distribution, I suggest looking into Smashwords.
Also, as a note, if you want to have your eBook on Kindle Unlimited, but want to try to get your paperback into bookstores like Barnes and Noble, you can totally do that. The exclusivity Amazon demands to have your book in KU is limited to the eBook version and does not apply to the other formats.
Start Your Newsletter
Admittedly, e-mail marketing does not have the same impact it once did. There will be authors that tell you an e-mail list is the best marketing tool you can have as an author.
It probably was, five years ago.
Now, every store, website, fitness instructor, business, global and small town company has a newsletter. People are sick of being bombarded with e-mails. However, if you don’t have a newsletter you lose two things:
1) A good way to announce new books, and to try to build a more personal relationship with the fans that do want to hear from you.
2) A key part of cross-advertising.
We’ll talk more about cross-advertising in a minute, but know that you pretty much need to have e-mail list to participate. Plus, there are plenty of free options for starting an e-mail list (MailChimp is free for under 2,000 subscribers), and it’s not hard to set-up. Put the link in the back matter of all of your books, and then use it as needed. Just…you know…don’t spam people.
Pre-Plan Your Cover and Ad Graphics
I’m not saying you need to spend hundreds on a gorgeous cover (oh boy, though, it sure is nice if you can…just the joy of looking at it almost makes it worth it), but I am saying you need a good cover. One of the top things that sets a self-made cover apart from a designed one is the font of the title and author name. If you look at my covers, it’s clear that I made all of the individual “Wilders” book covers. I paid for the trilogy set cover (Fay Lane created it) and there’s a big difference in people’s reactions to the covers.
Here’s the thing – if you know what you want, and how many different types of books (ebooks/paperback/hardcover/audio) you want, you can try bargaining for a bundle. And a lot of designers will throw in ads for you, as well. There are plenty of book design websites that offer reasonable prices, in addition to individual designers. If you’re pretty good at making the covers, but the fonts get you – hop on Fiverr. There are tons of people who can add the text to your cover with way better fonts than you can get for free.
You can always try making your own and later upgrade. But remember that the most eyes will be on your book n the first thirty days – that’s when you’ll be on new release lists, and when your book will be pushed to any customers that previously ordered a book you published (assuming this is not your first...if it is, that thirty-day push is still a good thing to take advantage of).
Determine Your Advertising Cohort/Platform
There are a lot of ways to advertise a book. You will of course be announcing it on your social media platforms. You can consider ads through Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub, Goodreads, and other places. If you are planning to try for a new release ad from Bookbub or Goodreads you need to apply early.
You also need to plan an advertising budget. If you are lucky enough to get a new release feature, you can expect to pay hundreds (potentially into the thousands range) of dollars for it. If you are planning to do simpler ads, those can still add up. I can’t recommend a specific budget for you, but it is wise to set aside a fair amount if you can. You want to take advantage of the new release lists. If you can get into the top three spots on a new release list, you’ll get a lot of free eyes on your book as well.
Additionally, there are websites like Story Origin and Book Funnel that allow authors to organize cross-advertising. This is where that e-mail list comes in. You can sign up for book bundles, and every author accepted into the bundle is expected to promote the bundle – it could be sales, free books, books on KU, Audiobooks, or books by genre. I’ve found this to be an effective way to keep small, steady sales throughout the year. It doesn’t make me millions (or even hundreds) a month, but it does seem to contribute to increasing my readership, which is the long goal of most authors. I believe Book Funnel has some paid options and Story Origin is currently free, but likely will not be forever.
Define Keywords and Categories
As you set-up your book for distribution there will be a place to type in keywords and a place to select categories. Look at the books you feel your target audience likes. Find them on Amazon, and look at them in the desktop view (you can’t see this in mobile view). They’ll have three subcategories listed. Click the category and see what books are in the top 100 best sellers and top 100 new releases. This is one way to inform yourself about the categories. You can also e-mail KDP help to request a specific category once your book is live.
There are tools out there, like Publisher Rocket, that will give you ideas of how often certain keywords are searched. Ultimately, you want keywords that are searched a lot, and at least 1-2 categories that are smaller, more niche. Why at least one or two smaller categories? That’s the best chance you’ll have at getting the “number one new release” orange tag.
Because of the desire for that tag, you will see a lot of books trying to work the system. I’ve seen clearly fictional books in non-fiction categories or horror books in children’s literature categories. Sometimes it’s a weird glitch (always keep an eye on your categories as you publish) but sometimes it’s intentional abuse of categories. Don’t do that. Be in categories that fit your book – after all, you want to be seen by your target audience.
Have Your Blurb Beta-read by Writers and Non-Writers Alike
Raise your hand if you hate writing the back-of-book blurb! It can be incredibly difficult to give enough away to attract the right audience, but not so much that they feel like they don’t even need to read the book. Blurbs need to be exciting and intriguing. Other than the cover, the blurb needs to be the most appealing part of your book. It’s a huge factor in somebody clicking to look at the book and still browsing, or downloading.
I am no blurb genius when it comes to my own books. But one thing that helps is writing a few versions and asking your non-writer friends which one they like more. We writers…we get a little too technical sometimes. It’s possible we miss the forest for looking at the trees. So, I suggest asking non-writers too.
And ask that one friend that will be brutally honest. It will be worth the momentary emotional gut-punch.
Format the Manuscript
There are a lot of programs out there for formatting the interior of your book. Reedsy has a free one, KDP has a free one, Draft2Digital has a free one. I personally love the way Vellum formats, but I can’t use it because it’s a Mac program. Luckily, there are a lot of freelancers that offer book formatting for low costs (like, under 20 dollars) and can add in small graphics at chapter headers, make sure all of the margins look good, and really give your book a clean feel. Also, if you just get frustrated, freelancers might be a good option.
Once you get someone to give your book a chance, you want to wow them all the way. Take the time to format well. This is also the step that allows you to add in links at the back of your book for your e-mail list, your website, your author central page, or any other books you have available. Make that back matter of your book, well, matter.
Set Up Your Website
It doesn’t have to be amazing and filled with multiple pages, but you should have a website. This is another area you can manage yourself or pay somebody to help you get going. I personally created my own website. These days, there are a lot of options, all for varying costs. Some are easier than others. Whatever you do, I do recommend claiming and setting up a domain name. It’s a small annual fee, and it makes it easier for readers to find you.
If you want to come across as a legitimate author, having a website will go a long way. It’s also a place you can show off new books, curate content, and work on growing your reach through free shorts or drawings, or any other thing that feels on-brand for you.
Review Other Books
Reviewing other books is good in many ways. First, you’re continuing to grow as an author when you read. You’re getting a chance to “research the market” through reading, which is maybe the nicest work I’ve ever had. Additionally, as you review books you come to realize that reviewing is personal to how you read the book. It isn’t an attack on the author if you didn’t love every single aspect of the book. When your book is out there being reviewed, you’re going to need to remember that.
I recommend reviewing honestly, but with kindness. Personally, if I can’t give 3 stars or higher, I just don’t review it. But you review how you want. I’ve seen a trickle-down impact through the writing community that as you read and review others, they’re more likely to show you support as well.
Remember, though, exchanging reviews or trading five start reviews is strictly prohibited by Amazon. So read at random. Read to your interests. It’s better for both you and the authors if you like the genre and the book you’re reading.
This article is meant to be only a general overview (we're already at 2.5k words...). Take this checklist and research the options. Read blogs and articles and ask questions on social media. If you have Facebook, there are tons of author groups on there. Reddit has a lot of subreddits for writers and readers as well.
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