When I started my writeblr during a rotation break at my lifeguard shift, I never expected I’d be writing this post today. What I’m about to share with you is the result of two years learning how to navigate online writing communities, two marketing classes in my business minor, countless influences from successful authors I admire, and 22 pages of notes taken from my marketing and publishing research. I’ve learned so much and I’m honored to have come so far since I first started putting my writing out there on the internet!
Before I get started with the information, I’d like to include a few disclaimers:
- This information is accurate and up-to-date as of Summer 2021. If you are reading this post at a later date, keep that in mind, and do your own research accordingly.
- I am a white English speaker based in the US, so this research does not include a nuanced view of other countries’ markets, legal processes, and publishing industries, nor information on publishing in other languages or as part of a minority group. While I tried my best to make it as inclusive as possible within a realistic scope, it is by no means all-encompassing.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you have a story you want to release! The first step to publishing is getting the manuscript into a state where it’s ready to be sent out into the world, which means editing. If you’d like a comprehensive guide on the editing process, check out this post first! That being said, I’ll start by sharing my publishing research!
Traditional vs Self/Indie Publishing:
Once you finish all the editing steps, you have to decide if you want to traditionally or indie publish. To trad publish, one normally needs an agent to negotiate a contract, so you begin by pitching your book until you find one who wants to work with you, then start submitting to publishing houses. The publisher provides the professional editors, graphic designers, official formatting, cover artists, and some marketing for you, at the expense of some creative control and a cut of your royalties. However, you do get an up-front payment called an “advance” (which comes out of your initial royalties) and the validation that comes with passing the gatekeepers. Additionally, it may be easier to sell the print to bookstores and earn literary prizes, but much of the marketing will still be on your shoulders, and the process can be very very slow.
IF you decide on the indie (aka self) publishing route, you’ll be handling ALL the details on your own, which involves paying for the professional services you need to make and market your book, however you also have total creative control over the content, design, and can claim all rights and royalties. The book can reach readers without going through gatekeepers, which means the only person standing in your way is you, and how much time, energy, and money you’re willing to dedicate to winning the amazon and social media algorithms. This can be an empowering or intimidating thought, and being honest about your personality, capabilities, and goals, may help you decide which route is best for you.
Whichever publishing path you decide to take, it’s important to do market research to help inform your big decisions and help keep realistic expectations so you aren’t surprised or disappointed by the results. Below I’ve bullet-pointed some of my findings when I did a research deep dive on the publishing market in 2021:
- Reading surged during last year’s lock downs and that trend will likely continue. Most of the increase has been in in fiction, and eBooks hit a boom.
- Readers turned to online booksellers since they offer a range of reading in all formats and better prices that physical bookstores can never match and at more affordable prices. Likewise, more authors turned to digital publishing
- On Kindle, 17 of the 100 top-selling books are self-published. The market isn’t as saturated with eBooks as you might believe. “Overall industry stats show that upwards of 70% of people who read, still read print and haven’t yet adopted a digital reading diet.”
- Publishers report that their highest priority in 2021 is audience growth and marketing, with 34.2% placing it at the top. Second to that priority comes successful SEO (Search Engine Optimization), say 25.8%
- Publishers have deserted traditional media as a source for information, and instead, 64.2% say they read blogs, with second place going to forums, with 11.7% of publishers reporting it as their source for industry news.
- Authors will benefit from competition in the eBook marketplace between Amazon, Apple, and Google, since all three show they’re investing in indies, which has continued into 2021.
- More platforms are popping up for audio-books, providing more competition and easier production for authors on that front as well.
- Authors will see more success with international sales, since the pandemic greatly developed the eBook market in European countries. People also spend a lot of time online now and young people might have a lot of international friends.
- If you’re a writer and you’d like to see for yourself what agents are currently predicting about upcoming market trends, search “literary agent interview,” and sort by newest results. You might even run across an agent who seems like the right fit for you
- Consolidation in trad-publishing drives more authors to self-publishing AND vanity presses. Beware of scams! If you have to pay up front to get published, it’s probably bad news.
- Book discovery is shifting from organic “people go browsing for something that looks interesting” to inorganic “Pay to push your thing to the top of the list.” Having a marketing budget and understanding trends is super important (I’ll discuss that in the next section)
- Subscription consumption is growing, and that drives devaluation. People would rather rent or pay a subscription that lets them have access to hundreds of books like Amazon KU KP than buy a single copy.
- If you indie publish, it is smart to follow Trad-Pub WC Guidelines – you have the ultimate artistic say, but keep in mind that these guidelines exist for a reason, it’s easier to market things that follow the rule, and you’re probably not the exception, especially if this is your debut book. Look up your category + genre to find industry averages.
Whether you traditionally or indie publish, the majority of the marketing responsibility will be on your shoulders, so if you want people to actually buy the book, you need to get good at talking about it online. Yes, I know, self-promotion sucks, but knowing how to do it as painlessly as possible is a useful skill. You don’t have to take a business degree to advertise, but knowing the fundamentals is helpful:
The first thing they teach you in any class is to make a marketing plan that includes several important bases. This list boils a lot of difficult decisions down into a couple of questions that can point you in a solid direction.
- A SWOT Analysis stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats” and is used by businesses to get the feel for an industry before launching a product. Ask yourself, “What are my book’s selling points? What might be a turnoff to new readers? Where can I find and reach new readers, and what’s getting in my way of doing that?” You can use this as a framework for creating promotional material and figuring out your “brand”. This should be authentic, if carefully curated. Looking around my blog, I hope that my readers get the impression of encouraging, inspiring writing, and a person who’s trying to be a helpful and positive part of the community.
- Know your target audience. Having a niche means that the people who see your work will like it and share it with their friends. It’s better to be intentional rather than trying to get a smattering of different people who may leave bad reviews.
- Think about B2C vs B2B. These terms stand for “Business to Consumer” and “Business to Business” respectively, and in this case, you, the author, are the business selling books. Either you can sell directly to readers through a service like Amazon Print on Demand or even your own authors website. Or, you can sell an order to a bookstore retailer or library, who will pass on the books to readers. When negotiating a contract or choosing a publishing service, decide how you want to distribute your books and which will provide the best deal for both you and your readers.
- When designing the book, keep in mind the “4 Ps”: price, product, place, promotion. Set a budget for how much you spend on book-related expenses, and compare your book to similar published ones based on genre, format, and word count to set a fair price. Choose cover design and format to represent the content of the story well, and reflect those design choices in promotional materials. Also consider where you promote and advertise. You wouldn’t market YA dystopian on Facebook, or an adult thriller on Snapchat.
Once you have a marketing plan, you can start implementing it! For authors, there are a few check boxes that are listed on EVERY site I visited, so I’ll list them here as well. Don’t feel overwhelmed at all the options, instead start with where you’re comfortable and work your way up to a platform as your time, energy, and budget can support it.
Create an author mailing list – generally speaking, people don’t check blogs weekly and your social media posts can be lost in the algorithm, but they do check their emails. If you have a direct link to someone, they’re more likely to see updates and buy your books. You can also create fans by giving them exclusive freebies and behind the scenes content.
Set up an author website – This is something I’m still getting the hang of as a self-taught internet gremlin, but packaged builders like WordPress, Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace make it easier than coding yourself. At some point in the future, hiring a web designer and moving to a self-hosted platform would be a smart move, but until then, at least I have a place to call my own. Here’s some tips I’ve learned in the past almost-a-year:
- Have a static homepage, and make it easy to navigate.
- If you have a book out, put it front and center along with your mailing list sign up to make it easy for people to find. Attract new fans with a reader magnet like a free story or workbook.
- Run a blog! It gives people a reason to come back and drives up traffic by as much as 55%. It also keeps the website looking updated and fresh, and forces you to be accountable.
- Make the website fit the theme/aesthetic of your books to help create a “brand”. Be selective with color, contrast, and how busy the page looks.
- Make your site a resource, so people are more likely to come for tips as well as the books. This ties into the blog aspect, and how I post writing advice and resource posts like this, in addition to excerpts from my own writing.
- Make it clear how to reach you, make it easy and cozy and friendly so people are more likely to reach out
- Make it personal, know when to break the rules to make it look you
Build a social media following – Most importantly: DON’T STRESS ABOUT THIS ONE. It’s supposed to be fun. Unless you’re paying the bills with this right now, just remember that it’s low pressure and just another tool in your toolbox. These are some tips that can help use it efficiently without running yourself into the ground:
- Make friends. You’re supposed to be social, and getting interaction/finding stuff to share is a lot easier when you can have a go-to person to boost and bounce ideas off of. Plus it’s fun to share your work with an enthusiastic and mutually supportive person.
- Ask questions, reply to comments, participate in tag games, and like other people’s work to show the algorithm you’re an active user and get your stuff promoted, plus start making friendship.
- Use hashtags and follow your data to see what people like. This is one that totally depends on whatever vibe the algorithm is feeling that day and it’s fun to play with as long as you don’t get caught up in counting likes.
- Be consistent, if possible, but understand you don’t owe it your time, especially if it cuts into time that you’d normally set aside for family, writing, or personal relaxation.
- Don’t try to do everything, make what you ARE doing effectively.
- For Facebook: It’s surprisingly still relevant for an adult audience, better for ads, try to get into writing groups to find your demographic. Make an author page. Post thoughtful long-ish content, and use link sharing to direct traffic back to your site.
- Twitter is extremely popular among writing circles, many agents and publishing houses are there, it’s big. Participate in trends, talk about other topics if they’re relevant, do cover reveals and sneak peaks, good for announcements and short updates. I admit, this intimidates me, but its something I’m looking into.
- Instagram has the fussiest algorithm but much better engagement because it’s so popular. The engagement rate on IG is 1% and comparatively, FB is .25% and twitter is .08%. Keep these numbers in mind, and don’t get discouraged if you only get a couple likes! That’s normal, and you might actually be beating the average.
- Tumblr’s engagement is actually really great compared to the internet in general. I have ~600 followers. I linked my 22 page long google doc there, and 24 hours later, it had 105 notes. That’s a 17.5% engagement rate. Even my smaller personal posts get about 2-10 notes (6 average), which is that 1% engagement rate on the general internet^. You can argue that the like/reblog ratio can be less helpful, but it’s still leagues ahead of more popular social media sites. And they say our platform is dying. The writeblr community is also incredibly supportive and I’ve made a ton of good friends there, especially since you can post whole excerpts. Highly recommend, just don’t use it exclusively.
- Pinterest is pretty big, but not in writing circles. It is good for aesthetics and popular among young women. You can get a business account, use rich pins to send people to your site. Have fun and build up an awesome aesthetic, but also beware the procrastination temptation.
- Youtube/Authortube/Booktube/Podcasts are surprisingly good for branding if you can build up an audience but it’s also the biggest workload and less social. If you have the skills and equipment, go for it!
- Ticktok is good for readers but not necessarily writers, though with the vertical video trend, it’s becoming more viable. Could be fun!
Book speaking engagements – now that the world is opening up again, signing up for a spot at writing conferences, doing school visits, and organizing book signing tours are all great options if you have the money, time, and propensity for public speaking. It lets readers meet you face to face and more easily recruit new fans because you have their attention, but it’s also one of the biggest commitments.
Be nice, be patient, and be yourself! Building a platform is largely a waiting game – once you hit a certain threshold of followers or interaction, the internet starts to push your content to more people and you can very quickly fall into exponential growth if you hit a big break with one viral post. But the trick is putting in the months or years of slowly climbing to reach that threshold first. Bide your time and it will pay off eventually. You might not be famous, but you can still have a successful author’s platform with dedicated effort.
Thank you for reading! I hope this was informative and helpful, and wish you the best of luck in your publishing endeavors. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions through the feedback form on my “Contact Me” page, and sign up for my mailing list if you want to read my new short story, Jack of Fables. Until then, Happy Writing! 🙂