Workshop: Standing Out From The Crowd

The second workshop I attended as a part of the Perth Writers Festival, 2014, was Standing out from the Crowd with indie author Susan May. Susan has an incredible story, having only chosen to become a self-published author in the past year. She already has one novel, two short stories and an anthology for sale on Amazon, has almost 40,000 followers on twitter and is the tenth most searched author on Goodreads Australia.

The workshop revolved around marketing yourself as an author – whether traditional or indie. This can be started before you publish your first work, or after you’ve published several. She mostly shared her own experience and stories of her other author friends successes – from modest earnings to the runaway success of Hugh Howie (who she just worked on an anthology with).

Susan was incredibly engaging and inspiring to listen to. A complete go-getter, she’s funny, confident and business minded. A lot of what she said were things I’d heard before in my indie publishing research, but some was new, some gave better insight, and all of it was just really great to hear from a real person – and someone local! – who has braved indie publishing successfully.

As before, here is a summary of my notes. I hope they’re helpful!

  • Treat your writing like a business. Keep up with the industry, know what’s happening, what’s working, what’s no longer effective.
  • Become someone worth discovering. Readers want to connect with authors in a way they haven’t in the past. They want to know you. What’s your brand? What’s your story?
  • Your biography is important. Update it as your career develops. Be positive about yourself, include your smaller achievements until you can replace them with bigger ones. Have you talked at schools? Had any short stories or articles published? Taught a class? Everything counts!
  • Connect all of your social media to your website and author page. Learn to use each effectively. You don’t have to be on twitter, and it’s no longer effective as a selling tool, but it does allow your readers to engage with you and get to know you.
  • Join Kindleboards to get in touch with other authors and share tips and advice on what’s working best at any given time to boost your sales.
  • Your time is valuable – measure it. Time = words = money.
  • Don’t waste too much time on marketing methods that don’t show you a return. If everyone is doing it, there’s a good chance it’s no longer effective. Think outside the box, and don’t forget to think local.
  • Effective free marketing methods include: mailing lists, goodreads giveaways, interviews (radio, television & newspaper, blogs if they have a significant readership in your intended demographic and genre), talks (in schools or universities, at writers festivals, etc)
  • Some examples of ‘Good’ Marketing (i.e. a good return on your time and investment): Local interviews and/or podcasts, price pulsing/sales/free (controlling the price of your books to lure readers), discounted/free first book in a series (most effective when the series is completed, or there is at least a follow up book), mailing lists (linked to via your website, and in your eBook),  group promotions, box sets (joining with other authors of similar genre/demographic to offer a low priced deal, and hopefully sharing and expanding each others reader pool).
  • Some examples of ‘Bad’ Marketing (not a good return on your time or investment): hiring a publicist, any expensive advertising with no promise of a return (paid advertising is less and less effective), blog tours (unless you’ve ensured the blogs have a large readership, and cater to your demographic and genre), guest posts (same again), not getting paid for work in competitions or anthologies (don’t just give your work away).
  • Don’t go crazy with your money. Prioritise what you need to pay for, and find another (legal) way to get what you can’t. Do you know someone good with photoshop? Can you teach yourself to format? It’s not ideal, but you need to do whatever works best for you.
  • If you don’t ask for help or opportunities, the answer will always be no. Put yourself out there. Get in touch with authors you admire, ask local newspapers and radio stations if they’d like to do a piece on you.
  • Prepare a media package (which could also be posted on your website) to provide to anyone prepared to interview or write a piece on you. This makes it easier for them to agree, and easier to get the information about yourself you want out there. This media package could include: a blurb, an article already written about you (which you could write yourself, or have a friend write) featuring quotes, a page with your information, some photos of yourself you own and are happy for them to use in their publication, and a page with reviews of your book.
  • Set short term (yearly) goals for yourself. Deadlines are good incentives.
  • Your books are your best form of marketing. Write a lot of them. Each book increases your chance of sales, and don’t bother with marketing that takes too much of your attention away from your writing. Make each book the highest quality you can.
  • Publish short stories and novellas to support your novel sales. Price them accordingly, or offer them for free. They’ll keep your readers interested in between your novel releases.
  • Put lead ins to your next book at the back of previous novels. Don’t forget, you can edit books after you’ve posted them on Amazon.
  • It’s better to find success on your tenth book than your first.
  • Be cool to your fans.
  • Stay positive, stay creative.
  • Keep writing, and keep focused.

I guess in retrospect it was a very indie biased workshop. Which was great for me, as someone planning to publish her first novel via Amazon in the next few months.

Some people may not agree with everything Susan said, which is okay. She urged us not to follow her own path to the letter, but to go out and find what works best for us and to think outside the box. At the end of the day, there’s no one thing that will work. If there was, we’d all be famous. The most important lesson she left us with, I think, is that our time is our most valuable asset, and not to fall for ‘must do’ lists found everywhere on self publishing advice guides. You don’t have to go on a blog tour to sell books, you don’t have to make a book trailer, you don’t have to be a twitter mogul.

The only thing you have to do is write.

8 thoughts on “Workshop: Standing Out From The Crowd

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