As the author of a new, independently published book, I'll share with aspiring authors some lessons I've learned so far in the two months my book has been out.
1. Get Three Books Out. Fast.
We're nearing a tipping point in the publishing industry, which I've written about on a couple of occasions recently. Some of my smartest friends no longer read anything longer than a magazine article; how do we know that the evolutions in information overload and publishing economics will leave a place for traditional books just five years from now?
That's why it's important to get some long-form books out quickly, to maximize your reputational capital before publishing goes off in a whole new direction, which may well be focused on short-form content. I've already got my next two books mapped out, with one slated for this fall.
2. Go Rogue and Go Indie.
Sure, you can try getting published the traditional way. But the traditional publishers are focused on finding blockbusters, which means they egg on celebs like Sarah Palin to go rogue, and they have no time for you. A friend who's published two books the traditional way told me last week that his publisher doesn't want to hear from him again until he can titillate them with a marketing plan that shows he has a broad and active marketing network. He wondered, "If I have that network, why do I need them?"
He's right. Turn the tables and go rogue yourself on the traditional publishing houses, and start getting those books out on your schedule, not their lumbering, delay-prone schedule. Various independents can get the job done on your terms, quickly, and you'll have full control over your book's title, content and cover. That gives you room to experiment. And remember that the print-on-demand revolution is your best friend. You'll be available on Amazon, and you won't have thousands of copies in your garage. And it'll be easier to take your books off the market and revise them if necessary.
3. Don't worry about bookstores or book events.
Getting your books into physical bookstores and arranging book signings are costly, time-consuming activities. If a friend or colleague is willing to organize a book event for you locally or in a strategic market, go for it. Otherwise, don't feel a need to set up such events. An East Coast friend recently came to Los Angeles to do a book-signing event at USC: about 70 people attended the talk, but only 15 bought books. Was that really worth the travel? Getting a relevant blog to mention your book is more time- and cost-effective, because thousands of people are only one or two clicks away from buying your book.
4. Be Patient & Strategic
Your Amazon ranking can be manipulated with surprising ease. Selling just two or three books (or, um, buying them on your own) can raise your ranking from #500,000 to #80,000.
You may well need anywhere from 20 to 100 books to send to colleagues, media, prospective agents and others. Don't buy all these books at once at the author's discount price from your publisher. Instead, pay a little extra and buy them gradually from Amazon. That way, if your Amazon ranking is mired at #2,000,000 while you're trying to convince a radio show to interview you, a quick order of three books can bump you up to #100,000. This shows your book has a pulse, while giving you the supply of books you need to give out as freebies.
But be ready for a peculiar reality: As time goes on, your book will sink more easily and quickly on Amazon's rankings, as its algorithms adjust for the loss of momentum that your book experiences. Don't obsess too much, and start thinking about your future projects.
5. Getting media attention may not move merchandise in the short term.
I felt great when I got a column in the Washington Post's "On Faith" religion section, but I noticed that I didn't sell many books on account of that. And I've noticed that many authors who appear on network TV don't get the bump you might imagine. The reason is that most viewers aren't paying much attention, and even the ones who do pay attention won't remember your book's name or title long enough to buy it on Amazon or find it at Barnes & Noble. Again, this is why getting a blog to mention your book can be much more valuable in terms of sales. Getting news coverage is more important for your overall credibility than for short-term book sales.
6. It's the Branding, Stupid.
This goes back to our first point. Get out there and build up your visibility, as fast as you can. But don't pretend to know the form that your fame or influence may take in another five years. For most experts, there's more money to be made as a speaker than as a writer, and being a published author often helps you get booked as a speaker. But be ready for the speaking biz to evolve rapidly too.
7. Consider giving your book away free on Kindle.
Many writers have maximized exposure for their books, quickly, by making their book a freebie on Kindle. This may hurt your pride in the short run, but it won't hurt your wallet. Remember that most of us aren't J.K. Rowling and most of us can't hope to make gobs of money on each sale. In that light, I'll probably make my Kindle book free in the next few months.
Ultimately, I suspect that success comes from working all the angles, everyday - and, if at all possible, keep your day job!