Saturday 23 June 2018

Indie spotlight: An indie author’s guide to marketing, part I – branding

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, in the first of a two-part series on marketing, Alexa Kang, a Boston-based, Chinese-American author of World War Two historical fiction, published through her own house, Lakewood Press, gives advice on branding. She will follow-up with a post on selling, on Monday.

Alexa recently brought out Shanghai Story, which is set in 1936 Shanghai. It is the first book of a projected trilogy set to chronicle the events in China leading up to World War Two, as well as the experience of Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

So, over to Alexa…

For anyone venturing into indie writing, the key to determining what marketing strategy will work for you is to ask yourself: why do you want to publish?

Some people publish because they want a physical product of their writing. It may be a memoir to give their children and grandchildren. It may be a non-fiction book for bolstering a professional’s credentials, and for distribution online and at conferences to market other products and services. For these writers, heavy book promotions may not make financial sense.

The second type of writers are ones who want to share their imaginary worlds. They have stories to tell, and they want their stories to be loved by others. The third type are those who wish to leave their day jobs and make a living by writing. You may aspire to be either of these types, or a combination of both. If so, my blog post today is for you.

Before the advance of indie publishing, writers dreamt of writing their one big masterpiece. Fame and fortune would follow, right?

Actually, in the indie writing market, an author with only one book will not last very long. Your first book is the tool to introduce yourself to the marketplace. It is your lead magnet to begin building a fan base to whom you can sell subsequent books.

Let’s talk about packaging. Like any product, it seems obvious that good branding and packaging are needed to sell books. However, many new (and old) indie authors do not understand this. The market is hyper-competitive. Readers have millions of books to choose from and their time is limited. You need to cue them in on why they should buy your book. First, define your author brand by defining the genre of your book and books you plan to write. Next, find a cover designer to create a stellar book cover that conveys your brand and the genre.

Unless you’re a graphic designer skilled in typography, do not try to make the book cover yourself. Even if you are a graphic design expert, you should spend time studying the covers of the current bestselling books in your genre and try to emulate them. If budget is tight, there are many good pre-made cover options available. Without a professional-looking cover, your book will be dead on arrival. Think about who are your target readers and how you can use the cover to convince them to give your book a chance. Reedsy is a good place to begin finding cover artists. You can find editors, proofreaders, and other service providers for authors there too, although Reedsy does charge a percentage fee. Author Joanna Penn also has a list of cover designers you can peruse on her website.

For your first book, don’t try to be too different and unique with covers. Being different will lower or eliminate your chance to sell and be discovered. You have five seconds to catch the attention of potential readers browsing to buy the next book. If your cover does not reveal at first glance your book’s genre, readers will move on. You can be different when you have built a reliable fan base of people who know your work.

Your book blurbs are important. Authors often make the mistake of writing a summary of their books for the blurbs. But looking at it from a reader’s point of view, a summary of any story will read flat. Your blurbs needs to convey immediately what your book is about. It needs to be tight and intriguing. Generally, I recommend writing blurbs in this format:

(1) Open with an attention-grabbing tagline
(2) Convey your genre and the gist of your story in the first sentence
(3) Introduce your main character(s), but include no more than two
(4) What does your character want?
(5) What stands in the way of your character getting what he or she wants?
(6) What’s at stake if your character fails?

Writing blurbs is hard. I still struggle with it myself. If you need help, author Bryan Cohen offers a great blurbs writing service. Also, check out YouTube tutorials posted by Bryan and authors Libbie Hawker and Derek Murphy on how to write blurbs. All three are successful indie authors with great advice to share.

You can further build your brand by having a website and a social media presence. A website will add legitimacy, as well as being a place for readers to sign up for your mailing list (which I will talk about in Part II). If you’re not tech savvy, you can use the Author Theme for Wordpress by Creative Markets to start. With social media, don’t let it become a time suck. Start with social media platforms you already use so you can keep your pages active with regular updates.

I became an indie writer by accident. When I wrote Rose of Anzio three years ago, it was a hobby and I shared new chapters online as I drafted. I didn’t know that by posting my work publicly, I had lost the “first publication right” and publishers would no longer consider my book. But my readers’ responses were so positive, I decided to release it myself.

Looking back, I’m so glad I did. The traditional publication process can take years. Since I write World War Two fiction, some of my readers are in their nineties. Once, a reader posted a brief, positive Amazon review for my book Eternal Flame. Three days later, her daughter announced in a Facebook readers' group that the reader had passed away from terminal illness. I cannot express how shocked and humbled I felt. I did not know her, but one of the last things she did was to read my book. She even took the effort to review it. I hope my book gave her some comfort and reading pleasure during her last days. This would never have happened had I waited for the acceptance by a traditional publisher.