The most important part of being a writer is writing, but if you want a career as a self-published author, you have to do a whole lot more than just write: you have to learn the business of writing and market yourself in a way that puts you on the same playing field as mainstream authors with big publishing houses behind them.
We see it every day here at BookBaby: aspiring independent authors want to know how to build a career and make sure people read — and purchase — their work. To that end, here are five things you should do as you begin a career as a self-published author.
1. Build your author website
Your website doesn’t need to be anything fancy, and you certainly don’t need to spend a huge chunk of change to have one built. A Squarespace, Wix, or HostBaby template will do just fine, but your author website should have a few basic sections:
- Home page. A quick synopsis of who you are and what you do.
- About page. Include your credentials, awards, published work, personal story, etc.
- Blog page. A platform for you to post pieces of original content, republished articles you want to share, or excerpts from released or upcoming books.
- Contact page. This should include an email sign-up form and allow visitors to send an email directly to you.
- Sales page. A hub where people can browse and purchase your book(s), either directly from your site or via another vendor (link to Amazon, etc.).
The purpose of your website is to inform people of who you are and what you do, and if your intention is to gather additional freelance or contract writing work, this is your calling card.
2. Maintain and grow an email list
Every single successful independent writer has an email list. It’s arguably the most effective way to nurture direct relationships with your loyal readers and fans. I believe that one valid email contact is worth 25 social media fans or followers: your email subscribers have given you express permission to contact them with meaningful messages.
That said, building an email list takes work. As mentioned, you’ll want to put an email capture form somewhere on your website (preferably front and center). Where most writers go wrong is making their call to action something vague like, “Sign up for my weekly newsletter.” Well, what’s in your weekly newsletter? Do you share stories? Do you give writing tips? People want to know what they’re going to get before they submit their email address.
Make your call to action specific: “Every Sunday, I’ll share three writing prompts that will help spark your next short story.” The more you cater your call to action to your audience with something valuable, the more people will sign up. Then, whatever promise you’ve made — e.g. every Sunday, three writing prompts — you have to keep.
3. Work your social media profiles
Your social media profiles are your gateway to your largest potential audience. As a writer, you should secure your name (or some obvious variation like “YourName_Writer”) on all the major social sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Medium, Quora, etc.
From there, you’ll want to choose one as your primary platform. One of the biggest mistakes new (and even established) writers make is they try to be everywhere at once. They think they need to maintain eight different social profiles at the same time , get overwhelmed, and do a lackluster job — or give up entirely.
I highly suggest looking toward platforms that lend themselves to writing — Medium or Quora, for example. Whichever platform you choose as your primary, ask yourself how you can build a loyal audience there. Post something new every day. Dedicate a significant amount of time to mastering that one platform. Once you’ve gotten some traction, you can expand to a second, and a third, and so on.
4. Optimize your Amazon Author Page
Amazon has terrific SEO (search engine optimization), and having a fully loaded Amazon Author Page will only help your name appear in Google’s search results more often. That means uploading a professional headshot, a bio, and links to your work on Amazon.
For an example of a great Amazon Author Page, take a look at John Grisham’s.
5. Cast a wide net with your book distribution
Now, more than ever, self-published authors need to be aware of all the different ways they can distribute their books — on Amazon and beyond.
First, you need to make your titles available in as many digital and physical stores as possible. It’s critical that your titles are listed for sale in outlets like Google Play, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and anywhere books are sold online. You need to be where the readers are.
On the print side, it’s important to be listed in the large wholesaler catalogs like Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and IPG. This is where 98% of all brick-and-mortar stores want to order from, just like they do all the other books they have in stock. BookBaby makes it easy for stores to buy our authors’ books in all of the wholesale catalogs.
Second, in order for an independent author to distribute print books to stores, the book needs an ISBN number. One reason for this, which many writers don’t know, is that your book needs to be returnable. If, for some reason, your book doesn’t sell, the retailer is going to want to have insurance on the books and be able to return them. This is a huge part of the distribution process, and it’s something we work on directly with all BookBaby authors.
It’s the author’s job to forge the relationships with retailers and gain interest in their books, but BookBaby ensures all the requirements are met, so when a retailer says, “Sure, we’ll carry your books,” all the pieces are already in place.
Third, authors need a reliable and easy way to manage the accounting and daily activity of their distribution business. (At BookBaby, authors get one account hub where they can manage their entire distribution business).
Managing a large-scale distribution business is hard and time-consuming work. Independent authors need to focus on writing and marketing and leave the distribution to the pros.
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