January 11, 2021

Experts offer their best tips for self-publishing success

We asked dozens of experts in self-publishing what were the two most important tips they had for indie authors. They responded with advice on everything from book covers to copyrights to social media—and much more! Over the next month, we will share one tip each day on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from the pros. Be sure to check this page daily as it will be updated with more tips!

Tip #1: Invest in your product before you invest in marketing.

When a book isn’t selling, don’t blame it all on marketing. Despite the rise in self-publishing, I still see many good books with really strong covers getting sales organically, and rise in Amazon rankings without the author investing in Facebook ads or doing a “blog tour.” So my point is: invest in your product before you invest in marketing. If the story is not good enough that readers will feel compelled to recommend it to their friends, or if the cover leaves any doubts as to the genre or professionalism of the book, then all the publicity and advertising money you’ll throw at it will be wasted.

Ricardo Fayet, Reedsy

Tip #2: Ask your designer for three distinct cover design concepts.

Your book designer should provide you with three cover design concepts, each of which is distinctly different from the others. If your designer gives you only three variations (e.g., same image, different fonts), ask him or her to go back to the drawing board and provide you with a variety of concepts to give you some choice as to the direction you want your cover to take. To save time and money, clarify variations versus concepts with your designer upfront, before making the hiring decision.

Michelle DeFilippo, 1106 Design

Tip#3: Do two things a day to promote your books.

It is quite common to hear authors discuss how overwhelming book promotion is and how there is no time. Yup. I get that.  If we were to set a goal of finding ALL the newspapers and pitch them ALL we would soon be exhausted, discouraged and (if you are anything like me) quit.  Why not try another way?

I suggest that we take promotion one small bite at a time? Find TWO newspapers, or two blogs or two stores and reach out to them. It is easy to spend a few minutes a day reaching out to two people who could promote you and your book. Small, manageable steps taken each day are MUCH more successful long term than big, sweeping, grandiose plans that take up entire HOURS.  Small steps = Long distances.

Amy Collins, New Shelves Books

Tip#4: Don’t offer your book for free.

Respect your work.

Carol Vorain, Writers Boon

Tip #5: Identify your target audience.

It’s easy to get caught up writing your book when a bout of inspiration hits, but when it’s all finished, would you be able to confidently say who your book has been written for? It’s important to get clear on who your target reader is before you start writing your book. By having your target in mind, you’ll have an easier time identifying your book’s purpose, differentiating factors, and competition when it comes time to market your book.

From Lucy Briggs. marketing manager at BookBaby, BookBaby.com

Tip #6: A cover must command attention in less than 10 seconds.

A “Busy” cover is an ineffective cover. Don’t overload your cover with too many elements: images, font styles, etc. A cover has to command attention in less than 10 seconds. At a glance, it has to broadcast the genre, the subject matter and the emotional tone to the reader.

Nick Zelinger, NZ Graphics

Tip #7: Books don’t sell themselves. Have a plan!

Most authors go into book marketing and social media haphazardly, without learning the nuances of personal branding, and without realistic expectations of selling books. Writing a great book is a huge achievement! Now do the work to market it. If you don’t know how, learn. Books don’t sell themselves, no matter how much you hope, pray, and wish for it. Do the work. 

Rachel Thompson, BadRedHead Media

Tip # 8: It is important to register your copyright within 90 days after publication.

US copyright law provides for statutory damages of up to $150,000 dollars per infringement if the copyright was registered prior to infringement and within 90 days of your work’s publication.  If you have not registered your copyright before the infringement and within the 90-day period after publication, the most money you will be awarded will be for actual damages you can prove. Actual damages can be difficult to prove and will likely not approach the amount you would receive as statutory damages.

From Joyce Miller, The Copyright Detective

Tip #9: Release your ebook as a preorder.

Books birthed as preorders sell many more copies than those simply uploaded the day of release. Preorders enable more effective advance marketing, and they’re the secret to hitting the bestseller list at iBooks where all accumulated preorders credit toward your first day’s sales rank.

From Mark Coker, founder of SmashWords

Tip #10: Do a thorough, professional research of your top 20 keywords and phrases. Then use them everywhere –

 from your social media profiles to your Goodreads and Amazon pages, to your website, and every blog you write.

From Polly Letofsky, My Word Publishing

Tip #11: Spend your time on writing and your $$ on editing, cover, design and marketing

Spend your time and your money wisely. Successful authors spend their time writing and spend their money on editing, cover design and marketing.

Ricci Wolman, Written Word Media

Tip #12: Make sure your book is as consumable as possible.

You’re far better off with three shorter chapters then one longer one to help your readers get through your book more quickly. And the quicker you can help them get through your book the quicker they’re ready to buy your next book or other products or services that you may offer.

Bret Ridgway, ShipYourBooks

Tip #13: Avoid over-long titles and subtitles.

If you can’t read it as a thumbnail on Amazon, then modify to make it short, concise and dominant. Images and background textures should be there to support the title.

Nick Zelinger, NZ Graphic

Tip #14: Brand YOU and use a tag line on your website and everywhere.

You—your name—is the brand. That’s the dot-com you want. If it’s not available, add “author” or “books” after it, as in: YourNameAuthor.com or YourNameBooks.com. Buyers will be looking for you, not the publishing company and rarely the title. Next, create a tagline in less than ten words. Use keywords within it.

From Judith Briles, TheBookShepherd.com

Tip #15: It is your job to promote, market, sell, and get media for your book(s).

I am afraid books will not “sell themselves.”Books do not find their audience without a LOT of help. There are a LOT of talented authors out there, but successful authors are pretty rare. Successful authors promote their books, build email lists, gather fans, offer content to media… they keep going. They don’t depend on the book to find readers. And they don’t quit.

From Amy Collins, Newshelves.com

Tip #16: Be a guest blogger on a high-traffic blog that reaches your bullseye market.

You could even offer the followers multiple book giveaways.

From Polly Letofsky, MyWordPublishing.com

Tip #17: Build relationships with readers. Share what you’re passionate about, offer interesting content, add value to their day.

As an author (five award-winning books out; working on six and seven now) and book marketer (BadRedhead Media – seven years in publishing, over 20 in sales and marketing), the number one tip I have for authors is this: Build relationships with readers. Don’t blast them with spammy  “buy my book!” links, or repeatedly ask them to read, review, follow or clean your house the moment they ‘meet’ you online. You haven’t earned that right.

From Rachel Thompson, BadRedheadMedia.com

Tip #18: Contact your local media to write an article about you and your book.

The local media are the ones who will say “yes” to you the easiest. Use those articles and videos to convince bigger media that you know how to give a good interview.

From Dan Janal, PRLeads.com

Tip #19: You can sign up for print-on-demand yourself; you don’t need to go through a POD Publisher.

You may be told by XYZ Company that signing up with them is the only way to get your book printed on demand.  This is not true. You can open an account directly with Ingram Spark or CreateSpace, deal one-on-one with the POD printer, and be in control.

From Michele DeFilippo, 1106Design.com

Tip #20: Work with an editor.

If you have not worked with a professional editor, you don’t know what you’re missing. Going through an edit is a highly educational process. Most of the biggest names in publishing would not be the stars they are today without the help of great editors.

From Kathy Meis, Bublish.com

Tip #21: Carry some element from the cover to the interior.

It makes the book more sophisticated and interesting. Don’t forget the back cover and spine for design and content.

From Rebecca Finkel, graphic designer at F + P Graphic Design, www.fpgd.com

Tip #22: Promote your book through a quote (from the text).

Use tools like Quozimus.

From Carol Vorvain, author, lawyer and co-founder of Writers Boon, WritersBoon.com

Tip #23: Create an Opt In on your website.

Gathering the names and emails of visitors to your website is a must-do. Create a desired free informational piece that the type of individual you would like to work with or is most likely to buy your book would desire. Simply by adding their name and email it becomes a downloadable. Your system automatically captures the email and can then include them for future blogs or other communication pieces you send out. On www.TheBookShepherd.com, for example, a visitor can get a 24-page PDF of “Eight Publishing Essentials.” Your Opt In should be right under the banner with your tag line and name or adjacent to it. Make it easy and immediately visible.

From Judith Briles, author and publishing Expert, TheBookShepherd.com

Tip #24: Stagger multimedia projects to get maximum value from every bit of collateral surrounding your book. 

If you are planning an audiobook, video trailer, widgets, podcasts, blog tours, speaking engagements, etc., remember there is no need to schedule and execute everything at once. Space these out to make the most of each plank in your platform. It is very rare for a book to be an overnight sensation. Let your efforts unfold over time so every month or every few months you have something new and exciting to share.

From Beth Kallman Werner, founder and president, AuthorConnections


Tip #25: Decide early on if you want an ebook as well.

If so, let the designer set up the print book so it easily converts into an ebook.

From Rebecca Finkel, graphic designer at F + P Graphic Design, www.fpgd.com

2 thoughts on “Experts offer their best tips for self-publishing success

  1. This is awesome. Thank you. Many of these things I am doing, or have done. Some I do, but not consistently. The other things I need to make a plan to execute and do.

  2. Thanks for the great tips- some I have paid attention to and some I haven’t.
    I used BookBaby as my publisher and their support system is excellent. The BookBaby blog site is a great source for information for Indie Authors. That’s where I found out about Blueink.

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