Today’s guest is author Tabitha Lord, whose debut novel Horizon won the 2016 Writer’s Digest Grand Prize Winner for Self-Published Fiction. A Pushcart nominee,Tabitha’s short story “Homecoming” was published in the anthology Sirens. Her second novel, Infinity, the sequel to Horizon, released in June of 2017. Tabitha holds a degree in Classics from College of the Holy Cross, and worked as a middle school Latin teacher and admissions director before dedicating herself to writing full-time.
Indie authors: Your Pub Date is Not As Important as You Think
The pub date: THE big day of an author’s life, right? All of the toiling, editing, revising and decision-making comes down to a fateful 24 hours — a speck on the calendar, but a very important speck.
Or so they say. But that’s not necessarily the case, at least, not for us indie authors.
We hear a lot about the all-important pub date as authors, but it’s important to parse whom the pub date really matters to and why. For traditionally published authors, a book’s success can largely hinge on early sales. Much attention is given to garnering pre-orders in hopes of pushing a book onto a bestseller list during release week and encouraging retailers to order more books.
For an indie pre-orders and a strong launch matter too. But an indie can and should imagine the book’s launch as one among several, long-term opportunities.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, indie authors have the advantage of focusing on one single title or set of titles: our own. Unlike publishers, who may be juggling many dozens of titles each season, we indies can put all of our energy and attention into the books we have written and published. Often, publishers place disproportionate emphasis on the pub date because with dozens of titles to manage, that date provides them with a logical point for turning their attention and resources to the next book.
Second, our overall marketing and sales model is different. We aren’t worried about strong pre-sales enticing booksellers to buy large quantities of our books because we aren’t able to penetrate the bookstore market anyway. Instead, we have direct access to our readers and therefore can largely bypass bookstore sales in favor of online or direct sales.
Third, we control our calendars so we’re able to strategically time every aspect of our book’s release, and then stretch out our marketing for as many months afterward as we’d like. We also control the pricing of our books. These two factors, timing and pricing, can be used to great advantage, because as indies, we need a different strategy for success — one that isn’t attached to brick and mortar sales figures or garnering momentum all at once.
When I released my first book, Horizon, I experienced these lessons first-hand. I did everything necessary to help my novel hit an Amazon bestseller list around its pub date, but that did not pan out. It was only months later, after I ran a discount promo on Amazon with a hook about Comicon, blasted it all over social media, and combined that with a few online ads that sales began really taking off and I hit the coveted best-seller ranking!
So what does an indie timeline look like, and how can you create more opportunities to get your book into the hands of readers? Here are a few things to try:
Before your pub date
Build an online community. A year before pub date is not too early to start ramping up your online presence. Social media is an obvious go-to, with Twitter being the best for connecting with people you don’t know yet, Facebook allowing for more detailed conversations with a more intimate group, and Instagram to create a visual library. Don’t overlook getting involved in blogs, either. Offer to review books on book review blogs or blogs serving your niche or genre. The main thing is: consider what kind of online presence makes sense for you and maintain it faithfully. If you can’t maintain it on your own, outsource the task.
Get your book up on Net Galley. And set it up for pre-order with the major online retailers. People can’t get excited about purchasing your book if they can’t find it for sale anywhere online.
Give a little taste. Seriously, it may sound hokey, but some readers love cover reveals. You can also give away a free chapter. Remember to provide an opportunity for them to sign up for your newsletter, follow you on Twitter, read your blog, or like your page on Facebook.
On / around your pub date
Throw a release party! Just because the pub date isn’t the big date doesn’t mean it’s not a big date. Celebrate! Invite friends, family, and readers to share in your excitement!
After your pub date
Create signing opportunities. Book a blog tour, and call your local libraries and bookstores in communities where you have a list of connections to invite.
Find your people and hang out with them. I’m a sci-fi writer, so I spend a lot of time at Comic Cons and other geeky conventions. Think about your readers and fellow writers in your genre — where do they hang out? Now, go there.
Revive backlist titles. A traditionally published book can have a limited shelf life. If initial sales are not robust enough, momentum behind the book falters, and the publisher may not allocate additional resources to it. But if an indie backlist title hasn’t reached its market potential, the author can dust it off and breath new life into it. Give an older title a snappy new cover. On demand print options allow files to be uploaded easily. Repackage a series into a box set and discount the price. Run a discounted promotional campaign on a backlist title to drive sales toward the newest book in a series. Remember, you control this!
Outsource promotion. Services like E-reader News and The Fussy Librarian can help bring visibility to your book. Some services have greater reach and better success than others, so be sure to do some research and read reviews. Running promotions through a service can be a powerful tool for helping grow concentrated interest in your book at a particular time. An independent publicist is an option too. They have connections and contacts that you might not, and they know how to pitch you professionally.
I’ve come to think of it this way: Indie book marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. The pub date is less of a finish line than one node of celebration along a trajectory of exciting events and opportunities to get the word out there about your book. Be creative, be bold, and stay informed about current marketing trends. And most importantly, keep writing!
Have additional ideas to share? The floor is yours.