Author Publishing Strategies: Proven Strategies That Successful Authors Use

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The Author Toolkit by Thomas M. Hill


If you are passionate about writing, there's no reason why you can't be successful as a self-published author.

It’s estimated that over 80,000 titles are published on Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace each year. Most authors make less than $1,000 from self-published titles. But there are a few common traits among those authors who have made successful careers out of self-publishing. They have learned how to turn their passion into a vehicle that drives their writing careers and businesses.

As someone who is fortunate enough to have worked with many stand-out authors over the last ten years, I have a unique perspective on what makes them so successful. They’ve all applied the same techniques to their publishing lives that they have implemented in their professional lives. They possess and harness the spirit of a bestselling author from day one.

This is a beginner’s guide to producing the best book possible, and then marketing and selling that book online through Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace. Leveraging the power of social media, you can jump-start your business and acquire thousands of adoring fans. All it takes is a willingness to dream, the determination to see a goal come to fruition, and the strength to keep going in the face of adversity.

Author Bio:

Thomas M. Hill has been working in publishing for the last ten years a book production specialist. In addition to editing, formatting, and packaging over sixty titles, he has assisted quite a few authors with development, research, and analysis of written content. He began his career in scholarly publishing, working for the University of Virginia Press and Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. In the last five years he has served as a book shepherd and publishing consultant to a handful of successful authors who have published compelling fiction and nonfiction titles.

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Chapter One

This Is Really Happening: Preparing Yourself for the Life of an Author

Imagine for just a moment that you are at a book signing. It may be for a book that the New York Times magazine reviewed and is considered to be one of the best books of the year. Let’s also say that you’ve been a fan of this author for some time; you’ve read all of her books and, when you found out that a new one was coming out, you were as excited as a third-grader having a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese—with twenty of his best friends. I went to some great birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese while growing up, so I can imagine that being the guest of honor is one of the most amazing things that could ever happen to a kid.

Now imagine that you’re next in line to have your copy of the latest title signed by this author. What’s going through your mind? If you’re like many people who have become fans of celebrities, notable individuals, and artists, you’re probably going to be pretty excited (and maybe “pretty excited” doesn’t come close to describing your experience). You may not be able to contain that excitement, such that you start shaking nervously or saying, Oh my God! I can’t believe this! over and over again in your head. You may even stumble over words when you go to shake the author’s hand, clutching the book very closely toward your chest, never wanting to let go it.

That is the kind of effect you can have on other people as a writer. Granted, this is not typical for most authors, or this scene would be played quite regularly in bookstores through the country on any given day. But that does not mean it can’t happen for you. Let’s face it: if the material you are writing about is that good, and the marketing and promotional stuff is handled in such a way that people are really connecting with it, sharing it, and singing its praises, this could become a reality. So why not start out with that as the end in mind? Why not start out thinking you are the person behind the chair, signing copies of your book? Why not think that you have fans who come from hundreds of miles away just to see you and hear what you have to say—and, of course, get a copy of your book?

When I was first starting out in publishing I was fortunate enough to be working with a really great team who believed very much in my abilities. I was on the verge of tears when I learned I had received an internship—an unpaid internship, mind you—at the University of Virginia Press while I was working on my undergraduate degree. My love of writing had by that time boiled over and, thinking that I would have some role to play in publishing, I looked for opportunities to learn as much as I could about the industry. One of my mentors at UVAP, managing editor Ellen Satrom, asked me why I was so happy to be there working on manuscripts. I said, simply, “This is a dream come true.”

I allowed that passion to permeate everything I did while working at the Press. I was fortunate enough to have a two-semester internship, and I spent quite a bit of time proofreading manuscripts that were ready to go to print. One of those manuscripts, which eventually became a book called Paranoia and Contentment (U. of Virginia Press, 2005), would be released sometime the following year. I just happened to find out that the author was having a book signing at a bookstore in downtown Washington, D.C., so, naturally, I found a way to be there.

At the end of the author’s presentation, I waited in line while he shook hands and signed copies of his book. I had been a great admirer of his work; I made sure the managing editor conveyed my thoughts about it to him directly during production. But now it was time for me to do it myself. It was not often that I had the pleasure of meeting someone who had made such a profound impact on the way I think, so this was certainly a special treat. As you can probably imagine, I had some of those Oh my God! I can’t believe this! moments as I stood there in line. And when the time came to greet him, I remember seeing the look of appreciation plastered across his face after I told him of my involvement in getting the book ready for publication.

That moment stands out among many that have developed over the course of the last few years as a highlight of my career. It represents the highest aim of my career goal: to make a difference in the world by helping others. Being able to play a small role in the production of someone else’s work gave me the feeling that I was fulfilling my life’s purpose.

Over the years I have been present for other authors’ book release parties and book signings. It’s an extraordinarily wonderful feeling to know that you’ve worked so hard on something for as many odd months as it took to get a manuscript ready for printing, only to see an author’s jubilant smile as he or she reads from a copy of it.

Why am I saying all this? Well, it’s important for you to know what your real passion is before you go into publishing.

Why Are You Writing?

There are many different reason people write, and there are many outcomes from such writing that people expect. Before you venture on in your publishing journey, it’s important to determine why you are writing. Do you have a product or service you would like to promote? Do you have a business that could use a few more leads? Are you a fan of fantasy fiction and want to carry on the tradition, like a tribal elder? Obtaining the answers to these questions at the outset is very important if you want to go into publishing with a clear head.

One of my clients, who has had great success with publishing mentioned recently that her business had increased 400 percent since she began her publishing journey. Four hundred percent! That’s phenomenal, if you really think about. She set the intention to reach more people and increase her business leads, and her books have helped to do just that: people can read the material—very detailed information about which she can speak with authority and with passion. And, should they be in need of additional services, they can contact her directly.

If you are an expert at something, and you are speaking about something with authority—again, something about which you are passionate—there’s a much better chance for success in publishing.

Then the passion you have for your topic is able to filter through much easier. Even a novelist can be expert. Another one of my clients has an up-and-coming murder mystery series. The stories she is telling come from her experience as an attorney. Through her professional life, she had been able to observe all aspects of the criminal justice system. And she has combined her love of writing with her professional life to create larger-than-life tales of a beat cop turned investigator who ends up working on high-profile cases. I should also mention that she has written nonfiction books about the criminal justice system that have become bestsellers and helped to build her law practice.

Yet another one of my clients writes children’s books. He spent his entire career as an educator. He is able to write from a child’s perspective because he’s spend so much of his life trying to see things through a young person’s eyes. He’s on a speaking tour this year and hopes to reach over 5,000 children—a rather large potential market for his books.

“It’s more important to be interested, rather than interesting,” as one my favorite clients, Victoria Benoit, once said. She runs a company called the Center for Extraordinary Outcomes, where she utilizes her experience as a licensed therapist and life coach to guide her clients to their greatest potential. Her forthcoming book, What Would Love Do Right Now? provides guidelines for people to impact every aspect of their lives and live with meaning and purpose.

By identifying a deep-seated personal goal of your own, you can have a clear head about why you are writing and what you intend to get out of it. After all, if you are passionate about something, and your writing becomes an extension of that passion, don’t you think your journey will also be filled with passion? 

Social Engagement 101

I am introducing the term social engagement early on in this book because I want you to become familiar with it. Successful writers are masters as social engagement. Writing is a form of communication, after all, and it naturally follows that writers are effective communicators. As part of your publishing journey, you have to be ready to engage with other people. New technologies have made it much easier to connect with people halfway across the globe. Later I’m going to offer you some suggestions on how to leverage the power on the internet and social media to connect with the types of people who will have the greatest impact on your sales, your business, and your readership.

How Can I Help?

If you own a business, you already know how important it is to maintain a service-oriented outlook. You know that your reputation relies on providing great services that are consistent, helpful, and that add value. Maintaining a spirit of service when you are going about your publishing journey will also help you make the most impact. People will understand that you are there to help them, which will make them more likely to help you.

What do I mean by that? Something we’ll talk about a bit later in the marketing section is using giveaways. If they are planned properly, giveaways can actually return to you in terms of sales and leads one hundred fold—or, in the case of the client I mentioned earlier, four hundred fold.

One of my author clients has been in the habit of giving away free copies of her books and discounted services to people who visit her website. It seems like a small gesture, but it sends a clear message to the customer: this person is being of service to me. People who have received something based on the generosity of others are more likely to spread that generosity. While we may not be able to determine how that will pan out, it could lead to more sales, more leads, or greater media exposure. Sociologists like to call this the Ripple Effect; what we send out impacts others and spreads, much like a drop of water into an ocean.

For the many years that I have been working with authors and in publishing, it has oftentimes been difficult for me to put a price on what I do. I have spent my days pouring over manuscripts, fact-checking and verifying information, and looking for ways to enhance content. Occasionally, I might have a conversation with the author in which we brainstorm ideas about how a reader might interpret what they are writing. Then, as the production process wears down, I might be spending hours in front my computer creating a layout that reflects the author’s message, or packaging files to be uploaded to Amazon.

In all of this, there isn’t much that seems like work to me. Yes, I am spending hours doing work, but it doesn’t seem like what I would normally associate with the word work. Political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote in The Human Condition (U. of Chicago Press, 1998) about work being the most unnatural part of human life because “it takes materials from nature and actively changes them so that they create a lasting product.” Well, that doesn’t sound like what I was doing. It felt more like I was being the most natural part of myself.

Your commitment to being of service to others should shine through in your writing and in all aspects of your publishing journey.

Come Up with a Realistic Timeline for Releasing Your Book

Lots of authors with whom I’ve worked in the past are unaware of all the steps involved in getting a book ready for release. As a self-publishing author, you will be responsible for paying members of your book production team for services rendered, as well as organizing them to assure a smooth process. In the next chapter I will be walking you through the standard workflow for books being produced in the modern digital age. This will help you not only find the types of people who can assist you with production of your work, but it will also make your journey though publishing more enjoyable.

I have worked with quite a few authors who weren’t aware of things that had to be done to a manuscript before it was ready for release. Some of them set up book release parties, speaking engagements, and other social events not knowing that there was not enough time to edit the manuscript, design the book’s interior and cover, set up the title with the printer, and order copies. You can avoid unnecessary frustration by learning as much as you can at the very beginning of your journey.

It helps to be realistic about a book’s release date. By following a few guidelines, you can be sure to leave ample time for all of the tasks.

Give yourself about a three-month window for production. In production you may need to have your manuscript edited, formatted, sent to a printer or to Kindle, and then checked one last time before it’s ready for release. Giving yourself a three-month window accounts for anything that may have been overlooked in the initial production stages. Some of these things may include:

·       Creating special graphics (tables, charts, etc.) for your book’s interior or cover

·       Time for you to review the contents of a manuscript edit and address necessary information

·       Further development of the manuscript and its contents

·       Creating an index or supplementary materials, such as advertisements

·       Adding endorsements from reviewers and beta readers

·       Adding a foreword or afterword from an expert in your field

·       Compiling a list of references, research, or “for further reading” information

·       Applying for trademarks or service marks

·       Registering your book with the Library of Congress

Any of these things can add weeks to your timeline, so it’s best to prepare in advance. As the author, you may not know what you need to do in the production stages.

The Book Shepherd: Guiding Lost Sheep

If you work with someone like me, a book shepherd who guides people through the process, you can get a realistic understanding of what may be involved in your book production journey. This is a step that a lot of authors do not take. By not hiring someone who can guide a first-time author through the process of publishing, you run the risk of making many of the rookie mistakes I listed above. Even someone who is writing a novel series might want to hire a book shepherd as well. What if you need to design some maps of that world you created to make your book have that super-mysterious, polished look? What if you really need a glossary for all those new terms you invented in your fantasy series so that people can keep track of everything? Without someone guiding you through the process, you may release your book, only to find that people are left lost and in the dark.

Find someone you can trust to help you get through the process. You can search online for book shepherding agencies, or you can find individuals who have such a great knowledge of publishing they may just call themselves publishing consultants. At any rate, here are some qualifications and tips to help you find the right person:

1.     Look for people with extensive knowledge of the publishing industry. If they have worked in three different departments within a publishing house, chances are they know the ins and outs of publishing quite well.

2.     Oftentimes, editors make great shepherds. Many of them are so accustomed to seeing the big picture when it comes to creating a book, they can serve as good guides for walking you through the process. Look for editors who are seasoned in book publishing, rather than other areas of print or online media.

3.     People who have worked on lots of different titles in different genres make great shepherds. Since no single project is like any other project, someone who is versatile is more than likely a great fit for your project as well.

4.     Look for people who also have great relationships with other book production people. Ask a candidate if he or she knows a graphic designer or an illustrator or an indexer or a book layout specialist (even if you’re sure you won’t need any of them). Well-connected shepherds can make your publishing journey a lot easier.

5.     Use your gut instinct. Ask for recommendations from previous clients, and ask those clients about their experiences. 

6.     Ask lots of questions of a prospective candidate. If the shepherd is a good fit for you, he or she will not mind in the slightest. He or she should demonstrate a passion for guiding people, much like you display your passion for writing.

Thank you for reading our Author Publishing Strategies page

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