Gary is an online content creator, fiction author, founder of Facebook's Fiction Writers Group, and chronic cat lover.
What Is An Indie Author?
To be an indie author is to publish your own work online or in print, without the help of agents or publishing houses along the way. While a lot of writers have the dream of traditionally publishing their novels, the writing industry has changed over the past few years, opening up a whole new world for the indie writing industry.
Where before you'd have searched far and wide for an agent, submitted your completed manuscript to tons of industry giants, and received an equal ton of rejections in return, you now have the flexibility to upload your book directly to retailers like Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.
The downside here is that you shoulder a ton of responsibility you may not have foreseen during the process of writing your novel. And that, dear reader, is what this article is here to help you with—to get ahead of the curve. To save your newly published indie novel from sinking to the bottom of the self-publishing sea to rest among the forgotten treasures of the authors that came before you.
What you will learn in this article is the cyclical nature of audience and platform building, gaining trust, creating, marketing, generating sales, and personal branding. Even if you've already published your first novel online and are experiencing the slow and stagnant waters of the forgotten sea, I can tell you that it's all salvageable.
Put into action all the following points, and you'll soon be sailing toward indie writing success!
Audience Building Basics for Indie Authors
No matter how much work you put into your novel, no matter how well it's edited, how great the story is, or how beautiful the covers it's wrapped in, your book will sadly not sell itself. That's where your audience-building efforts come in, and that process, when done correctly, is fun, sustainable, and never-ending!
The process of building an audience to sell your novels, collections, or products to is important in any online industry, but for indie authors, it's absolutely paramount. 1.6 million self-published novels were submitted to the top three platforms in 2018. Let that sink in for a second. If you're starting to feel like a grain of sand on the world's largest beach, you're about right.
The aim of audience building is to turn yourself into a small, damp clump of sand that kinda looks like a pebble from the distance. And perhaps from there, if you work hard and stay consistent, turn yourself into a whopping sandcastle with a moat, drawbridge, arrow towers, and the lot!
1. Creating Your Author Brand
For me, it all starts with WordPress and social media. Sign up for WordPress with a nice and simple name. It can be your author handle or a clever play on words that reflects your personality or goal. Mine is GDHoldaway, but I do recommend thinking about it for a little while because it will become your brand.
Now create a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Twitter account, and a LinkedIn account, all with the same name (or as close as possible). You can create accounts for various other social media platforms too, but I recommend these at the very least!
Once that's done, link your WordPress account to your Facebook page, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We'll come back to your Instagram later on.
Congratulations, you have just laid the foundations for your platform. You're now an undeveloped chunk of soggy sand on the beach. A hill, if you like. Now it's time to start building the blocks for your epic castle to sit on top of it!
2. Audience Building Ideas For Indie Authors
So you've got your WordPress set up and linked to your social media accounts; you've even set the same profile picture for each of them. You really are starting to build that hill up. If you want your eventual castle to sit higher from the beach, you can pile on a consistent colour scheme, a plan for your overall tone, and just a dash of the things you're interested in. But that's the brand stuff. How do we start building these bricks already!?
If I told you it was simple, would you believe me? No? Well, what if I told you it was simple enough but requires consistency, hard work, and content . . . tons of content?
Now that we've set our brand down and made some basic decisions, we have to make sure that whatever content we choose to produce and whichever activities we choose to consistently put out into the world are manageable, sustainable, and enjoyable. Because we'll be doing them a lot!
You just need your voice to be heard and to give value to your readers. You can choose to be entertaining, funny, or encouraging. You can take the informative route, writing about the process of writing. You can give insights into the behind-the-scenes life of a writer. You know, things like crying while your children dangle around your neck at the computer desk or repeatedly ushering your kitty off of your keyboard and wiping muddy paw-prints from your notebooks. The typical writer stuff.
Here are a few things I do, the blocks, so to speak, to give you an idea of how you can start building this castle.
What Content Should I Create as an Indie Author?
- Flash Fiction: Take a nice-looking photo and let it inspire a super short story. 300 to 1000 words. Nothing major. Let your readers build up a taste for your tone and style without going overboard. Bonus points if you find a large community that puts out weekly prompts and gets involved with them.
- Book Reviews: You write, so you must read . . . right? It's as natural to you as breathing, so create some content out of it. Once you finish a book, take some pretty pictures with it, publish your verdict on your blog, and pop up an Amazon affiliate link for good measure.
- Instagram: Back to the photo-driven social media platform for a sec; if you make sure you drop the link to the main site in your bio, all you have to do is post nice photos and captions to start building followers who are interested in your content. Post photos of the books you've read, you hard at work, and your super-cute cats. It's easy. Choose up to five topics that define you, and keep all your photos within those topics. You can post short snippets of your work or flash fiction, directing fans back to your site for the full piece.
- Facebook Groups: Sign up for fiction, blogging, and indie publishing groups on Facebook. Engage in the community as much as you can, giving value as often as you can and humbly receiving it in whichever form it arrives. Pointless link dropping rarely involves any reward at all, so truly focus on building friendships and relationships with the members. Become that helpful, light-spirited figure that makes everyone smile and actually wants to check out your work. There's no more guarantee of purchase than someone actively seeking you out.
- The Work Never Stops: Whether you're audience-building to sell what you've already written or doing it while you're getting ready to hit publish, remember that this process of audience-building is never done. You keep on, keep growing. Laying brick after brick after brick in pursuit of that epic castle.
3. Leaning On Your Audience
Once a novel, collection of short stories, or any of your products are complete, you publish them and market them effectively. This comes in the form of leaning on the audience you’ve built thus far. Create a marketing campaign for your email list, blog followers, and social media fans. While you’re doing this, be sure to continue building your audience and giving value.
Be sure you’ve made a significant effort to provide the best product you are capable of producing at this time. If you chase perfection, you will never publish anything. So instead, go with the best you’ve got and be confident that your best will continuously get better. Edit meticulously and call for betas and friends to help with plot holes and grammar mistakes.
Price your work realistically. If Amazon strategy is your only strategy, you’ll be selling for $0.99 or receiving a share of the Kindle Unlimited income pool, depending on how many reads you’ve had. If you’ve built an audience and fan base of people hungry for your work, they’ll happily drop $7 to $15 on your newest release. Sometimes more!
Consider an Amazon strategy to help build your audience, though. You could publish shorts on Kindle Unlimited and drive your readers back to your little corner of the Internet. Or sandcastle, if you prefer!
You could also consider a Wattpad strategy. Publish a web series and drive all readers back to your kingdom. Once that web series has finished, you have yourself a novel ready to publish! You've also built an audience and received feedback along the way!
4. Always Have an Active Product
Just because you've completed one novel and are audience-building in an attempt to make sales, that doesn't mean you should never write anything substantial again. In fact, it's quite the opposite. For each large project you complete, you learn from past mistakes and grow as an author. You increase your credibility as an author and further your income potential with each new release. Providing your work is of a high, professional standard, of course.
What's more, an active product helps give you free content to publish in the way of snippets, cover reveals, character profiles, etc. An indie writer's work is never done, but if met with the right enthusiasm, if tackled from a place of unyielding effort and willpower, you will be successful.
Approach all audience building efforts from the direction of 'how can I bring value to you?' rather than 'how much value are you worth to me?'
5. It's All On You
That's really all there is to it. Each post you make, each engagement you have, is another small block on the path to creating that kingdom. And as you can see, it is very important to build yourself a kingdom if your books are going to hold up in the indie writing world.
To finish up the analogy, think of your novels and short story collections as the flags to top off your castle. The higher and stronger they stand, the more chance of being seen and capturing the interest of passers-by.
Keep posting, keep publishing, keep building. You can make a little money along the way with book reviews or Patreon subscriptions, but that's all for another post. For now, just get to work and enjoy the process. That's what we're here for, right? To have fun and create epic worlds and stories!
Before You Go . . .
If you have any questions at all, feel free to drop me a comment down below. I've created a Facebook group designed around the indie authoring world, where we can each share our knowledge and experience with regard to audience building, blogging, social media networks, and self-publishing. I hope to see you over there.
© 2020 Gary Holdaway