Self-Publish Strong Book One
Self-Publish Strong Series Dedication
Enjoy Your Anonymity
Setting up Social Media
Setting up a Website
Creating a Newsletter List
Finding and Training Beta Readers
Resources to Keep up Your Business Excitement and Energy
A Final Note
About the Author
Build Your Social Media Muscles, Create a Website and Newsletter List, Find and Train Beta Readers
Copyright © 2015 Andrea Pearson
To Alvin Tedjamulia
For giving some of the best business and financial advice my husband and I have ever received. For encouraging my husband and me to take (smart) risks in our book business.
“I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more luck I have.”
Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States
I finished my very first book in 2008—a middle-grade fantasy called The Key of Kilenya. By the end of 2009, I was picked up by an agent who landed me a contract with one of the Big Six (as they were then called). Exciting as that was, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d end up regretting the choice if I signed with them. I turned down the contract, much to the chagrin of my agent and traditionally published author friends. Over the next year or so, as I tried to figure out where I needed to go that would serve my books best, I ultimately decided to self-publish.
It’s definitely been worth it. But one of the hardest things about publishing is watching books flop or not move as fast as we hoped they would. Success, for me, has come in spurts. Some months, I’ve earned a nice four figures. Others, barely two. Even though the Kilenya series has downloaded very well for a middle-grade fantasy series, it’s been a long, difficult road, and I learned the hard way that I’d chosen a very tough genre to sell. Thankfully, things are going much better with my newer, young adult fantasy series.
It isn’t in most authors’ best interests to depend on one book, or even one series, to float a career. Yes, I’d planned to make a long-term career out of my writing (and I’ve been delighted at how naturally writing and being a mom go hand-in-hand), but I didn’t truly develop an eye for long-term success until recently.
Because I was impatient and couldn’t handle the thought that people weren’t finding me right now and reading me right now, I made a lot of mistakes. I tossed money at advertising (Goodreads, Google Adwords—which may have worked if I’d known what I was doing . . .) and I ran pointless blog tours. Pointless, because I didn’t know the real purpose of a blog tour and didn’t utilize them well—I expected downloads and was unhappy when that didn’t happen. Also, most of the reviews got lost on the blogs where they were originally posted instead of ending up on retailer websites where they would have had the most impact.
Basically, like many new writers, I was willing to take risks without anything to back those risks, and my husband and I suffered financially and emotionally. It took a long time for the business to reimburse us.
In the Self-Publish Strong series, I’ll share things that will enable you to develop an eye for a long-term successful writing career, thereby preventing you from falling into the temptation of grasping for temporary success now.
With our sights on an ultimate goal, temporary setbacks now, such as no reviews and low sales, are not as big a deal as we sometimes feel they are. It’s okay to take a couple years to figure out how to do things right—it’s okay to be invisible while learning the ropes.
We can actually enjoy that invisibility while getting mistakes out of our system, because we’ll have a plan for success. And if we don’t give up, we will reach that success.
Our aim is to have as many high-quality books available as possible. Everything else will be somewhat easier after that. In the meantime, there are several things we can do which will help success last longer, when we’re ready for it.
Things we’ll be discussing throughout the Self-Publish Strong series:
1. Setting up social media
2. Setting up a website
3. Creating a newsletter list
4. Finding and training beta readers
5. Hiring editors
1. Getting and testing covers and descriptions
2. Formatting ebooks and where to publish them
3. Typesetting print books and where to publish them
4. Choosing a price for print and ebooks
5. My favorite applications and programs
1. Getting newsletter list subscribers
2. Collecting reviews
3. Setting up a permafree book
4. Writing more books
5. Testing out small promotional and marketing campaigns
1. Hiring and training virtual assistants (and where to find them)
2. Keeping subscribers engaged once they’ve joined your list
3. Creating a street team
4. Getting on bestseller lists and pros and cons of doing so
5. Getting reviews from accredited sources
“Opportunity comes when you put action into pursuing your dreams.”
Shawn Manaher, creator of Reading Deals
First, you’ll want to be familiar with some of the more popular social media sites. I’ve listed several below. I recommend picking two and sticking with them, rather than trying to use everything available.
Facebook – the number one site where authors and readers congregate. Nearly everyone you know probably has an account.
Twitter – a great place for authors and fans to hang out. Unlike Facebook, nothing is hidden from users—if you follow someone, you’ll see their updates. Posts are very short, and you’ll find a lot of useful links and articles through Twitter.
Tumblr – a site that is a mix between Facebook and a blog. Basically, it’s a place to put things that aren’t long enough to be a blog post but are a little too long for a Facebook status.
Instagram – a mobile app that revolves completely around the sharing of visual items: photos, videos, etc. Authors use it as a way to share personal tidbits or fun things about current writing projects with their readers.
Pinterest – another visual website. Pictures from everywhere on the web are “pinned” to boards where like-minded individuals can find them. An excellent place for artists and writers to find inspiration.
Google+ – a great website for “tech” people. (Programmers, web designers, etc.) Not many authors are active here, and most, minus non-fiction authors, don’t find readers here.
Goodreads – a site where readers (and authors) congregate. People use it as a way to keep track of and rate books they’ve read and still want to read. Owned by Amazon.
Facebook and Twitter are the biggest ones, and they’re where I spend my social-media time. Even if you aren’t into Facebook, I still recommend creating an account and a fan page. If you don’t plan to use the site often, it still gives readers a place to learn more about you in a casual atmosphere.
The reason I recommend Twitter is because it is huge in the book world and a great way to keep up on industry information and professionals. Use tweetdeck to organize incoming messages. If you’re interested in promoting through BookBub (one of the biggest promotional sites for authors), keep an eye on the #askbookbub chat, a Q&A held every Thursday by BookBub Partners at 3:00pm EST. Also consider setting things up so tweets from important accounts get sent as texts to your phone, enabling you to read articles at your convenience.
Guy Kawasaki has some invaluable and fantastic advice in his article here about social media and things to do and not do when building a platform.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Confucius, Chinese teacher and philosopher
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to set up a professional website. You’ll want to make sure it has all the necessary information. (Contact info, book covers/descriptions with purchase links, social media links, sign-up for newsletter, bio section, etc.)
If you aren’t sure where you want to have your site hosted, consider the following popular options:
Wordpress – a site that is widely used by authors. Has free and paid options, and professional websites hosted with them range from simple to complex. Not super user-friendly to people who aren’t already a little tech-savvy.
Blogger – owned by Google and free to use. Not as big a learning curve as Wordpress, but also not as flexible. For fast and simple websites and blogs, it’s my personal favorite.
Wix – a site that offers fantastic templates (over 500 of them), along with free and paid options. The whole thing is set up on a drag-and-drop system, so it’s very easy to use. Keep in mind, however, that once you pick a template, you can’t change it later.
Squarespace – a site with beautiful and visual templates. There are only a few templates to choose from, which can make it easier for users to decide which one to use. There isn’t a free option, but they do offer a two-week free trial.
Weebly – a site that claims it is “the easiest way to make a website.” Like Wix, you set it up through a drag-and-drop system. Websites, blogs, and stores can be set up through Weebly. Has free and paid options.
iPage – offers a free domain and frequently has discounts for new customers. Also offers free security scans to make sure your website isn’t being hacked. Many of my author friends host their sites with iPage.
Most authors have both a blog and a website. A website is where they keep information that isn’t likely to change frequently. Blogs are great for updates and posting thoughts and relevant content for readers to peruse. Many authors choose to simplify things by buying a .com domain and combining their blog and website into one wordpress or blogger site.
“There is a high correlation between success and grit.”
Dave Ramsey, financial guru
A robust list is arguably the most important thing you can do for your author career. If you have a good enough one in place, you won’t ever need to run BookBub (or any other) promotions—they’ll be optional, and getting that rejection email won’t derail or depress you. In Self-Publish Strong Book Three, we’ll discuss ways to increase your newsletter list subscribers and attract readers. For now, we’ll focus on setting up your list.
Here are some of the more popular services:
Mailchimp – free up to 2,000 subscribers, after which point it’s $20 a month, depending on the number of subscribers. Offers a lot of information and control, giving authors power in their marketing plans, even with the free option.
AWeber – free 30-day trial, after which point, users are charged $19 a month for up to 500 subscribers. All levels of use include every available feature (whereas Mailchimp charges for certain features if you have less than 2,000 subscribers).
YMLP – YourMailingListProvider. Free for up to 1,000 subscribers but doesn’t give information on opens or links clicked, both of which are very helpful for authors. If you want those stats, you can upgrade to their Pro plan for $3.75/month or to their Pro Plus plan for $5/month, with the need to purchase credits if you send more than a certain number of emails a month.
Mailchimp is the most popular with authors, followed by AWeber and then YMLP. I use Mailchimp and really like the flexibility and layout of the site.
Consider calling your email list something like “Stephanie’s Reader’s Group.” Some authors have discovered that people are more interested in signing up when the word “newsletter” isn’t mentioned.
“Today I will do what others won’t, so that tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”
Jerry Rice, Hall of Fame American football wide receiver
I like using a lot of beta readers. I organize them into two or three groups, with them choosing the group they want to be in. The first group catches the most errors, the last group needs to have good eyes, and the middle group is where everyone goes who doesn’t want to be in the first or last group. I aim for 10-15 volunteers per group, as only 50-60% of people will actually get through the book by the deadline. I watch for overall trends, ignoring most of the outlying comments (unless something rings true).
I always give beta readers a deadline that is a week or two after the day I send them the book. Occasionally, a beta reader will complain that that isn’t enough time to finish, but I almost never bend on this rule. If too much time has passed from when they start the book until they finish, they typically don’t see plot problems or issues with the overall arc of the story. Not only that, but they end up handing off a list of things I’ve already fixed.
I find it helpful to put the deadline, along with my email address and a list of questions I want beta readers to answer, at the end of the book, and a big thank you for their help. I also include a list of other books I’ve written (and links to them, of course).
It’s important to recognize that hardly anyone is a great beta reader at first. Like any other skill, readers need practice. They need to learn how to give feedback and recognize problems. Giving them a list of questions to be thinking over while they’re reading encourages critical thinking, and those who don’t want to put in the effort to answer the questions generally don’t volunteer (or get asked) to beta read again.
I’ll give examples of those questions in just a bit, but first, here are a few places to start looking for beta readers:
[*Family and friends – *]I always start here. Call me a wimp, but when I began writing, the first people I always got feedback from were those who knew and cared about me. Once they pointed out the no-brainer issues, I was more comfortable moving on to people who didn’t know me. Now I go to some of those family and friends first because they’ve learned how to beta read and almost always offer valuable feedback.
Facebook – I make a general announcement on Facebook every so often when I’m needing new beta readers. When I first started my author account, this wasn’t as helpful, but it didn’t take long to build up enough connections to starting getting me a few volunteers with every call.
Also, search Facebook for beta reader groups. If a group doesn’t exist for your specific genre, consider starting one.
Twitter – use hashtags such as #betareader when posting requests. Something like, “I’m looking for a #betareader for my epic fantasy novel about flying trolls. Any interest?” would work. This will send a message not only to your followers, but also to anyone watching the #betareader hashtag. Be sure to include something to hook potentially interested readers.
Networking – if you have any family or friends who have connections, don’t hesitate to use them (every so often). For example, if a family member owns a store, see if you can put fliers on the counter. Or if someone teaches music lessons, give them fliers to hand out to students. Networking is one of the best ways to find new beta readers.
Current readers – another excellent way to find devoted beta readers is by asking your newsletter lists. I have a separate list for my beta readers and periodically ask my main list if anyone would be interested in joining the beta reading group. I provide a link to the signup.
Wattpad.com – Wattpad is a website where writers and readers post their completed books and vote/read each others’ work. I’ve found some very good and very dedicated beta readers through this site. As is the case with most readers, volunteers will need to be taught how to beta read.
Do you know of other ways to find beta readers? Feel free to email them to me and I’ll add them to the list!
As a way to organize volunteers, I ask them to fill out a Google Docs form with their name, email address, whether they’ve beta read for me in the past, and which group of beta readers they want to be in.
One of the most important things when asking for volunteers is to avoid being pushy, negative, or bitter if they don’t finish the book, if they say no, or if they dislike something about your story. As is the case with negative reviews, arguing with a beta reader who doesn’t like your book will only give you grief in the short term and bad publicity in the long run.
For those who are interested, here’s a suggested way to ask people to beta read: “Do you hate finding typos in books? How would you like to be involved in that part of the writing process? Comment below/Email me!”
Examples of questions I ask at the end of a manuscript:
How do you feel about Nicole’s character in this book? What about the other characters?
Was the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
What questions did you have while reading and were they answered?
Was there ever a point when the writing bored you? If so, where?
What were your favorite and least favorite parts?
Were all of the threads you were interested in throughout the series tied off?
Were there any chapters or sections of the book that made concentrating on reading harder, for any reason? If so, which ones and why?
What typos and grammatical errors did you find?
“Complaining isn’t a strategy.”
Jeff Bezos, American entrepreneur
As anyone who’s been writing for any amount of time knows, there’s a big difference between a volunteer reader and a paid professional. My editor has taught me a lot of things about grammar and writing, and even when I already know a rule, she still catches things that have slipped by. (And then I’m super embarrassed when she corrects me. But better her than a paying reader. :-))
Here are a few places to go when searching for a good edit:
1. Other authors in your genre—ask them who edits their books, then research those editors
2. Kboards.com’s yellow pages (has a list of editors)
3. College students (contact English departments, etc. This is a great resume builder, and if you frame it as such, you’ll have more success finding help)
4. Writers groups (search online, ask other writers about their groups, or consider creating one of your own)
5. Manuscript swaps with skilled writers
6. Manuscript swaps with published authors (use caution, though—published authors swap with writers of equal skill, and most won’t be willing to swap at all. I almost never ask other authors to help me unless I have a solid relationship with them first. Instead, I ask groups of authors, and those who are interested are free to respond while those who don’t have time, won’t)
7. Consider approaching an editor (with whom you’ve already built a relationship) and offer a trade of services. If you have a skill that would benefit them, they may be open to a trade
Depending on who you ask, self-editing can be done. I like using a paid professional and always recommend going this route, especially for the first several books, but I know that sometimes it isn’t possible.
Be aware, however, that you must be willing to work very hard and put in a lot more time than usual. One of the “benefits” of having an editor is there is always another person after you to catch things. With self-editing, you don’t have that luxury. (And I put “benefits” in quotations because it’s foolish to rely on someone else to find everything. This is your career, not your editor’s.)
One suggested process to follow:
1. Write the book – perfect it to the best of your ability
2. Read through it several times
3. Have beta readers and others go through it
4. Put the book away (along with the feedback)
5. A couple months later, go through the book very carefully. Do this twice
6. After you’ve again found everything you can, pull out the feedback from earlier and compare notes. See if you caught everything
7. If you didn’t catch everything, pay strong attention to what they found and educate yourself on the topics
8. Do this more than once
A few things I’ve found helpful during the editing process:
1. Keep grammar books and websites on hand
2. Question everything, especially words you’re using and rules you’re following. Even question the rules your editor follows. This is your career
While self-editing may be possible for some, my recommendation is to work with a professional editor, one who has years of experience and is willing to teach his or her clients along the way.
My editing process:
1. Self-edit (working through the book at least twice)
2. Out-loud edit (reading the book out loud helps find missing words or words that are wrongly used. Hint: change the font and line spacing when doing this. You’ll catch more mistakes)
3. Beta readers—two to three groups as outlined above
4. Author friends
5. My professional editor
6. Three proofreaders
7. One last out loud run through (to catch any errors that may have been added during any of the above stages)
Even with all of this, readers still catch the occasional typo. And that’s totally fine. One of the best things about being self-published is you can fix those errors and re-upload.
“Your job is a vacation. From poverty.”
Louis Huang from the TV show Fresh Off the Boat
BookBub Promotions and More – my Facebook group for authors who want to share notes on promoting and marketing. I regularly invite representatives of promotional websites to come and talk about their sites and answer questions. We discuss promotions we’re doing, how we’ve hit bestseller lists, and which sites work best for price points and genres. Come join the fun!
Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. The best podcast out there for self-publishers! Start with the very first episode and listen to every one of them. I do this while folding laundry and cooking. The things I’ve learned have been invaluable!
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
Aristotle, Classical Greek philosopher
I plan to keep this book updated by adding new topics and removing tips as they lose relevance. Updates to the book itself will happen about once every six months, but I can’t guarantee that the copy you’ve downloaded will receive those updates. As a way to circumvent this problem, I’ve created a newsletter list where I’ll send new tips for all of the current books in the series, along with news about future Self-Publish Strong books. Emails will be short. If you’re interested in joining, do so here.
Andrea Pearson has been self-publishing since March 2011. She has published nearly two million words, including multiple novels, novellas, and short stories, along with three non-fiction books, and over a hundred articles for professional blogs and websites. She was the executive director for the Indie Author Hub group for a year and a half and she frequently teaches about self-publishing at conferences and conventions.
Andrea can be reached by email at [email protected] You can learn more about her by visiting her website or blog.
In Self-Publish Strong Book One: Build Your Social Media Muscles, Create a Website and Newsletter List, and Find and Train Beta Readers, Andrea Pearson guides authors down the often-confusing path of starting a writing career. If you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to work with beta readers, hire an editor, or create a website, this book is for you. If you’ve published multiple books and are ready to get more reviews on them, attract subscribers to your list, and get discovered by readers, this series is for you. The Self-Publish Strong series was written with one goal: to help authors prepare for, and enjoy, success. Each book in the series focuses on several things that will assist an author with creating a solid foundation for many years of profit. Self-Publish Strong Book One helps authors: 1. Prepare their social media presence 2. Set up a website 3. Create a newsletter list 4. Find and train beta readers 5. Hire editors Self-Publish Strong Book Two helps authors: 1. Create and test covers and descriptions 2. Format ebooks and know where to publish them 3. Typeset print books and know where to publish them 4. Choose a price for print books and ebooks Self-Publish Strong Book Three helps authors: 1. Attract newsletter list subscribers 2. Collect reviews 3. Set up permafree books 4. Know how and where to promote In the Self-Publish Strong series, Andrea shares things that enable authors to develop an eye for a long-term successful writing career, thereby preventing them from falling into the temptation of grasping for temporary success now. Andrea Pearson has been self-publishing since March 2011. She has published nearly two million words, including multiple novels, novellas, and short stories, three non-fiction books, and over a hundred articles for professional blogs and websites. She was the executive director for the Indie Author Hub group for a year and a half and she frequently teaches about self-publishing at conferences and conventions.