When I decided to self-publish my first book, I set out to learn all that I could about publishing and book promotion.
My first resource was the internet. And I saw all kinds of wondrous claims there:
Publish a book without all the hard work
Blog your book in 60 days
Earn $1,000,000 from an ebook
Get an army of reviewers working for you…
Skeptical, I put the internet aside and started reading books.
Once again, I found a wide variety of advice and gurus promoting courses, books, schemes and methods. Some made sense and were grounded in good marketing practices. Others made me shudder.
There was an ancient Chinese torture called “death by a thousand cuts.” The modern equivalent for self-published authors is insanity by a thousand pundits.
There’s so much advice out there on self-publishing. Hordes of people are rushing in to advise the growing armies of writers who want to publish.
Who should you listen to, and which approach makes sense?
Gurus and advisors have a role to play, but filter their advice through your own objectives.
Decide which voices to listen to, and whom to trust for advice.
As an author, you are the captain of your own ship. Choose your crew with care.
Set your own course
Only when you know where you’re going can you decide on the crew to bring along. Start by determining your unique goals and objectives.
- Why do you want to write and publish a book?
- How will you define success?
- What’s more important to you: money, fame, personal growth, career growth?
- Who is your ideal audience?
You can find a goal-setting worksheet here.
For every tactic, offer or suggestion, compare it to your objectives. For example, if your most important objective is getting your message out in the world through a book, then don’t listen to get-rich-from-your-book schemes.
Your core purpose and audience will serve as essential guides.
Find the compass points
Early mariners navigated by the constellations. Try the same thing yourself. Create constellations of authors and advisors to guide you on your journey.
Identify one or more living writers working in your genre whom you admire. Watch what they do.
Even if they publish their works traditionally, look at how their books are laid out, what kinds of marketing and promotion they use, etc. Subscribe to their email lists and comment on their blogs to develop a relationship.
When you hear a piece of advice, use their practices and personalities as a filter. For example, ask yourself: “In my position, before being famous, would Malcolm Gladwell have used this marketing tactic?”
Do the same thing for other experts:
- Publishing consultants or advisers
- Book marketing advisors
Read the posts on The Write Life and other places, evaluate what people are saying, and find those advisors who resonate for your particular needs and audience.
Add them to a list of people you follow – your virtual crew. I’m gradually compiling my own list of people I listen to about publishing and book marketing, and it may look different than yours.
Schedule and budget learning time
The path you set out on today will change over time, as the world of publishing and book promotion is constantly shifting. A change to the Amazon book ranking policy can throw dozens of promotion plans off course.
So budget a specific amount of time each week or month to learning. You might allocate the budget across different types of learning:
- Daily: Commit to 15 minutes a day reading the blog posts of your “compass point” authors
- Weekly: Set aside an hour a week to watch a webinar, attend a Twitter chat, etc.
- Monthly: Commit to a monthly deep dive into your writing and publishing goals: reading a book, taking a course, or learning a new piece of software.
When something interesting lands in your email inbox, you won’t be tempted to drop everything and run with it. Simply add it to your learning pile, and look at in in your budgeted time.
Set sail with your crew
Armed with a strong understanding of your goals, audience, and guiding authors, you’re ready to read and filter the great advice on publishing, book promotion and the million little tasks of being a self-published author.
When you encounter a piece of advice or a new advisor:
- Filter the advice through your objectives. If your most important objective is getting your message out, then you don’t need to listen to the get-rich-from-your-book schemes. Keep your core audience and purpose in mind, and use that as a guide.
- Check in with your compass points. Do the authors that you admire use these tactics? Do you think they would? What would your list of virtual advisors recommend?
- Sense the wind. By now you should have a good sense of what makes sense for you, in your own career. If you’re not comfortable with tactics someone recommends, tune them out.
Eventually you find your sea legs as an author.
The many small decisions of self-publishing become easier as you have a stronger sense of your course – your unique audience, purpose and voice. You will become more confident as a publisher and promoter of your own books. If you continue writing and publishing books, the investment in learning pays back many times over.