Picking Their Brains: Marketing Tips for Indie Authors

Time for another edition of Picking Their Brains! Each month I ask a group of fantasy authors for their advice on various topics, and this month we're discussing marketing. Most authors will tell you how important and time-consuming marketing can be, but how do you make the most of your time? Here are several tips for effective strategies from experienced authors and reviewers.   

Don't be too eager to click the publish icon. Spend time becoming a part of the community. Expand your reach through networking. And whatever you do, don't spam your book. Once you are established as a member of the groups, then start a buzz about the release. Be careful not to come on too strong. This a can takes months. But it's worth it in the long term.
    You get one chance to make the first impression on a reader. So be sure it's ready. Did you have it edited? Proof read? Beta tested? Is your cover striking? Is the blurb catchy? Basically, can it stand up to the top authors in your genre? If not, don't publish. You're not ready yet. I mean, you can. But don't expect good results.
—Brian D. Anderson, author of The Godling Chronicles

Okay, here it is: it doesn't matter if you like or use LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, etc., etc., etc. You MUST use them. You've got to establish as many connections in the world-wide-web as possible, to increase your chances of being found. People should find your name and then your book everywhere they look. They need to be constantly reminded of what you have to offer. And if you don't make that effort, how can you expect your potential readers to?
—Allan Batchelder, author of Steel, Blood & Fire

Brand yourself. Create something interesting and then go with it.
—Matthew Johnson, Professor Grimdark

Network, network, network. Join social media groups related to your genre and contribute to discussions of topics you enjoy, while keeping your comments and interactions courteous and respectful. Build your network of supporters this way. It takes time, but these relationships will be vital to advancing your career later.
—AM Justice, author of A Wizard's Forge

This, twice over. Be nice, be interesting, be helpful. Offer advice where you have expertise. Do people favors and hope that they will be returned, they probably will be since, by and large, writers are decent people. 
—Martin Owton, author of Exile

Your next book is the best marketing.
—Megan Mackie, author of The Finder of the Lucky Devil

Experiment. Try new platforms, try new ads, read books on indie marketing until you can't stomach it anymore. Take all advice with a grain of salt but don't just throw it away either. Keep a calendar of what you'll try and keep notes on what you did and when. Start building your own data.
—Richard Nell, author of Kings of Paradise

- Look for books that are similar to yours on Goodreads. Don't approach the very top reviewers as they probably have little time but message reviewers who have 20 or so likes on their posts when they rate the similar books highly. These probably have a blog, twitter etc and when your book might be marketed free across a few platforms then message them and offer them a free copy. It's like everything, you might only get a 15% review rate but it's better than 100% of nothing. 
- Never pay for a review. Is advice #2.
- Do review swaps with authors 10% more popular and less popular than yourself. The scene is very supportive but it's got to be a mix of giving and taking and you have to put the time in.
- Be nice. Don't chase up reviewers asking when they will read your book. They get offered many many books but they still do it for the love of literature. If anyone chases me up, and I'm sorry if this is harsh, but they go to the back of the queue.
- Be active on forums such as this, Fantasy Faction and Grimdark Readers and Writers. Never plug your book in a post but write interesting things and regularly about the often interesting topic and people will look you up and interesting minds might equate to interesting reading material.
- Join SPFBO.

—James Tivendale, Fantasy Book Review

Please stop comparing your book to ASOAIF, WOT or any other major series. Especially if it’s not of the same genre. 
—Mihir Wanchoo, Fantasy Book Critic

This is easy. When deciding whether or not to spend money on a promotion, ask the promoter for more than just a list of people saying "golly gee I promote ALL my books through yadabook.com" - if they can't show a probable result (Bookbub, for instance, has a chart with expected downloads / sales depending on genre and price-point). A large number of people to e-mail something to does not equate to a large number of people who actually buy books. Most promo sites promote to lists of fake accounts and several thousand other hopeful authors.
—David Niall Wilson, author of The DeChance Chronicles

And here are some of my own marketing Dos and Don'ts, many of which echo advice already mentioned: 

Do have a professional cover.

Do have your book professionally edited.

Do offer great content, sales, giveaways, incentives when it comes to sharing your social media or website links.

Do request reviews and then share the blogger's links. Bloggers love when you share their reviews!

Do treat people like people. Be friendly, responsive, and patient. If a reviewer doesn't have time to read your book, ask if you can submit a guest article or interview.

Do share other authors' books who have a similar audience.

Do figure out AMS ads because they work when you take the time to learn the optimal settings.

Do review books in your genre. This is a great way to get noticed and for readers to get a sense of your taste.

Don't spam sites or threads with links to your book.

Don't assume the worst in people. Everyone is busy. Just because they don't always interact with your social media, don't take it personally.

Interview with Author Andy Peloquin

If you're not familiar with Andy Peloquin's work, check out my recent review of Traitor's Fate. He's a prolific dark fantasy author, who also co-hosts the Fantasy Fiends podcast. I'm pleased to have him here today sharing his thoughts about world building, connecting with readers, and challenging yourself.

What inspired your world building process?
I tend to approach world-building a different way every time.
  • Sometimes, the focus is on the world first, setting up the scenarios I want to throw my characters into in order to force them to ask the questions I want answered. For example, for my upcoming series, Heirs of Destiny, I knew I wanted to play with a caste society, so I created a city that was built around that caste structure.
  • Sometimes, the characters are the main priority, and the world is built around them. In my Queen of Thieves series, the character is a thief, so I had to build her world from the inside out. It started out with a series of underground tunnels, which grew to a network that connected various warren-style sections, and ultimately grew outward to join a sewage system, rooftop network, and maze of back alleys all around the city. Of course, as the thieves went to steal from the rich, I had to build in the upper-crust parts of the city. It took shape from the inside and expanded according to the story.
  • Sometimes, it’s a certain emotion or visual image I want to evoke. In my Hero of Darkness series, I knew I wanted a more epic journey feel, so each new city visited took on some new aspect that I found exciting. The character traveled from a London-esque city to places reminiscent of Venice, Constantinople, Shangri-la, and Medina.
Who are you writing for and why?
I write for myself, to challenge myself to see life through new eyes and to ask myself questions I would never have thought about otherwise. Every time I sit down to write a new character or story, it’s all about forcing myself to grow, evolve, and mature as both an author and a person.
Plus, I’ve loved fantasy worlds since I first found John Carter of Mars (by E.R. Burroughs) decades ago. I’ve always loved to invent and create thrilling new places and things.

What do you do to recharge your creative energy?
TV is a huge boost for me. It gives me a break to shut down my brain, but I find that it also inspires me and almost serves as education for story-structure, storytelling, and creativity overall. Books help some, but I tend to be far more critical (editor’s brain) when I read. Watching TV, it’s easier to forget about the nitty gritty and just enjoy it overall.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others?
I want people to really stop and think about things they’d never have questioned before. We make so many instinctive assumptions and react from our gut, but we never dig deeper into the “why” of things. I want my writing to start digging deeper into themselves (and, of course, the people around them) so they can better understand their own thought processes and reactions, as well as the world at large. The more we can identify with the people around us, the harder it is to alienate them or hate them.

Where is your writing taking you?
I don’t write to win awards or to become recognized. Obviously those things would be nice—and they’d certainly help my stories spread far more effectively. However, ultimately, I write to connect with people. I want my characters to resonate with readers on a deep emotional level. I want people to think about what I’m saying and to give the arguments and rationales I’m presenting real, serious thought. If I can do that, I will count myself successful!

Find Andy Peloquin online:

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Picking Their Brains: Scott Kaelen on Cover Design

Wrapping up this week’s advice topic of book cover design, let’s hear from Scott Kaelen, author of The Blighted City...

Just to show how awful the initial attempts at cover creation can be, here's the first cover I made (it's for my short story which was renamed "When Gods Awaken" prior to publishing). 

My advice would be to not mess around with trying to make your own book covers if you haven't had professional experience and don't have access to the best programs to use. I ultimately made all my own covers, which is fine for short stories, etc. but not for a novel if you want it to get the right sort of attention. Pay the experienced artists (NOT the mediocre ones) to create a compelling cover image AND cover text for your book. It won't look professional unless it's done by a professional. And don't listen to any praise your friends give you about your self-made cover - they're only saying it to make you feel good and because they don't have the backbone to tell you the truth. I know this because all my crappy self-made covers got positive praise from my online acquaintances, but I knew the covers were shite. Only listen to critical and responses from qualified and unbiased professionals connected to your writing genre, who you trust will give you the hard truth when necessary (peers, designers, book bloggers, etc.) 

The first two (actually, three) covers [for The Blighted City] were done by an artist based on what I asked him to do, but the last one (the current one) is a small area of a stock photo I'd been holding onto for several years and I did a lot of work on it myself.  

First version for The Blighted City cover art

This is the first one I had the artist make. It was intended as a full cover (front, rear, spine). Ultimately the consensus of my betas and a few others I asked was that it didn't fit with the tone/setting of the novel. So this one was shelved.  

Second version

I decided to try a different angle with the second cover, based on suggestions from a beta. This one depicts the end of the Chiddari Crypt. But after it had been published for a while, the main feedback I got for it was that it felt more like straight-up horror than dark epic fantasy, and that the image really didn't gel with the book title. So this one was replaced. 

Third version

The third cover only lasted a few weeks, but it did sell one paperback in that time, which is the only physical copy of the second published cover edition in existence. Maybe worth a small fortune if I ever get successful! For those who look closely and with the keenest eyesight (not me!), they might be able to tell that it is really a small section of the city in the background of the first (never published) cover. But it's been further tweaked from the original.The consensus for this one was that it felt more like a historical fiction than a secondary-world fantasy. So, scrapped this one, too. 

Current cover

And this is the fourth (third published) cover, the currently published one. This one had much better reception than the previous covers, although, to my mind, it still doesn't give a true depiction of the setting which it's based on. But hey, artistic licence and all that. If the cover helps to sell copies, it's doing its job.