How To Be Successful As A Self-Published Author
It’s that time when many people look to the year ahead as an opportunity to reassess their goals. If you’re one of those who has always aspired to become a writer but don’t even know where to begin, then this list by the best-selling self-published author Mark Dawson is a good place to start. Mark’s initial venture down the traditional publishing route was a flop. Now he’s part of an entrepreneurial generation of writers who are challenging traditional models and using technology to find commercial success online. Here are his top 10 tips for new writers:
1. Write in a series
It’s easier to market a series. Readers will come back again and again for characters that they love. I wrote two standalone novels when I was getting started, and it was more difficult to find traction with those. My John Milton series features a character that readers get to know. They’re anxious to follow his adventures, and they will often chew their way through the entire series and then email me to find out when they can expect the next.
2. Start a mailing list
Knowing how to reach your customers will be of critical importance. A mailing list will be your most valuable asset. The retailers won’t tell you who bought your books. You need to find that out for yourself. The alternative is what I call “digital sharecropping”. You’re planting your crop on someone else’s land. What if they take that away from you? When I started out, I had a promotion with Amazon and had 50,000 downloads of a book in a weekend. But I didn’t have a second book for those readers to get, and I had no way of contacting them when I did. Even if only 100 of those readers signed up to my mailing list, that might have been 100 sales of my next book.
3. Use loss leaders
People won’t join your mailing list without something valuable in return. Free books (or novellas) work very well. And a subscription is worth more to you than a sale. I give away hundreds of copies of my books every week. I see them as gateway drugs: if I can get you to indulge, for free, I can get you hooked. And when you’re hooked, you’ll be back again later, but now you’ll be eager to buy.
4. Answer all of your fan mail
Common sense! These people have taken the time to write to you. They are already fans. Make them into ambassadors. I probably have around 100 interactions with fans every day. That might include emails, Facebook comments and tweets. It takes a lot of time to answer, but it’s worth it. These people have taken the time to write to you. Replying is the least that you can do in return, and it’s easy to forget how cool it is to get a personal reply from your favourite author.
5. Reach out for help
You can crowdsource expert help to make sure your books are accurate. I write about an assassin, yet I’ve never fired a gun. My first Milton book featured a scene with a safety on a pistol that doesn’t have a safety. Readers let me know about it with a string of negative reviews. If they can’t trust me with such a trivial detail, why should they trust me with anything else? That doesn’t happen anymore. I have several hundred advance readers who read my early drafts. Some of them have served in the military. There are intelligence operatives, pilots, medics, and experts in other fields. They stomp on all of my errors.
6. Don’t skimp on quality
You’re going to be in competition with traditional publishers. You’ll need a great cover to compete (because the adage still rings true). Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be expensive. My cover designer was the head of design at a major UK publisher and has worked on books for John Le Carré and Stephen King. I’d defy a reader to hold up one of my books against a Baldacci or a Patterson or a Child and tell which was independently published.
7. You can’t proofread your own stuff
I tried that once. Big mistake. You won’t see the wood for the trees. It’s worth saving up for a proof reader. If you are on a budget, consider asking someone with a good eye for detail. Although these aren’t all necessary for every writer, I have a developmental editor, a copy editor and a proof reader on my team. The process is the same as the one that my books go through when they are published by traditional imprints. My advance readers pick up anything that might have slipped through the net with the result that my books are very clean when I make them ready for sale.
8. Combine what you love to write and what the market likes to read
I don’t mean that you should write what you think will sell. I tried to write to the zeitgeist once, and that was the only time I struggled to write. You should try to find the sweet spot where your love of the book meets an audience that is ready to devour it. If you can locate that intersection, you’ll have fun writing and your audience will have fun reading. The enthusiasm will be obvious and infectious and readers will fly through the pages.
9. Learn from those more experienced than you
Visit forums. Consider courses. Listen to podcasts. The indie community is amazingly friendly and cooperative and no-one pulls the ladder up once they have found success. A great place to start is my site: . We have two courses and a weekly podcast where we interview the biggest indie authors in the world (including a couple who make seven figures a year).
10. Just write
Get into the habit of doing it every day. Find a little time and dedicate yourself to it. If you can write 300 words a day (which is nothing), you can write a novel in a year. And the more you write, the better you’ll be. What are you waiting for?
Mark Dawson is a bestselling author and the founder of selfpublishingformula.com, where he provides free podcasts and training for those interested in independent publishing. His latest course is Self Publishing 101.