If you are self-publishing your book, you are your own marketing department. Like it or loathe it, nobody but you will be plugging
your book (unless you have really good, dedicated friends). I am a poor (as in, penniless; not as in “bad”) author. But I have found,
through necessity, low-cost or free means to promote my novels.
As a poor (again, not as in “two-bit”) songwriter, I learned through the years ways to plug my band’s music. Through trial and error
and some unfortunate choices; my days and nights of mouse clicks endowed me with a savvy understanding of the most efficient
ways to glide across the web. From 2006 onward, I spent dollars I couldn’t afford to spend, essentially for naught. The good news is,
selling books is fundamentally easier than trying to convince someone to purchase a song. Trust me. The principles that apply to
plugging music can be readily adapted to the business of book-selling. As an author who truly believes in your art, your conviction
alone, sadly, won’t suffice. Art and commerce are strange bedfellows, but the commerce part demands to be served.
Henceforth are the life lessons I’ve learned. Take one from column A and one from column B, or mix them up, or choose all of them.
Feel free to mix in your own seasonings.
Make Social Media Your Friend
I love Twitter but hate Facebook. You may be the exact opposite. Or maybe you hate both. Unfortunately, these two platforms are the
most results-oriented means for an author to promote his or her wares.
I don’t update my Facebook page like I should. I need to hold my nose and dive in – post something every once in a while. Here is what
I learned about Facebook author pages: You don’t need to claim a brand-new email address just so you can create an author page.
Just drift on over to the page you most likely already have (you know, the one you maintain so you can wish a Happy Birthday to all
your third cousins), click on the little down arrow on the header bar (next to the "?") and choose, “Create Page”. Set it up however you
want. If you use a pen name, that works, too.
When it comes to Twitter, if you are an aficionado, I advise having two accounts, one for fun and one dedicated to your writing. If you
hate Twitter the way I hate Facebook, then just set up one Twitter account. In your bio, be sure to indicate that you are an author (of
whatever genre). You’ll be surprised how many like-minded folks will find you and follow you. Then search for people you
like/admire and follow them. Or search for “authors” and follow the ones who sound intriguing. Then – INTERACT.
Don’t spam people by promoting your novel in every tweet. That’s a sure way to lose followers. I fast-forward through commercials on
my DVR. That same principle applies to Twitter. People hate the hard-sell. Be a real person.
If you have no idea what to tweet, set aside an hour one night a week and compose some pithy thoughts. Use TweetDeck to schedule
your tweets; maybe one every other day or at least one per week.
Comment on other’s tweets, or at least “heart” them. You may even want to re-tweet the ones you particularly like. I purchased
another self-published author's book as a way of saying "thank you" for re-tweeting me. And it was awesome!
Advice: If you’re political (as I truly am), keep politics out of Twitter or use your other account to offer snark and sarcasm. I never
understood those artists who freely alienate half their potential audience. Book-selling is a business. I can’t afford to lose a sale
because I’m an idiot who can’t keep her opinions to herself.
Instagram: Someone described Instagram as a “huge, collaborative photo album”. That’s about right. I confess, I have set up an
account, but I haven’t fully explored its possibilities. The essence of Instagram is photos, and that can be a conundrum for an author
who only wants to get his book in front of buying eyes. With any social media platform, you have to offer something that draws people
to your page. I have explored other authors’ pages, and their creativity is amazing and inspiring. We writers are creative people, so let
your imagination soar. Canva is a user-friendly app that helps you design beautiful Instagram posts. Post a favorite quote or make up
you own (about writing, of course!) It goes without saying that you will occasionally advertise your book(s). Just don't forget to engage.
Create A YouTube Channel
Microsoft has sadly discontinued one of the handiest apps ever invented for video creation, Windows Moviemaker. I made tons of
music videos for our band with Moviemaker. But confirming my belief that one can find anything on the internet, I located a site for
downloading that wonderful sidekick. Before I once again located my old friend, I tried other free software for creating videos, but they
were hardly intuitive. Your results may vary. What I like about Moviemaker is that there is little to no learning curve. Plop some
background music onto one line, add pictures or footage on another, add narration if you have a USB microphone, add titles and
credits, drop in some effects or transitions, and voila!
If, like me, you are too shy to plaster your face across the web, why not find some appropriate royalty-free music (do a Google search –
there are tons of sites; plus YouTube even has its own audio library! I’m a stickler for not pilfering somebody else’s copyright. As a
songwriter and as an author, I would not take kindly to someone stealing my words and/or music.
Beautiful royalty-free images can be found and downloaded at Pixabay.
Add some relevant images to your video to fit the mood; maybe splash some intriguing snippets of text from your novel across the
screen, add the appropriate mood music, upload the finished video to YouTube and there you go.
Don’t forget to add target keywords to your video description so viewers can easily find you.
I’m a huge believer in reciprocity, so go ahead and “like” videos from authors’ channels you admire and leave them a comment. Maybe
they’ll like you back. Even if they don’t, you’ll no doubt find something you enjoy, and that’s always a bonus. There are many, many
videos on YouTube from writers giving tutorials on all aspects of the writing process. Subscribe to these channels, sit back and absorb.
Oh, one more thing about your book trailer: Add a title credit at the end, listing where your book can be purchased. Add it to your
video description as well. I’m not very good at remembering that the website I need to surf to is
Don't forget to add your awesome video to your Amazon Author Central page, and to your website and your Facebook page. Shoot, go
ahead and tweet it out, too.
You can set up giveaways of your novel through Amazon. This involves a small investment (the retail price of the number of ebooks
you want to award), but who doesn’t like the chance to win something, even if it’s something they didn’t even know they wanted? I’ve
done a giveaway a time or two. Since my bank account is tiny, I only gave away three copies of my book each time. They were scooped
up in seconds.
Ideally, the goal of an author is to garner reviews; preferably good reviews, but good, bad, or ehh, never respond to a review. It’s bad
form, and no reader wants to feel like the author is stalking them. No one who won a copy of my book ever left me a review – that
could be good or bad. Maybe like that plastic auto body shop key tag that you don’t really want, but you just want to win something,
the winners stuffed my novel inside a drawer (or in this case, inside their Kindle) and forgot about it.
I may try a giveaway again sometime soon, although it hasn’t so far panned out. Your mileage may vary.
Goodreads and Library Thing (and Giveaways)
Thing is lesser known, but growing. Take advantage of all the venues available. As with all sites, some are more frustrating to
maneuver than others. I have found Goodreads to be more author-and upload-friendly, but keep at it. Book giveaways are a great
tool; unfortunately Goodreads has begun charging to run a giveaway. I am just not willing to pay a fee for publicity. To my knowledge,
Library Thing still allows an author to host a giveaway without paying for the opportunity. Since Library Thing's site is hopelessly
frustrating to navigate, I luckily found some tips on the wonderful kboards.
Obviously, I have a website. That’s where you are reading these tips. I used Wix, because it was free. If I hadn’t found a free site, I
wouldn’t have bothered. Honestly, how does one drive traffic to an unknown site? If you don’t already have a web presence, it’s a
losing proposition. But if you use all the tips above, well, maybe…
real name is) and you don’t use a pen name for your writing (like I do), be prepared to choose a domain name that is not exactly what
you might want. Both sites will offer suggestions if your chosen domain is taken. Given the option, pick one that ends in “com”,
because everybody automatically assumes that every domain ends in those three letters. Our band site extension is “biz”, because that
was the only available option that included our band name. I’ve always hated it. The internet wizards need to come up with some
more appropriate domain extensions. Fortunately, that list has expanded in recent years.
I’m sort of dumb in the ways of turning a personalized website dynamic. People like visuals. Just as soon as I create one of those
vaunted YouTube book videos I have espoused above, I will slap it on this site and magic will ensue. But seriously, for approximately
$10.00 a month (to purchase and maintain a domain), why not? It establishes you, the author, as “someone”. It immediately confers a
Obviously I use a pen name. Why? Primarily because I like to keep my personal life separate from my other endeavors. There are
myriad reasons why an author may choose to write under a pseudonym, and you've probably heard them all ~ writing in more than
one genre, their chosen category is dominated by writers of the opposite gender (a man writing romance novels, for example), privacy
concerns, et cetera. Choosing a pen name isn't necessarily a straight-forward process, however. My main concern was the prevalence
of any particular name I was considering. I came up with a few possibilities and Googled them. I also wanted the same number of
syllables for both my first and last names (there's that songwriting gene again). "April" has some significance for me, and that only left
me to play around with a few surnames (that's where Google became a valuable tool for elimination).
You may also want to play around with an anagram generator. I tried this site and almost wanted to rename myself, the choices were
so interesting! Another option is to use your first and middle initials along with a surname of your choice.
I may not have thought the process through as thoroughly as I should have! But April Tompkins I am and will remain (unless I decide
to write a new novel under a cool new name...hmmm...)
“Do I need a blog?”
Sure, if it’s something you like doing.
I am a dedicated blogger. I essentially add a blog post once or twice a week, and I’ve done it religiously since 2006. Blog posts are short
– novels are staggeringly long. Blogging is my exhale.
But if you blog, you need to have something to say. My blog is about music and life. It has no connection to my other life as an author. I
link to my books and to my author website, but it lives its own life.
Lots of people swear by WordPress, but I could never figure out its buttons and bells and whistles. I most likely have the start of a blog
on WordPress, but I ultimately abandoned it. I am a Blogger user. It’s so easy, I don’t understand why anyone would put themselves
through the torture of figuring out the WordPress interface. (You will get lots of haughty arguments about how Wordpress is far
superior. To each her own.)
I advise attaching your blog, whichever platform you choose, to a dedicated domain name. Google lets you do that relatively easily. It
creates a more professional presence.
Also, don’t devote your blog to book-plugging. You’ve got something else you’re passionate about. Blog about that. If you want to blog
about writing, cool. Write about your process or your journey as an indie author.
My blogging enjoyment emanates from writing about anything but writing. We're all different.
Blogs don’t provide a good return for the effort. How does one find your blog? By accident? Keywords may help, but as a means for
book promotion, it is hardly effective. That’s why I say, blog if you like blogging. Sometimes blogging is a stress reliever from the often
tedious process of tumbling words onto the screen from Chapter Nineteen that you’ll only end up backspacing and deleting.
Speaking of blogs, some authors swear by blog tours. It’s apparently a thing. Be aware, however, that blog tours are not free. In fact,
they have essentially priced me out of the market. If it’s an avenue you would like to explore, start here.
Seek Out Reviews
There are (free) sites that review self-published books. Please don’t ever pay for a review! Savvy readers will spot a paid review
immediately and your stellar reputation will be tarnished. And it’s kind of sleazy. Here is a jump-off list of review sites.
includes paid promo sites. Focus on the free ones. I can't vouch for the continuing viability of all the sites included ~ things change;
time marches on; but many will still be inbusiness.
Don't pay to enter a book contest. A well-known site just sent me an email to enter their latest contest, which "only" costs $99.00 to
enter in one genre and $65.00 for subsequent genres. Yes, book contests reap large rewards ~ for those hosting the contest. I entered a
songwriting contest once. I think it cost something like $20.00 to enter, and the judges were musical giants (i.e., they either let their
minions handle the judging duties or got paid for lending their name to the competition. I won an honorable mention* and a badge I
could add to my website.*
*Everyone who entered doubtless "won" an honorable mention.
Paid book contests are bogus. They're akin to the "IRS" calling you to demand money. Avoid the temptation.
With the exception of a custom domain, the only thing the above suggestions will cost you is time. Be prepared to devote lots of time
to promoting your work. As a self-published author, your sales depend on you and you alone, unless you have awesome friends who
have nothing better to do than plug your wares. But your friends actually have lives and you don’t want to be a needy jerk.
Self-Publishing For $0.00 - $25.00
If you’re thinking about self-publishing, you’ve probably already done some research.
Smashwords is a book aggregator (there are others, like BookBaby, but Smashwords is free), meaning it will distribute your books to
the major retailers, such as Amazon, B&N, iBooks, etc. It also will sell your books directly, and it allows you to enable free
downloading of excerpts. I personally prefer to use each individual retailer's upload process, because Smashwords is a bit
cumbersome. The exception for me is iBooks ~ I find Apple's interface extremely frustrating to maneuver through. I have recently
uploaded my books to Barnes & Noble directly, and I look forward to discovering if this leads to more sales. I like B&N's interface much
more than Amazon's. My book covers aren't teeny-tiny! I am also experimenting with Kobo, which is international, and, what the heck,
Payhip. (I'm not sure why on the latter, but it's important to try new things.) I've also learned that if you are on Kobo, you're also on
Walmart's ebook store (yay!)
Don’t pay someone to format your book. For my very first book (a memoir), which I’ve since withdrawn from the Amazon catalog, I
hired a formatter. The result was less than desirable, and I didn’t realize I could do it myself, and better! Amazon offers a tutorial for
formatting, which turns out to be extremely simple. It’s not scary like I once thought it was. If you’re even semi-literate in Microsoft
Word, you can format your book in a snap. The most “difficult” part (which isn’t at all difficult) is formatting your title page, copyright
page, dedication, etc., and inserting page breaks between chapters. The tutorial also shows you how to insert a table of contents, which
I found utterly unnecessary, but you may choose to add one.
Amazon now offers the Kindle Previewer, which wasn't available when I published my first two novels. This is an excellent
enhancement. It allows you to preview and modify your book before your publish it. I wish I had that capability when I published.
There is also now an enhanced typesetter (only for certain formats, such as HTML, but it's easy enough to convert your Word doc to
another format if you want to try this feature.)
If you run into issues or have a burning question that the tutorial doesn’t answer, visit the kboards. I find people to be eager to share
what they’ve learned.
Amazon offers handy-dandy cover creation software. The trouble is, the covers end up looking cheesy. I think for one of my novels I
ended up with a lime green interface that screamed “home-made”!
Find some free photo editing software on the web (there are tons, trust me) and play around with it to see if it works for you. I
downloaded four or five apps that I ended up hating and uninstalling. They all claimed to be intuitive, but they were definitely not. I
don’t have enough spare hours or patience to deplete poring over tutorials. But if you decide to go that route, choose a nice image from
Pixabay and fiddle around with fonts until you are supremely satisfied. Your PC (or Mac) also has a built-in, albeit rudimentary,
photo editing program.
My preferred option is Fiverr. Fiverr has a clutch of graphic artists salivating to claim your business. Set up an account and post your
needs. You’ll immediately receive ten to twenty bids. Check out their posted work. Message those who strike your fancy. Every one of
them will work with you. If you want modifications, tell them. Each artist I’ve worked with has been pleasantly accommodating.
Be aware, though, that money talks. If you’re okay with stock footage, you can land a cover for five-to-ten dollars. If you want
something with a bit more “pop”, you could spend upwards of $25.00. The most money I spent in my self-publishing journey was on a
book cover. But think about it – what catches a potential buyer’s eye? Yep, an intriguing image. You’re competing with professional
publishing houses, after all.
Uploading Your Book For Sale
If you are starting with Amazon (and why wouldn’t you?), this page will guide you through the process. It’s a fill-in-the-blank
procedure. You’ll be asked for the basic book details and to upload your cover. Choose keywords wisely – these help customers find
your book. The Kindle guide will also steer you toward proper pricing. You will want to price your book according to its worth – one
bazillion dollars – but realistically, you don’t want to price yourself out of the market. Start with the suggested minimum. If you are a
smash hit, you can always raise the price.
Once you’ve uploaded your book to Kindle, sit back and revel in your accomplishment. Click on the link a couple thousand times and
know that you did it.
Kindle also has tons of ebook programs. You may or may not choose to involve yourself in one or more of these. I haven’t, but never
say never. Seize ever opportunity that seems right.
Create an author page on Amazon. Upload that homemade video I mentioned above. Or at least create an intriguing aura. Hey, as an
author, you can depict yourself the way you envision you. Celebrate yourself. If you don’t do it, who will?
Once you feel confident with your Kindle upload, continue on to the other sites. Everything is scary the first time you do it, but soon it
will become natural.
Ever have those pesky little questions, such as, “How many spaces after a period?”* Seriously, I had that question. I came of age in the
era before word processing programs, so I was using “typewriter rules”. Or, “What’s the difference between third person and third
person omniscient?” “How do I know what genre my novel is?”
*The answer, in case you were wondering, is one.
Answers to these questions and every conceivable question under the sun can be found at the Absolute Write forums. Absolute Write
is the best and most active online community of writers. If you are seeking feedback on any topic related to writing, you will get
answers almost immediately. It’s not like one of those sites that have five active members, like some of the songwriter forums that I no
longer visit. If you are seeking a vibrant community of like-minded folks, Absolute Write is the place to be.
Even if you are self-publishing (like me) the QueryTracker forum is also a valuable resource.
Circle. Dabble as you wish.
Purdue Owl is the go-to authority on all aspects of writing. Grammar and spelling questions are addressed here (trust me, you can’t
rely on Microsoft Word – it wants you to do things that you feel a bit queasy about, but you trust them, because...you know, Bill Gates
and all. Don’t.), as well as strange terms that you learned in seventh grade English class, but have since forgotten, like “appositives”
and “relative pronouns”.
Grammar Girl provides information on everything from relationships to pets to technology.
Daily Writing Tips is kind of fun and you will learn things you didn’t even think you needed to know.
Do You Need To Hire An Editor?
For a 60,000-word book, a good book editor will cost you:
Developmental editing (structure, cohesiveness, focus) : $.08 per word, or $4,800.00 total
Basic copy editing (grammar, clarity, spelling): $.018 per word, or $1,080.00 total
And how do you identify a good editor?What indie writer has that amount of cash lying around? Not me!
What you can do:
Among your acquaintances, identify an avid reader of your genre and ask them if they’ll read your manuscript.
Trade! Lots of writing forums have a section for requesting/offering “beta” reads. It’s a lot to ask of someone’s time to read and give feedback on someone’s novel, so be gracious and offer reciprocity.
Develop a set of questions to ask your reader, such as, could you identify with the main character, did the story flow well? What didn’t you like about the story? What was confusing?
Consider the feedback you get carefully. If you have multiple beta readers, you will no doubt receive conflicting opinions. YOU are the
arbiter of the finished product. Do, however, consider take your readers’ impressions seriously. These folks represent your potential
I’m a believer that the author should be able to detect and correct any grammatical and spelling errors. Just don’t rely exclusively on Word’s
suggestions. Print out your manuscript if necessary and take a yellow highlighter in hand. Nothing turns off a potential customer more than
an Amazon “look inside” preview riddled with spelling and formatting errors. If you’re serious about gaining readers (and of course you are),
take as much time as necessary to scour your manuscript; scores of times if you need to; and ensure it’s perfect.
Odd questions are going to arise as you are writing your novel. I advise creating a folder called “Book Research” and add to it the best
resources you find. You’ll probably need them again.
Some of my most used sites:
Gesture Descriptions (Trust me; you’ll get sick of writing, “She paced the sidewalk.” My characters tend to pace a lot. And sometimes
And speaking of overused words, the best online thesaurus I’ve found is Power Thesaurus. Don’t bother with the others. They give you
maybe twelve options. Power Thesaurus gives you approximately ninety-nine for every word.
If you’re writing about another era, like I did with “Once In A Blue Moon”, or adding an element to your story you know nothing about
(say, for example, the wheat harvest in the upper Midwest in 1955), and you’re not some kind of savant, you’ll need to research all
kinds of things you never, ever thought you’d ever look up. I wonder sometimes what the FBI would think if they perused my browsing
history. I’m hoping that occasion never arises, but they would logically conclude that I’m research ways to “off” someone. (I’m honestly
Save those valuable sites to your “Book Research” folder. You’ll most likely revisit them.
I’m either impatient or time-deficient, or most likely both. I like articles that get to the heart of the matter. When I peruse my favorite
news site, I find myself skimming its long articles and honing in on the key points. Then I move on. My off-time reading is for pleasure;
my “business” reading is for learning. Thus, if I want writing or publishing tips, I appreciate brief but cogent essays.
and “distribute” it. All the electronic stuff you can do for free, and I haven’t grasped the concept of having printed books produced.
How would I sell them – out of the trunk of my car? Barnes & Noble isn’t exactly clamoring to stock their shelves with my latest novel.
You, however, may want physical books available to sell through your website. If you desire printed books and don’t have a printing
press in your basement, you may be interested in Bookbaby’s services. Or Createspace.
I first became aware of Bookbaby because our band was looking for place to sell our music, and we went with CDbaby. Then we
discovered we needed a web hosting/creation site devoted to musicians, and I ultimately chose Hostbaby. (There are tons of “baby”
My long-winded point is the Bookbaby Blog has loads of nice little articles devoted to writing and marketing. And you can read ten
posts in approximately ten minutes (my self-imposed cut-off).
Another site that offers semi-frequent email tips is ProWritingAid. Of course the site wants to sell its products, but I signed up for free
and its friendly prompts remind me I should be writing, plus the blog posts cover everything from social media to planning a novel.
Books On Writing
I’ve written my whole life ~ little stories when I was kid; my memoirs (a whole ten pages) when I was in my twenties; ink neatly floated
onto the lined pages of a bound journal. But I never seriously wrote until I dipped my toe into the shivery world of songwriting. (That
skill does not translate to writing prose, unfortunately, unless one wants to write a novel that takes three and a half minutes to read.)
What songwriting does, however, is force one to mentally outline.
The story (or song) needs an opening, what the character wants, the stakes, and the resolution.
My song, Heartview, written as a tribute to my dad and his ultimate acceptance of sobriety, inadvertently follows this form:
Is this a church or a prison?
The windows aren’t stained
What the character wants:
Admit you’re powerless
Accept what you can’t change
Recognize the difference
You’re not a prisoner
Unless you choose it
But the angels sing
Oh, the angels sing
I, of course, didn’t know I was following the steps for writing prose when I scribbled my little songs and plunked them out on my
acoustic guitar. But before any of this ever happened in my life, I picked up a nice writing book at my local independent bookstore,
called On Writing by Stephen King. I propped myself up on two pillows and devoured the book. I guess it takes a good writer to write
a captivating book about writing.
My most vivid takeaway from Mr. King’s book is the chapter on adverbs. New writers are swept off their feet by adverbs: funnily,
swiftly, determinedly. Don’t do it! Find an action verb that annihilates the crutch of ly’s.
I wish I could list more book recommendations, but Stephen King’s is honestly the only good book I’ve read about the craft of writing
(and I’ve read a few).
Bottom Line ~ Be Realistic and Set A Budget
I don't have a lot of (okay, any) disposable income, but I rather like DYI. My imagination costs $0.00, and I do everything else myself
that I am reasonably proficient in. I tried designing my own covers and immediately realized it was a hopeless endeavor; thus, I was
willing to pay for someone else's expertise. I also can't design websites. The cost of publishing and promoting my works was $25.00 for
cover design, $120.00 for a year of web hosting, and $8.97 to run a book giveaway. Social media is free. So, $153.97 total.
If you are doing the backstroke in $100-dollar bills, go wild! If, however, you are looking for a return on your investment, DIY is my
recommendation. Start small ~ see how your sales progress and adjust your budget accordingly.
Resources For Aspiring Authors
My new friends Andrea and Sophie from the Kellytown youth writing group recommend these sits for aspiring author, young and not-
Happy writing! And send me a link to your published work. I'm an indie-author aficionado.