From an Indie Fan: Dos and Don’ts for Authors

My first non-introductory post on the Blog O’ Doom and already I’m talking about something unrelated to horror. This is, however, connected to indie publishing in general, and since I did promise to talk about that process, I’m not feeling too terribly guilty about the tangent.

Give me your words! Give me ALL THE WORDS!

Now, I’m relatively new to indie publishing — as an author, at any rate — but I’m a voracious, compulsive reader. I’ve never been a snob about what I read, either, for while finding good indies can sometimes take diligence (the ease of self-publishing does means anyone can publish, with occasionally mind-boggling results), good and often great indies are out there.

I’ve come across a few book recommendation lists where the noses are turned up and the sniffs are loud from readers who have nothing but contempt for anything self-published — although ironically, they forget that some of our greatest and most beloved works of literature were originally self-published, too. (But that’s a discussion for an upcoming blog post; I digress.)

My point isn’t to have a good laugh at elitists, but to establish that I approach indie publishing as both an author and a reader. I may be new to the indie author game, but I’ve been an indie fan for quite some time. And as a fan, there are marketing techniques that work — and those that will make your potential fanbase run shrieking into the night.

I’ve tried to tailor my wooing based on what I liked and didn’t like as a reader myself, and so far it seems to be working. So for the sake of helping others, here’s my personal list of…

3 Dos and Don’ts for Indie Marketing

“All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up!”

#1: DO solicit reviews from a wide variety of readers in your niche. DON’T solicit reviews from only relatives, friends, and fellow indie authors hoping for a mutual scratch.

It’s obvious, it’s SO obvious. I’m not sure why, but there’s a look and feel to the “mutual scratching of indie backs” review from a fellow author, and it’s an instant turn-off. In fact, if a book has nothing but glowing reviews on sites like Amazon, I’m instantly suspicious. While I can’t speak for every reader (on this or anything else in this blog entry), when I’m thinking about buying a book, I look at the critical reviews first. One good, honest, critical review with 3 stars or so will talk me into buying a book faster than ten 5-star gushers.

Pictured: Subtlety

#2: DO promote your books on social media. DON’T spam with book ads and nothing else.

Let your readers get to know you! Talk about yourself. Post pictures of your life. Tell your fans about the incredibly ridiculous thing that happened to you today. When fans feel like they know you — your life, your sense of humor, even a picture of your flippin’ desk — they’re on their way to becoming the sort of fans that buy everything you publish. But if they didn’t click on the first ten ads for your book, spamming them to death isn’t going to change their minds.

The one exception I would make is how you handle hot-button topics. You should trust your fan base enough to be open and honest about your political, religious, philosophical, and moral leanings, but you can be honest without being an ass. Particularly in the current political climate, I have seen far too many famous writers using their social media platforms to broad-brush, attack, and insult anyone who disagrees with them politically.

Likewise, don’t assume that if I do agree with your politics, then it’s okay. I’m reminded of an atheist friend of mine who cut all ties with another, “famous” atheist because of his inveterate believer-bashing. My friend’s reason: “I have lots of family members who are religious. I may not agree with them, but I love them, and [Famous Atheist] keeps calling them stupid.”

Remember that someone can love your work and still disagree with your point of view. You can stand up for your beliefs without being a gigantic asshole.

“Sorry about the whole ‘primitive screwheads’ thing…”

#3: DO respond to emails, follows, etc. as much as possible. DON’T use a form letter to do it.

I know there comes a time in every successful author’s life when personally responding to each and every reader contact becomes almost impossible. But if that’s the case, then stop trying to make it look like you’re still responding on a personal level by sending a form message or email. No matter how chatty or casual you try to seem, your readers KNOW it’s a form. Switch to a format like the group newsletter/email mailing list; then it feels like we’re being addressed as a group, the Loyal Fans. We like that! But the form IM on an individual basis is vaguely insulting. It feels like junk mail with our names typed in.

If you have the time to send a “Thanks for the follow!” or whatever, then you have time to make it personal. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Go check out the reader’s profile. See if you have anything in common. I’ve made connections with readers through nothing more than spending a few seconds checking out their Currently Reading list and seeing if we’re reading or have read the same things. Reach out, man! You want readers to be your friends, not a seething crowd of nameless minions worshiping at your altar.

And one final note on being too busy/famous/amazing to answer emails from fans:

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in 6th grade, my friend Teresa and I were HUGE fans of the rock band Styx. This was during Styx’s heyday (yes, I’m dating myself, hush!). We were particularly in love with guitarist Tommy Shaw, and both Teresa and I wrote him a pair of fan letters. We talked about how much we liked his music, which songs we liked the best, we asked him questions about some of the more unusual instruments he played on their albums, etc.

It was the dimples, clearly.

Months went by after we sent those letters, so we had almost forgotten about them — until the day we opened our mailboxes and found that Tommy had written back.

The letters were typed. He had dictated them to his secretary (I remember asking my mom what the little initials meant) and signed them personally, but it was clear that he had actually read our letters. He answered each and every one of our questions, thanked us, even made a joke or two — in short, he made sure we knew that he appreciated us as fans. We were two little girls, not more than 10 years old, but he took the time to write us all the same. Sure, it took him a few months to get to us, but so what? We were over the moon.

If Tommy Shaw at the height of his band’s considerable popularity could take the time to write two of his smallest fans, so can you. Even if your reply is little more than a “thanks!” and “so glad you liked it!” It’s something. I never forgot that letter; I’ll bet Teresa didn’t either.

Make sure your fans never forget you.

(And yes, I’m still a Styx fan!)