14 Strategies for Indie Author Success

Success as an author doesn’t come from writing alone. And while even the most successful authors have books that just don’t sell, they are successful for a reason. They work hard at their own success. And that’s what it takes to find success as an author – hard work.

And if you start networking with successful authors, you’ll find that they have a lot in common in terms of their strategies and core practices. So I’m sharing with you these 14 strategies and habits that successful authors employ to sell more books. You don’t have to put every single one of these into action right away, but by starting to incorporate them into your book marketing efforts, you’ll start to see changes happen.

Bottom line: it’s worth your time to adopt as many of them as you can, as soon as you can.

1. Understand the importance of ROI vs. readership growth:

This is a big one, many authors who come to us want to talk ROI. But ROI is tough to predict, even for established authors with a faithful fan base.

The fastest way you can kill your success is to live and die by ROI. Your efforts may not pay off immediately, but dropping them for not bringing prompt results will kill your success. Because ROI is a nice goal, but a terrible master. So what should you focus on instead? Readership growth. In fact, anything you do should be about growing your readership. Any other focus is a waste of your time, and honestly, not easy to accurately assess anyway

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Establish a plan and calendar for tracking readership growth.

2. Be willing to adapt and self-reflect:

Adapting to a changing market is more than just a skill. It’s a recipe for indie author success. If something isn’t working, instead of playing the blame game, figure out why. If it was an ad, could it have been stronger or run at a better time? Or maybe your book cover needs a redesign. Or is your plot style getting overdone? Are your readers getting tired of a particular type of hero?

Lots of factors combine for a book’s success and the market is constantly changing.  To succeed, you must adapt.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Make a list of what isn’t working for you. Research why it likely isn’t working. Then determine what you’re going to do to rectify it or what you’re going to replace it with.

3. Write what people want to read:

While you should always write a book you want to write, you should consider your market first. Don’t write to a genre just because it’s hot right now without understanding what makes readers really love that genre. Once you’ve done your research, you can start writing. Because writing what you want is important, but writing what readers want is what will actually sell books.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Find at least 5 books in the top 100 for your genre that strongly compliment your book’s topic, theme, etc. This will help you prove that you’re writing something people are already interested in. Can’t do it? Make some tweaks until it fits.

4. Own your genre:

Not every book will be the book of your dreams. I know an author who likes to write across different genres and she writes quite well in all of these. But, the problem is that fans won’t follow her across genres. In fact, at a recent conference, an author’s advice was: don’t try to sell a cat to dog people. It’s a great analogy. Stick to one genre because if you keep switching, you will lose readers.

Writing is a business. So if you want to write a children’s book, after years of writing genre fiction or non-fiction, that’s fine. But, don’t expect your readers to follow you.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Name your genre. And then become an expert in it. Start making lists. Talk about topics, storyline characteristics, popular character profiles, cover layouts, and just as importantly, how authors in that genre are connecting with their readers.

5. Hope is not a marketing plan:

If you expect your book to go live on Amazon and immediately sell so many copies you can retire, you’re deluding yourself. Instead, you need an executable marketing plan that you know you can work. Know your strengths and what you need to outsource. And then hire someone to fill in for what you can’t execute yourself.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Develop your marketing plan. Ensure it goes out a full calendar year. And be sure that it includes at least one more release during that time, if not more.

6. Don’t start out broke:

If you’re strapped for cash and want to bootstrap your book marketing that’s fine. But just like any other business, writing a book will require a monetary investment. I’m not talking about $15,000, but you will need to invest something, otherwise you’ll end up back at item 1.

You don’t want to be a slave to ROI, which won’t happen on your first book. In all my 18 years in business, I think I’ve seen only one book from a first-time author become crazy successful right out of the gate. And she already had a platform of almost a million and a mailing list nearly the same size from her other career. Be smart, be business-minded, and be ready to invest.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Figure out what you can really budget on a monthly basis in terms of money and time. Figure out what you can do with that budget, and make it happen. Be accountable to giving your book as much as you can.

7. Keep writing:

It’s not realistic in today’s book market to write one book and ‘see what happens.’ Because it’s hard to build a business with just one product.

If you write just one book, you severely limit your audience. Why? Successful authors know that your second book helps to market your first, and your third book helps to market your first and second and so on. This is true even if you write different books that aren’t necessarily a series.

My books all address various aspects of marketing, and ultimately could be considering a book marketing series. I have a lot of return buyers who want to continue to hone their marketing skills. Readers, especially fiction readers, love a series. And by love a series, I mean love a series. If you’re trying to launch your career, the best thing you can do for yourself is write often and write in a series.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Plan your publishing schedule. Even if the dates aren’t set in stone, giving yourself a goal and something to work toward is still 1000 times better than winging it.

8. Understanding the role your book cover plays:

You should never be married to your book cover, because when you fall in love with it, you lose perspective. And as more books are published, the more important it is to have an outstanding cover.

You only have a few seconds to capture your readers’ attention. If the cover is bad, no one will ever know how good your book is.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Go back to your research from #4 and look at your list about cover characteristics. Then compare your book with the top 10-15 books in your genre. If yours doesn’t stack up, it’s time to hire a designer.

9. Find an objective editor:

You should have a love-hate relationship with your editor, because they should push you to be a better writer. In fact, if they make you want to cry, they’re doing their job.

If your editor says they “loved everything about it,” you need to find someone else. No one is above improvement. And, any bestselling author will tell you that their first draft is always crap.  So, find someone who will push you past your limits. It’s that little extra that often reaps big dividends.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Do an honest assessment of your editor. If you’re less than enamored, start interviewing someone else to do your next book. Sometimes you don’t know how much better you can be until you give a different editor a chance. Until you consider yourself a success, it has to be business, not personal.

10. Connect with your reader:

Every successful author knows that readers are gold. So it’s important to connect with them on a very personal level. Invite them into your world, because they will help you sell more books.  In fact, one author I spoke to said that her readers help insure that she gets 50-60 reviews within two weeks of a book launch. That’s huge!

Adding a personal touch to any medium, including social media, will show your readers that you really do appreciate them. So wish them happy birthday, reach out if you see they have a sick family member, congratulate them on their successes.  It may seem like a lot of work, but trust me when I say that spending some time each week connecting with your readers will pay bigger dividends than any ads could possibly offer.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Connect with at least one reader a week and make it personal. You’ll notice that it becomes much more natural and your entire online presence will shift in very positive ways.

11. Try different things and don’t give up:

This comes back to strategy #2. Be adaptive. Don’t give up just because one book strategy didn’t work. Although hope is not a marketing plan, don’t let yourself get discouraged when it doesn’t work the first time, or for your first book. Success is based on lots of factors, including cumulative efforts. Keep at it.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Create a calendar or other tracking method for what kind of   promotion or marketing you’re doing, and when you tried it. Have you given each a solid shot at working for you? If not, try again. Keeping a calendar is a great overview of your efforts and tells you whether or not you’re doing enough.

12. Read reviews strategically:

Take some time to read reviews of other people’s books. The 5-star reviews and the 1-star reviews offer great insight into what readers want to see, what they love, and what they hate. Then put this information to work for you. If it doesn’t work for your current book, then maybe it will for the next one you write.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Start reading reviews from top and bottom books in your genre and create a list of trends, demands, holes to fill, and stellar compliments, to inspire your next release.

13. Understand that less is more in networking

Instead of attending every event and passing out business cards like candy, consider narrowing your focus for a more productive use of your time. You should have a tribe that you can count on, authors in your market to act as a sounding board, to run ideas by, and to maybe even collaborate with for promotional ideas.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Find an author network you feel comfortable working with. You may already belong to one, but do you use their resources? Do you contact other members? Make this valuable tool work for you, don’t just pay the dues and consider it a win.

14. Know the power of micro-influencers 

You hear authors talk often about super fans, people who love your work. And the best part about them is that you don’t need a ton to see that needle move. Micro-influencers are the new black. While it’s seemingly attractive to have a million Twitter followers, how many of them actually see each post?

When it comes to super fans, less can really be more. Even as few as 5 super-engaged followers who are actually buying your books and sharing your content, will do loads more for your marketing than thousands of followers who never engage. All successful authors built their village of supporters one fan at a time.

SUCCESS STRATEGY: Start building your superfan group. Share unique content with them and give them the opportunity to really understand you, your work, and your writing world.

The Takeaway

As I said at the beginning, it takes work to become a successful author. You need patience, persistence, and a strong focus on business. With 4,500 books published each day in the US, your success hinges on how well you adopt these habits. So dig in. Work these success strategies. And I promise, you’ll quickly start to see a change in your book’s trajectory.

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Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns.

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