Whining is not going to endear you to readers and make them want to go buy and read your books. In author groups, you shouldn’t be whining about lack of sales either, but asking what you’re doing wrong and how you can change it. Is it your covers, blurbs, writing, formatting, or marketing? It’s got to be one or more of the above. It might even be all of them.
For many people it’s the lack of knowing how to network and market (free or paid) that’s holding them back. For others, it’s their writing that’s holding them back. When I first started, I was in a Facebook author group that I no longer participate in because there were a lot of “my way or the highway” people in there and a lot of cutting others down. When I was still new, though, it was one of the few author groups I’d found that was a resource for the critiquing and marketing at the time. Since then, several more have popped up and there are a handful of really good ones that I recommend. (See this blog’s first entry.)
With only a few books out at the time, I was still naive enough to agree to a review swap — what could go wrong, right? Ugh, NEVER again. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The author had about a dozen books out, all with only a few reviews. I tried very hard to read her book, but the grammar, syntax, punctuation, head hopping, run-on sentences, information dumps, etc., were so bad, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. Granted, some of what she’d done was stuff I, and many other authors, had done in the beginning.
But the difference between myself and that other author was that I listened to the advice of other more-experienced authors. When they pointed out what I was doing wrong in my writing, I fixed what I could. I couldn’t afford an editor in the beginning, like many of us, so I did what I could to make up for it. I used Grammarly (and another program I no longer have and can’t remember the name of at the moment) and several beta readers who were good at spotting typos. As soon as I could (5 books later), I hired an editor to go through my backlist. She actually thought they’d been professionally edited before because there wasn’t a whole lot we had missed typo-wise, by that point, but she did find some other stuff I needed to fix. I cringed when I went back and rewrote a book I’d let a few family members and friends read years ago. The storyline was good, but my writing sucked. I’d done every fiction-writing don’t.
Once I had the things I was doing wrong in my writing pointed out to me, they were easy to spot in those older books. That knowledge also helped me not make the same mistakes again in my subsequent books. But what it also did was make me even more aware of those issues if they popped up in other authors’ books.
So getting back to that other author — by the time I did the review swap, I’d been taken under the wings of several other established indie authors who’d successfully published several or more books. I say “successfully” because they’d established a large following, their sales ranks remained steady below 50k, and they had more than a decent number of reviews with high averages. As I said above, I’d taken their advice and fixed everything I could. So, then, I’d figured I’d try to pass on this advice to this other author because I want to see every new or unknown author succeed. I politely explained I was have trouble getting through her story and that I saw things she’d done that I had done before learning they were wrong. I offered to send her some cheat-sheets I’d found to help with different things and to give her the links to sites and programs that’d been recommended to me that I’d found useful.
Surprisingly, her response had basically been “no, thanks, but I understand that you won’t be able to leave a review.” She then shocked me, again, by leaving a 4 star review for my book. I just couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to improve their books so that potential readers would be able to get past that first chapter and read the whole thing. If they can’t, they’re not going to recommend your book to anyone else. They’re going to leave low reviews that will contradict the few 5 star reviews you may have gotten from friends or family and maybe one or two readers who’d been able to get past all the problems in your writing. None of that will get you new readers and better reviews.
When it comes to learning the craft of writing, you have to leave your ego at the door. Take criticism and use it to your advantage. Don’t roll your eyes and say the other person doesn’t “get your style” or they’re just too picky and critical. I’m not telling you to change your style — that’s what makes your stories unique — but make sure you’re using proper punctuation and you’ve searched for typos in every way possible (read it aloud, use a text to speech feature, get a proofreader, add a few more betas, or anything else that works). Make sure you’re not head-hopping — stay in one person’s POV in the scene — and that you don’t have five pages on how the character made their peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make sure the reader knows which character is speaking. Use dialogue tags sparingly and use actions when you can. Avoid information dumps – spread the information out in different scenes or chapters. Look for plot holes and plug them. And anything else that is pointed out to you.
Okay, now that you’ve gotten your book the best you can make it, it’s time to market it. There are plenty of ways to market yourself for free. In April 2015, when I released my first book, my marketing budget for EVERYTHING was about $20 per month, and I made it work for me. How? Read on.
First things first. Go into Facebook author groups or critique groups and ask others for input on your blurbs and covers. What you think is the perfect cover for your book may not garner the same response from others. Many authors find blurbs difficult to write. Others have a knack for it. Ask for help. Your covers and blurbs are the primary draws for readers.
Next, get marketing for free. Make a FB reader group and engage your members daily. Get on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, All Author, Bookbub, Goodreads, Amazon, Fictfact, Youtube, Books+Main, and any other site out there. Research and ask others how to use those sites to your advantage. Get involved in author groups, and make friends with those who write in the same genre as you. Sign up for takeovers. Offer some free books in blogger groups.
Low-expense marketing — get a website and newsletter going. Keep them up to date. Post on your website’s blog several times per month. Send out newsletters at least once a month but don’t go crazy. Readers don’t like to get bombarded and they’ll stop opening them. Also, there are many low-priced book marketing sites out there. Ask other authors which ones they found worked for them because there are too many out there to list here at the moment.
When you can afford them, look into the higher-priced marketing options. There are plenty of those out there too.
I’m sure there are suggestions I’m missing — new marketing ideas are being developed all the time.
So, authors, please remember that complaining about anything on your page and profile is not going to increase your sales. In fact, it will probably decrease them. Readers don’t want to hear it and they may even unfriend you as a result. You’re now a product — a brand — and like any other product out there, you’ll be assessed on how you appear to the public. Always put your best foot forward.