Friday, May 18, 2012

Marketing Advice for Self-Published Authors
I very, very, very rarely accept self-published books for review, but it doesn't mean that I'm not open to the idea of reading and reviewing them. It's just that I rarely encounter a self-pubbed book with a presentation that is both professional and appealing. Of course, books published by traditional publishing houses have marketing budgets and people to help market and publicize them, whereas in self-publishing that job falls to the author. There are certain things that I don't see nearly enough of that I'd love for self-pubbed authors to pay attention to when packaging and publicizing their book.
1. The cover matters.

Ten bucks says you know someone who is interested in art, digital art, or photography and would be happy to help create a professional-looking cover for your book. Sure, the cover isn't everything, but it is something, and with so many choices bombarding audiences every day, you want to make sure that your cover doesn't stand out in a bad way. Do simple research on what makes good or bad covers by browsing the bookstore, making a note of what types of font make a cover look cheap or immature, which trends you'd prefer to embrace (or avoid). A little extra time spent on designing your cover will make a difference when it comes to first impressions.

2. Treat your review pitch email for bloggers as you would a query letter to agents.

That's how you're going to gain the respect--and, perhaps more importantly, the attention--of the truly influential bloggers. If your only goal is to hit as many bloggers as you can, then this doesn't matter so much: there are always bloggers who are eager to get their hands on any review copies they are offered. If you aim for more than a simple gushing review with little to no substance, however, write a brief synopsis that's worthy of a jacket summary or query letter, while avoiding making it sound like every other book summary out there; be courteous and genuine in your tone. I receive a lot of review request emails from self-published or small-house authors each week; the professional and polished emails really stand out and make me take notice.
3. Avoid gimmicks.

You're not my chum, you're an intrepid author who has to humble yourself for blogger reviews. Don't assume you know my reading tastes or the fact that your book is worth my time. Remember how, after middle school, you were taught not to start your essays with rhetorical questions? Yeah. That. Don't feign nonchalance, the reverse psychology, "I'm cool but you don't know how cool until you read my book" strategy. Don't talk about yourself in third person or from the point of view of a reviewer or from the mouth of your main character. Seriously! I assume you've read books about writing query letters and perused websites that discuss what works and doesn't work in query letters. (Query Shark is a great site for that.) The same is true for review pitch emails to bloggers.

4. Use social media wisely.

In this day and age, you have so many ways to connect directly to your audience. This is both a blessing and a curse. You can make it a blessing by interacting with the large, varied, and awesomely enthusiastic blogging community on Twitter; by reading, writing, and commenting on others' blog posts. You can turn it into your curse by oversharing, over-pimping your book when people just want to have a nice dialogue about whatever it is they're talking about on Twitter, or responding badly to critical reviews, which are inevitable.
5. Don't abuse the Goodreads friend request function.

Goodreads is a website for readers; it's not a book signing where the author reigns and the mere mortals bask in the author's glorious genius. Few people want to be friends with the Goodreads user who spams everyone with invitations to random events on their blog. I am completely turned off by authors who only use Goodreads as a platform from which to pimp their book, by rating their own book 5 stars (and not rating anything else), by liking all the 5-star reviews of their book, and by friending anyone and everyone they can find. If you want your presence on Goodreads to be a success, use it for what it's intended to be: a place where readers can share their love of books and connect with one another. Save the self-pimping for your author website and those review pitch emails--which, of course, you have meticulously revised so that it won't be immediately ignored by yours truly on the basis of unprofessionalism and redundancy.

6. Personalize--but only to a certain extent.

I no longer respond to review pitch emails that don't include my name or blog name in the email: why should I waste my time replying when you couldn't bother with a personalized salutation for me? At the same time, the over-personalized ones make me uncomfortable as well--e.g., I see you're in China, would you like to read my book in Chinese?--even more so when it's clear that the overpersonalization is formulaic: I'm glad to see that you like [insert] / I see that you want to read [copy and paste from my blog's review policy]. Think of it this way: if all the bloggers to whom you sent review pitch emails were to get together and compare the email you sent them, would you be embarrassed to have them see your personalization formula?

7. Have a writing sample available online somewhere.

Here's one that even traditional publishing houses should really do: make writing samples available online! Post your first chapter, or a snippet of your book, online somewhere, and link to it in your review pitch email. I acknowledge that the email is often not the way to judge your writing, and so I want to have the chance to sample your writing before I decide whether or not to accept your review pitch. (On the other hand, the email is an example of your writing, so you better damn well make sure it's polished.)

The potentials for the self-publishing world are so vast; let's make sure it doesn't get a bad rep. Hopefully I'll see improvements in self-publishing marketing in the future!


  1. Great post. It's the bad covers that really get me. Of course most people know someone who can sort of draw, knows how to take a photo and can do a basic photoshop job. We were all doing that easy as pie in IT at school when we were kids. It doesn't mean you are qualified to create a cover. Ive had a lot of self published authors email me and say 'and the cover was designed by professional artists....' when the reality is it looks freaking awful.

    I've stopped agreeing to read self published books. Mostly because they just aren't great. I know there are some fantastic ones there, Angelfall for exitaly, it's just finding them.

  2. Good advice, Steph. I generally don't post about self-pubbed books on my daily blog, but I make exceptions when I get a nice query that seems as if it was written for me. I'm resentful when I get a form letter and the sender clearly hasn't looked at my site.

    I will say that getting great cover art is really important, but it's harder than you think to find someone who can do a good job. Stock photos are often so generic they're forgettable. The author has an idea of a character, outfit, pose and background that may be extremely difficult to create.

    I'd add to your list: don't try to rank up Twitter followers and then only post spam about your book. If you follow 30,000 people, I know you're really following no one.

  3. If everyone followed this advice I'd relax my "no self-published titles for review" rule! I have a sneaky way to test whether people have really looked at my site - my blog name is Jean Little Library, while my real name is Jennifer (and is clearly written in my review policy). Jean Little is the name of a Canadian children's author and comes up easily on a google search. You'd be surprised (or not) at how many people address me as automatic delete for me!

  4. Excellent advice, Steph Su :) I get a lot of poorly written requests and I have started ignoring those entirely. I'm sharing your blog post on Twitter, I know I have people there following me who would greatly benefit by heeding your advice.

  5. Great post! I get so many review requests from self-pubbed authors (even though I state on my blog that I don't accept them), and a lot of the phrasing really bugs me.
    The funniest one was from an author who used a formula like you said, but had forgotten to alter and personalise it! It literally said "Dear [insert name] I love your blog [blog name] and [insert a few personalised sentences about blog] and was wondering if you would be interested in reviewing my book..."
    It cracked me up!

  6. Great advice! I do read self pubbed books but I prefer to just buy them for. 99 cents or 2.99 and not feel stressed when I hate them. (I don't finish them then so no review) I'm not accepting any books for review right now so I know if I get requests they haven't read my review policy.
    The cover matters SO much! If its a great cover than chances are much better that I will read it. Even if its just going on my kindle, it NEEDS a good cover. Sample chapters are definitely a good idea too!

  7. I got a review request for a self-pubbed book that I took the author up on and that is a rare thing for me. They were polite, professional, they spelled my name right, they followed my review policy to a tee, and gave a sample that convinced me that I really did want to read it. I was SO impressed.

  8. Great advice. I'm pretty sure I'd accept any physical book of a genre I like if the request fitted that formula.

  9. Good post! I must confess that at first I thought the worst cover that you posted was a Janet Evanovich book! lol

  10. Another piece of advice from the PR side: Lots of self-publishers and e-publishers offer publicity services. I know there are just as many bad publicists out there as there are authors who are poor marketers, but there are some of us that actually take the time to do this kind of research and make sure you fantastic book reviewing bloggers are the right fit for the author and book (and, you know, that you actually accept self-pubbed books).

    So find one of those publishers.

  11. As a marketer I believe it's worth reading. I agree... be socialize. If your are an author/writer.. get a blog/site, connect your reviews to blog/site, update your content then share it socially. Congrats! from - Xlibris


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