How to Develop a Marketing and Promotion Plan as an Indie Author

From Jane Friedman:

I’m going to be honest, my initial foray into researching self-pub author publication and marketing threw me into a tailspin of information overload. There are so many paths and options to choose—but that’s the whole beauty of self-publishing, isn’t it? The following article was born of several author acquaintances asking me what paths and options I chose to launch my debut historical novel, Discerning Grace.

Before You Begin

Join the Facebook group called Wide for the Win.

No, seriously. Stop reading and go join them. It’s a brilliant free resource.

Even if you hate Facebook or don’t use it that much, you really should hop back on there just for this group. They really are that good! They share a boatload of intimate strategies about self-publishing. Search the Tree of Knowledge first. Readeverything there before you even think about asking questions on the main feed.

If the Tree of Knowledge is too tricky to navigate—it’s huge with zillions of threads and conversations—you can always buy the Wide for the Win ebook. It’s the brain child of Mark Leslie Lefebvre (from Draft2Digital) and Erin Wright (head honcho of Wide for the Win Facebook group). The information is much more structured and easier to navigate.

Setting Goals

I had to decide what I wanted from the first six months of my authoring journey: to be in the best-seller charts, to have thousands of downloads on a freebie, to garner early reviews, to grow my newsletter subscribers, or to roll in money like Scrooge McDuck?

I’ve picked two early goals: garner early reviews and grow newsletter subscribers.

My first-year goals

  1. Publish Discerning Grace (Book 1) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)
  2. Get as many reviews for Discerning Grace (Book 1) as possible, on all storefronts
  3. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  4. Publish Grace on the Horizon (Book 2) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)

See how I don’t even mention $$$ or sales numbers in this first year? That’s not my goal (yet).

My second-year goals

  1. Publish Grace Arising (Book 3) in all formats
  2. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  3. Run a BookBub 99c promo with Discerning Grace (Book 1) with the idea of achieving sell-through to Book 2 and Book 3
  4. Publish the trilogy box set (all 3 books in one)
  5. Run another BookBub promo on the box set
  6. Test paid advertising on Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub

Only after I’ve achieved these goals am I going to worry about money and sales numbers or paying for advertising. And only then will I work my strategies to grow these numbers into something that makes me a living (that’s a whole different topic for a different article—and for when I’ve crossed that bridge).

Now that I’ve laid out my goals, I’m going to stick to them. Of all the research I’ve read, it seems that most indie author careers only take off after 5 to 7 books. With only my first trilogy planned, I have a loooooong way to go, but having this knowledge also prevents self-flagellation in these early days. I’m running a marathon here, not a sprint.

Important: I Chose to Publish Wide

I am publishing wide, which means I am not prioritizing Amazon as an exclusive publishing platform over any other storefront. It just so happens to be one of my storefronts where my books are available. Here are the distributors I’m using.

  1. Ebooks: distributed through Draft2Digital(which distributes to Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, plus loads of other smaller international online storefronts, as well as libraries).
  2. Paperbacks: printed and distributed through IngramSpark (which distributes to Amazon storefronts in many countries, Barnes & Noble, plus smaller international online storefronts, and libraries).
  3. Audiobooks: produced and distributed through Findaway Voices linked to my Draft2Digital account but is a separate company (which distributes to all the same storefronts and libraries as Draft2Digital that also accept audiobooks, plus a few extra)
  4. Google Play: I’m only direct with this storefront because Draft2Digital doesn’t distribute to them

Some may think I’m nuts for not publishing directly to Amazon because Draft2Digital will take an additional 10% of my royalties (as it does from other retailers too), but the way I see it is if I was prepared to let an agent and a traditional publisher do the legwork, I would have been sharing a boatload more in commission. So, I personally don’t have an issue with giving Draft2Digital their dues for uploading to all the storefronts on my behalf.

I chose this route because self-publishing requires learning a lot (no, seriously, A LOT!) of new technology. My brain could only handle learning the dashboards of these four publishing/distribution companies to start with (preserving my time and sanity).

I was also cracking under the pressure of just THINKING about fixing a launch date with so many unknown variables ahead of me. So, I decided on a soft launch to take the pressure off myself. It’s for this same reason that I didn’t set up pre-orders and don’t ever plan on using them. I’ve seen too many tears from authors when it goes wrong. I’m not comfortable adding a potential problem to my plate.

Also, you know the saying, ‘Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’? Using different publishing platforms ensures that if one company goes belly-up (or even has technical glitches), my books will remain in circulation in the other formats.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As regular visitors to TPV know, PG is a big fan of Amazon.

He is also a big fan of Draft2Digital (disclosure – he provided D2D with legal services early during the company’s life).

In PG’s transcendentally humble opinion, D2D has a better platform for formatting an ebook than KDP provides. Mrs. PG has some books that are exclusive on Amazon (for the higher royalty rates) and others that are published on Amazon directly and on other platforms via D2D, so he’s familiar with the ebook formatting/publishing and sales reporting systems of both organizations.

With the vast technical resources of Amazon, one might think that Kindle Direct Publishing would have a sophisticated and flexible publishing platform for indie authors.

That ain’t so.

In PG’s observation, very few of the visible parts of the KDP publishing platform have been changed or updated in years and years and years. The publishing interface is clunky and has only become sort-of intuitive because PG has used it so frequently.

The KDP sales reports are also kindergarten stuff. They might have been impressive so some fifteen years ago.

There is a KDP Reports Beta that has been in “Beta” for months and months. KDP Reports Perma-Beta would be PG’s suggestion for a more-accurate title.

The Beta is an improvement, but still pretty pedestrian in its capabilities. Anybody who was reasonably competent in Excel could put together a more useful sales analysis spreadsheet and related graphs in a day or two.

Perhaps PG missed it on KDP, but he didn’t see one of the more common features present on a lot of other reporting websites – Export to Excel. Everybody has a Click to Download to Excel button.

D2D has Click to Download a whole bunch of information about sales:

  • Royalty Statements
  • Ebook Sales Reports
  • Print Sales Reports
  • Tax Form Downloads
  • An Account Ledger which appears to go back to the beginning of time for any author doing business with D2D.

To the best of his knowledge, the only KDP data you can export to Excel is information from the KDP Quality Notifications Dashboard – something of interest to Amazon folks who probably get dinged by their bosses if a single typo exists the appendix of more than three KDP books.

For the record, PG says you should try to avoid typos in your ebooks and fix those which anybody finds, but compared to detailed and timely sales information for indie authors, an Excel spreadsheet with comprehensive sales data is far more important.

And whatever information that allows an indie author to sell more books, to see what promotion strategies do and don’t work to goose downloads, should be of interest to KDP as well because more information lets smart authors figure out how to sell more books.

One additional point – The Kindle Create ebook formatting tool provided by KDP offers only ugly and generic design themes for ebooks. Yes, you can read them, but the resulting ebooks definitely have a generic, computer-generated look.

Draft2Digital has far more sophisticated ebook formatting tools than KDP offers. The resulting ebooks convey quality in the way they look in addition to the words they contain.

Therefore:

Amazon KDP – Wake Up! It’s 2021! If anybody from the Mother Ship notices what you’re doing, they won’t like what they see!

Draft2Digital – Keep on doing a Great Job! You can continue to be smarter and faster than The Zon!

3 thoughts on “How to Develop a Marketing and Promotion Plan as an Indie Author”

  1. On the current reports dashboard, at the bottom of the page, is a “Generate Report” button – that creates an Excel (xslx format only, alas) spreadsheet for download. I’m not sure how useful it is (I have my own quirky system) – but it is there.

    Otherwise…

    In the beta, I agree, I see no way to get a spreadsheet download.

    Kindle Create I also have no opinion on – again, I do my own control-freak thing there by creating the various source files for running through the KindleGen tool.

    • Yes. Given my own tech background, I build my own ebook files (Sigil) to create the EPUB, and use KindleGen to create the MOBI from that. (This has just recently changed — no more MOBI files. Amazon will now take EPUBs directly. https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G79CTKR8BX79E96L) When I add/change a book, I put it up directly to all the channels that allow it (for better control), and via aggregators for those that don’t. Right now, that’s about 7-8 channels. And to match that, I need to track those same channels for the sales and performance information.

      There are various downloadable spreadsheets in pretty much all the Amazon control/reporting pages (sales, marketing, affiliates, etc.) if you can find them, but they’re all a bit different and nothing is unified. Part of my nerd approach is an overall destination spreadsheet of my own into which I input the partial data from all channel sources. That’s what I use for oversight and planning, but you have to be a nerd like me and build your own to get to that level (email me if you want a peek).

      Almost no authors I know feel the itch for this much detail and are looking for some unspecified outsider to offer a product that integrates all the channels in an unorganized market both for one-stop distribution and one-stop reporting, but the best that exist constrain you to something like D2D and only part of the market. This is not likely to change. My background is as a COO for tech companies, and so I expect to have to roll my own, but it’s not for everyone.

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