Good morning, summer learners! Today I have the pleasure of introducing Taunia Neilson, a guest blogger who has come to share her story with you. She’s got some great insights that she has learned and a few mistakes that perhaps she can help you avoid!
The Best-Laid Plans
I first put my book up for sale three years ago. I had read a lot of books and blogs on how to ‘get your book seen on Amazon’ and I believed I had done my homework. My naïve ambitions turned out to lead to one of my epic failures. My book sat unseen while I slowly faced my fears and recognized I needed to learn how to cultivate and develop my nonexistent marketing skills. It has cost me money and a lot of time. More failures followed which granted me a lot of experience.
An independent author (also known as an Indie author) is the CEO of their own business and often has a lonely road to travel. Indie authors produce their own product that is an extension of who they are with their ideas, thoughts, experiences, and feelings filling the pages. The problem: that work is read, examined and reviewed by an opinionated and vocal customer base, when you can get it seen. Some of which delight in either tearing you down or helping you grow as an author.
At the same time, the Indie author is responsible for making the business decisions that traditional authors turn over to agents, editors, and publishers once they sign a contract. The Indie author decides on the title of the book, what kind of cover it should have, how to format that book, how to write the blurb on the back, where to advertise, should money be spent on having others do these things (expensive), and the list goes on.
It is a lot of work, and it takes time. Not just time to do the work, but time to grow an author platform. Some have said it can take at least two years. There are two terms that every author needs to come to grips with. I have only begun to fathom what these terms represent in my business. I have searched, paid for, and asked about information. Some of it was good, a lot of it overpriced. Yet, the best decision I have made was to join the Calliope Writing Group, headed/owned by Angie Fenimore, New York Times Bestselling Author. It is from these sources I have learned a few things.
1. Author Platform – think of someone up on a podium giving a speech. They have something to tell you, an idea they want to express. As an author, your novel/book/story is an idea you want to express. Now you need to get up and tell an audience (the world) about that idea. You need to announce that you have something of worth for that audience to invest their time, money, and effort. Ways to do that are websites, blogs, social media, speaking engagements, email lists/newsletters, blog tours, etc.
2. Branding – is how you set yourself up to be perceived. A type of public personality. It is your branding that that will entice certain people in that worldwide audience to take notice of your ideas. To look through and even purchase that book. And that branding is a very fragile thing. The simplest mistakes can destroy it.
Now before you run off screaming that you will sign a contract and let an agent and/or publisher take care of all this for you, I have some bad news. According to Angie Fenimore, you need your author platform and branding in place before an agent/publisher will even consider you. Angie has seen people with excellent manuscripts not get offers from agents/publishers if they didn’t have their author platform/branding in place. Then she has also seen authors with mediocre manuscripts get offers because they had their author platforms/branding in place. Agents and publishers want to see and know that you will work hard to market your product.
The good news? If you start early enough, it can be easy and inexpensive. The first thing is to set yourself up on the right social media. I used to brag about how I could stay off of Facebook for days or weeks at a time. That is not good marketing practice for an author. Now I am trying out social media platforms other than Facebook. Trying out is the keyword here, I am in the learning stage. However, this is what I do know:
Figure out who your audience is. I have published one book as a young adult epic fantasy, and I am writing the second book in that series. Plus, I am also working on an idea for a pre-teen/child fantasy series.
Find out where that audience is. For example, I found out that young adults like Instagram. There is also something called Snapchat that the young adults use. Someone told me they were also on Twitter. However, after talking to some fourteen-year-olds, I found out they are getting off twitter. But Twitter has agents, publishers, other authors, etc. Plus, I am marketing my book to ‘Young Adults of All Ages’. So, I will hit Facebook where the older generation lives, and who are often the ones to buy books for their pre-teens, teens and young adults.
Work only on one or two social media platforms at a time. When you get successful on those, add another social media platform, if you feel it is necessary. For example, I am working with Instagram, Twitter, and an author page on Facebook. Since Facebook owns Instagram also, anything I post on Instagram can be posted on my author page at the same time. This saves time and energy. I am getting some interest in both apps. However, I am getting more interest when I just answer twitter feeds rather than posting my own tweets. I will not start on the Snapchat yet. I have a Pinterest account, which I am not even paying attention to for now. The present advice is: It is better to do well on one or two social media platforms than fail on five different platforms.
This is very important. Act like you are already famous. We have all seen how the masses and media like to tear down anybody they can sacrifice on a whim. Act like you are being watched because what you are doing is building your ‘brand’. For example, I am telling people I am an author involved in writing ‘Clean Reads’. This is a niche where people don’t want to see the swear words, groping, sex scenes, etc. So, if I suddenly allow posts on my social media platforms that have these posts, it can ruin how I am branding myself. On Twitter, I can just mute the person and their conversations without them knowing. I can also mute words and phrases I don’t want to see. On Instagram, I can block the person and report when it is an inappropriate posting.
It also happens the other way. There are many authors that want to have an edgy, or hot and steamy brand. A lot of posts from authors like me who constantly champion Clean Books could ruin their branding. So, watch what you are posting, and watch what feeds appear from those you follow. Learn how to block, unfollow, mute and report followers who are there just to scam you. I am having problems with widowers following me and professing their undying love. Those I refuse to let them follow me. The big take from here is your branding is what will entice people to become your buyers and audience. Figure out how you would like to ‘brand’ yourself and protect that brand.
Learn good etiquette. Fridays are famous for someone to start a thread, where people comment, usually by answering a question, and then they follow those who commented, and the favor is returned. It helps raise the person’s stats to have many people following. However, it is considered bad manners to follow just to get people to follow you and then unfollow them. Learn good etiquette. It is also part of your branding.
Next thing one needs to figure out is websites. Look into them early and they don’t have to be expensive. I have paid under $300 on Bluehost for a three-year term. That includes the WordPress app by Evanto. There are people who will sell you special ‘author’ WordPress apps just for you at only at $500. I found something for $60, no further payments or subscriptions needed. No CSS coding knowledge needed either. It just took me two weeks of experimentation to figure it out. Look at my website. See what you think.
For those of you who are worried about where to find graphics because you aren’t artists, neither am I. Frankly, I have paid for a monthly subscription to Adobe Stock and Adobe Apps. You can always terminate the monthly plan when you have earned enough assets. Then just pick the graphics you need when you need them. The standard license on most graphics, (videos and prime graphics cost more than a monthly subscription), come with the subscription and have unlimited use for online purposes. However, there are free graphics sites as well. Keep checking back. New artists are always adding more graphics.
If you are just starting out, try Canva.com. They have a free subscription. With that subscription, you can get templates for most social media platforms. You can also work with layers which are putting photo/graphics on top of each other. And they have some great free photos/graphics you can use. I can manipulate Photoshop a little, but I now prefer Canva. In fact, I may just pay for their pro version for under $13 a month. It is less expensive with Adobe, and I get their premium photos ($10 to $100 each) for free.
Also, consider and research what your book cover will look like. The good news here is that you don’t have to spend thousands to get it professionally done. I found ebooklaunch.com. They are professional, inexpensive and they automatically give you 100% of the copyright when you accept their work. That is why I can have my website look like my book cover. I can manipulate Photoshop enough to tear apart the original file of my book cover. In fact, I am considering using the broken star as part of my permanent branding.
Another thing to consider when you get your website, is doing a blog. It doesn’t even have to be about books or writing. Mine is about my life as a caretaker of a cerebral palsy, quadriplegic child, and disabled army veteran. The blogs turn out to be very emotional, so I am writing one about every two weeks. It is called “The Nature of the Beast,” which describes how I feel sometimes. I am sure you have hobbies other than writing. Think about how you can help others. It gives your future audience something of value, without pushing for sales. People expect something more than “I am an author, buy my book.” They want something worthwhile for free.
I have not given up on traditional publishing. A good business owner knows when to keep alternate avenues open. There are successful Indie authors that use traditional publishing for parts of their business, such as promoting their successful works in another country. Like I said, I am working on more than one series. What if my children’s fantasy series is better served with traditional publishing? What if I can do a hybrid contract? This would be where I market the eBook version and they take care of the print versions, which they can do inexpensively and make the book look more professional. What if I find out that being an Independent Author is not for me? Would I be able to negotiate a contract that would serve my interests, but take care of aspects of the business I would rather forgo? It is all part of being an author, a business person, researching and making decisions.
I have made many mistakes, and I am learning and doing things over, trying again. One thing I am doing is a ‘relaunch’ but with my new audio version. A relaunch is when an author takes their book off sale, tries new marketing techniques and relaunches. It’s like getting a new life. My first launch didn’t work well, and I had gone through some classes. Word of warning, traditional authors can’t do relaunches, they are under contract. Nor can they change the cover of their books easily. The cover I have now is my fourth.
What’s changing on the book. My back-cover blurb. It’s too long and a mediocre thing at best. What I am starting with is a short paragraph that spells out the main conflict which is: “A Young Adult Epic Fantasy about a seventeen-year-old bounty huntress caught in some unfolding prophecies she doesn’t believe in. Only she doesn’t realize that she carries a lost key to a prophecy. In order to save the innocent people of Ecalardia she has sworn to protect, she must come to believe in the prophecy, decipher it and correctly use the knowledge it contains”. I will need to expand from there to get a fantastic blurb that people will get excited about. It is all part of being an Independent Author. If you want to find out more, head on over to my website, authortaunianeilson.com and click on the join my newsletter. When you do, you will find links to the first three audio chapters of my book. The voice actor is the talented Jay Spaulding who can do multiple voices. It made me shiver when he acted out Maestro, a fire-breathing panther. Then let me know what you think.
There is so much to tell, and so much for me to still learn. The last thing I want to say is to decide if you can live without writing. If you can’t give it up, brace yourself for a lot of hard work. Plus, start your marketing early. That way you can take the time to research, experiment and even have some fun. Embrace your failures, learn from them. I have had many failures and am just learning about the ins and outs of being an author. I give a lot of the credit to Angie Fenimore, who I am blessed to have as an author coach in my life. I am still going because I believe I am paying my dues now. Learning what I need to learn. Someday those failures will turn into great successes. May you find what you are looking for. Thank you for listening to my story.
Taunia Neilson is an author who loves to read, write fantasy/sci-fi, and be outdoors on a nice fall day. If she could, she would live in a mountain retreat surrounded by trees, wildlife, and gurgling creeks. As of right now she lives in the cities of the Wasatch Mountain Region in Utah and is a wife, mother, and grandmother. Besides dreaming up fantasy tales, her time is spent being an advocate for her disabled veteran husband and quadriplegic daughter with cerebral palsy, running errands, tutoring her husband, keeping nurses in line, and keeping herself sane.
When she has spare time, she loves to binge read fantasies, mysteries, thrillers, Greek mythology, sci-fi, the classics and anything else that she can feel comfortable sharing with her daughter and grandchildren.
Follow Taunia online: