It’s no secret indie authors need to market their books, but how many are branding themselves? It’s one thing to pick a genre and produce multiple books–it’s another to intentionally build a brand.
This is why we can learn a few things from Alana Woods, who splits time between the UK and Australia. Besides writing gripping novels (winner of the Australian Fast Books Prize for Best Fiction), she’s a source of great ideas on writing and marketing.
Alana, how does an author brand herself?
Every indie author knows that promotion and marketing is our own responsibility.
It isn’t essential, but to focus my mind I made a business plan and it consists of this.
- A brand to build exposure—Alana Woods is the Intrigue Queen. I chose this because I write suspenseful thrillers. It’s the central theme around which I market my product.
- My target market—The narrow market is book publishing. The wider market is the entertainment industry as books not only compete with other books but also TV, cinema, games etc.
- My product—What I write, packaged in books.
- Where my product sits in the market—Narrow market: genre. Wider market: books.
- Where to place my product—Online and/or physical book stores, direct selling.
- My goal—To be the top selling author in my genre.
- Strategies to achieve my goal—Promotion and marketing. Currently it revolves around ebooks and paperbacks. Eventually it will include audiobooks and foreign translations.
- Hanging on to the apron strings of 7 is the question: are there any circumstances unique to me as an Australian author?
If I were starting an actual business and wanted a loan my bank would require me to identify the competition. I’d also have to detail my projected growth, i.e., market penetration, number of sales, takings and profit over a given number of years.
Identifying the competition is one thing but projections … I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pulling figures out of the air. Fortunately I don’t have to satisfy the bank.
“So what does Brand Alana Woods do?”
Steps 1 to 4 of the business plan: Writing is Paramount
First and foremost I write. I need a product to promote and market.
Publishers and others in the game will advise sticking to one genre and becoming known in it. But as an indie I can cast a wider net.
Principally I’m a thriller fiction writer. Imbroglio and Automaton.
But because editing is my profession and I’ve done quite a bit of work with other authors, I’ve also produced a writing guide. 25 Essential Writing Tips: Guide to Writing Good Fiction.
Then there’s my book of short stories. Most authors have a collection they’ve written over the years and I’m no exception. Tapestries and Other Short Stories.
I’m currently working on a third thriller (Dragline) and considering an editing guide to add to my how-to’s.
I have another string to my bow. I’m an editor. I consider the expertise this experience gives me is invaluable in making me a better writer because in honing someone else’s manuscript I’m honing my own writing skills. A spin-off is that if the authors I’ve worked with like the results they may promote me, which could lead to more readers seeking my books.
Step 5: Product Placement
I’ve done both direct selling of hard copies and online selling through Amazon exclusively to date. Direct selling for me consists of bookshops, speaking engagements, book shows, libraries, book clubs and weekend markets.
Promotional material is essential when direct selling: a poster or two and business cards especially, but bookmarks are also handy and well-received.
Steps 6 and 7: Goals and Strategies
I’m continually striving to achieve my goal and there is a continuing learning curve.
I have used social media in every way recommended by already successful authors. To begin with I flung a very wide net but soon learned to be discriminating. I focus now on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and to a lesser extent Google+ and LinkedIn. I have a presence in Pinterest. (click icons below for Alana’s links)
I engage with core groups on Facebook, those like Jason’s that have members committed to helping others as well as themselves. I also belong to several Goodreads groups.
I post regularly on my website-blog, featuring articles targeting authors with writing, editing and other writing-skewed information and readers with book reviews and author interviews.
I chase book reviews but am not anal about it. I believe they’re important because the more reviews a book has the more widely read and desirable it will appear to potential buyers.
As for family and friends. I don’t pester them. I request a shout out for a new book and after that if they’re willing to help they’ll do so spontaneously. Those who have helped have made a big difference by finding bookshops to stock my books, lining up book-club engagements and buying dozens of copies to give as presents for birthdays, Christmas etc. You can’t beat word of mouth.
I accept invitations for guest blog articles and author interviews because all they cost me is a little time and they help spread the word.
To date I’ve succumbed only once to paying for advertising or promotion. I’ve just joined BOTM (the Venture Galleries Book of the Moment Club) and paid $49.99 per book for a one-week feature for my two thrillers. The books then remain in the BOTM catalogue. It’s a new venture so I don’t have feedback yet.
Translations are now looking possible with the appearance of a new translation service—Babelcube. It operates like ACX, offering translations into other languages for a royalty split instead of an up-front fee. I’ll be giving this a go.
Step 8: Unique Circumstances for International Authors
As an Australian author if I wanted to use the traditional publishing route my publisher would decide where my book would be sold: within Australia only or also overseas. Until WWII the UK had a stranglehold on the English-language global book market. The US split off after the war. If you’re interested in a bit of detail, here’s a link.
E-publishing has demolished that wall. Authors in every nook and cranny of the world can now publish our own books wherever we please. Ebooks and paperbacks, that is.
But unless you’re in the US and UK, audiobooks are still out of reach. Amazon’s ACX is available in those countries only. Amazon holds out hope that this will change. (See my audiobook production articles for more on this.) And as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, Amazon has the market cornered; there are no alternatives.
Another factor—that I’ll only touch on today because this article is already long enough—is parochialism. Believe it or not, in this digital publishing age, my two thrillers have been criticised for being parochial. In the 1960s, when Australian artists and writers were deserting the country like rats abandoning a sinking ship, their reason for doing so was because Australia was a cultural wasteland no-one was interested in. I thought that thinking was well and truly behind us. Apparently not!
Am I achieving my goals? You’ll be the first to know when I’ve made my first million and maybe I’ll see you in the winner’s circle—we can have a celebratory drink and toast our successes! (Yes, we will–I’ll get the bubbly on ice.)
Questions or comments for Alana Woods? Please share them in the section below or by clicking here.
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August 20, 2014 at 4:54 pm
Jason, thank you so much for the invitation to write this article. I appreciate the opportunity. And we’ll have to pick somewhere nice to share the bubbly. 🙂
August 20, 2014 at 8:04 pm
You pick the place, I’ll bring the bubbly.
August 21, 2014 at 6:25 pm
Alana, a very well-written and informative article, just like Jason’s.
I believe that branding may prove to be the key to successfully selling a book and creating a career for an independent author. And, I agree with you that more self-publishers will eventually celebrate with million dollar sellers.
And if that were to happen, I would hope all of us would toast with bubbly.
August 21, 2014 at 9:46 pm
I’ll bring three glasses then, Will. Maybe more.
August 22, 2014 at 6:08 pm
The more the merrier!
August 24, 2014 at 3:32 pm
You make it look so easy, and yet, because I’m trying to do the same (only as a first-time author about to publish myself), I know how much work went into your analysis.
‘Intrigue Queen’ is a beautiful catch.
I have a lot of the steps above – but I’m missing the key one: branding. I’m publishing a mainstream commercial love story – as a trilogy. Book 1 of Pride’s Children will come out this Fall. When I made myself a list of the themes I develop in the novel(s), it topped 30. Funny how life is connected, and you can’t have an opinion on love without having your characters face responsibility and what they believe about children…
My inclination is to put up Book 1 when it is finished, and go hide while I finish editing and polishing the rest.
The way this is going, whatever I do will be with me for years before I finish.
But I’m sitting here drooling over your brand! Oh, and I bookmarked your business plan to go with a couple of others – it really is a good idea to be focused.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself? Were you able to do the above before you had your current output?
Thanks for any advice.
August 24, 2014 at 5:32 pm
Hi Alicia, thank you for the feedback on ‘Intrigue Queen’, I’m pleased you like it.
My business plan developed over the years. When I started out–quite a few years ago now–it was definitely a seat-of-the-pants process. Electronic publishing wasn’t around in those days so my sales technique involved hard copy exclusively.
As to the brand, a LOT of thought went into what to use before committing myself. It needed to be an accurate reflection of my writing, it needed to be short and it needed to be catchy. It also needed to be something I was totally happy with and that I wouldn’t want to change down the track.
You’re on the right track if you’re applying your mind to these things so early in your writing career.
One of the techniques I haven’t employed is writing a series. From everything I read by other authors it’s a really good way to garner readers. Many offer the first one free in the hope of capturing an audience who will pay for the subsequent novels in the series.
Being part of Jason’s Facebook group is a major step towards learning all the ropes.
All the best with your writing — it isn’t an easy road but it’s rewarding in so many ways.
August 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm
I didn’t start out writing a series – I got serialized kind of because it was time to start putting my writing where my desires were – but I have a series developing in my back brain, and I keep storing bits for it.
I’ll check out Jason’s FB page – but I have to stop looking for tips! And write! And finish. The darn things don’t write themselves just because you have a good idea.
Thanks for the reply.
August 25, 2014 at 4:51 pm
Pity about that — not writing themselves, I mean. 🙂