Thursday, 8 November 2012

Indie Author Advice Series #1- My Dos and Don'ts for Attracting New Readers

As I’ve moved from being an Indie author writing on the side and holding down a full time office job to an Indie author writing full time, I’ve been getting more and more questions from other Indie authors asking me for tips on how I go about attracting new readers to my growing list of books. I don’t claim to be an expert and I most certainly am still learning new things about the world of books and publishing every day, but I have learned a lot from experience that I want to share with other Indie writers who are either just starting out or who haven’t had much success attracting new readers in the past. I’m sure others will have many other ideas, but here are a few basic Dos and Don’ts that I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way!) I’ll start with the Don’ts because sometimes avoiding doing things is as important as doing things:


1. DON’T join book groups or chat sites with the intention of gaining new readers! Book lovers don’t join groups on sites such as Goodreads to have authors barraging them with advertising for their new “5 star YA paranormal romance novel.” Time and time again I see Indie authors join a new group, introduce themselves as I.L. Ikebooks, author of The Hideous Transformation of Zod, and then proceed to dump links to their blog, Facebook page, Amazon, etc, asking readers to check out their book “if interested.” Sorry, but even as an Indie author myself, those types of introductions annoy me! I will never react well to that method and I believe most other readers would agree. Look, I’m going to belabor this first point because it’s an important one. This method does NOT work. It makes you look like a spammer who’s only joining the group to promote yourself. Of course you’re proud that you wrote and published a book, and you’re desperate to attract new readers (I am too!), but this is simply not the way to go about it. The couple of readers who might take the bait and read your book is not worth the number who will be annoyed by your shameless self-promotion and avoid your books. Becoming a successful Indie is a marathon not a sprint. Join groups that are about the type of books you like to read (and probably write too), and become part of the community, as a reader!! Over time, you’ll make friends by adding value to the group through your recommendations and comments, and people will click on you and check out your books. I repeat, do NOT post anything about your book unless it has gone through a formal program in the group (more on this in DOS 1 and 3 below).

2. This one goes hand in hand with the first point on self-promoting, but DON’T recommend your own books either in chat rooms or via Goodreads Book Recommendation function. Recommending books is what people who read your books do. Even if you really believe someone will like your book because you see a reader is looking for a “YA dystopian book with lots of action and romance” and your book fits that mold perfectly, you’ve simply got to avoid the temptation. Instead, recommend another book that you like that fits the type they’re looking for. The goodwill will go a long way, they will appreciate it, maybe click on you, maybe buy your book. It might take weeks or months or even years, but each little bit of goodwill adds up over time. And please, please, please, DON’T create alter ego accounts to self-promote your books. Not only is it unethical, but it’s downright wrong. The bad karma will get you eventually!

3. DON’T overreact to negative reviews. This is one of the hardest ones for me, especially when the negative review contains lies or misleading information about my book. My first reaction is always to scream “Foul!” and message the reviewer right away to point out the errors in their review. A few months ago I received a 2-star review (one of the few I’ve received for The Moon Dwellers), and it mentioned that there were a number of distracting typos in the book. I was livid! Not only for me, because I’m completely OCD about typos and even my early drafts have very few, but because my incredible copyeditor, Christine LePorte, has such an eye for detail that my books rarely have typos, and if they do, they’re limited to one or two at the most. This particular review was also fairly mean spirited, but it also had some really good factual points. In the end, I left it alone, moved on with my life, and focused on the fair and honest reviews that I was getting on a daily basis, most of which were positive. If I had responded to that particular reviewer, they might have ignored me and that would be the end of it. OR, they might have posted something about what a jerk I was on their blog, Facebook page, or Twitter. The reputational damage could have been irreparable as the book community labeled me as a close-minded bully. My advice: try to glean what constructive criticism and positive feedback you can from every review, but do not throw a hissy fit if you read something you don’t like. Not everyone will like your books! That’s a fact that you have to get used to sooner or later. (TIP: Read some of the negative reviews of a book you really like. Even the best books get negative reviews.)

4. DON’T expect your first book to be a bestseller! I did, and I was sorely disappointed. And then I realized how many flaws it had, how much I still had to learn, that becoming a really, truly fantastic writer—the kind who writes bestsellers—meant a lot of work and practice and commitment. I took what I learned from my first trilogy and wrote a better series the second time around. And my third series will be even better still. It’s all about improving with each and every go around, showing your readers that you’re committed to giving them the best possible reading experience whenever they pick up one of your books.

5. DON’T get greedy! Even when you do start to build up a fan base, remember that without them you’re back to square one, so keep your books priced as low as you can afford. Remember that you’re an Indie and you don’t have a publisher to pay and in many cases are probably earning more per book than big published authors. From experience, I’d recommend pricing the first book in your first series at $.99 and charging no more than $2.99 for subsequent books in your first series. Once you’ve established yourself, subsequent series could be priced moderately higher, perhaps, $2.99 for the first book and $3.99 for subsequent books (I wouldn’t go higher than that), but make sure it’s your best work, properly copy edited, and worth the price you’re charging. You’ll lose readers pretty quick if you raise prices while quality drops.


1. DO giveaway as many free ebooks (and print copies when a good opportunity arises) as possible in the early stages, particularly with your first book and for any first books in your next series. Remember, the goal early on is not to make money, there are very few Amanda Hocking stories out there. Most authors build up fans over time. The goal is to give yourself as many opportunities to capture the precious time of the millions of readers out there, who have millions of choices in what they read. Offering free books is a great way to do that. I’ve found the quickest way to DO that is by enrolling in Read to Review (RtR) programs in the many groups on Goodreads. Join the groups that are in your books’ genre (for example I’m a committed member in many Goodreads YA paranormal and dystopian groups), and enroll your book in the groups’ Read to Review program. You set how many books to giveaway to members in the group, and in exchange, they give you reviews. (I gave away 50 e-copies of The Moon Dwellers to 10 different groups on Goodreads as part of the launch. The reviews I got from those giveaways solidified it early on as a good book. Then I gave away 50 more to my fan group) It’s an awesome way to get new fans and also start to build up credibility. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to read a 4-star book with 200 reviews than a 5-star book with 6 reviews that are probably friends and family.

2. DO contact book bloggers! There are hundreds of book bloggers out there, some big, some small, some new, some established, but all looking to read quality books and blog about them to their readers. With my first book, Angel Evolution, I contacted over 200 book bloggers, many of whom accepted a free ebook in exchange for a review on their blog. That was the single most crucial thing I did to get started. Most all book bloggers have review policies, read them before you contact them. If their policies say they don’t accept Indie authors then don’t contact them. If they say they only accept print copies then don’t offer them an ebook. Save your print copy budget for the biggest bloggers if you can get them. Giveaway free ebooks to any other blogger who agrees to read it. The more copies you get out there in the early stages, the better chances you have of getting positive reviews and some buzz going. Book bloggers can also host giveaways, do author interviews, or let you come on their blog and do a guest post. I’ve done over 100 giveaways, more than 75 interviews, and probably 20 guest posts on various blogs. These are all fantastic ways to get your name out there. As part of the giveaways, request that those entering the giveaway Like your Facebook page.

3. DO become part of the book community. I joined Goodreads when I first started writing. I was somewhat active, but not extremely active (I was too busy wasting my time playing Angry Birds. OK, OK, I still waste a fair amount of time playing AB). I kind of flew under the radar for a while. I made a few friends, but mostly just acquaintances. Thankfully, I didn’t try to push my books so I didn’t get a reputation as a spammer. But I didn’t really take advantage of the awesomeness of Goodreads until April of this year. I realized then that the little time I was spending on Goodreads was one of my favorite times of the day. So I started spending more time commenting in the groups I was in. I wanted to keep conversations going, talk about the books I love, meet new people, establish relationships, be a valuable part of the book community. I became one of the more active people in many of the YA groups I was in, and people started to notice. I befriended many moderators who helped set up my books in RTR programs or even as a Chapter a Day read in the groups. I didn’t promote my books AT ALL in these groups. I just participated. In less than a month my sales had tripled. Some people started calling me a Goodreads Ninja LOL! I love the nickname because I think it shows how committed I am to being everywhere readers are on Goodreads, because I’m a reader too. Do it. It will be time well spent.

4. DO set up a fan page. The key is when to set it up. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend setting it up too early on in your career. The last thing you want is for the group to be tiny, less than 50 members, with very little participation or interest. If you wait until you’ve published a couple of books, have built up some readers, and then ask some of your bigger fans to help set up and moderate a fan group, it will go over much better. This is just my opinion, although others might argue it’s good to set one up as soon as possible. My marketing team and fans set up my fan group just before the release of my 4th book, The Moon Dwellers. It debuted with just over 300 members and continues to climb.

5. DO get your books on relevant Listopia lists. I’ve added my own books to lists, but it’s definitely better if some of your readers do it for you. Moderators of your fan group or your biggest fans are good candidates. You want your book on lists that are extremely relevant to your book, so the people reading them are the target audience. For example, because The Moon Dwellers is YA dystopian, it’s been added to a number of YA dystopian lists, as well as several Books Similar to The Hunger Games lists. The Moon Dwellers is in the top twenty in most of these lists, and has even risen into the top five or to the number one spot in several, sitting with company such as Divergent, Delirium, and The Maze Runner. I’ve had a few people tell me that they found my book because they typed in The Hunger Games on Listopia and when they clicked on a few of the lists, they saw The Moon Dwellers. It was the cheapest option near the top of the list so they bought it and loved it. Then they voted for it on the list, which keeps it near the top. This works!

6. DO give your fans the chance to buy signed copies of your books from you. People LOVE signed books for their collections. Don’t try to make much (if any) money off of these. Do it because you care about your readers. Just charge them the wholesale price of your book (the price you can buy it for on Createspace or wherever you print from) plus the cost of shipping to you and shipping to them. If you want to make a small profit on these books, add a dollar or two but no more. Have your fans pay you via Paypal or whatever method is easiest for you. I’ve sold dozens of copies of my books in recent months, making minimal profits but establishing a lot of lifelong fans and friends. Oh, and remember to personalize those books! It will mean a lot more to whomever you’re giving it to if you call them by name and write a short message that includes something personal if you can, like where you met them (Goodreads, etc) or something you know about them. This is a lot of work, but the rewards are priceless.

Whew! I’m sure there’s another ten things I’ll think of as soon as I post this, but that’s it for now. I hope this helps Indie authors come up with some new creative ideas for getting themselves out there, or give readers an inside look at all the work that goes into being an Indie author in this day and age. As always, I love getting comments and questions and I respond to every single one, so message me on Goodreads, Facebook, or add a comment below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

All the best and happy reading!


  1. You have a great blog sir!! You're a very talented writer indeed.

  2. Thanks Optimistic! I really appreciate it :)

  3. That's a great post! I tweeted it out, since I know a lot of authors who know that they should be on Goodreads and don't know what to do with it. (Like me ;))

    1. Aww thanks TL!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful :) All the best!!

  4. Well, this makes me feel like I'm doing something right! Thanks David!

    1. Yay, I'm so glad! They're really a lot of small things that add up to something that can become big ;)