Self-publishing books as a business: Become an author entrepreneur
Being an author is like being an entrepreneur (“authorpreneur”) – you have to think about your publishing process as a business, from the very first moment. Otherwise, you have a very slight chance of becoming a full-time author. I’d like to share my insights. As a writer, you already took the first steps. You had an amazing idea for a story, wrote it down and felt the need to share it with people who might enjoy it. You have a goal now, which is to become a full-time writer. Here are the steps you can take to make that dream a reality, and treat self-publishing as a business.
0. Understand what you’re getting yourself into. Self-publishing rocks!
Before starting on your publishing journey, make sure that you are committed to it. Fully understand that self-publishing means more work, but bigger gains and more control in a much faster pace. Read more about how self-publishing is different from traditional publishing to make an informed decision.
Are you committed? Great! Read on.
1. Stop thinking and start doing: Sit down and write!
When you start out, it’s not always easy to find the energy to act on your idea. Avoid writer’s block or burnout by getting into the right mood, or – as Csikszentmihalyi calls it – the “flow.” For me, the best time to write is early morning, just after my first cup of coffee; and then the nights, when fewer people can disturb my creative juices. Set personal milestones for yourself, like hitting a 2000 words per day threshold. Don’t forget to celebrate your milestones with a social media post or a glass of wine – you deserve it!
2. Find beta readers to read your book
When you feel that your work is near-complete, find some beta readers who can be your first “real” readers. These readers will be your personal writing coaches – the ones that will help finetune your work. We covered the importance of beta readers in a guest post by Fanni Sütő if you’re interested in learning more.
How to find beta testers?
- Ask your friends, university buddies, and colleagues – your people who’ll be the cheerleaders during your publishing journey. Make sure to surround yourself with people whom you trust, and who are not afraid to criticize your writing. They’ll have to push you to become your best self.
- Join writing groups – writers like to help other writers, so ask for their opinions. You can check out 20books50k on FB, Absolute Write or
- Join a passionate group of readers such as the one on Goodreads or Be careful to make some friends before offering your book.
- Try services specializing in beta readers. Read this article with best tips for beta reader services. There are platforms like Scribophile that directly connect you with many beta readers.
3. Research your market: What are the other bestselling books in your genre?
Every product or book launch has to start with getting to know your target audience and finding your USP (unique selling point) among your competitors. The book market is like the ocean, if you find what makes your little fish unique within your genre, you should be all right.
First, take a look at what others are doing in your market. Here’s what to look out for:
1. Cover: What’s the message a book cover is trying to convey? Take a look at the style. For example, romance novels tend to show some (male) nudity, non-fiction book covers have compelling fonts, while children’s books focus more on the illustration.
2. Title: What’s the length? Is it keyword-based or more like the result of a creative process?
3. Subtitle: Is there a subtitle at all? If yes, is it describing the topic or just giving a feeling to the readers?
4. Blurb: How is it structured? Detect if there’s a type of mood or tone and how the strengths of the book are communicated.
5. Author biography: Do you get what message they convey as an author? Are they focusing solely on their work?
6. Price: What pricing strategy do they use: free promos or permafree? What price points do they use: $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, $3.99, $4.99 or above? (The last one is rare for self-published books.)
There are two ways to run this research: by using category-based search and/or keyword-based search. Here are some steps to begin with:
1. Search for your broad category on Amazon (romance, sci-fi, etc.)
2. Search for a niche category in the chosen broad category on Amazon (such as paranormal romance, steampunk sci-fi, etc.) You can find a list of Amazon categories here.
3. Check out the bestsellers, and look at their rankings in all three categories that are visible on Amazon. If the bestselling book has a lower number ranking in one of those categories, it indicates a bigger competition. (The smaller the competition is, the better are your chances.)
4. Think about the target audience: does your book target the same audience as any of the books on the list? If yes, you found the right category to analyze!
You can also do the same kind of research, but by searching for keywords (words and expressions) you think your book might have relevance to. Do this manually or use a software like Kindlepreneur.
4. Build your MVP team with editors and designers
Writing may be a lonely process, but publishing shouldn’t be. Recruit team members who can help you excel in the areas that are not your strongest, and help you create your Minimum Viable Product – your book. Although you can find DIY options, it is best to invest in your book by hiring professionals to do the quality job for you, especially if this is your first time starting a business.
Don’t forget: getting to your first draft is only the first step. According to the Book Marketing Podcast by Dave Chesson, your book should be edited at least for the same amount of time as you wrote it to get over the feeling of “oh, this is bad.” Editing is important. You can get help in this by hiring freelancers, or even searching for trusted editor partners on PublishDrive. If you take yourself and your writing seriously, get a second pair of eyes to look at your writing – it’s worth the money and effort.
When you’re ready to get a cover, there are unlimited DIY options like Canva, an online design tool. But you may also be better off finding a professional. To find the best cover designers, you can check out Reedsy, a community of book contributors or ask for an expert on PublishDrive.
5. Target and package accordingly: Get your metadata in shape
Once you understand your market and audience, use keyword tools to spice up your description and keyword fields. The following tools are available for free to give you some creative ideas: Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Keywordtool.io.
After you have an idea about the best keywords, this is how you can shape your five most important metadata fields:
1. Make sure that your pen name and title are unique: The first step is to pick a pen name and a title. Then, Google them. Make sure that your pen name is unique, and don’t forget to do this even if you’re using your own name. If you want to build a brand, you have to make sure that you’re the only user of your name and title.
2. Write your blurb: This is not a summary of your book – so, no spoiler alert! Instead, this is the section that gives you credentials as an author and/or to celebrate your characters. Put any astonishing reviews in the blurb, and try to show what experiences your book can give to readers. Keep it short – most readers get hooked (or not) by the first few sentences. The first few sentences are especially crucial, as Amazon only displays those before the “Read more” button.
3. Have an author biography: Write about yourself in the third person and try to keep it professional.
4. Choose a niche category: You should already have a good idea after your market research. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for new categories, and be aware of specific requirements by KDP.
5. Decide on your pricing: The most common options for this are temporarily free, permafree, or pricing it a bit cheaper or a bit more expensive than others to set yourself apart from the competition. Typical price points you can use for self-published ebooks are: $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, $3.99, and $4.99.
The cool thing about ebooks is that you can change almost everything later, though you have to leave enough lag time (usually from 1-2 hours in bigger stores to maximum 2 weeks for smaller shops) for changes to go through all retailers.
6. Strategize on launch: Create your promotion plan
To build a buzz, you need time to prepare. Set a release date at least two months into the future. You will need this time to do the following:
- Build up an influencer list in your genre with those who can influence the same reader base you want to target.
- Build your review strategy by making two decisions: which store(s) you will focus on and how many you want to receive.
- Create a social media presence. You can use an author or book-based strategy, but also do something like setting up a character-based profile!
- List your books on social sites specialized in books. Goodreads is a must have in the book world. Check out Wattpad as well!
- As a newbie, I suggest you focus your energies on building up your social media, but if you’re a pro, try to build your own website.
- Create reader magnets in exchange for email addresses. (Don’t forget to keep GDPR in mind.) A reader magnet can be any content, extra merchandizing or gift to your readers which creates value for them. Here are some of the ideas you can play with: For fiction, offer an additional story about the main character or excerpt from the next book. For non-fiction, offer a course, video, talk, or conference that builds a more in-depth relationship with the author who is an expert in his/her field.
- Don’t forget to use the following:Mention for social media listeningMailchimp / Sendgrid for emailsWordPress for websites and blogsFacebook, Instagram, and Twitter as a starter pack on social mediaIf you are a non-fiction writer, get visible on LinkedIn too!Choose from a social media scheduling tool that helps keep your costs low. Hootsuite and Buffer are popular among self-publishers.
7. Go wide with distribution and launch your ebook globally
Ebooks are a great way to start out globally with the lowest costs involved. Ebook distribution lets you update your prices and any other metadata easily, so you can avoid the headache of updating your cover or a fixing a typo.
As we could see from our data, if you are not Amazon-exclusive, but utilize the markets outside the Amazon World, you can at least double your sales. There is no reason to not go global.
Here are some additional things for your launch strategy:
- Set up your book for pre-order: It is crucial that your book is already visible in stores, can take preorders (and you have a direct store link) to help build buzz around it. You can easily set this up in PublishDrive.
- Ask for review copies from stores wherever possible. With PublishDrive, you can get review copies from Apple Books, Kobo, and Google Play Store. Concentrate on two or three stores maximum at a time, otherwise, your efforts will be diluted. Secret hint: use the power of reviews in stores where there is less competition, such as Apple Books or Google Play.
- Send your book to promotional offers or featured positions in different stores. As all stores have different marketing techniques, PublishDrive summarizes them for you and lets you nominate titles in different campaigns.
- Check your sales in all stores to understand your market dynamics. PublishDrive offers you reports not only from Amazon but from all of your stores combined.
8. Ask for more feedback and reviews!
Send review copies to your friends and colleagues (not on Amazon!) and ask for honest feedback. Be wary of compensation (not just money, but things like extra content for free) because many stores like Amazon punish this kind of behavior and you might lose some of your reviews by violating their policies.
As your reviews grow, make sure to check them every now and again, look for useful suggestions, and recognize if you are not reaching your desired audience.
It’s normal to receive some negative reviews, so don’t get devastated. If they are useful advice, consider them; otherwise, just let it go.
9. Get physical and order a POD copy for promotion
Who does not like to hold their own book in their hands? A social media post with your beloved book might become the kindling for your readers to post pictures with their copies too. You can order multiple author copies, sign them and use them for marketing purposes. Be aware though, that POD can be very expensive, both for authors and for their readers.
10. Be visible among your peers and collaborate with other authors
In any industry, the right partners can help you boost sales without spending money on marketing. How can you identify these authors?
- You can ask your readers whom they are reading
- You can use the results from your market research
- Check out whom the influencers in your genre are writing about
- See what other books they bought on Apple Books or Amazon
To establish a relationship with your peers, start with an online presence – follow them on social media where they are active and engage in conversation. If you can see they are going to conferences or book festivals, try to attend and meet them in person for a coffee.
11. Spend money to make more money: Advertise to get the word out
When the time comes, don’t be afraid to spend some money on advertisements. You can follow the advice given by the best online book marketer I can think of, Mark Dawson.
For book marketing the most common advertising methods are the followings:
- Amazon Advertising (formerly AMS). This advertising platform enables you to list your book as a sponsored product in search (I found it the most effective so far) or display your product as a banner. It can work for all kind of books in all genres, but you have to make sure that your metadata is up to scratch before starting it.
- Facebook advertising: This enables you to reach billions of users worldwide with a sponsored post or banner-like advertisement. The key to Facebook advertisement lies in targeting the right audience. You can narrow down your audience with targeting people with interest in books, the specific genre you are targeting, whether they liked any of your competitor’s books/sites, and whether they speak your language or are from the country you want to target. But be cautious about Facebook: often, it is better to engage them in a game or offer them some content, rather than a buy link.
- BookBub: This platform gives you extra visibility to their reader base with email campaigns when you have a substantial discount on your book. It works the best for free or books priced at $0.99. Your book has to be approved, and your cost will depend on your genre. Find the details of their pricing here. The article by Dan Koboldt shows you the economics and basic understanding behind Bookbub.
- Google Adwords: Use this if you want your book listed in the top 3 search results. It works in a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) model and requires some analytics experience for setting up the best keywords. Based on our experiences, Google Adwords works best for non-fiction, especially how-to books. Here’s a perfect guide for Google Adwords by Publishers’ Weekly.
12. Get offline: Meet readers and publishing people the old-fashioned way
Nothing is stronger than a personal touch when it is about building relationships. There are many book-related events where you can meet your readers, fellow authors or potential publishers. These events are great for building your author brand and understanding your market better. On the other hand, choose wisely where you spend your money and time; these events can cost a fortune!
Go to genre-specific events such as Thrillerfest or general events such as Writers’ Digest. There are many trade events where you can learn more about the publishing world such as BookExpo. For the autumn season, here are some events that may interest you:
- Baltimore Book Festival: A general book festival in Baltimore. Best to build reader relationships.
- Indie Lab: A writers conference in Cincinnati. Best to build writer relationships and learn from each other.
- Brooklyn Book Festival: A general book festival in Brooklyn. Best to build reader relationships.
- Digital Book World Conference: A publishing technology conference in Nashville. Best to learn about top innovations in the book publishing world.
- Romance Con: A romance book festival in Richmond. Best to build reader relationships in the romance genre.
- Frankfurt Book Fair: A general trade fair in Frankfurt. Best to build publishing-related relationships.
- Vancouver Writers Festival: A writers conference in Vancouver. Best to build writer relationships and learn from each other.
- Vegas Valley Book Festival: A general book festival in Las Vegas. Best to build reader and writer relationships.
- 20book50k conference: A writers conference in Las Vegas. Best to build writer relationships and learn from each other.
- Texas Book Festival: A general book festival in Austin. Best to build reader relationships.
- YALL: A young adult book festival in Charleston. Best to build reader relationships in the young adult genre.
- Futurebook: A publishing technology conference in London. Best to learn about top innovations in the book publishing world.
13. Release new products: like another book!
The key to success is to constantly give something to your fans. After many experiments, we concluded that short promotions such as Bookbub can help your sales in the short term, but you’d have better results if you can come up with a new story in time which will have a longer effect on your overall sales.
There are many writing tools which can help you find the best routines and deliverables. Scrivener is a project management tool for your writing which can help you meet deadlines.
14. Keep it up. Don’t stop. Repeat.
Your self-publishing journey is an ongoing project, and your results will show the resources and energy you put into it. Don’t give up! Seek out a publishing professional who can help you overcome your difficulties. If you have any questions, PublishDrive has Author Coaches on board who you can reach out to via email.