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On Kindle Publishing: Building Your Brand

Today I’d like to wrap up my introduction to Kindle publishing. I’ve spent the last several weeks describing the kind of remarkable success indie authors can find self-publishing on Kindle, and why that success is suddenly possible.

The key to it, as I explained yesterday, is the emergence of the global information network. As our society grows more and more comfortable with the digital network we’re immersed in, we also grow more accepting of localized data providers. That’s fancy-speak for indie publishers.

Of course, it’s not enough that readers are willing to buy books by Kindle-published authors. That fact has made Konrath and Hocking wealthy, but it doesn’t immediately generate sales for anyone else.

For new authors to seize these remarkable opportunities, they must understand the dynamics at play and participate in the new network (just as I described Courtney doing in Tuesday’s post). Below, I’ll discuss a few ways that’s possible.

Useful Text

One of the biggest threats to old media is that they’re perceived as catering to political, moneyed, or self-interest instead of providing content that’s genuinely useful to their audience. That’s an easy factor to see in the politicization and partisanship of primetime news shows, but it’s just as true in the book publishing world.

Legacy publishers chasing sure profits have become obsessed with bestsellers. In that chase, they’ve made a habit of slashing their midlists and eliminating niche imprints, focusing their attention more on “mainstream” fiction at the expense of local communities.

That’s precisely how Konrath got his start in Kindle publishing. He was a midlist author writing for a niche imprint, and when that imprint dissolved he had trouble finding another publisher willing to provide his sort of books to the readers who had been faithfully following him for years.

So he struck out on his own, catering to a “project community” (in his case dark, comedic pulp thrillers), and provided his readers with what they wanted, when they wanted it, the way they wanted it. And they rewarded him with an astonishing success story, and a message he has shared with the world.

The same thing can be seen in the story of established romance author Connie Brockway, who recently announced that she’s “going rogue.” Brockway decided to self-publish because her ongoing contract with her publisher limited what she could do as a writer.

Over the last couple years, as print publishers have been facing numerous financial crises, it has felt like they’ve become less likely to buy a book that doesn’t fit snugly within the parameters of last month’s success and since last month’s success was dictated by the previous month’s success (and so forth and so on) there hasn’t been a whole lot of room left in which to play. And I dearly love to play.

Connie writes historical romance, and the legacy publishers are insisting “most” readers of historical romance want tales set in regency England. As they push writers to cater to that overbroad “most,” they’re alienating huge audiences. Brockway goes on:

There’s evidence that there’s a huge pool of readers out there who got left behind while the legacy publishing houses were tightening their parameters, and who are starving for a gritty western or an gentle American or a bloody medieval or, blush, an off kilter sheik story.  Why, Masha Canham has topped 6000 eBook sales on Kindle since the first of the year re-issuing her wonderful pirate novel, Swept Away. And she’s done so without benefit of a Facebook page or one single tweet.

That last line is almost as surprising as the one before it (and, of course, that’s why she included it).

Engaging with the Community

But even though Canham has seen success without engaging in digital social networks, there’s plenty of reason to believe she would have seen a lot more success if she had. Amanda Hocking, Kindle publishing’s golden child, has made a life for herself on Twitter and Facebook.

In fact, the rise of digital social media is the last piece of technology that has allowed Kindle publishing to make legacy publishing obsolete. While e-Books and high-quality print-on-demand services made indie production and distribution competitive, legacy publishers still held the advantage when it came to reaching readers. It used to be the only way to get books to readers at all was to get them in stores.

But as I discussed yesterday, society has rejected the old media model of centralized broadcasters pushing content out to passive audiences. Instead, audiences today work as tight-knit groups, co-evaluating and co-distributing content within local project communities. And as this trend has become more and more apparent, the most successful authors, self- or legacy-published, have been those who engaged with readers within the readers’ local community groups.

So how do you reach into project groups? Participate in digital social networking. That’s precisely what it’s for. Facebook facilitates project groups by allowing them to accumulate around individuals (your list of “Friends”), and around products, brands, or causes (Facebook pages you might “Like”). Twitter does the same thing with lists and hashtags.

One of the most relevant examples to our discussion, though, is a site called KindleBoards. KindleBoards is a low-budget, plain-looking web forum, but it has attracted a vibrant community based around one simple commonality: its visitors use and love the Amazon Kindle.

Of course, a site like that isn’t going to escape the entrepreneurial eye of business-minded self-publishers like Konrath and Hocking. (In fact, both of them have been frequent commenters there, and both of them recommend it as an invaluable resource for Kindle publishers.)

Every self-published author should establish a presence at KindleBoards. And that needs to be more than just a marketing message. The moderators at KindleBoards have strict regulations about where and when and how authors can promote their own books or websites.

But despite those rules, authors see huge rewards from participating at KindleBoards, not in a strictly promotional sense (that hearkens back to the “broadcast” model our society is rejecting), but by participating in the discussion, by engaging with individuals, and by making friends. In other words, the trick is to genuinely become part of this project group.

Once that’s achieved, the author can recommend his book directly to his peers. And as we’ve already seen, that’s a profoundly powerful marketing message.

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