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The State of Modern Publishing (Part 2)

Last week I established the terms of our discourse and came out strongly in favor of indie publishing. But choosing indie publishing is only the first step in doing it, and the rest of the steps can be twisty and uneven.

In the interest of saving you from some sprained ankles along the way (even as some of mine are still recovering), I’d like to help you figure just what to expect.

Write Well a Lot!

Everyone with a blog and a book out will give you the same initial piece of advice for succeeding in indie publishing: write a great book. That’s the foundation everything else is built on.

It’s also boringly obvious and distressingly subjective. If there were any objective definition of “a great book,” Manhattan publishing would have mapped out every last edge of it decades ago, and they’d all be busy drinking champagne on their gold yachts instead of frantically trying to figure out what to do about “the e-book problem.”

So! As apt as the advice “write well” may be, it’s pretty much useless. My recommendation, then, is to write a lot. Iterate! Learn by doing.

And the lovely perk of this approach is that when one of your books finally does make it big, you’ll discover all of a sudden that you have a whole catalog of other books for your new fans to pick up next.

Be Discoverable

There’s another perk that may be less obvious, but it’s just as important in indie publishing: discoverability. We’ll come back to that term often, but when you’re an indie publisher, your biggest challenge is getting discovered.

The more books (or short stories or serials or anthologies or manifestoes) you have available, the easier it becomes for a reader to discover your writing. Your first priority is always writing, but when it comes to the publishing part of your career, always keep discoverability in the front of your mind.

In addition to sheer volume, discoverability is accomplished through branding and categorization. I’m sure “branding” will be a recurring topic in Rachel’s column on cover design, but it’s more than just creating a consistent look across your book covers. It’s establishing yourself as a type of author, as a reliable source of a product specific buyers will consistently like.

Brand Yourself

You can do that with your author blog. You can do it with your Facebook page or the sorts of things you talk about on Twitter. Are you a friendly author closely engaged with her readers? It worked for Amanda Hocking. Are you a snide author of dime-store novels willing to speak truth to power, consequences be damned? It worked for J. A. Konrath.

That doesn’t mean you should pick a successful type and become it. You should develop your own type and portray it consistently and effectively. Express yourself. That’s what being an artist is all about. Authors are just accustomed to doing from the privacy of some dark room, and via six (very slow, very obnoxious) layers of intermediaries. But those guys are all going out of business now, so it’s time for us to step out into the light.

Branding yourself makes it easy for people to find you again (and that’s important), but you still need some way to get their attention in the first place. The easiest way to do this is by targeting a category.

Take Aim

We’re going to talk about targeting categories a lot around here. In fact, we’ll be dedicating a whole week to the topic later this month. But the basic concept is simple: Readers are used to discovering new favorite books by looking around in the same places they found their old favorite books.

Traditionally, that has meant sections of a bookstore. Mystery readers would head straight to the mystery section, sci-fi readers would head straight to the sci-fi section, and so on. But even within those section (or categories), there were sub-categories. Romance readers might like sweet romances or historical romances or naughty chick lit.

A good publisher is aware is of all these factors and has a whole bag of tricks to make sure a given book finds the right reader. That’s partly done through category selection (placing it in the right part of the bookstore), but it’s also done by choices in title, cover art, and product description. A book’s promotional material can (and should) state clearly and compellingly what category, what sub-category, what mood and tone a reader can expect from the story contained inside.

That should be the goal of your marketing campaign–not convince people who might like your book to give it a try, but to make sure the people who will like your book can tell that from the most casual glance all the way through a careful inspection.

Publish Your Book

Once you’ve figured all that out, actually publishing the book is the easy part. In April we’ll talk about an excellent new e-book formatting and multi-vendor distribution service called Draft2Digital that makes the whole process a breeze (and puts some extraordinary power into your hands), but even using a retailer’s direct-publishing platform like Kindle Direct Publishing is relatively painless.

All you have to do is upload your book’s content and cover, provide a title and product description, and choose your sales categories. See? The very things we’ve been discussing. And those are the things we’ll keep discussing. Stick around and we’ll make you a master of all of them.

Aaron Pogue is the head publisher at Consortium Books, author of the bestselling Dragonprince trilogy, and serves as the User Experience consultant at Every Saturday he shares an article about publishing and the new book marketplace.

Find out more about Aaron Pogue at his author website.

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