Fiction writing has long received the bulk of popular attention (many people want to escape into imaginary worlds), and this focus drives publishing companies to go where the most money is. Consequently, outside of certain reliable non-fiction performers (celebrity memoirs, for instance, or incendiary exposés), they’ll generally invest most heavily in original works of fantasy.
I bring this up merely to note that non-fiction writers can find it particularly rough to attract decent offers from established publishers. But in this time of great online opportunity, they don’t need to take that well-travelled route. They can take matters into their own hands and self-publish, making any success they achieve completely their own.
Of course, the accessibility afforded by technology is a double-edged sword: as it empowers you to pursue your dream, it also empowers all the other ambitious authors. So how do you play the self-publishing game and come out ahead of your rivals? Here are some tips:
Focus on building your personal brand
If you’re going to be the sole force behind the publishing and promotion of your book, you need to work on the perceived value of your name by establishing a memorable brand. Given the nature of the non-fiction world, this can be harder or easier for you than for a fiction writer: it all depends on what credentials and experience you bring to the table.
Imagine that you wanted to find a new comedy fantasy to enjoy, and you were hunting for suitable authors. You wouldn’t have much reason to care about credentials, since the important thing is imagination. But someone writing about real-world events needs to have some weight behind their words for their takes to be considered worthwhile.
If your non-fiction work is autobiographical, then you don’t need to worry about credentials, but you do need to have a compelling perspective to encourage people to care about your attempted wisdom. The more you can attach value to your name alone, the better your promotional efforts will be when your book is ready to go.
Locate (and drive) interest in your niche
To develop your personal brand most effectively, you’ll need to take to social media. Join platforms including (but not limited to) Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, and join any groups you can find that relate to your niche. The findareddit subreddit can be great for this — explain what you’re looking for, and people will help you find relevant areas. You can then join relevant discussions and lay the groundwork for getting people interested in your writing.
This activity can be quite delicate, admittedly, because you need to straddle the line between being too passive and pushing too hard. The former will ensure that no one takes any notice of you, while the latter will largely produce antipathy (“any publicity is good publicity” doesn’t apply in all situations, and social media activity is one of the biggest exceptions).
Depending on the nature of the topic (or topics) you write about, you could hunt for ways to expand your prospective audience by relating your work to something with wider appeal. For example, a historical book with political undertones could easily be related somehow to today’s polarised political climate — develop a good hook, and you could get a lot of interest.
Make it as easy as possible to buy your work
There’s no use in building up a lot of hype about your book if people can’t readily buy it. The first thing you need to acknowledge is the fundamental impracticality of sticking to traditional print. However you feel about ebooks, shying away from them will only inhibit your success. You can find ebook formatting resources here, along with various other useful resources, so get your book prepared for digital distribution.
Once that’s done, you should get it listed on the Amazon marketplace at the very least (here are some tips for self-publishing on Amazon, courtesy of Jericho Writers). You can also think about offering it directly through your website, if you have one, along with an option for paying the much-steeper price for a print version. This can do well because many people don’t like ebooks, and ardent supporters will want to help you succeed.
Offer free excerpts and points of comparison
When your book is available, you need to keep drumming up interest, and there are two great tactics I suggest using. The first is to offer some free excerpts: take captivating sections of your book and make them available for free online. Some authors even release entire chapters for free. It should be enough to demonstrate the quality of your writing, but not so much that it satisfies someone’s curiosity to read the full work.
The second is to relate it directly to other works, and recommend it in specific circumstances. Just as I spoke of tying your work to topical events, you could find mentions of other popular books and post your own book as a suggestion for anyone who’s finished those and is looking for something new to read. Again, this has to be delicate, but it can be done well.
Lastly, you can think about recording parts of your book, or even taking one part and expanding upon it for a podcast or YouTube video (supplemental materials are ideal). Even if you don’t want to release an audiobook version of your work, you might find that hearing about something is more effective at getting people to engage with it than reading about it.
Self-publishing is tough, but it’s very rewarding if you get it right. Give these tips a try, and you should have a great shot at building your reputation and getting your work seen.
Hollie Jones is an expert lifestyle blogger who lives for writing. Hollie’s drive, passion and background come from the arts and media sectors. You can read her latest blog posts on Hollie and the Ivy, where she shares tips and advice about her passions while having a lot of fun along the way.
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