Publisher’s Weekly recently ran an article about my experiences with self-publishing, and while it proved very popular, one comment decried the lack of examples, specifically in regard to marketing. And that’s a valid complaint. After all, a writer will get much more use out of being shown how to market rather than just being told that they should. So, I thought I’d write a few blog posts about it, with a few examples of how I went about getting my novella Sour Candy ready for publication and in front of as many eyes as possible while not breaking the bank.
#1: BETA READERS
A beta reader is someone who is willing to read your book before you publish it, and as such can be an invaluable asset. If you’ve been crowing on social media about the upcoming release of your new book (“OMG, you guys, December can’t come soon enough!”) and have seen an enthusiastic response from some readers (“Yaaaaaas! Can’t wait!”), you may already have a critical resource at your disposal. Now, some caveats:
1) Try to avoid enlisting the help of family and friends as your primary beta reading crew, because feelings. Your Mom or your sister is not as likely to tell you your spelling is atrocious and the plot makes no sense, because they love you and would still like to get back that $100 they gave you last Thanksgiving. It’s harder for them to be objective without worrying that you’ll take it badly. (I, however, am fortunate in that regard, because neither my girlfriend nor my mother are afraid to tell me when something I’ve written sucks. As a result, I don’t much care for either of them, and I’m never paying back that money.) Objectivity is key, and that is more likely to be found when there are no emotional or personal ties involved. We all love it when our parents tell us you done good, but that’s not going to help do anything but give us the warm fuzzies. Your future readership don’t give a diddly-squat that your parents are proud because you’re finally working on moving out of their basement.
2) There’s a difference between online enthusiasm and real world interest. Don’t
assume because someone gives you the blue thumb on Facebook that they’re simply falling all over themselves to give up Big Brother in favor of reading the latest opus from some writer with an airbrushed face they just added on Facebook last Monday. Gauge the level of interest first before you embarrass yourself and the reader. Also make sure that they like to read. For that reason, I suggest Goodreads as a good recruitment zone. If readers have added you there, obviously they like books, and there’s a greater chance they dig your genre. Join groups on GR and put out some feelers for folks who love to read what you’re putting down and welcome the chance to help an author out.
3) Creative incentives. Asking someone to read a book is no small request. Books are long and reading them for anything other than enjoyment can be time-consuming, and honestly, a bit of a chore. And if the reader doesn’t like the book, then they’re stuck with the stress of how you’ll take it. (And if you don’t take it well, you’re a jerk and shouldn’t be in this business in the first place. Publishing is a heatwave with no place for special snowflakes. You, yes you, are flawed and fallible. So is your work. Even Stephen King bakes the occasional turkey. James Patterson…well, Patterson runs a goddamn turkey farm and he’s still beloved, and a zillionaire, so get over yourself.)
So, try to make it worth the reader’s while. At the very least, offer to mention them in the acknowledgment page of the published book, and of course, furnish them with a copy of the book in their preferred format. You would be astonished at how often this is considered a major incentive. If your reader is a non-writer, the notion of their name appearing in a published book can be a major thrill. (Remember the first time you saw your name in print? Didn’t it give you a ferocious case of the soul-jiggles? Yeah, that.) Also, if you end up generating any kind of swag while promoting your book, this too should be sent to your beta readers. And once you find beta readers (and you will) who you really trust, do everything you can to keep them happy. They are helping you in ways you can’t help yourself, and they’re doing it simply because they want to. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of loyalty. So appreciate it.
4) Don’t be pushy. In your search for beta readers, you’ll undoubtedly encounter some folks who really aren’t all that interested, or who are interested but already beta read for other authors and simply don’t have the time to read your book. The polite response to this is to thank them for considering your request and move on. The incorrect response is to hammer them with emails demanding to know how come they didn’t get the special snowflake memo, and to tell them that now there’s no way you’re paying back that $150, Mom. Trust me, there are more beta readers than there are books to beta read, so be professional and courteous and not a pushy primadonna. The same applies, even more so, if the feedback you receive is negative.
You enlist beta readers to read the book and identify problems, not to be told you’re a flawless juggler of glitter-filled amazeballs. Leave your ego outside in the rain and take it for a walk later. Beta readers are not there to tell you you’re great. They’re there to tell you why your book isn’t and how it could be. And if any of this is news to you, you may have some career reconsideration to mull over because you’re destined to be about as successful as a one-legged horse trying to climb a ladder sideways.
5) Enlist more than one. Every reader likes different things, and for your purposes, one reader may focus on the technical nitty-gritty of your writing, while another may be more interested in the story as a whole. Maybe one of them gets jingly for sex scenes, maybe another craves comedy.
The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you get. And when you start to get down because six beta readers all wrote back to tell you your story isn’t as great as you thought it was, consider how much worse it will feel when reviewers on Amazon tell you that. Always be willing to accept defeat. Beta readers make that defeat temporary and repairable. So get as many as you can and brace yourself for the impact. You’ll be glad of it later.