#indiethursday: How To Successfully Self-Publish Your Steampunk Book on Amazon (Guest Post by Desiree. J. Villena)
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this special “how to” edition of your favorite blog for all things steampunk! Gather ‘round the virtual fire — particularly those of you who’ve penned your masterpieces but have no idea what to do next — because today we’ll be talking about how to self-publish and sell your very own spectacular steampunk book on Amazon.
The gargantuan online retailer maintains a variety of reputations, from cutthroat marketplace and notorious Borders’ assassin, to a veritable land of milk and honey (if you know the right tricks). And though we as a self-respecting literary faction might want to turn our backs on Amazon, the fact is that it’s one of the easiest platforms for self-publishing authors to use, offering a simple upload process through its Kindle Direct Publishing unit and a range of exciting promotional options for authors.
On top of that, you simply can’t beat the consumer reach: Amazon controls roughly 80% of the ebook market in the US and UK, and significant portions in every other book-buying country too. Everyone knows Amazon, and most people use it, even if we may also shake our fists at the sky and scream “Damn you, Bezos!” whenever we hear about the latest Amazon travesty. Cognitive dissonance, economic convenience, willful ignorance — call it what you want, but Amazon’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
I mentioned “knowing the right tricks” in order to find success on Amazon, and it’s absolutely true that you can’t just waltz into the marketplace (metaphorically) and expect to make millions. Indeed, self-publishing a book is far from a glamorous business; you get more creative freedom and royalties than you would if you published traditionally, but you also have to put in about ten times the work. That said, if you’re courageous enough to put your book out into the world and you’re determined for it to succeed, you’re probably not the type to be dissuaded by hard work.
So with my slightly diatribical intro out of the way, let’s dive into the reason why all of us are here: presenting my most practical tips for self-publishing your book on Amazon and becoming the steampunk sensation you’ve always dreamed of being!
The most critical move toward successfully self-publishing almost any kind of book on Amazon is, unfortunately, the hardest. This is because it’s not about the publishing process itself, but what you do in the weeks, months, or even years leading up to your book launch: steadily building your following.
Imagine that each of your readers is a feral cat you are trying to tame; if you try to put a collar on it right away, it’ll claw and hiss at you. But if you leave some food out, coo at it, provide it a warm bed and maybe even a few toys, the cat will grow to trust you. By the time you go to slip a collar over its head, it won’t even notice — in fact, it’ll probably purr at the offer, happy to oblige. (This may be a little optimistic for a cat, but I digress.)
Basically, if you try to promote something to a new follower right away, they’ll unfollow you quicker than you can say elevenses. But if you ply them with interesting material, like interviews and reviews of other steampunk authors, they’ll stick around. You might get them to subscribe to a newsletter where you share your personal thoughts on the tropes and trends of the steampunk genre… and which you can eventually segue into talking about your own self-published book.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a steampunk blog or newsletter but you are active in relevant social media circles, try to capitalize on that! Engage in dialogue surrounding new releases and quintessential classics, squeal over fashion and fanart, and share cool and interesting images with your followers (I’ll talk more about this next). Maintain a friendly yet authoritative persona — this is helpful for any author, but especially in a niche like steampunk, where knowledge runs deep even among casual fans.
The point of all this is for other people to enjoy what you have to offer, trust that your content is high-quality, and believe that you are a talented person worthy of their support in the future. This method is known as “give, give, give, take,” and it’s highly effective in tight-knit communities like those of steampunk, where reputation is everything.
Speaking of ways to cultivate a strong reputation…
Steampunk has a very distinct aesthetic in both the literary genre and subculture as a whole. Even someone who knows very little about it can still hear the word and immediately envision clockwork and corsets. Of course, there’s often a difference between what people think of as “steampunk” and actual steampunk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of popular perception to promote your book with some amazing art!
By far the most important aspect of this is your book cover design. In the publishing world, we like to joke about how “don’t judge a book by its cover” is totally backwards advice for authors; while it works as a philosophical adage, it’s simply untrue when it comes to actual books. Readers will inevitably judge a book by its cover, and decide whether to “look inside” or even buy based on the quality of the design. Which, to be fair, is sort of logical — if the author didn’t bother making an effort with the cover, why would the inner contents be any better?
This doesn’t mean you need to go to art school just to sell your book. However, you should put some serious thought and probably money toward your cover design, whether that means commissioning a friend or hiring a professional. As you’ll learn throughout this process, this is just one of many times when it’s helpful to have a community — you can ask other steampunk authors what level of quality they’ve gone for with their covers, as well as how they managed to afford it and/or if there’s a particular designer they’d recommend.
Don’t forget to look at other bestselling steampunk books on Amazon, too! Again, there’s a distinct dark-and-metallic aesthetic that universally indicates steampunk. But trends can change, and you want to ensure your book cover is clearly associated with this particular genre, both for your personal promotional purposes and on Amazon itself.
Finally, when it comes to visuals, don’t stop with your cover. If you have the budget for it (or some artistically inclined friends to help you out), you should absolutely get a few additional illustrations for your book. Steampunk is one of the most inventive genres out there, and while there’s something to be said for allowing your readers’ imaginations to run wild, it can also be incredibly powerful to provide some visual aids.
What’s more, you can tease these images alongside text previews from your book in order to give your followers a taste of what’s to come. Remember: give, give, give as much as you can before you take. Even something fairly simple (like, say, a tongue-in-cheek “wanted” poster) can make really fun bonus material for your fans.
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of self-publishing on Amazon. For those who don’t know, all self-publishing authors on the platform use Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP, to upload and publish their books.
However, within that all-encompassing process, you also have the option to enroll in KDP Select — a program that allows you to run various price promotions through Amazon, put your book on Kindle Unlimited, and earn higher royalties in certain territories. It’s free to enroll, but it requires 90 days of Amazon ebook exclusivity, meaning you cannot go through any other digital distributors for the first three months of your book’s release.
This is super-condensed summary of everything that KDP Select actually entails, but for our purposes, that’s all you need to know. Your conundrum now is: is it worth it?
The best thing about KDP Select is how easy it is to use. You can start promotions (either free or discounted) with the touch of a button, and then simply direct your fans to your Amazon page. Plus your book will automatically be discoverable on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers will read it and you’ll get a payout based on how many pages they get through.
The worst thing about KDP Select is, obviously, the fact that your book is restricted to Amazon — despite its far-reaching dominion, it can be unnerving to feel like you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. And if you live in one of those countries where Amazon isn’t quite so totalitarian, you may even be missing out on significant distribution and marketing opportunities. While you will be able to digitally distribute to other places once the 90-day enrollment period is over, you’ll be staking most of your early-launch momentum on Amazon alone.
I can’t tell you outright whether KDP Select is the right choice for you. However, I can tell you which factors to consider: How much help do you want with implementing promotions? Do you have followers who are willing to pay for your book at full price, or will they need a promotion to entice them? How important is wide distribution to you personally? Are you writing a steampunk series? (Series tend to do well on Kindle Unlimited.)
The one aspect of KDP Select that probably appeals to almost all steampunk authors is that there aren’t too many steampunk books currently on Kindle Unlimited. Not only is this a unique selling point for your marketing, but the steampunk-starved SFF readers who subscribe to KU will rush to your book like flies to honey. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how many people will end up read ingyour book through KU, but at least it’s free to get into their library.
Whether or not you decide to enroll in KDP Select and run an Amazon-sanctioned price promotion, there’s still plenty more you can do to externally promote your self-published steampunk book! There are oodles of book review blogs and promotion services that you can explore, not to mention advertising on your own blog and social media — though with relative restraint, since you still don’t want to scare your followers away (remember the cat lesson).
One hot tip for steampunk authors is to aim for quality, not quantity, when reaching out to potential reviewers and third-party promoters. By that I mean: don’t click on those directories and then send a canned email to every single contact on the list! Take the time to comb through your options and select 3-5 reviewers who you think could really help out your book, then write a personalized inquiry to each of them. Off the top of my head, I’d recommend The Kindle Book Review and BookDoggy for first-time authors. And of course, you can always ask for a review or interview from a steampunk-specific blog like this one.
You can do so much more with your own personal connections, too: ask a popular mutual follower about a cross-promotion, encourage your newsletter subscribers to leave a review, and maybe even offer a larger giveaway to increase engagement. The prize doesn’t have to be your book; the giveaway could be for anything steampunk-related, and indeed your followers might be more excited by the prospect of a cool clothing item or small piece of furniture than a book.
Whatever path you take, I certainly hope you’re in a better position to succeed than you were about 2,000 words ago. Steampunk is such a singular genre with an incredible community behind it, and every author’s voice matters — so get out there and make yours heard.
Many thanks from all of us at Blake and Wight to Desiree for this fabulous guest post this morning! Here’s a little more about the author…