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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lay the Foundation—Three Crucial Steps before Self-Publishing

By: Heather Day Gilbert

One day when I was throwing a piece of pine in our outdoor wood-burner, a thought hit me. Before we could deposit and position this extremely heavy stove in our yard, we had to build a sturdy foundation for it. My dad and my husband had to dig out a large area, build a frame, and fill it with concrete. And then we had to wait for it to set.            

I couldn't help but notice the similarities to the self-published author. Yes, you can jump in fast and just plant that stove (novel) any old where. But over time, it will sink into the ground, go crooked, or possibly even topple. 

You want a firm foundation, and foundations take time. Please understand—I myself am allergic to waiting. Yet this advice is consistent throughout self-publishing circles, and I want to give you the biggest head start on success if you decide to self-publish.

The first thing to square away is your writing. Don't skimp on perfecting it as much as possible before releasing your first novel. Sorry, I know this is ye olde "work on your craft" advice, and I've never loved it, either. When I first jumped into the querying arena, I was convinced my novel was perfect. Several years and *ahem* several rejections later, I can recognize that my very first "perfect" novel will take extensive edits before I'll ever self-publish it. I've learned some tricks of the trade along the way—from agents, editors, critique groups, and my crit partner. This is where making friends in the industry really helps you—finding a mentor a few steps ahead of you, who has been edited and knows things you don't yet. Listen to and integrate sage advice (if it resonates with your novel and writing style!).

Platform-building is also crucial in this electronic age. I firmly believe authors need a blog "home base" where readers can find them, but you don't have to knock yourself out talking about every topic under the sun to build your audience. One brilliant new way to build an early reader base is to share your actual writing on your blog. (Caveat—don't share stuff you want to enter in contests or submit to an agent/publisher). But it's a great way to let people know if they like your stories or not.

Another way to build platform is to interview other authors or review books. While it's no guarantee of said authors' support when your book releases, you get to know them better, bring helpful content to your readers, and extend your sphere of authorly influence. 

There are plenty of other platform-building techniques. I like the advice that agent Amanda Luedeke  of MacGregor Literary gives: you utilize the social media outlets you feel most comfortable with. Try them all—twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, whatever—you might be surprised where your readership migrates. I was unprepared for how much I would love my FB Author Page, which has become a crucial and easy way to reach my readers.

Besides working on writing and platform, the self-publisher needs to lay a firm marketing base. I believe you need at least three months to really focus on marketing before your novel releases. For me, this translated into three months of spending at least two hours a day, brainstorming early readers, asking for endorsements and reviews, and just trying to be fearless with approaching the unapproachable. Not to mention hours spent perfecting an eye-catching book cover and Amazon blurb.

Even now that my book is out on Amazon, guess what? I'm still marketing. Yes, the burden is lighter as I now have readers who will seriously go to bat for my book. But, to be blunt, self-pubbers have a more expensive route to get their novels noticed. Most larger review sites, like Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly, require a substantial fee to join, and even then, there's no guarantee your novel will be chosen to be reviewed. 

So you have to think outside the box...tapping into the haunts where you know your readers hang out, finding smaller free review sites, and incorporating techniques you see working for other authors. Free Kindle giveaways are a great way to reach readers outside your online sphere of influence, but it's tricky to do if you use only Kindle KDP versus Select (I'll save that for another post). 

One blog I love following for updated tips on indie publishing is Joanna Penn's The Creative Penn. Joanna got into the e-publishing world early-on and she has learned many things she's happy to share. 

You might wonder who on earth I am, thinking I know all this stuff. Trust me, the past few months, I spent plenty of time wondering if I'd done anything right as I geared up for my book release. There were some marketing hits and misses. There were plenty of people who ignored my emails (but hey, I've been out on submission—I was ready for being ignored or rejected!). And yet there were also many people who got back to me, loved the book, and endorsed or reviewed it. 

Guess what? On release day, my Viking novel, God's Daughter, hit three Amazon best-seller lists. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn (it was totally God!), but I do feel that laying the foundation was crucial to getting that out-of-the-gate buzz. Maintaining the buzz requires an extended and relentless marketing effort from the author, but it can be well worth it. God's Daughter has stayed on the Amazon Norse/Icelandic historical best-seller list for two months now, largely due to the various guest interviews/blogposts I've been blessed to be part of. I can see a direct spike in sales when those go live.

I really believe self-publishing is going to bring new voices to the fore in Christian fiction—voices that can't be ignored. But for your voice to be heard above all the din of traditional publishers' marketing techniques, you have to lay that foundation, wait, and offer the best product you can. 

And then trust your readers. They will find you.
One Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to North America.

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a voyage to North America.

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself—and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God's Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir—daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America.

Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling her three children. Heather is the ACFW West Virginia Area Coordinator.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert--Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Her Viking novel, God's Daughter, is on Amazon and Smashwords.


  1. I am watching your writing journey with an eagle eye...and one day may be doing loop-de-loops in the self-pubbing air right along with you. Thanks for sharing!

    1. No problem, Michelle--I'm happy to share. I just finished writing my next Novel Rocket post about getting the good out of Goodreads--in which I share the mistakes I made in that arena! "You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there ya have...the facts of self-publishing life..." Hee.

  2. Heather, as a Novel Rocket subscriber, I'm glad you're onboard. I'm looking forward to your contributions and wish you all the best.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Just lost my comment--thank you, Elaine! I was saying I'm so grateful to be part of this site, which is so helpful to all writers, esp. new ones. Just like your "Everyone's Story" blog, Elaine!

    3. Goof info, Heather. I'm a small publisher and it's almost like being an Indy publisher. I'm laying the groundwork for a novel to be released in late summer. Enjoyed your post very much and I'm looking forward to reading more.

    4. Thank you, Kathy...definitely want to share helpful tips for self-pubbers and smaller pubs like you! All the best for your novel--and I'm glad you're already laying that groundwork. Very wise!

    5. Thanks, Heather!!

      Christmas blessings.

  3. Heather, great to see you on Novel Rocket. I think your 3 steps are pivotal for traditional publishing as well. I'd be interested in your experience with advertising, for example, with Novel Rocket and if you've done other advertising.

    Congratulations once again on GD. It's so exciting to see your "success". I too love Jo Penn's work. One thing I like about Jo is her belief in the "slow burn". Our novels have lots of life in them well beyond the first 3-6 months of release.

    1. Yes! I know--the slow burn is wonderful. It's like a snowball, building up speed. And with each new book, you have that much more momentum. Advertising...I could probably work up a post on that. But basically, so far I'm going on the cheap! Would love Pubisher's Weekly but it's over $150 to become a member and then there's no guarantee they'll review your book. I do have some other avenues I've sauntered down, though. Will definitely share thoughts on that at some point!

  4. Great post, Heather, and enjoyed reading it! Once I signed a contract, I began to seriously examine/use all the lists I'd made for potential advertisements and blog/WP interviews and guest posts. I agree w/you and think it's vital for writers to begin early to look/learn for ways to market. There are some I found beneficial and others will get a pass for the next book go-around.

    1. Caroline, I'd love to get your input on that! Email me sometime at heatherdaygilbert (at) gmail (dot) com and fill me in a little. I'd like to get as much feedback as I can on this advertising aspect of publishing! Thanks for your comment today!

  5. Heather, thanks for this post. You've given me lots to think about. The best with your releases.

    1. Thank you, Jude. There is SO much to consider before self-publishing, but I think the more effort you put into it, the bigger the return. This was kind of a wide-view of self-pubbing, but hope to narrow it down and focus on certain aspects of it in future posts.


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