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I recently returned from the San Francisco Writers Conference where I had one-on-one consults with authors and taught some classes as well. The pervasive theme in most of my sessions and consults was: What now? And for most authors this is a reoccurring theme when their book is out.

Here are six fundamentals for self-published authors to start smart. My next post in this series will cover more of a tactical plan to promote your book.

1. What are your goals? 

Many authors that I speak with don’t spend much time thinking about this, and if they do their goals are simple — such as sell books. While I understand that is a driving factor – and yes, we all want to sell books — it’s also important to look beyond that. Where you want to go will determine what you need to do now.

Goals could be anything from putting together a workbook, writing another book, booking speaking events, ramping up your consulting or (eventually) making a living from your writing. Once you write down your goals, post them somewhere to view them daily. Then develop strategies that will help you move toward them.

For example, if your goal is to make a living from your writing, you’ll need keep writing more books. Map out what will help you consistently create content — blocking out time, setting a word count goal, or having an accountability partner. If your goal is speaking or more consulting, then make sure that your website reflects that. Do you have a speaking or consulting page set up? Are you mentioning that you’re a speaker/consultant in your bio? There are things you can set in place to reflect and support your goals, which is why it’s good to start here from the onset.

2. Your infrastructure

Do you have a website? If not, you should. Do you know what social media channels you’ll be using? I don’t recommend that you sit on these things too long. Although we do speak with authors who have launched their book without a website or any social media, I don’t recommend it. If you haven’t yet, make a plan to get your infrastructure in place.

If you do have a website, not only should you make sure that it is fully functioning, but that it’s engaging. The human attention span is 6-8 seconds, so grab your audience’s attention with a dynamic, clean, easy to navigate website that will result in less bounce.

Check that the essentials work, such as: The links to your social media sites, newsletter signup, your contact form, your buy now links, etc. Don’t settle for a site that isn’t working for you. If you do you may wind up losing business.

3. The timeline for promotion

While many authors need their books out 90 days or more in advance of their publication date, this isn’t quite so true for self-published authors. These long-lead timelines exist mostly for traditional publishing purposes. To get bookstore orders and keep books in bookstores, publishers needed to get ahead of the media curve to secure spots on national shows and in national publications.

Then there are long-lead publications, or publications that close their issues 3-4 months out are generally national magazines such as O Magazine and others. Since most of these long-lead publications don’t consider self-published books, I’d suggest another avenue, such as pitching them for a story. Although the pre-publication lead time is not as critical, remember that your book should not age too much before pitching them.

Long-lead review publications may also be out, but check their requirement first. Publisher’s Weekly for example has an indie published review service that will consider books past their publication date. 

4. So do you need an official publication date?

Well yes and no. You should have an official “date” attached to your book, but with indie publishing it becomes less of a driving factor. You should, however, be sensitive to when your book was published. Books that are a year or more old become tougher to market, even books that are six months old become less attractive to bloggers.

5. This is a business

We often forget that as amazing as it is to be an author, it is also a business. I find this point, of all of them listed here, is often the hardest for authors to grasp. We are so attached to our story and our characters that we forget that this is a business.

It’s the business of publishing and we need to be smart about our choices. Case in point: the author that I discuss in my next post, [spoiler alert] who puts a review in the New York Times in order to just “be” in the book section.

I get it. Would I love a review in the New York Times? You bet I would, but that’s not likely to happen with my books. So I look for other avenues that make sense. Do what makes sense, not what feeds your ego. We all have an ego but it’s generally not a good idea to allow it to drive decisions that affect your book.

6. Hope is not a marketing plan

It’s easy to get overwhelmed or to get caught up in the daydream of being successful. A lot of authors live on hope: They hope to get reviews, they hope to be on the Today Show, they hope… But honestly, hope is not a good marketing plan.

Estee Lauder, who is by all accounts one of the most successful women in her market, was once quoted as saying: “I never dreamed about success, I worked for it.” And I think that’s true for all of us. It’s great to have big dreams but it’s even better when we work for them!

Take the time, build a foundation first. My next post in this series will provide some tactics to promote your self-published book.

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