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Small actions can make a big difference

How I write consistently, build relationships, boost sales, and avoid burnout

Writing, publishing, marketing, advertising…there is no end to the indie author’s to-do list. Anyone running a small business is familiar with this juggling act, and an author business is no different from any other start-up. What actions can we take to stay in the game without succumbing to overwhelm and burnout?

First, know your mission and goals

I have no wish to be a blockbuster success or a household name. My mission is to entertain and educate people through my books. To achieve that mission, my goal is to build a large backlist of books, then use marketing and advertising to nurture a steady drip of sales that increases over time. But I’m still in the early days of this experiment (my first book launched in fall 2016) and frankly, sometimes the boulder I’m pushing up the proverbial hill just crushes me.

Overwhelmed? You can fix that.

When I feel overwhelmed, I step back and make lists, breaking down all that I have to do into manageable actions. I cut back on social media and all the marketing/promotion/publishing tasks that are constantly looming. I read, reminding myself why I got into this in the first place: my love of stories. I reach out to others whose success inspires me. I listen to podcasts that give me energy and ideas and avoid the ones that bring on self-doubt.

Here are some of the daily actions I take to stay motivated, build relationships, boost sales, and avoid burnout.

Writing

Writing takes priority over everything else because I need to build that backlist. I aim for 2,000-2,500 words per writing session, which works out to about one or two scenes. Because I love writing, this action never feels like a chore to me. (Now rewriting and revising, that’s a different matter…) I can write just about anywhere as long as I have headphones to block distractions. I accomplish this in about two hours, usually listening to nature sounds (especially thunderstorms) or ambient/electronic background music. No words, though. Lyrics interfere with my brain’s ability to create sentences. When I sit down (or stand at my standing desk) I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to do this work and how grateful I am to have the time to write. Gratitude fills my creative well and motivates me.

Marketing and promotion

Marketing/promotion is necessary but time-consuming. Until the third book in my trilogy is done, I don’t want to spend a lot of time and money marketing The Miramonde Series. Here are the quick and easy actions I take, marketing-wise. First, I enter my prequel novella The Promise in BookFunnel joint giveaways with other authors once a month or so. I usually add a few hundred new subscribers to my mailing list with each giveaway. In my monthly newsletter to subscribers (I now have about 2000 of them), I also give away copies of my books and other goodies like art (this month I’m giving away a silver scallop shell necklace). I’m active on Twitter but I’ve cut way back on the other social media platforms to gain more writing time. These baby steps for marketing free me up to write and keep building my reader base.

Advertising

Advertising is expensive and getting more so as time goes on, but I don’t want to give up the exposure and sales I get from ads. I only use Facebook ads (which are super spendy) during price promotions for my books. The daily action I take for advertising is using Amazon AMS ads (I currently have about 12 ads running). I get up to 5 sales per day thanks to those ads, plus I’ve gotten millions of eyes on my books through “impressions”. I only run ads that break even or net me profit. However, competition for clicks is fierce and I’ve found if I don’t raise my bids, my ads get shunted farther and farther back in the “sponsored products related to this item” queue for each keyword.

My click-to-sale conversion rates for AMS ads are pretty good (after a few weeks, if an ad is not performing well, I pause or terminate it). I studied Brian Meeks’ great book Mastering Amazon Ads and followed his advice about copywriting, but I don’t put the time into rigorous data analysis that a lot of indie authors do (yes, I fear math, and yes, my eyes glaze over whenever I look at an Excel spreadsheet). I also use the excellent KDP Rocket to help me come up with targeted lists of keywords for ads, which saves a lot of time. These actions gets lots of eyes on my books with minimal investment of time and money. 

Building relationships

Reaching out to influencers can be daunting and discouraging when people ignore you or reject your overtures. But continuing with my strategy of small actions, I reach out to at least three people/groups each week. Whether they are other authors I admire, book bloggers or organizations that I want to connect with, or people I find value in networking with, I make an effort to build those connections.

Through these relationships, I’ve gotten valuable review blurbs for my books, I’ve run joint newsletter promotions that drove hundreds of sales and downloads of my books, and I’ve gotten free press through interviews/mentions on blogs and websites. Now that I’ve been at this for a few years, people are starting to reach out to me for advice. I always respond to them and try to be helpful, because I want to pay it forward. I find value in connecting with people and organizations that I admire and want to learn from, even if there is no immediate “payoff.”

Stay positive

Avoid comparisonitis. There are so many podcasts for indie authors now, which is fantastic and also can bring on despair that you’ll never be able to perform at the level of the authors you hear interviewed. I’ve learned to skip the interviews that make me feel uncertain or sap my confidence. Two podcasts that have helped me enormously both from a writing perspective and as an “authorpreneur” are Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn podcast and Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne’s Storygrid podcast. I seek out “gurus” who are consistently positive and offer helpful nuggets of insight and advice.

Shut out the naysayers and the trolls. I struggle with the inevitable face-to-face moments with people who sneer at independent publishing or assume my writing is just a fun hobby, not real work. And getting the occasional bad review can temporarily take the wind out of my sails, even though the majority of my reviews are glowing. When this happens, I get outside for vigorous exercise, connect with loved ones, watch a hilarious video, then take a deep breath—and ignore all the negative noise. 

Forgive myself for mistakes. We all make them. For example, occasionally I’ll make an error in a newsletter (a bad link or a typo) that slips past the proofreading stage. In fact, I made one in today’s newsletter. I mentioned that I was hard at work on Mira’s Way, Book 2 in the Miramonde Series. Doh! I published that book in July; I’m actually hard at work on Book 3 in the series. Instead of berating myself for the mess-up, I figure out an appropriate response or action to take (if one is even necessary) and then move on. I am a one-person operation and I will inevitably screw up some of the details in this adventure. 

Keep focused on the long game

It’s a great joy to see the stories and characters that have swirled around in my brain for a lifetime transformed into books that other people love to read. With just a few actions each day, I’m building the backlist of my dreams and a solid base of readers. Ultimately the most powerful action I take each day is this: Just keep going.

This article contains affiliate links, which means I will get a small commission from Amazon if someone clicks a link to a product and ultimately purchases it.

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