Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to Build Street Cred as an Indie Author

By Juli Alexander, @juli_alexander

Part of the Indie Authors Series

Authors like Courtney Milan and Gemma Halliday have credibility from their traditional publishing success that carries over to their Indie publishing ventures. For authors who do not have street cred as they start down the path to self-publishing, establishing a reputation for professionalism should be a priority.

Initially, Indie publishing provoked a huge backlash because of a perceived lack of quality in writing and editing. Learn from this criticism and strive to put out the most professional product possible.

The book should be well written, with professional editing, a high quality cover, and formatting. The author package should also hold up to scrutiny.

When interacting with others, an author must maintain professionalism at all times. Failure to behave appropriately can irreparably damage your career. The most important things I learned from the Romance Writers of America all relate to professionalism.

Rule Number One: Build a good reputation for yourself through your interactions with other authors.

1. Never criticize another author or their work. Also known as, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This includes giving other authors bad reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. You cannot win by putting others down.

2. Celebrate your friends' successes even if your career is struggling.

3. Treat everyone with respect whether they are a bestselling author or someone brand new to the scene.

4. Conduct yourself as if you are a professional, as if you are the CEO of an important company. You are, and it's your company.

5. I learned from Alyssa Day, New York Times bestselling author, to pay it forward. If you have a chance to do something nice for someone else, then do it.

6. Behave appropriately in public. Wherever you can be seen or heard, your behavior will be remembered. Social media can be a trap for the unwary.

7. Avoid crude language. Cursing may well belong in your books if you are writing about Navy Seals, teenagers, or even your own Grandpa. But do not unleash the “f” word onto Social media with regularity. I may want to be a rock star, but I'm just an Indie author. If I go on a rant, it should be to my close friends. I should never unleash my tirade as a Facebook post.

8. Large corporations generally avoid getting drawn into debates on hot button issues, like religion and politics. If you are a professional writer selling a commercial product, you may want to consider separating your personal opinions from your professional persona.

As an Indie author, your absolute best resources are other authors. Janice Hardy is providing you with exactly this opportunity in her Indie Authors Series. When I decided to venture into Indie publishing, I approached Amanda Brice, an author I respected. Amanda had pursued Indie publishing in 2011, and I knew I could trust her opinions and observations. Because each of us had good, professional experiences with the other, we were able to harness the crossover potential among our young adult readers with numerous joint promotions.

Rule Number Two: Build a good reputation for yourself among readers and bloggers.

One way to build this relationship is to seek reviews. In earlier posts in this series, Courtney Milan provided pointers on increasing reviews with best practices in your back matter, and Dario Ciriello gave invaluable tips on gaining reviews by sending out Advanced Reader Copies.

The most important advice I can give you as you seek credibility is to never, ever, under any circumstances pay for a good review. I'm not referring to the reputable review sites that offer an honest review for a fee. I am talking about the bloggers who will message you on Facebook to offer a stellar review for the low, low fee of $50.

In addition, never comment on or reply to a review. Especially a negative review.

Do not get your friends and family to post reviews. These do not fool anybody.

Thirty minutes on Facebook or with any search engine will allow you to find dozens of bloggers who review books. Make sure that they are open to reading your particular genre. Send them a business-like email and follow through if they invite you to submit.

The messages about Kindle Select and free books are undeniably mixed. Some authors swear by them, and others liken them to the end of civilization. However, going free on Amazon can be a way to get reviews. What works for one genre may not work as well for another. What works for one author may not work as well for another. The best advice I can give about any element of self-publishing is to get multiple opinions, discard the advice that does not ring true to you, and work with the rest. After all, this is how you would approach the comments from your critique group on your writing. The business aspects of your writing career also require you to research, solicit opinions, and sift through the results to find the best approach for you.

Rule Number Three: Keep your promises to your readers.

  •  If you hold a contest on Goodreads, Facebook, or your blog, send out the prize immediately.
  • If you promise to release a book by a certain date, make your self-imposed deadline. You lose readers and momentum by failing to make the date.
  • If book three in the series detours greatly from books one and two, warn your readers. They have expectations.

Rule Number Four: Keep Writing.

Writing and publishing another quality book goes a long way toward establishing an author. While you are writing, your previous books will draw additional reviews. Most of us do not debut on the New York Times bestseller list overnight. Indie careers build over time.

I am releasing my eighth Juli Alexander work this summer, bringing my total to six novels, a novella, and a short story. I have been immersed in this business since late 2011. My Indie published books will never win awards from YALSA or SCBWI because they do not qualify. However, my writing has won other awards. My books have ratings of 4 stars or higher on Amazon. Readers contact me to ask about the next book. In addition to working a full time job, I spend 20 to 30 hours per week writing, promoting, and studying the market. At this point in my career, I value gaining another reader more than I value the two dollars that I pocket from the sale of the ebook. I know what I want, and I'm going after it. I encourage each of you to do the same.

Juli Alexander

Juli Alexander writes fiction for teens. Her most popular series involves teen spies. Investigating the Hottie finaled in RWA's Golden Heart prior to publication. Juli released the sequel, Undercover with the Hottie in January and both books were Amazon Hot New Releases in the Teen Mystery Spy category. They continue to appear on the Top Rated and Bestseller lists in that category. Investigating the Hottie is available in audiobook as well. The Stirring Up Trouble series, about a teen witch with a talent for brewing potions, will come to a close this summer with the publication of the third book. Stirring Up Trouble will be available in audiobook format in early April. You can find Juli at, on Facebook, or @juli_alexander on Twitter.

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  1. Great post. Having survived the indie-author bashing phase, now I'm on the road to developing some street cred.

  2. I don't know if I agree 100%--one indy author won me over when he responded to a negative review professionally. That did more for me than just ignoring it altogether.

    However--I have seen people loose their heads on bad reviews too so I understand the danger fully.

    Great post!

  3. ...Weird how in our writing we have to avoid cardboard cut out characters but risk becoming one in real life. Chuck Wendig is a fan (it seems) of the F-word and rants regularly. It's true, this may have lost him some support, though at the same time, people at least know he's human, not to mention his online personality has probably gained him the audience his books are probably aimed at.

    Some people leave scathing reviews because they assume a book just popped out of thin air. They have no idea of the HUMAN behind it and the trouble they went through in creating it. It helps if people know you have a personality - I'm not saying a personality has to only be made up of swear words and opinions, but feelings and a POV do count for something, no?

    As for the not leaving a review on other authors work, what happened to critting? As long as you're tactful about it, I don't see the problem.

    Just my two pence...

  4. Various tips to improving/building street cred is always helpful for the unpublished. Thanks for sharing these.

  5. Great advice!!

  6. Thank you for the guidance. I'm just launching my career and in it for the long haul, so definitely taking all the good advice I can get. :)

    Also, sorry for not commenting here more. I keep work email open all the time and that doesn't allow me to use the Google or wordpress comment options that are accurate.

  7. Thanks so much for commenting everyone. I definitely agree that all advice does not apply to everyone. However, I do want to say that publicly critiquing a book that is already published isn't the same as critiquing at all. It's too close to the line of criticizing. If I had something to share with an author because it might benefit them, I would contact them privately. You do have access to most authors through messaging on Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter. I'm also not trying to say that you cannot have any personality. I'd have blue hair and a nose piercing if it weren't for my day job. However, when dealing with bloggers, cover artists, etc., I'd continue to strive for professionalism. Am I conservative when it comes to this? Absolutely, and you should keep in mind that I write for teens. However, when I look at the people in the industry whom I most admire, I find that their behavior fits within the guidelines in my blog post.

  8. Very thorough list. Thanks for the info.