Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

I'm back, baby! I'm so excited to be continuing this series!

In Part 4 we talked about harnessing the power of community by setting you up in the right communities and having ways for people to reach you: a social media presence, an author website, and a mailing list/newsletter. But if you think that’s where the power of community ends... you can think again! I’ll explain.

So, now that you have a website, making you easy to find, and have a mailing list for those who aren’t on social media, and a proper, professional social media presence. You also have your book written, edited, proofread and formatted. Your cover is also ready to go and everything is neat and tiny in an epub file. You are SO CLOSE!

But hold on your horses... don’t try to jump the gun. Don’t hurry. This is your debut. Take your time and make sure you’re doing it all properly.

Hopefully by now, you’ve understood how important community really is. Reading is a solitary experience, sure, but humans are social beings and we like to talk about the things we enjoy. The dawn of social media means any individual in their basement can be a book reviewer and/or critic. All they need is a social media page. And yes, one small reviewer doesn’t hold much weight, but dozens or hundreds of them do.

But why send your book to people in the first place before the book is even out? Well, first of all, this is what we call Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs). And you’d be sending out ARCs for the same reason traditional publishers do: to entice pre-orders, to generate buzz around your book and get some esrly reviews. The more buzz you get and positive early reviews your book gets, the more chances you will have that more people will pick it up, read it, and review it in a snowball effect that will hopefully kickstart you well onto your official release day with some momentum behind you already.

You’d think the most effective way of marketing your book would be to send ARCs to newspapers who have professional critics, then, no? No! Those poor journalists are already flooded by the traditional publishers with hundreds of books a year, and they can’t possibly keep up. You can try them, sure, but your likelihood of success is low, and I think it’s better to focus your time and effort into something that is more likely to yield results. You’re a self-publisher, so you cannot compete with the budget and the notoriety of traditional publishers. Don’t even bother trying to do it while releasing your first ever novel. If you are going to do it anyway... don't say I didn't warn you.

A much, much better approach is to embrace the indie community as your new-found family. And by that, I mean approaching influencers and book reviewers that are very, very neatly included in your exact target audience. Best of all? It’s hard work finding them, but it doesn’t cost a thing.

Determining your target audience

You want your book to be read, right? But you’re a debut author! Chances are, no one has heard of you yet, as active as you SHOULD be in the community you write for.

No one knows if you’re a good writer yet. You have no ‘street cred’. You may not need the validation of traditional publishers to thrive, you need the validation of the community, and the community looks up to its influencers and community members.

But the community has so many people, and there are also so many communities. It’s all so confusing. How do I know who to approach?

You start by defining who your target audience is.

If you’re writing romance, your target audience is ‘romance readers’. Ok. That’s a start. But let’s go deeper. Let’s say your book is a Paranormal Romance. That narrows it down even further because only a few Romance readers like to read Paranormal Romance. So, let’s dig in even deeper. Let’s say you write Smutty Paranormal Romance. Oof, nice! That narrows it down even further, since obviously not all readers of Paranormal Romance like their books steamy and smutty. You’ve got yourself a niche audience here. Now you just need to know how to find them. Needless to say you need to know exactly what genre, subgenre and niche your book is.

Finding the ‘thought’ leaders of that audience

When I was starting to figure out who to approach about my book, I was already a pretty active member of the community. And by ‘community’ here, I mean I was already following and being followed by other writers, authors, instagrammers, book reviewers and youtubers who read and/or write in my particular niche: epic fantasy for adults.

In that sense, I wasn’t starting out as a complete newcomer to the community. I already had short stories published in two magazines and some people recognised my name, which is why I mentioned you should be active in communities well before you intend to publish your novels. This also meant I already had a good idea who my target audience was, but I decided to go even deeper and more niche.

I knew that not all Fantasy readers liked Epic Fantasy and not all Epic Fantasy readers liked some things that my book featured: morally grey and anti-hero-like characters, in the same way that not all fans of Lord of the Rings like Game of Thrones. This meant I had to be very careful to get myself the best start I possibly could and select potential ARC readers to approach who I really, really thought would like my book based on other books they had read.

So, when I was looking for potential ARC reviewers, I asked myself the following questions:

  • Do they read epic fantasy?
    • Do they read and enjoy morally grey characters?
      • Do they often read and review self-published books?

        If the answer to all those three questions was yes, then I could approach them. The last question is particularly important because a LOT of fantasy youtubers, instagrammers and readers in general simply do not buy or read self-published books. Don’t ask me why, they just don’t. So if you’re browsing their youtube channel or scrolling through their page and you don’t see any self-published books, ask yourself if they’re willing to make you the exception. Most likely not, and approaching them might be a waste of your time. It’s better to focus time and effort in those who have given 'evidence' that they are more likely to say yes to your request.

        So, figure out what books have recently seen self-publishing success in the same genre, subgenre and niche as your book. I’m not talking about hundreds of thousands of ratings, but identify those books which have done solidly. Hopefully these are books that you like and think have very, very similar vibes to yours.

        Then go to Goodreads and search for them there. There you can find everyone who has reviewed it in the past. Click for 5-star reviews only and you’ll see everyone who has rated and reviewed it 5 stars. You can stalk their profiles and if they seem to be a reviewer with a platform (Instagram, youtube, tiktok, etc), you can follow them. You’ve just found a thought leader or influencer in your niche. That person will be the perfect candidate to be an ARC reader for you.

        Now do this all over and over again until you have a pretty sizeable list of reviewers. I’d aim for definitely more than 150 across all platforms: blogs, Instagram, youtube, goodreads itself, and tiktok (depending on your niches).

        The size of their platforms should also be a big factor in deciding who to approach. If you try the biggest ones, chances are they will ignore you since they get hundreds of requests like yours every single day. No, someone with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram or on Youtube isn’t going to read the debut book of an unknown author. If there are exceptions, I'm sad to say I haven't heard any. I’m sorry to be harsh here, but if you think you will be ‘lucky’ or they’ll make an exception for you and that you ‘just never know’, I’m sorry to say you are just wasting your efforts.

        Instead, look for people with smaller platforms. You’re just starting out, so be humble. People with small platforms can grow their following just as you grow your career. You can grow together and they’ll be thankful you thought of them as a potential ARC reader despite them having such a small platform, which makes them more likely to actually read your book and review it, which is your end goal here.

        I’ve made some REALLY good friends by doing this. I’ve published two books now, and some of the small reviewers I approached who were also just starting out have grown their platforms now and I’m very good friends with some of them. Don’t be snobbish about this. The size of the platforms doesn’t matter at all, especially not at this stage. There’s no silver bullet and no hacking the system. You are starting out, so you should just be happy people want to read your book and even respond to your requests in the first place.

        So, exactly how do you approach them? That's something for Part 6!

        (Continues in Part 6)