Image: Matthew Loffhagen
It’s tough out there for indie authors. Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a small press, you probably don’t have access to the budget or contacts of a major publisher, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Freedom is one thing that indie authors will always have more of than authors pursuing the traditional route to publication, and freedom mixes well with another attribute indie authors can draw on at their leisure: solidarity.
Collaborating with other indie authors can help your career in countless ways, from intensifying marketing efforts to saving money on editing and publication costs. In this article, I’ll be covering six of the ways you can collaborate with other authors to mutual advantage, but I’ll also be exploring why these methods work in the hopes that they’ll point the way to bespoke techniques that most suit your situation and path to success. At the end I’ll talk about how to formalize group arrangements to give yourselves real power in ways that matter, but for now, let’s start simple.
1. Engage on social media
I’ve written before about how vital social media is for self-publishing authors. It’s free advertising to a vast potential audience, and people who enjoy your content will pass it on, increasing your reach.
The biggest problem with social media – if you can call it a problem – is that it runs on direct time and effort. To get a lot of attention, you have to post well and often, and while there are ways to make your content more effective, there’s no workaround to this exchange.
The good news is that working with other indie authors makes the most time-consuming part of a good social media strategy far simpler. In Want To Be More Productive On Social Media? Here’s How, I talked about Julio Viskovich’s 4-1-1 formula. That is, the idea that social media content should work to the ratio of:
- 4 curated posts that relate to your field of interest,
- 1 new piece of content you made yourself,
- 1 link to a pre-existing piece of content or site that you own.
Those last two ratio points are up to you – one new thing you made and one thing you made earlier that’s still relevant – but the first four come from knowing where to look for content your audience will like.Social media is a content mill, but working with other authors can put you ahead of the game.Click To Tweet
That’s where other indie authors come in – they’re founts of new content that can help sustain your own social media in a mutually beneficial relationship where each self-made ‘1’ is part of each other’s ‘4.’ Of course, it’s still beneficial to look outside a tight-knit group occasionally, but sharing each other’s content – and sometimes working together to create it – makes social media marketing easier for everyone.
2. Swap and highlight reviews
Reviews are vital for gaining attention, and they’re a key part of many online algorithms that count towards whether books are recommended to (or even seen by) online buyers. If you have any kind of relationship with other indie authors, it’s vital that you’re reviewing each other’s books on every available venue. Don’t stop with Amazon and Goodreads – anywhere that accepts reviews, and especially anywhere that sells the work in question, is a beneficial place to leave even a short review.
It’s worth creating a list of such sites as you discover them so that your efforts are being continually refined (something I’ll return to later when we talk about formalizing group activities.)
A lot of sites that offer reviews also allow their users to rate reviews, a mechanism that again controls which reviews are seen and how scoring systems are weighted. If you’re part of an indie support group, don’t just leave a review; be sure to rate other good reviews highly, making them more visible. This may take the form of a thumbs-up, an up arrow, or clicking ‘Yes’ when asked if the review was helpful. One review is good, but a group of people all adding reviews and increasing each other’s review-visibility adds up fast.
3. Request copies through stores and libraries
Stores and libraries use a lot of metrics to decide which books to stock, and customers requesting certain books is one of them. Show up to a book store/library with the ISBN of another indie author’s book and request they order it.
Whether they do so or not is outside your control, but demand is demand. Of course, if your request is successful, be sure to confirm they did the right thing: if your budget allows, buy the copy you ordered, and definitely check it out from the library.Get organized – when indie authors review, recommend, and request each other’s work, everyone benefits.Click To Tweet
This isn’t just effective for new books – if people in your group have multiple books out, make a habit of spreading requests to different venues out across the year. Book requests aren’t overly common, so a few voices working in consensus can get results.
4. Formalize recommendations
Social media engagement means that your respective audiences are probably getting regular updates about your indie allies, but be sure to formalize those recommendations in places that matter. Add a page to your website that recommends other indie authors and add backmatter to your next book that specifically recommends their work.
This is a type of freedom that authors who work with major publishers often don’t have, so make the most of it. You don’t have to remain within a single publishing house or avoid supporting someone who’s viewed as competition to another author you’ve never even met, and nor do the people who recommend you in return.
Sites like Goodreads have themed lists where you can recommend books, and Pinterest, StumbleUpon and Reddit have similar features. Add your indie allies and ask them to add you in turn. You can even write an article or blog post about the book/author in question – that’s a type of content that authors can’t really generate for themselves, but it’s something indie authors can do for each other.
5. Share contacts and host events
This one’s pretty obvious, but it also takes some thought. If you’re a self-publishing author, you may think you don’t have any contacts – and you might be right – but contacts only become contacts when the stars align.
As a writer, I know other writers, and I write for venues. When one of those venues is looking for writers, or even a specific feature on a given subject, I’m able to recommend other writers who I know will do good work. In that moment, I become a contact, and that’s the reality of networking: the idea isn’t that you schmooze your way into a new position, it’s that enough people know your name that you’re made aware of as many opportunities as possible.
Host events where a bunch of writing types can meet and become contacts for each other, and team up to create opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise. Literary fairs are a lot less intimidating if you’re in a group, as are readings or other types of guerrilla marketing opportunities. A group of authors are also a group of content creators – without doing anything ‘extra,’ you still have a lot of material you can use to support marketing endeavors one author couldn’t support alone.Working together, indie authors can organize marketing events that attract new readers.Click To Tweet
6. Make group purchases
Here’s where things get a little scarier. Whether in the role of consumer or producer, there’s power in numbers, and a sufficiently organized group of self-publishing authors can make real savings.
First there are the things you can share. Whether we’re talking about lectures, classes, or software, there’s often a way that groups can share access without paying for individual access. If you’re involved with an author’s group, a scheduled viewing night where you all watch the same MasterClass or Skillshare lecture gives you all the benefits of this service for a fraction of the cost.
Likewise, shared access to ProWritingAid or a similar service is achievable with some planning and teamwork. This kind of sharing of resources can open doors that were previously sealed by cost, not just helping you develop skills and accrue resources, but simultaneously educating your entire group. This is something that goes back to point 5 – it’s a lot easier to organize a successful event when you’ve all just taken the same class on how to do it.
Of course, resource sharing isn’t where group purchasing ends – there’s also group bargaining. A lot of editing, marketing, and self-publishing services will offer discounts on a large enough order. In short, if you’re willing to spend a lot collectively, you often don’t have to spend as much individually. For many authors, that doesn’t really help. You’re not going to change the length of fiction you write or delay publishing until you have multiple projects ready in a bundle. For groups, however, this poses an opportunity.
Are you having your book edited, having a cover designed, or engaging some kind of marketing service? Your individual costs may shrink if instead of asking for one service, you’re asking for four or five. It can take a lot of co-ordination, but bargaining together means you’re often offering a given business a lot of work in exchange for a discount they can live with (but, crucially, a discount that means something to the individual members of your group.)
This doesn’t have to be a massive endeavor – if you’re friends with another indie author, there’s the potential that by teaming up you might be able to net some kind of discount with just the two of you. More authors mean more money and thus greater potential savings, but group bargaining is a sliding scale.
Of course, you shouldn’t delay your book for a year just to save some money, but some coordinated group bargaining can lead to big savings. If you’re someone who isn’t sure whether they can stretch to a professionally designed cover or not, this may be the technique that changes your circumstances.
Finally, there’s co-operative publication. This technique depends on close-knit, well-organized groups, but the rewards can be incredible. Basically, the idea is that in terms of marketing, you open your group’s content up under a single umbrella. This doesn’t mean that you lose your rights as an author or officially set up a small press, but that when considering deals, discounts, and promotion, you draw on each other’s work. Maybe Author A’s new book comes with a free copy of Author D’s oldest work, or perhaps Author B and Author C bundle their new books together into a single deal or product.
This type of approach allows authors to tap into each other’s readerships and gives them the content they need to offer deals that increase readership and catch the attention of major marketing services. You can even go further and start publishing as a group, creating a larger brand that merges different readerships into something more cohesive. When it comes to marketing, growth is exponential, so this kind of change isn’t just ‘more readers’ but potentially the ability to move up into a different arena of exposure.
Of course, co-operative publication gets complicated quickly. Author D isn’t expected to just offer their work for free – it’s more likely that they’re doing is partly for the exposure and partly for a cut of Author A’s increased sales. That’s where formalized procedure comes in.
Formalizing group actions
Helping out other indie authors is one thing, but working as something closer to a collective is another. If that’s your aim, organization is the name of the game, and that means paperwork.
Earlier, I mentioned keeping a list of sites on which you review and recommend each other’s work. The idea here isn’t just that you’re more effective but that everyone knows what to expect from one another. Agreeing to review and recommend each other’s work is wooly, whereas agreeing to review and recommend on specific sites or a certain number of sites is far clearer.
That’s the kind of approach you’ll need to take if you want to cross the line from ‘we help each other out sometimes’ to ‘we’re working together on marketing.’ Everyone needs to know what’s expected, have access to shared resources, and be getting a fair deal.Cooperative author groups give indie authors a surprising amount of influence.Click To Tweet
If this is a route you’re interested in, my strong advice is to work out the rules way before you expect to need them. Write down a charter expressing the intent behind what you’re building together and, at every turn, formalize the approach you’re taking and the reasoning behind it.
There will still be bumps in the road, but this way everyone is on the same page. There’s nothing worse than a group of four authors where three are consciously working together and the fourth is doing what they can, when they can, if it occurs to them in the moment. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them and what the rules are, and then stick to those rules religiously. If the rules say someone can’t be involved in something, either stick to them or formally change your rules. No-one should ever be surprised by their responsibilities or unclear on the consequences of a given choice. Write down your rules, hold an AGM, and take your new organization seriously.
That’s not to say that every member has to have the same experience. If Authors A, B, and C write horror and Author D is writing their memoir, it doesn’t make sense to include Author D’s work in a bundle deal. Do they still get a cut of that venture as part of the group? Do they get a vote on whether it takes place?
There are many different answers, but your answer should exist way before the question comes up. Begin with principles you all agree on – for example, ‘if the group is affected by a decision, every member needs a voice in making it’ or ‘every opportunity is its own project and only those involved get a say ’ – and build your rules out from there.
Finally, design a process for settling disagreements and make it easy to leave. If you’re deadlocked on a choice, how do you move forwards? Is there a set majority that needs to be reached or do the ‘nays’ automatically have it? Likewise, if you have a funding pot to which everyone contributes, what can someone withdraw if they decide the group isn’t working for them? Again, set clear rules, agree to them, write them down, and stick to them rigidly. The one occasion where the rules were suspended could later be used as evidence that they’re more like guidelines. When in doubt, vote and formalize your conclusions. It’s a life-saver when unexpected disagreements arise.
Don’t live in fear, though – disagreement is a healthy part of teamwork, and this type of teamwork can be a complete gamechanger for indie authors.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Those are just some of the ways that indie authors can team up to improve their marketing. Swapping reviews, requesting each other’s work, engaging on social media, and using teamwork to create opportunities can help close the gap between self-publishing authors and those with a major publisher backing their marketing, while formalizing group efforts is an avenue only independent authors can take all the way.
What marketing efforts have you achieved with a group, and how did you do it? Let me know in the comments, and check out Grow Your Author Brand Through Networking. Here’s How, How To Write A Book Marketing Plan In 13 Easy Steps, and Everything You Need To Know About Guerrilla Book Marketing for more great advice on this topic.