The Realities of Independent Publishing #4

By   Hannah Bickerton 6 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

In this series of blog posts we summarise a decade’s worth of wisdom from our experience on the front line of independent publishing, sharing the top trade secrets we believe every aspiring author should know.

The publishing industry presents so many wonderful options for writers today. That being said, it can be an overwhelming industry to navigate. For those looking to publish independently, there is so much practical information about the writing process, the steps to publication and how to go about it all. But what we don’t see as much of are the honest realities of independent publishing, the choices you should or shouldn’t be making, and the implications of those choices.

Over the last ten years whitefox has worked closely with over 600 independent authors, assisting them in producing their books and taking them to market. During that period we have worked on fiction, memoir, arts, culture, history, cookery, business, children’s books, and everything in between. We understand the intricacies of the process and what factors can dictate whether a book rockets or fizzles out.

#4 When it comes to marketing, you have to plan ahead. Here is how you should spend your time.

Don’t be fooled by the old mantra, ‘If I build it, they will come.’ The modern consumer has a limited attention span and is easily distracted by the constant flurry of content and bombardment of ads. They are also incredibly savvy and can instantly discern what’s real and what’s fake. If you don’t have much of an existing platform, don’t be put off by our earlier point because there are still several things you can do to get ahead. But you will need to get ahead. In many of our conversations with aspiring authors, the time is spent, in most part, on the (often impressively researched) details of book production rather than on marketing. Don’t leave it until the last minute to think about the marketing, which could, in fact, start well in advance of you even writing the book! But, realistically, you are going to need at least six months leading up to publication to put together a considered campaign. Here is how you should be spending that time.

  1. The very first thing you need to do is identify your audience. whitefox has supported the production of an incredible range of books, from explosive memoirs on Malaysian politics to deluxe coffee-table books literally about coffee! These may sound like niche projects, but when it comes to actual sales, the books that far exceed the author’s initial expectations all have one thing in common: their audience is genuinely engaged with the content. And oftentimes the nicher the better, because what you are then putting in front of your audience is deeply connected to them, whether that’s a community of coffee lovers or disgruntled Malaysian voters.
  2. Once you’ve determined who you’re targeting, the harder part is to access them and convince them to care. Why are you speaking on this matter, what makes you credible, what’s your backstory? At its simplest this involves sharing opinions and interesting content in relation to your future book subject on social media and online, responding to any comments in order to slowly but surely build up a following. A more committed strategy would be to create original content yourself (blogs, newsletters, videos, podcasts, etc.), which can really solidify your profile in any given space. What you are doing with all of this is building up your foundation in preparation for the introduction of your book. Note that, so far, none of our advice has been about directly selling anything. At this stage it’s less about what your audience can do for you, and more about what you can do for them. Your key objective is to gain trust, thereby establishing an authentic audience who truly back you. One engaged connection is worth one hundred flakey ones.
  3. When you are a month or so away from publication, you want to start introducing the book. You can start earlier, but be careful not to over-saturate, which can be irritating. People like interesting and varied content, so be creative in your approach. Pick out engrossing quotes, offer sneak peaks of what’s inside. Create imagery that is colourful and attention-grabbing in a feed and keep a consistent visual tone that is recognisably you. Let everyone know when your book is out, where they can buy it and why they should buy it. If you’re creating additional content such as a blog or newsletter, make the topics relevant to those covered in your book just before and across its launch. Let your audience know that if they are interested in this particular article, they can learn more about it in your book. And it doesn’t stop on publication day. Keep grafting, keep talking about your subject and keep communicating directly with your readers.

Entrepreneur, coach and motivational speaker Alan Lucas published his self-help book, You Don’t Need Therapy: 7 Steps to Sort Your Sh*t Out with whitefox at the beginning of 2021, but had been consistently curating his platform a long time before he even decided to publish. His online presence isn’t huge compared to some, with a following of 3.2k on Twitter and 11.2k on Instagram, as well as an effectively minimalist website and newsletter. However, Alan is consistent in publishing content and actively interacting with his audience across his platforms, which makes a huge difference. The book’s title is provocative and intriguing, a catalyst for conversation that will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers and did result in Alan receiving some challenging comments, but he always makes sure to address such comments personally and with a tone that is disarming and straightforward as well as empathetic. ‘The book is aimed at anyone who wants to have a more fun and fulfilling life,’ he said. ‘We’re all starting from a different place as we have our own unique set of experiences, but the core issues are all the same when we look at the bigger questions that lie behind our lives. We can all become more, and when we grow, we will feel better about our life and we will also be a greater gift to those around us.’ Essentially, Alan did the work. He was prepared; he did the research, knew his audience and how to speak to them, and has taken every opportunity to engage with them in a meaningful and down-to-earth way. You Don’t Need Therapy is now on its third reprint.

The only cost with all of the above is your time. If you have budgeted for marketing you will want to think wisely about how you allocate those funds. Again, revisit the first question on who your core reader is and work back from there. Marketing and publicity specialists are not cheap and you will have to pay for their time to produce creative campaign ideas and to action them, in addition to any paid media spend. For some books this is a worthwhile investment, but for so many authors who publish independently, there is so much value in the audience sitting in right front of them.

Read more about Alan Lucas’s book You Don’t Need Therapy here.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.