I haven’t talked a lot about self-publishing here on my blog, mostly because there are a lot of excellent websites out there with awesome resources for indie- and self-publishing (check out BookWorks and the Jane Friedman Blog for a start) and I wasn’t sure what I could add to the conversation.
But my dad was visiting recently and we got to talking about his success as a self-published author. He has two books out: The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot and CIA Super Pilot Spills the Beans. Both memoirs. Both self-published.
His USMC book has been inducted into the library at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida, and his Air America book was recently added to the shelves of the “Company Store” at CIA HQ in Langley, Virgina (and if you’re thinking about a Christmas gift for the pilot or Marine in your life… just saying… you should maybe click on one of those links above).
It occurred to me that his story is an excellent example of self-publishing done well. He’s sold thousands of books, more than most traditionally published books I’d wager, and had a lot of fun doing it. Here’s what I’ve learned by watching him.
Know Your Audience
From what I’ve observed, self-publishing works best when you have a very specific audience that you can target. I guess this could be called a platform, but when I think of “platform” I think social media, or a PhD or something.
For my dad, it was all about tapping the military flying community. He goes to all the reunions (which, frankly, he would go to anyway), and the air shows, and the flying museums. When he’s on a trip, he looks up all the local military themed spots, including bases, bookstores, veteran associations, etc. Sometimes he calls ahead. Sometimes he just stops by. But he always has books at the ready.
Invest In Your Book
My dad is a very good speller and excellent grammarian, but even he hired a professional editor to look over his book before he printed out the final version.
He also invested in professional cover design. It shows. I can tell you as a consumer, that when I see a shoddy cover, I assume that the writer gave an equal amount of consideration to their prose (that is to say – very little) and I’m less likely to buy that writer’s book. Unfair? Probably. But true.
Make it Easy
When my dad’s selling hard copies face-to-face, he doesn’t get fussy about it. As each customer steps up he gives them a book, they give him a twenty. Easy peasy. He works out the taxes and such on his own time. This way lines move quickly and no one gets tired of waiting around for an online credit card charge to go through.
My dad had bookmarks made up as promotional material. The front is a slender version of the cover art of his book. The back has a short description; a blurb from a fellow, former member of the CIA; and then (and this is the brilliant part) he tells people exactly how to order one.
He doesn’t bother giving a QRC to his Amazon page. He knows that any tech-savvy reader will find him there. But he also knows that a large percentage of his target audience isn’t online.
Knowing that vets are a huge part of his target audience, and that they tend to be older and more comfortable with things like paper, he keeps it super simple.
He carries these around with him everywhere he goes. Whenever he sees someone wearing a veterans cap or any kind of military gear, he hands them one and introduces himself.
He also sticks one under the windshield wiper of any car or van with a semper fi sticker on the back.
You’d be surprised how many sales this has gotten him.
Again, this could be considered part of his “platform,” but it’s all stuff he would be doing anyway. It’s just who he is.
- He’s active with his local writer’s group.
- His local paper has written about him.
- He writes pieces for veteran publications and websites.
- He even started a blog in 2011 to raise money so that he could buy the hulking frame of an old H34 helicopter and fix it up. It took years, and while he blogged about that, he also dropped in excerpts from his books, and other short stories he’s written.
If you’re ever in Sandpoint, Idaho and want to see the refurbished H34, just ask around for “the helicopter guy.” The whole town knows him. Here’s a video of him talking about his project:
The Long Haul
When you’re passionate about something, that shines through and compels people to want to hear your story. But it takes time and dedication. I guess the main take away here is that a successful self-publishing campaign is more than just a little side project.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges my dad faces is how to find time to work on book number three (he’s working on a memoir about his time flying helicopters in Alaska), while he’s so busy promoting his first two books.
But it’ll get done when it gets done. He’s having far too much fun to worry about it.