Lay the Foundation—Three Crucial Steps before Self-Publishing

By: Heather Day Gilbert

One day when I was throwing a piece of pine in our
outdoor wood-burner, a thought hit me. Before we could deposit and position
this extremely heavy stove in our yard, we had to build a sturdy foundation for
it. My dad and my husband had to dig out a large area, build a frame, and fill
it with concrete. And then we had to wait for it to set.            
I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to the
self-published author. Yes, you can jump in fast and just plant that stove (novel)
any old where. But over time, it will sink into the ground, go crooked, or
possibly even topple. 
You want a firm foundation, and foundations take
time. Please understand—I myself am allergic to waiting. Yet this advice is
consistent throughout self-publishing circles, and I want to give you the
biggest head start on success if you decide to self-publish.
The first thing to square away is your writing. Don’t skimp on perfecting it
as much as possible before releasing your first novel. Sorry, I know this is ye
olde “work on your craft” advice, and I’ve never loved it, either.
When I first jumped into the querying arena, I was convinced my novel was perfect.
Several years and *ahem* several rejections later, I can recognize that my very first “perfect” novel will take extensive edits before I’ll ever self-publish it. I’ve learned
some tricks of the trade along the way—from agents, editors, critique groups,
and my crit partner. This is where making friends in the industry really helps
you—finding a mentor a few steps ahead of you, who has been edited and knows things you don’t yet. Listen to and integrate sage advice (if it resonates
with your novel and writing style!).
is also crucial in this electronic age. I firmly believe authors need a blog
“home base” where readers can find them, but you don’t have to knock
yourself out talking about every topic under the sun to build your audience.
One brilliant new way to build an early reader base is to share your actual writing on your blog. (Caveat—don’t share
stuff you want to enter in contests or submit to an agent/publisher). But it’s
a great way to let people know if they like your stories or not.
Another way to build platform is to interview other
authors or review books. While it’s no guarantee of said authors’ support when
your book releases, you get to know them better, bring helpful content to your
readers, and extend your sphere of authorly influence. 
There are plenty of other platform-building techniques.
I like the advice that agent Amanda Luedeke 
of MacGregor
gives: you utilize the social media outlets you
feel most comfortable with. Try them all—twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, whatever—you
might be surprised where your readership migrates. I was unprepared for how
much I would love my FB Author Page, which has become a crucial and easy way to
reach my readers.
Besides working on writing and platform,
the self-publisher needs to lay a firm marketing
base. I believe you need at least three months to really focus on marketing before your novel releases.
For me, this translated into three months of spending at least two hours a day, brainstorming early readers, asking for
endorsements and reviews, and just trying to be fearless with approaching the
unapproachable. Not to mention hours spent perfecting an eye-catching book cover and Amazon blurb.

Even now that my book is out on Amazon, guess what?
I’m still marketing. Yes, the burden
is lighter as I now have readers who will seriously go to bat for my book. But,
to be blunt, self-pubbers have a more
expensive route to get their novels noticed
. Most larger review sites, like
Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, require a substantial fee to join, and even
then, there’s no guarantee your novel will be chosen to be reviewed. 
So you have to think outside the box…tapping into
the haunts where you know your readers hang out, finding smaller free review
sites, and incorporating techniques you see working for other authors. Free Kindle giveaways are a great way to reach readers outside your online sphere of influence, but it’s tricky to do if you use only Kindle KDP versus Select (I’ll save that for another post). 

One blog I love following for updated tips on indie publishing is Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn. Joanna got into the e-publishing world early-on and she has learned many things she’s happy to share. 

You might wonder who on earth I am, thinking I know
all this stuff. Trust me, the past few months, I spent plenty of time wondering
if I’d done anything right as I geared up for my book release. There were some
marketing hits and misses. There were plenty of people who ignored my emails
(but hey, I’ve been out on submission—I was ready for being ignored or
rejected!). And yet there were also
many people who got back to me, loved the book, and endorsed or reviewed it. 
Guess what? On release day, my Viking novel, God’s Daughter, hit three Amazon best-seller lists. I’m not saying this to toot my own
horn (it was totally God!), but I do feel that laying the foundation was
crucial to getting that out-of-the-gate buzz. Maintaining the buzz requires an extended and relentless marketing effort from the author, but it can be well worth it. God’s Daughter has stayed on the Amazon Norse/Icelandic historical best-seller list for two months now, largely due to the various guest interviews/blogposts I’ve been blessed to be part of. I can see a direct spike in sales when those go live.

I really believe self-publishing is going to bring
new voices to the fore in Christian fiction—voices that can’t be ignored. But
for your voice to be heard above all the din of traditional publishers’
marketing techniques, you have to lay that foundation, wait, and offer the best
product you can. 
then trust your readers. They will find you
Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to North America.
In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the
Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace
Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a voyage
to North America.

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and
hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself—and the secrets she
hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five
centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their
husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga,
offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir—daughter-in-law
of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in
North America.

Heather Day
enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen
years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective,
as well as ten years spent homeschooling her three children. Heather is the
ACFW West Virginia Area Coordinator.
You can
find Heather at her website, Heather
Day Gilbert–Author
, and at her Facebook
Author Page
, as well as Twitter,
Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads.
Her Viking novel, God’s Daughter, is on Amazon and Smashwords.