There are a wide range of factors that come into play for achieving success as a self-published author. Obviously, the biggest is probably just plain old writing talent. Having a good story to tell is helpful too. An insightful group of beta readers, an understanding of the importance of proofreading and editing, an eye for cover design, the ability to write a kick ass book blurb and a knack for social media won’t hurt your cause either.
But there’s one other element that’s rarely talked about and, in my experience as a book blogger, is often ignored by many indie authors to their great detriment. Sadly, this aspect of authoring is actually quite simple and takes very little effort. Why so many authors overlook it is baffling to me. And if I’m being honest, it’s also a bit irritating to see so many otherwise talented people just shooting themselves in the foot by disregarding this one thing. So what is this mysterious key to self-publishing achievement? Read on and find out.
Before the big reveal, I want to be perfectly clear: doing this one thing will NOT guarantee book sales. Nothing will. Being a successful indie author is an elusive and mysterious mixture of talent, self-awareness, marketing savvy and plain old luck. There is no secret magical formula everyone can follow to become a bestseller no matter how many websites or Facebook pages of over-the-top “Book Launch Toolkits” and “Secrets to author success” may tell you differently. It’s mostly hard work and perseverance. That said, this factor IS guaranteed to do no harm and almost certainly will have plenty of benefits regardless of how many books you sell.
So, without further ado (drum roll, please)
The most underrated key to self-publishing success is:
Be nice (aka Don’t be an asshole)
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking “That’s it? That’s your big secret? You really think that has anything to do with being a successful author?” Here’s my answer: you bet it does. Stay with me and I’ll explain.
Above and beyond
My friends and I have been running Knockin’ Books for over a year and in that relatively short time, we’ve been lucky enough to interact with a lot of authors both self- and traditionally-published. Some were just getting started with their first book, some have been at it for years and a few were even well known NYT and USA Today bestsellers. Many have been an absolute pleasure to work with, giving generously of their time, providing insightful responses to our interview questions, expressing appreciation for our reviews and promoting our blog posts on their social media accounts.
A trend we picked up on fairly early is that it was often some of the most successful authors who were the easiest to work with and most giving of their time. Their generosity would have been easier to understand if our blog had been around for years and was an institution in the publishing industry. But the truth is we’re still newcomers with limited influence. In other words, they didn’t go out of their way to be kind and helpful because there was something in it for them. They just did it to be nice. I’m not necessarily saying there’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship between being nice and big success but I don’t think they’re completely unrelated either.
Please and Thank You
Of course, being nice isn’t just about being generous with your time either (although that certainly helps) sometimes it’s simply about being courteous. For example, we’ve had more than a few authors react to our reviews—often reviews they practically begged us for—with strongly worded, sometimes even insulting responses. Besides being douchebaggery of the highest order, it’s also just plain stupid from a book marketing point of view.
And other than a few moments of mild pleasure gained from writing your super clever and snarky response, there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from being nasty with anyone, much less people who can directly affect your book sales. Regardless of how unfair or misguided you think their review may be, it’s always better to say nothing or better yet, simply say something short and simple like “Thanks for the honest feedback”. It won’t be as emotionally satisfying but at least you won’t be creating enemies for no reason.
We’ve also had a fair number of authors who we’ve given great reviews or have been included in one of our list posts make little-to-no effort to promote the review/post or even reach out to say “Thanks.” These authors have essentially been offered free, positive advertising that could directly benefit their sales if they only made a little bit of effort to reach out and help promote their own work. This is the exact opposite of savvy marketing.
Writer in the shell
As a group, it’s probably safe to say that many authors tend to be introverts by nature. Trust us, we get it. Not everyone has a sunny disposition and for some, interacting with people on a regular basis can be exhausting and stressful. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to go overboard with it. (In fact, you probably shouldn’t. It can come across as fake and smarmy.) All you have to do is be moderately friendly, make some effort and not be a prick.
As we mentioned earlier, being friendly and using good manners provide no guarantee of great reviews or monster book sales. But doing those small things will absolutely ingratiate you with bloggers, other authors and thousands if not millions of readers on social media—especially Facebook and Goodreads. And sometimes, that small bit of goodwill can make all the difference when it comes time for a reader to pick their next book or for a blogger to assign a review score or for a fellow author to make a recommendation. Now wouldn’t THAT be nice?