A great way to build your audience before your book is published is to start sharing stories and drafts of your book ahead of time. It’s really never too early to start. One year, three years, five years…it simply doesn’t matter.
Social and beta publishing should be fun. It’s about:
- creating community around your interests and your work
- aligning yourself with other writers
- making friends and important connections
- obtaining feedback
- testing the market
In other words, this process should provide excitement and joy. If you don’t enjoy one outlet, find a platform and community you love.
Here are some tools that’ll get your writing in front of your readers and future book buyers during your book development phase.
Wattpad is a popular sharing site for young adults but the platform is trying to “grow up.” I’m not sure they’ve really achieved that, but if you’re writing YA or romance you’ll do well to participate here. And I mean really participate. It can be a bit tough for a seasoned author to engage because a lot of the writers are so young and painfully new at the craft. But if you’re naturally attracted to talking to and writing for young people, you’ll do well there. I published some stories from a book I’m working on—The China Road Motorcycle Diaries—as an experiment there.
Scribd buried their free social publishing tools when they started their “all you can read” service, but it’s still there and I like it. (I keep hoping they’ll open it up again and create the kind of engagement they enjoyed a few years ago.) Upload your story to share and make it public or private. People can rate it and comment on it. (It’s actually a nice platform for a virtual writing group.) You can even sell your stories or completed books. You’ll find my China Road Motorcycle Diaries there, too.
Scribd also provides a document preview widget that you can embed in your website. I love it! Here’s my free Motorcycling for Women booklet, embedded right into this blog post.
If you’re not ready to share your writing with the world yet, you can share it with “friends” or groups of friends on Facebook using Facebook Lists and Facebook Notes. You can assign certain Facebook friends to a list and post just to them. Notes lets you share long posts and an image and share them with your friends, a segment (list) of your friends, or publicly. It’s really a beautiful way to publish, and I don’t think people take enough advantage of this feature. You can see my public Notes here.
Digital E-Commerce Platforms
While feedback and market testing are essential for writing the best book possible, another major benefit of social and beta publishing is the opportunity to start building your fan base long before your book is even published. Beta readers who sign up to read your book through a digital e-commerce platform provide their e-mail address as part of the process. Use these contacts to increase your e-mail marketing list and to ask for feedback. (I recommend MailChimp.)
Gumroad, Selz, and Sellfy are e-commerce platforms that allow you to sell or give away your digital or physical products. They’re easy to use and provide widgets that you can embed in your own author website to allow readers to download your beta or finished book with ease. These services are great alternatives to PayPal and can serve you through the beta publishing phase onto the direct sales phase.
Aer.io, acquired by Ingram last year, is yet another direct sales outlet for your e-books. Set up a store and customize your sales page to match your brand. Embed it on your author website or drop a buy button on any page. Share, preview, and sell your products directly from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media sites. You can even curate a selection of the 14 million products already on Aer.io and offer them for sale for a commission.
I like Leanpub for its iterative and serial publishing capabilities. It’s a true beta-to-final book publishing platform that isn’t used nearly enough in the creative writing world. (It was developed for computer book authors.)
These aren’t the only ways to get your writing into the hands of your readers. You may find your best audience on Pinterest or LinkedIn. And don’t forget forums! Google: “forums <your interest>.” I’m active in a forum called Adventure Rider and often post ride reports and stories there.
First, Publish Small
Many authors are understandably eager to get their books to publication, but this can be a mistake. I like to call this “the embarrassment of premature distribution.” Don’t miss out on these low-stakes opportunities to get help with design problems, plot gaps, formatting issues, and any number of other concerns. Perfecting your manuscript before you commit to big-league distributers will make for even better results in the long run.
“Premature distribution is one of the most embarrassing mistakes made by self-published authors. Avoid it by starting small, publishing beta versions of your book, and growing your author platform as you perfect it. You don’t want to publish and then discover copy-editing errors, realize you should have invested in a better cover design, or wish you’d spent more time on marketing copy, metadata, and back of book information. So upload your book in places that allow you to publish, sell, remove, revise, and republish in just minutes.” – Carla King, “ Advice for New Indie Authors from Self-Publishing Veterans,” Publishers Weekly