The Writers Circle

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RECAP: Self-Published to Bestseller! with Eva Lesko Natiello

by Mally Becker
the-memory-box-ebook-smallAfter 81 rejections, self-published author Eva Lesko Natiello had had enough. It didn’t matter that self-publishing was unfamiliar territory. That was no excuse not to learn.

And learn she did.  Since she took on the “indie author” mantle, her suspense thriller, THE MEMORY BOX, has sold more than 100,000 copies and appeared on The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

Natiello shared her journey up the steep learning curve of self-publishing with a rapt audience at The Writers Circle’s Speaker Series event on Sunday, February 5, at MONDO in Summit, NJ.

“I wasted four years waiting for agents to tell me that my book was worthy of publication,” Eva said.  “Then I decided: let readers decide what’s worth reading, not agents or publishers.”

Eva emphasized several critical tasks that will help readers embrace a self-published book. First, make sure that it’s indistinguishable from books released by traditional publishers like Penguin or Random House. Next, decide what publishing platforms you’ll use.  Finally, set your marketing/promotion plan in motion.

Self-published authors need to build a publishing team, starting with a professional copyeditor. “This is a given,” Eva said. Your self-published book can’t have grammar, usage or spelling mistakes. It may also be wise to hire a developmental editor along the way, someone to look closely at plot, pacing, and other structural issues.

Once your book is truly ready for publication, you need to put together the physical package, starting with a book designer. “I’m begging you. Don’t give the job of designing the cover to your neighbor’s son.” Eva laughed. She advised using a professional designer to create a cover that can compete with traditionally published books in your genre. And the book’s interior is just as important. Eva suggested as a great resource for guidance, examples and design packages.

Beyond cover and page design, she advised using a strong tag line or catch phrase to help people connect to your book. “Don’t go into the water,” warned the cover of JAWS.  “Be careful what you search for,” cautions THE MEMORY BOX.  You’ll also need blurbs: flattering comments from published authors or others who love your story. And jacket copy – that two-paragraph description that goes on the back of your book.

Indie authors – all authors, for that matter – need an online presence: an author website, Facebook page, an author profile on Goodreads, and more.  “When you self-publish, you become a small business owner, an author-preneur, with control over your book’s marketing, promotion, and sales,” Eva said.

But how do you compete with the five million books on Amazon? “You use promotion tools that traditional publishers can’t,” Eva shared. “You can put your book on sale, issue your next book in six months, next week, after lunch! You have ‘speed to market.’ If I sold my next book to Random House, it would take two years to be released.”

Next, you have to consider your platform: will you release your story in electronic form only or also as a paperback? Will you utilize Amazon, Nook, Kobo or “all of the above” to distribute your electronic product? The platform(s) you choose will affect the types and timing of promotions you can offer, as well as where your book might be distributed.

For the ebook version of THE MEMORY BOX, Eva gave exclusivity to KDP Select, Amazon Kindle’s direct publishing arm. “When Amazon has an exclusiveon your ebook,” she said, “it will make it available for free to all of its Amazon Prime members through Amazon Unlimited.”

“Why would you give away your book for free?” Eva’s voice rose at the very thought. “You need reviews! And those early readers will provide them. Reviews, even not-spectacular reviews, impact Amazon’s algorithms and where your story appears in reader searches.” she explained.

And if bookstore and library sales are your goal, Eva suggests making a paperback version of your book through Ingram Spark.  “Bookstores don’t like buying from Amazon, since they’re competitors,” she pointed out.

Once you’re ready to launch, you need to find ways to get the buzz going.  Eva suggested asking your inner circle to post reviews on Amazon the day your book is released.  “Aim to have ten to twenty reviews in place quickly. That will encourage other readers to purchase and improve your placement in Amazon’s algorithms.”

She suggests reaching out to book bloggers who cover your genre and asking them to review your book, run an interview, host a guest post, or offer a book giveaway.  Then there are sites like Bookbub that reach readers with a curated list of deeply discounted e-books. Each of these channels is a chance to increase awareness which you can funnel into sales.  If you time things right, all the publicity will land on your pre-determined target date when your book will be on a deep-discounted exclusive, giving you the chance to rack up sales numbers.

Eva advised newbie self-publishers to begin by researching what you don’t know. “Use search terms like, ‘worst mistakes I made when I self-published.’ You’ll save a lot of time if you learn from others’ mistakes.”

And obviously there’s a lot to learn.  But Eva Lesko Natiello’s experience proves that, for an ambitious author-preneur, self-publishing can be the route to your ultimate bestseller dreams.

Mally Becker is TWC’s Outreach & Development Coordinator and recently completed her first novel.

About Judith

Judith Lindbergh's latest novel, Pasture of Heaven, is about a nomad woman warrior on the Central Asian steppes in the 5th century BCE. (And there really were!) Her first novel, The Thrall's Tale, is a literary historical novel about three women in the first Viking Age settlement in 10th century Greenland. The Thrall's Tale was a Booksense Pick and a Borders Original Voices selection. Judith is also the founder and director of The Writers Circle, a creative writing program offering workshops for children and adults.

6 comments on “RECAP: Self-Published to Bestseller! with Eva Lesko Natiello

  1. amjusticewrites
    February 13, 2017

    These are all great tips, but I’d love a deeper dive into exactly how one can break out of the pack, when you’ve checked off all the above boxes. Also, I know “speed to market” really does seem to be the key to success for indie authors, but I’d love to brainstorm on ideas for those of us who simply don’t or can’t turn out the next book six months after the first.

    • Judith
      February 14, 2017

      I agree that not every writer is prone to launching a new book every six months. Certainly I’m not! Eva would probably be willing to chat more. You can reach her through her website: Let her know that you read about the event at TWC’s blog. Hope you’re doing well. – Judith

      • amjusticewrites
        February 14, 2017

        I’ve also been reading more work by fellow indie authors, and sadly this rush to produce work quickly promotes sloppiness, with rushed writing and poor editing, leading to shallow characterizations, major plot holes, and backfilled narrative conveniences. Of course, maybe that’s just my rationalization for why I’m so slow! 🙂

  2. evanatiello
    February 14, 2017

    Hi amjusticewrites, thanks for your thoughtful comments. As far as speed-to-market goes, it’s not something I’ve personally taken advantage of as far as publishing multiple books is concerned. I’ve only published one book and once it was published I concentrated more on marketing than writing the second book. At least for the first year. Plus I am a slow writer. But even if it takes a year to write a book, or three years or five years or longer, you still get your book to market faster than the traditional route. I absolutely agree with you that the authors who are more focused on “churning out the books” may lose some quality if they are rushing to produce and certainly if quantity is more important to them. I always laugh when I read ads for courses that teach “how to write faster.” I don’t want to write faster, I want to write better. As for how to break away from the pack, I believe the answer to that is marketing. And all of the things we discussed, no matter how little, add up. If I could pick just one that I thought helped my personal journey, I think it would be connecting with readers. Whether it was through book clubs, Goodreads, book signings, comments on my website, giveaways, and “talking” to readers through guest visits on book blogs, readers love to connect with authors and they love to talk about books. It’s a win win win. Good luck to you!

  3. evanatiello
    February 15, 2017

    Reblogged this on Eva Lesko Natiello and commented:
    In case you couldn’t attend, here is a wonderful recap of the Writers Circle Speaker Series talk I gave last weekend about self-publishing.

  4. Jane Wilson
    April 14, 2017

    Reblogged this on Jane Wilson.

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