From MCP Staff: We like to think we provide a lot of good information here on the blog, but sometimes it's best to hear it from someone who’s been there. Mill City Press author Gregory Alexander has seen a lot of success with his recent book The Holy Mark and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experience as an indie author. Keep reading for some great tips on what worked (and what didn’t) for him!
Why did you opt to independently publish your book? What are the benefits/drawback of that decision?
I managed to get a literary agent to take on The Holy Mark several years ago. To my knowledge she did absolutely nothing for me, and I just gave up for a while. Then in 2013 I reread my book and decided it was just too good to let go, so I decided to seek independent publication. A benefit is that the book was published very quickly and it didn’t have to be run past one publishing executive after another; it was published just the way I wanted it to be. One of the biggest drawbacks has been the bull-headed prejudice some review sites have against “self-published” books. They’re not willing to consider that a book that’s not published by a commercial house could have any literary merit. They don’t realize that being with a big publisher doesn’t mean the book’s any good. It just means a bunch of people think they can make money off of it.
How much of a marketing plan did you have in place before the book was published?
I had no marketing plan in place. I was totally clueless, except that I knew I wanted to get review copies to Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Fortunately PW Select (Publishers Weekly’s indie book section) decided to review it. That was the book’s first break.
What marketing strategies have you had the most success with?
I had a surprisingly good bit of success getting the book noticed in newspapers across Louisiana and a few in Mississippi. I just found email addresses for dozens of papers and sent them a cover letter and the book’s press release. You have to be organized, though, because it will probably take several follow-up emails and phone calls to get anything in print. I also contacted the public library of every parish (county) in Louisiana—all 64 of them—and quite a few bought copies of the book for their collections. I have to say that having a very positive review in Publishers Weekly didn’t hurt when it came to getting the libraries’ attention.
What marketing strategies didn’t work so well for you?
I had very little success getting the attention of national publications and newspapers outside of Louisiana and Mississippi. A few outright said that they do not review indie or “self-published” books. I was able to get myself booked on a couple of local radio programs, but I had no success with local television. I really believe that my book was just too serious and heavy for local TV here in New Orleans, which can’t seem to handle anything more intellectual than a cookbook. I was also disappointed with bookstores and local events like book fairs and festivals. With the exception of Louisiana’s State Festival, which I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at, I found local appearances were hardly worth the effort. I also would not waste my time trying to get a book into a lot of bookstores. If the books don’t sell, returns can be quite costly.
What advice would you give fellow indie authors in regard to marketing their work?
Find a list of indie book reviewers and email every single one of them who reviews your type of book. Since my book is literary fiction, I could eliminate about three-quarters of the review sites that I found. Try to get into PW Select. One thing they require is a 25 (or less)-word blurb description of the book. This was mine: “A disgraced and exiled Catholic priest from a powerful New Orleans family ponders his future and reflects on his twenty-five years in the priesthood.” I then used that in my emails to potential reviewers.
Contact writers of similar books. Since my book concerns clergy abuse, I contacted several people who had published books on that topic. Despite the fact that my book is fiction, several very prominent clergy abuse researchers read it and endorsed it. One even added it to his bibliography of suggested books on the topic. Don’t be afraid to contact successful writers who might be willing to read your book.
Since my book deals with a mentally disturbed Catholic priest from New Orleans, I decided to contact Anne Rice: She is from New Orleans, she has had a complicated relationship with Catholicism, and she is obviously interested in the aberrant mind. To my shock, she emailed me four days later, saying she read the book straight through and publicly endorsed it. Since Ms. Rice has a strong gay following, I decided to contact every LGBT magazine I could find an email address on, letting them know about the endorsement, and requesting a review. Two have already reviewed the book (in Baltimore and Houston), and several more have requested review copies.
Be respectful and persistent with potential reviewers. If they ignore you, wait a few weeks and hit them again. Besides Publishers Weekly, the only other national publication to feature my book so far is The Advocate Magazine—one of the nation’s leading LGBT publications. Initially I failed to get a notice from them, but months later I let them know about the Anne Rice endorsement and they just named my book one of their 15 Best Summer Reads. Ironically Ms. Rice’s new book is on the same list!
Are you working on a new book?
I am not actually working on one now, but I do have an idea. The Holy Mark was originally a short story that I published in a literary magazine a few years ago. I believe that another one of my published stories might also lend itself to expansion. I just started going through the story to test that theory.
Interested in picking up a copy of The Holy Mark by Gregory Alexander? Grab a copy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble today! Be sure to connect with Gregory on his website theholymark.com or on Facebook.
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