One of the major obstacles facing indie authors and small imprints in commercial publishing is discoverability: getting the word out about their books to prospective buyers. As more and more indies enter the sales arena, each new indie book is being released into a sea of print that's only getting larger every day.
While I've always been a strong advocate for the DIY, grass-roots approach to indie publishing and book promotion, I have always felt just as strongly that if indies want to be competitive, their books and their approach to sales must be professional. Now that the indie author revolution is well underway and we have a few years' worth of lessons learned to look back on, I have come to the conclusion that self-promotion, for the most part, is not working for indie authors.
Far too many of us make the mistake of promoting primarily to each other. Others don't know the difference between 'permission marketing' and SPAM. Most of us aren't cut out to be salespeople, but feel the pressure to sell so we take an amateurish stab at book promotion and author platform anyway, very often with poor results that end up alienating not only prospective buyers, but others in our industry as well (like book bloggers). Add to all of this the fact that going around telling everyone who'll listen how great your book is and why they should buy it isn't an effective marketing tactic---of course YOU think it's great: you're the author.
I've concluded that while it's still possible (and necessary!) for indie authors to manage their own sales campaigns and platform, their efforts will be much more effective if there's a buffer of some sort between the author with a book to sell and the target audience. Here are a few of those buffers:
1. Book Bloggers - a positive review from respected book blogger is one of the most effective promotional messages an author can hope for, and all it costs is the price of a review copy of the book. This blog post from Bestseller Labs explains exactly how to do it.
2. Form a Promo Ring With Other Authors and Small Publishers - while an indie author who's wearing his Indie Author hat and promoting his own book is likely to meet with a lot of cynicism and resistance, an indie author who's wearing his Reader hat and recommending someone else's book is perceived very differently. Get together with one or more of your fellow indies who have large networks ---but only those whose work you genuinely admire and who feel the same way about your work--- and spread the word to your networks on one another's behalf. Just remember not to overdo it: the hard sell is a turnoff no matter what you're trying to promote. You can hardly go wrong if you treat the exercise the same way you'd treat recommending any other book you've read and loved.
3. Paid Advertising - this one can be tricky, since it's all about targeting the correct demographic, creating an attractive ad, and spending wisely. Some authors have found targeted Facebook ads to be very effective, and Facebook makes it easy to control ad spending, too.
For authors of Kindle books, Kindle Nation Daily is worth a look. KND is one of the oldest, most heavily-trafficked and most respected sites dedicated to Kindle content, and they're totally transparent when it comes to sharing the results of advertising on their sites. KND has advertising options starting as low as $30, and since KND insists on a minimum quality level before agreeing to run advertising for a given book, KND site visitors know any ad they find there carries an implicit endorsement from KND as well. I feel so strongly favorable about KND, as of today, it's become the first outside site or service ever to receive an explicit endorsement on Publetariat.
These three ideas are just a start, there's plenty more indie authors can do to promote while maintaining a buffer zone. I'm not saying authors shouldn't take an active role in promoting their work, just that it shouldn't be obvious to whomever is on the receiving end that the promotional messages are coming from the author. That narrow divide between the author and the book-buying public can make all the difference in the world, because it allows the author to maintain his image as one who's only concerned with creating the best possible work for his readers, unconcerned with anything so venal or self-serving as making money.
Even though readers understand authors need to make a living, just as with any form of art or entertainment, the moment they start thinking the author cares more about the money than she does about the product, they will turn on her.