Succeed As A Self-Published Author: Think Like An Indie Musician



Not so long ago the only way for a book to see the light of day was through a publishing deal. Same goes with musicians - a record deal was your ticket. Now through online resources and new technologies anyone can write and publish a book or write and record an album. There are really excellent books and albums that are independently distributed, and some really awful ones…and, let's be honest, the same can be said about published authors and signed musicians.  Obviously there are pros and cons to both sides of the story. What it really boils down to is the quality of your content, creating an excellent product, letting people know about it, and where they can buy it.

Eight years ago I left my publicity post at a major record label and started a company to serve the independent music community. There is an incredible group of indie musicians here in Nashville who have not only made a living making music but have developed successful careers by establishing strong connections with their fans and taking the bull by the horns and doing it themselves. The lessons that I learned from successful independent musicians are a fantastic roadmap for authors who don't want to rely on a publishing contract to get their book career rolling or who want to establish a strong online presence, which will not only attract fans but maybe even a book deal.

Every author can sell their own book by taking some cues and inspiration from the independent music community. Here are seven points to consider:


Let me ask you this: do you think a publishing company would be more willing to sign an author who already has an online presence, has a history of sales, has established an audience, and made a name for themselves OR an author who has been waiting around for a publisher to do all of that for them? I always look at a publishing company as salt to an already amazing stew. You have all of these amazing ingredients in a pot working together and it's already delicious. But if you add a bit of salt to bring out the flavors and draw from what is already working, it makes it amazing.

What a publishing company does really well is take an author to the next level. It's the same way in the music industry. If you are looking for a publisher to take you from obscurity to being well known, you have another think coming. It's the author's job to get all of the elements rolling (building a social media platform, creating an online presence, getting your book in front of others, etc.) and at a certain point a publisher could come in to grow you from there.


Musicians know that they can't make a living only selling albums. Their album is a way to draw fans to shows, to buy merch, and so on. The same goes with authors - your book, especially your first book, is a marketing tool to draw in new fans to want to buy your next book, to establish you as an expert in your field, to give you credibility as a writer, to get more speaking gigs, to teach, and so on. Your book is a magnet for other opportunities and for more sales for your next book. 


The word "free" is a bad four letter word in the publishing world, but it's something that the independent music community has embraced and thrived from. Musicians know that the best way to establish a fan base, draw in new fans, and build a solid foundation to grow on is to give some (notice I said some not all) of their music away. Why? Because who will turn down free music? If they don't like it, no harm is done. If they love it, they will want more.

The same goes for authors. I know many will say, "Well, we give away a free chapter." Yeah, but that's not enough to really hook a reader, especially for a new author. A chapter is just dabbles a toe into the pool. You can't get a good assessment of the book through one chapter. If you are an established author who already has a solid fan base, a free chapter is enough. But if you are still trying to establish yourself and grow your audience, you need to do more than one chapter.

By either dramatically reducing the price or even giving it away for free to draw in new fans is so much more effective than just one sample chapter. It will only help you in the long run!


When social media came to the scene back in 2003 it obviously wasn't the cultural phenomenon that it is today. But independent musicians jumped on it because they saw an opportunity to reach new fans, network, and use it as a way to let others know about their music. Using social media as a way to develop a community was the key to stay in touch with fans, share new material, and grow their fan base.

While this might have seemed like a natural or obvious thing to do within the music world, I've observed that authors aren't as natural in turning to social media to connect with fans. I'm not putting all authors in this box, but rather noticing it as a generalization. Authors might not look at their readers as "fans" but that is exactly what they are. And connecting with the very people that read your books, attend your seminars or conferences, and anxiously await for your books to be released is a fan. Take a cue from the indie musicians…connect with those fans and create a solid online community.


It's easy for independent authors to go into the mindset of "what would a signed author do to promote their book?" We are talking about two different worlds. It is hard enough for a publicist to gain coverage for a signed/well known author let alone an author who is releasing their first or second book independently. I don't say this to be discouraging because, in my experience, independent authors and musicians can get just as much coverage and be more targeted to reach the exact people that they want to reach.

Instead of spending several thousand dollars on a publicist or marketing consultant for your book, I advise you to reach out to bloggers and online publications that focus on your book's niche and other book review blogs who accept unsolicited books. They are out there. See our blog post for how to find blogs to pitch to for reviews.

Also, by tapping into your social media outlets, spending time building your audience, and interacting with fans will not only build your readership but it will also build awareness. When you build awareness and you do it well, people will talk. Before you know it, you will have reviewers, and maybe even publishers, coming to you.

If you are going to spend money, I advise spending it on a great editor and designer for your cover art and formatting. Or on "shareable" video content to use in your social media campaigns and on your website. Again, creating a quality product will help you stand out from the rest.


We have a wonderful community of independent musicians here in Nashville who support one another, promote each others albums, include them at shows, share gigs, and more. It's a fantastic way to not only broaden your audience but you have a support group around you who can answer questions, share recommendations, and be mentors of sorts to one another.

Authors can greatly benefit from this as well. Leaning on other writers not only for support but knowing that you have an extended network of friends who will let their fans know about your new book releasing, and you supporting them as well. It's vital in todays independent world to open your arms to welcome in others who are in the same boat. Supporting one another is essential.


It doesn't matter "what we used to do" in regards to promoting our books; what matters is "what we are doing now" to move forward. By staying current with new technologies, new ways to connect with fans, and up to date in regards to what is happening in our industry is a must in today's world. It doesn't mean that you have to stay glued to your computer poring over blogs and articles. Subscribe to blogs (like ours!) for weekly updates regarding happenings around the book world.

There is a lot we can learn from other industries. Just because you don't have a publishing company holding your hand doesn't mean that you can't begin to build your audience and get your book out there. The sky is the limit! 

Question: What points would you add to this list? What lessons have you learned? We would love to hear your thoughts!

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