5thingsLet’s be honest for a second, OK? There are a lot of struggling self-published authors out there who aren’t making any sales of their books.

I’m not going to tell you that there’s some magical formula to finding success as a self-published children’s author; I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had (and still have) plenty of challenges and hurdles to overcome. But I’ve also noticed that there are several things that self-published authors who sell a lot of copies on Amazon and who rank right up there with big traditionally-published authors do that many self-published authors don’t.

By doing even one or two of the following items (but preferably all), you stand a much better chance of making more sales and having a successful career as a self-published children’s author.

1. They have an attractive, professional-looking cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” has to be one of the most universally ignored maxims in the world. Like it or not, book shoppers will judge your book by its cover, in about half a second. If it doesn’t immediately appeal to them, they’ll skip right over it.

This is true in bookstores, and it’s true online. In fact, it’s probably even worse online, because they’re usually looking at a picture of your cover that is about the size of a postage stamp, and there’s no chance that they’ll pick up your book and flip through it like they might in a bookstore. That’s why you’ve got to make your cover look as good as anything traditional publishers put out there, and optimize it for online audiences.

Some common things I see that can make covers bad for online audiences are:

  • Small fonts, which become totally illegible on the product image
  • Images that don’t convey anything about the topic of the book
  • Cover images that aren’t oriented the “right way” to display on Amazon and other marketplaces; specifically, book covers that are in “landscape” format, so they’re wider than they are tall. Square or portrait layout (taller than it is wide) work best for online display, so it’s worth having your illustrator do an alternate version of the cover in one of these formats, even if your print version is oriented for landscape.
  • Covers that are designed by the author instead of an actual illustrator/designer. This is most common with photo-based children’s books that the author put together themselves. If you don’t have a natural talent for design, including effective use of colors, fonts, image placement, etc, leave it to the experts and hire someone to do your cover for you! You can find excellent cover designers on outsourcing sites like elance.com, odesk.com, or even on Fiverr.com.

2. They publish multiple books

If there’s one “secret” to self-publishing success, it’s this: have a sizable catalog of books. There are a couple of reasons why having multiple books makes a big difference:

First, it allows customers who find and like you to buy more of your work. Getting your first book out there is a big accomplishment, but if the most a customer can spend with you is a few bucks, it’s going to take a loooong time to build your career as an author.

Second, once you have multiple titles, they can support each other and help drive sales of your other books. You can do this by running free promotions, building a mailing list to announce new titles (more on this later), and pointing people to your other books at the end of each title.

For more on this strategy, which is especially important for fiction, check out the excellent book Write. Publish. Repeat. by Johnny B Truant and Sean Platt. They’ve been able to build a full-time income as self-published fiction authors by following this exact strategy, and they explain how other people can do the same. Even though they don’t currently write children’s books, the idea applies perfectly to our genre too!

3. They have a planned, consistent promotional schedule

For independent children’s authors, getting the word out about your books is one of the most reliable ways to get noticed and make a name for yourself. Running free or discounted promotions of your books is the easiest way to make a splash and drive lots of downloads and sales of your books, and if you have multiple titles, you’ll likely drive sales of your other books as well.

However, it’s important to plan out your promotions and run them consistently if you want to keep your titles ranking and selling well on Amazon. I’ve made the mistake of “forgetting” to run any promotions for a while, and my sales quickly dwindled because I wasn’t staying in front of readers.

Depending on how many titles you have, I recommend planning out a schedule for the next couple of months and deciding when you’re going to submit a book to free promotion sites ahead of time, since some sites require advance notice before they’ll list your book. Then go ahead and set your free days in your KDP Select dashboard so you don’t forget to actually run the free promotion!

Space out promotions so that you’re not hitting the same people with your free offer—I recommend waiting about a month in between promotions so that you get plenty of new people who may not have seen or grabbed your free offer the last time around, and so you can get more reviews before the next promotion.

The key is to plan out the promotions ahead of time on a calendar, just like a traditional publisher would, so that you don’t forget or let them slip. With just a couple of hours of work every few weeks, you can ensure that your books stay popular and keep your momentum going.

4. They build a mailing list of readers

Having an email list of readers who want to hear from you whenever you release a new book or have special pricing on one of your older books can be a game-changer for independent authors. Imagine being able to immediately make sales every time you release a new book, with just a quick note announcing it? It makes your life as an author so much easier, but many authors don’t take advantage of this amazing promotional method.

I’ll write up a detailed post about building a mailing list soon, but the basics are:

  • Sign up for an account with an email provider like MailChimp, which allows you to have up to 2,000 subscribers for free!
  • Set up a mailing list within the account (they have plenty of helpful articles to walk you through this process), and create a signup form where readers can enter their email address to subscribe.
  • Offer people a compelling reason to sign up—personally I recommend giving them some kind of freebie that they and their kids will enjoy, like a black-and-white “coloring book” version of your book, or an audiobook version they can download.
  • Mention the “free gift” at the beginning and end of your books and have a link to the page on your website where people can sign up to get the free gift, updates, and other goodies.
  • Send an email to your list whenever you release a new title, or if you run a special on one of your books and want to get a quick boost in sales or downloads.

Building a mailing list requires a little bit more work than just writing and releasing books, but having a ready-made audience for your books makes it well worth it in the long run!

5. They focus on getting reviews

When you’re a self-published author who’s trying to compete with the “big guys” out there and make a name for yourself, reviews are vital.

For one thing, they make your book look popular. There’s a phenomenon called “social proof,” which basically means that when people see that something is popular, they’re much more likely to try something new (including a new author).

A common example of this is with restaurants: if you’re trying to pick a place for dinner and you see that one place has a lot of people inside and is really bustling, and the place next door is practically empty, which place are you more likely to try? Most people would say the popular place, because if so many people are going there, it must be good!

The same is true for your book—if it has a lot of positive reviews, readers will be much more likely to buy it or download it when it’s on a free promotion than if it only has a couple of reviews. If a book has just a couple of positive reviews, it’s easy to write it off as the author’s friends and family reviewing it, but if it has dozens of positive reviews, that really makes people stop and take notice.

Reviews are also great because they help “pre-sell” your book for you. If you’re anything like me, you quickly glance through reviews of a book if you don’t already know the author. If the reviews address any questions I have about the book, or speak highly of the book and sound like they’re written by “someone like me,” I’m far more likely to take a chance on the book and buy it.

There are many ways to get reviews for your book, which I’ll cover in depth in another post, but a few of the most popular methods are:

  • Ask friends and family to leave an unbiased review.
  • Ask readers to review your books by leaving a link at the end of your book. This works well when combined with giving it away in a free promotion.
  • Seek out bloggers or librarians who review children’s books, and email them directly asking if they’ll review your book if you send them a copy.
  • Join author or reader groups on Facebook or LinkedIn and offer copies of your book in exchange for real, unbiased reviews

By working to get reviews (even if you spend 10 minutes a day doing a little bit of outreach), you can make your book really stand out among self-published children’s books and convince shoppers that they should check out your book instead of someone else’s.

Those are 5 of the biggest things successful authors do that I see a lot of struggling self-published authors not doing. Taking action on those isn’t going to make you a bestselling author overnight, but they each set you up for long-term success in your writing career. If you’re not doing them already, you need to start today!

Want to self-publish your children’s book but feeling lost or stuck? Want to shortcut the learning process and get your book done quickly and easily?

Check out my training course 6 Weeks to Your First Children’s Book. It’s the A to Z resource for everything you need to know to create and publish your first children’s book!

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