Indie Insight with C.J. Adrien
Indie Insights is a blog series about book marketing and social media for authors.
Author: C.J. Adrien
Bio: C.J. Adrien is a French-American historian and award-winning author of Viking historical fiction novels with a passion for Viking history. He is best known for his bestselling and award-winning series The Saga of Hasting the Avenger, inspired by research conducted in preparation for a doctoral program in early medieval history. The first book of the series, titled The Lords of the Wind, was published in English and French on July 4, 2019.
1) If you could travel back in time to chat with your novice-self about how to market a novel, what advice would you give?
If I had one piece of advice to give myself when I started, I would focus more on creating email lists. When I started out in about 2010, I thought social media was king and email was headed the way of the dodo bird. I worked on growing my social following through various tactics for years, and it paid off. I became known in certain circles, and it helped propel my career forward. Some of my pages (you read the plural right) exceeded 30k followers. In 2017, everything changed. The social media giants—Facebook in particular—changed the game's rules. Their algorithms made it more challenging, if not impossible, to generate organic reach in the manner possible in previous years. My posts that had garnered thousands of views and interactions started showing fewer than ten percent of my following. Social media companies wanted me to pay to play, and I did. I learned this lesson: you own your email list, and no one can take it away from you. That's not true of followings on platforms owned by greedy corporations.
2) New writers are often told they need to "build their platform." What does this mean to you, and how do you envision your platform today?
An author platform answers a simple question: who are you and why are you the right person to have written this book? Readers are often just as curious, if not more curious, about the people writing the books as the books themselves. An author's platform tells the author's story concisely and compellingly. In marketing, this is called the "foundational narrative." Companies use foundational narratives to strengthen their brands and establish a rapport with their customers. That's precisely what authors must do to engage with readers.
My author platform revolves around how I became interested in my subject in the first place (my paternal grandfather is from the island that is the central setting for my research and novels), my educational background, my career path as a historian, and my expertise in my field of study. My readers know that my stories are well-researched and adhere to a stricter interpretation of historicity than most. They also know that I have a personal stake in the game. My journey is one of passion, intrigue, and self-exploration. My author platform has helped me receive several prestigious speaking engagements (including a talk at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds) because, ultimately, people want to know about me as much as they want to know about my books. That's the ticket!
3) Do you have any advice for new authors about how to convince potential readers to sign up for their newsletter?
The incentives will depend on the author's platform. For authors who stake their reputation on writing skill and style, offering a free chapter or even a free e-book in exchange for an email can yield some success. I network with many authors who have had success with that tactic, but the requirement there is to have several books published.
Personally, I have had success without offering much of an incentive other than the promise that I will have more content on the way. I write an active blog on Viking history and have put out several video series on that same topic. All I say is that if folks want to be the first to see my new content, they should sign up. A little exclusivity goes a long way. My way of collecting emails is a ton of work. Still, it works for me because I'm so passionate about my subject that I'd be putting out content regardless of whether I was collecting emails to sell more books or not.
4) What's the latest insight you've learned when it comes to book promotion, and how will this impact your next marketing efforts?
It takes money to make money. Now that social media companies make it pay-to-play to get exposure, a solid marketing plan and budget are a must. I've spent upwards of $40k in ads in the last two years. My books are a full-fledged business, so I have to run my author career like any other business. I create business plans, strategic marketing plans, and projected expenditures and revenue plans for every book I publish. The publishing industry is too competitive to fly by the seat of my pants. I am thankful that I am one of the lucky ones who has made a decent living at it every day. If I want to sell books, I have to get out there and sell books. Coffee's for closers.
5) If you could change one thing about the publishing world, what would it be?
I would like the stigma toward indie authors to go away. I come across it all the time, particularly from local bookstores. I understand they can't afford to put every indie author's book on their shelves, but that doesn't mean they have to disqualify all of us just because we don't have the sign-off from one of the "Big Six." Our books should be considered on merit.
6) How important do you think it is for indie and self-publishing authors to pay for editing services?
Paying for editing is mission-critical to book sales. The books industry is too competitive to cheap out on editing. A professional polish to your work is the bare minimum barrier to entry. Publishing is a winner-takes-all industry, and if you want your book to have a shot, it has to be professionally edited, proofread, etc. And don't just settle for a line edit. As writers, we are too close to our work to see it for what it is. A thorough and honest developmental edit is essential to get the structure and story right. Only then will a line edit to your work justice. After that, I also recommend multiple rounds of professional proofreading and some additional beta readers.
7) As a writer, how has your process changed in terms of drafting and revision since you first started out?
My goal with my first novel, which I started writing when I was 19, was to finish it. I didn't care if it was any good; I just wanted to get an entire novel onto paper. That seemed accomplishment enough. I finally finished it at the age of 24, and I self-published it, too. It was my first, and the one I made ALL the mistakes with, but also the one from which I learned the most.
Today, about ten years and six novels later (only three are published), my process has changed dramatically. I spend more time on outlining and loads more time on rewriting. Sometimes I'll rewrite a chapter dozens of times before I'm happy with it. Most importantly, I've learned to slow down. Writing is not a race. There's no finish line. Lastly, I've learned to set my ego aside once the editing begins. When I turn my manuscript over to my editor, I instill complete trust in him and carefully consider his feedback.
8) Please tell us a bit more about your latest novel or work-in-progress!
I've spent the last year or so since I finished The Kings of the Sea dabbling in unrelated projects. I've tried my hand at some short stories, science fiction and fantasy story ideas, and some non-fiction ideas. It's actually quite normal for me to go on hiatus from continuing my main series. Still, I've started the fourth book in The Saga of Hasting the Avenger. It's called The Fell Deeds of Fate, and it will center around Hasting's identity crisis in the aftermath of the siege of Paris. Think midlife crisis à la Viking.
I'm looking forward to writing it.