After years of dreaming about writing and directing his own movie, Rob Dircks started taking screenwriting classes at New York University while also still running his own ad agency. However, the harsh reality of selling spec scripts and breaking into the movie business left him wondering if self-publishing was an easier route to finding an audience. After experimenting with a self-help satire titled Unleash the Sloth,Dircks combined his marketing savvy with a love for science fiction and got serious about his hilarious time-travel odyssey Where the Hell Is Tesla? It quickly became a bestseller, earning a big following in the sci-fi community and especially among listeners on Audible, where Dircks released his own audiobook. Now, three years later, he is at work on a sequel and launching his own small press, Goldfinch Publishing.
You managed to achieve bestseller status with very little investment. What was your approach to marketing?
Here’s what I did: I rebuilt my “platform”—website, email list, social media presence, Amazon author pages. I cultivated a list of people to advance review the book and launched with 25 good, honest reviews on Amazon. I also got serious about using consistent, engaging marketing language everywhere: in the book, throughout my platform, and in all correspondence. I contacted “influencers” to provide guest posts and interviews and joined my genre association, SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), as soon as I had sold enough copies to qualify. It’s a great credential to have, has great forums for learning, got me invited to do readings, and is generally another way to spread the word. Lastly, I used Amazon’s KDP Select to run “Countdown Deals” every three months and ran paid email blast promotions through various sites at the same time. (This was big for me.)
How did the audiobook version play a role in Tesla’s success?
I can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is for indie authors to get into audiobooks. Audiobook sales continue to be on the rise, in a big way, with 148 percent sales growth from 2010 to 2015. And personally, audiobooks make up about half of my total unit sales. Half!
What was it like producing an audiobook yourself?
I kind of backed into the idea, thinking it would make my Amazon book page look better if it had an audiobook on there, but once again, when I started recording—I was hooked. It was a wonderful experience. Essentially, if you have a decent computer, a decent microphone, decent headphones, a room that you can make superquiet, and a lot of patience, there’s no reason at all that as an indie author you can’t record and produce your own audiobook. I highly recommend it.
What sets Goldfinch apart from other indie or traditional publishers?
As a marketing and advertising guy, I learned a lot about what I’d call “packaging”: the marketing language, the packaging itself, the ads, the testimonials, etc. So at first Goldfinch Publishing was simply a way to make my books look more polished. But I realized I had some skills specific to publishing—design, marketing copy, layout, the self-pub technology, Wordpress—that other authors and artists don’t, and don’t have the time to learn, and that I might be able to help them. So Goldfinch has become sort of an incubator for me and a handful of artists, with me helping them get published in a way they couldn’t on their own.
What’s your main piece of advice for writers considering self-publishing themselves?
I think self-publishing is a great way to go as a writer if you have a do-it-yourself mentality to begin with, you can and like to juggle multiple tasks at once (writing, production, marketing, social media, etc.), and you have the commitment to see it through over a long period of time. And don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results—self-publishing success is not a quick thing just because getting the book out there is quicker. Heck, I’m only a little bit down the road of success myself, so I know I’ve got to keep on chugging and stretching for my very best.
Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator living in Paris.