6 essential online tools for self-published authors

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In this blog post, Chris Singleton – director of digital marketing company Style Factory – highlights six tools that can help self-published authors handle the business side of being a writer.

It’s easy to forget that once you decide to become a self-published author, you’re effectively starting up your own business – you’ve got products (your books) which you need to sell (via PR and marketing) and income (hopefully!) that you need to account for. Even though your creative self might object to the idea, this means having to occasionally leave your author identity to one side and deal with boring things like building websites, sending e-newsletters, doing a tax return and so on: in other words, all the routine aspects of running your own business. It’s very easy to get so bogged down in these sorts of things that you start finding it difficult to find the time to write.

Thankfully, there are several online tools that can help you minimise the time you spend on business admin and concentrate on your latest novel. In this post, I’m going to highlight six of them.

1) A website

In 2017 stressing a need for a website may sound daft, but you’d be surprised at the number of authors that think that a Facebook page or Twitter feed is all they need by way of an online presence. A professional website is essential however, for three main reasons:

  1. It allows you to define yourself (and your work) precisely the way you want to.
  2. It helps you attract more traffic through organic search.
  3. It allows you to sell books direct to your readers, without the need for a third-party being involved (the most cost-efficient way to sell books).

In an ideal world, it’s good to get a professional web designer on board to help you build a site, but if budgets don’t allow, I’d suggest shortlisting Squarespace or Wordpress as platforms to use if you intend to go down the DIY route.

2) An email marketing app

Capturing email addresses is an essential part of growing a business: a good mailing list allows you to communicate directly with your readers and develop ongoing, profitable relationships with them. The best way to grow a mailing list is to use a dedicated e-marketing service like Mailchimp or Getresponse.

These tools allow you to put a form on your website to capture email addresses, send mass mailouts easily and automate your communications via ‘autoresponders’. Autoresponders are emails that are sent automatically to your subscribers – at time intervals of your choosing – after they sign up to your mailing list. You can use them to encourage your subscribers to take key actions – buy a book, follow you on social media, share some content etc. – without getting bogged down in sending out e-newsletters manually: it’s a ‘set and forget’ scenario which has the potential to save you a lot of time whilst generating more sales.

3) Productivity software

For the day-to-day running of your book-selling empire, you’re going to need some productivity tools: email accounts, file storage, spreadsheets, document editors and so on. In the old days, this simply meant installing a copy of Microsoft Office on your PC, but in today’s online, multi-device world it now makes more sense to use productivity tools that work in the cloud. For most people, this means choosing between Google’s G Suite and Microsoft’s Office 365 sets of productivity tools. Both allow you to create and edit documents on any device, and store them in the cloud – in effect, providing you with a network drive that can be accessed from any location and on any device. They also come with email.

4) Online accounting software

Assuming your book-selling efforts are a success, you’ll find yourself with a nice problem: a need to keep a very healthy-looking bank account in order. In an ideal world, I’d suggest recruiting a professional bookkeeper to ensure that your finances are 100% in order – but failing that, a cloud-based accounting tool is a pretty good substitute.

Online accounting tools allow you to automate a host of financial activities – including invoicing, bank reconciliation, payroll and credit control – whilst making your accounts accessible 24/7 online. They also make filing a tax return – arguably the least pleasurable task involved with self-employment – considerably easier. The two main cloud-based accounting tools are probably Xero and Quickbooks Online (if you’re interested in finding out more about this dry but important topic, you might wish to check out Style Factory’s Xero review).

5) A social media management app

In this multi-device, multi-channel world, it’s essential to keep on top of your social media presence. Unfortunately, ‘presence’ often means ‘about ten profiles, many of which I forget to update’. You might find yourself setting up a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a Google+ account, a Pinterest profile…only to leave them languishing unloved online. This is not a good look for an author – and you can help avoid this scenario by using a tool such as Hootsuite or Buffer to manage all your social media accounts in one place (and do much else besides, such as schedule posts and view reports on the performance of your social media activities).

6) Data

If you’re intending on being a self-promoting as well as a self-published author, then you’re going to need to get your hands on the details of some media contacts. Tools like Gorkana and PR Max provide you with constantly updated lists of journalists that you can export and send information about your books to. The monthly fees for these databases are fairly pricey however, so you’ll need to be certain that you’ll be using them very regularly or you might find it cheaper to consider commissioning a professional book publicist instead.

Got any suggestions of your own regarding good online tools for self-published authors? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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