Indie Insight is a blog series about book marketing and social media for authors.
Author: Leah Angstman
Bio: Leah Angstman is the author of the historical novel of 1689 King William’s War, Out Front the Following Sea (Regal House, January 2022) and the story collection Shoot the Horses First (Kernpunkt Press, January 2023). She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current Press and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with Portland Tribune, High Country News, and ProPublica. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Publishers Weekly, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Nashville Review; and she’s recently been a finalist in the Chaucer Book Award, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, and Richard Snyder Memorial Prize, and longlisted for the Hillary Gravendyk Prize, Goethe Book Award, Clue Book Award, and Laramie Book Award. You can find her at LeahAngstman.com and on social media as @leahangstman.
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?
Start early. No, start even earlier. Even earlier than that. As soon as you know you have a book coming out, make lists of promotional places you’d like to pitch, book clubs that specialize in your material, book bloggers who might be interested. Budget right away for advertisements at important places and for the cost of ARCs and shipping because those costs will be too high to pay all at once if you wait until the last minute.
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?
I’m terrible at building a platform. I think it’s very important to have a network of people if you are selling highly technical nonfiction, but I honestly think an author who works hard at promotion doesn’t have to start out with a big platform. I’ve been in the publishing industry since 1993, and I know a lot of people, but they don’t necessarily all follow me on Twitter. That doesn’t mean I can’t go knock on doors like a Girl Scout and ask for some attention, even if those contacts aren’t portrayed in my social numbers. Initial stepping stones are about whom you know and what they are connected to, not just about numbers of random strangers who thought one tweet was funny back in 2013.
I straddle a tough line with my work. As a publisher, I publish mostly literary fiction, but as a historian and author of my own work, I write historical fiction. That means I actually sometimes write for a different audience than that to which I’m connected socially. But when marketing, I aim for both categories.
Overall, I ignore platforms and stats. It’s not fun to be social if it’s fake. The best way to sell books and to make contacts is to engage on a personal level. I could have 20,000 followers, but they could all be “muting” me, for all I know. I’ll still sell more standing behind a book fair table, hawking one-on-one with strangers than I will pushing links at 20,000 followers, even if they don’t have me on mute.
3) Do you have any advice for new authors about how to convince potential readers to sign up for their newsletters?
Newsletters are tricky. People have so many emails in their inboxes, and they really aren’t seeking excuses to get more. One thing I’ll say is make sure your mailing list has a direct link, and that it doesn’t just appear in a sidebar or as a popup on your page. With direct links, you get “impulse buyers.” My outreach with newsletters is, when I see someone who is interested in my work or who “can’t wait to read the next book,” to engage with them and say, “Sign up on my mailing list to find out when the next book is coming out!” or something to that effect, and I drop the link right into the message. Those people will sign up, and more importantly, they’ll stay on the list and not just unsubscribe when the first email comes, because you’ve engaged the right audience at the right time, when they are excited about your work and still remember who you are.
4) What’s the latest insight you’ve learned when it comes to book promotion, and how will this impact your next marketing efforts?
I’ve learned that Instagram isn’t a great market for sales. You can get lots of pretty pictures, but since Instagram doesn’t allow you to post or copy links, you don’t get any impulse buyers. If you’re going to go the Instagram route, you have to budget it out to be purely exposure. It’ll cost you money (because all bookstagrammers want a print copy to photograph, of course), but it won’t earn you sales. For my next book, I’ll be far more choosy about my Instagram ARCs.
5) If you could change one thing about the publishing world, what would it be?
I’d love to see more major presses and imprints take a chance on risky and different literature. Major presses won’t touch poetry, novellas, and often short stories with a ten-foot pole, and there’s still a huge gap in both pay and production for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC+ voices. I’d love to see larger presses care more about diversity and who’s getting to tell the stories.
6) How important do you think it is for indie and self-publishing authors to pay for editing services?
You don’t have to pay for it, necessarily, but you do have to have it. For me, I’m in the publishing biz and am friends with a lot of other editors. I get ten beta readers, strangers or friends alike, for every book I write, and I look for volunteers or swap editing/beta services with other writers/editors. I’m already a professional editor, though—not everyone is—and I have really tough skin when it comes to comments from others, so I tell people to tear my work apart. It’s important to have at least one solid, professional editor look at your work before it crosses the desk of another professional. Don’t send something to an agent or publisher that no one’s edited. No, your mom doesn’t count.
7) As a writer, how has your process changed in terms of drafting and revision since you first started out?
I’m much faster now. When I first started out, I wrote everything by hand and just let my mind go, and while that’s a great exercise in stream-of-consciousness, it’s not a great way to make a story. So, now, I think about the story a lot more and carve out an outline, important plot points, etc., before I start writing.
I also don’t feel the need to write down every little tiny thing anymore. I used to fill notebook after notebook with random thoughts, lines, observations, quotes, and then… I’d never look at them again. Or I’d never be able to find them again if I did want to see them. So, these days, I don’t write down thoughts when I’m not butt-in-the-chair writing. I allow myself to think the thoughts outside of writing time, allow my mind to wander, go through many story scenarios in my head, but in the end, I write down only what I can remember when I get to that point in the story. In this way, the best stuff sticks around, and the rest of the fat gets trimmed before it even hits the paper. This method has helped me much better decide which tidbits are important, what’s worth remembering, and how to control word count without letting my characters gab at each other for endless pages that will all get cut later.
8) Please tell us a bit more about your latest novel or work-in-progress!
My debut novel, Out Front the Following Sea, releases from Regal House Publishing on January 11, 2022. It’s a historical epic of one headstrong Englishwoman’s struggle to survive in the brutal wilds of 17th-century New England, where she’s been branded a witch and forced to escape the only town she’s ever known. When tensions arise between English and French settlers during King William’s War, she must save her treasonous Frenchman from the noose and reckon with all the townsfolk, Pequot Indians, highwaymen, soldiers, Quakers, pirates, and witch-hunters she’s dragged into the fray.