Independent Publishing

July's Independent Publishing newsletter

Welcome to the July issue of Books+Publishing’s monthly Independent Publishing newsletter.

This month’s newsletter is focused on publicity and social media advice for writers, whether you’re a new writer looking to market your first book, or an experienced author who needs to refresh your strategy for moving your back catalogue.

Below, R M Marketing Services director and all-round marketing whizz Rachael McDiarmid shares her tips on developing a social media strategy. Her takeaways? Be prepared, set goals and figure out who your audience is. There’s also the fourth and penultimate instalment in Ellie Marney’s ‘Self-publishing essentials with Ellie Marney: promotion, marketing and all that jazz’ series, in which she advises on how to put your publicity plan into action.

As usual, there’s also a round-up of the latest publishing news, and this month’s Q&A is with author and filmmaker Ben Randall, who has turned a very personal encounter with human trafficking into a four-book series, raising awareness and funds for his charity in the process. 

Happy reading (and writing)!

Brad Jefferies

Editor, Independent Publishing


Latest publishing news

Ned Kelly shortlists; Miles Franklin and Furphy winners

The Australian Crime Writers Association (ACWA) has announced the shortlist for the 2022 Ned Kelly Awards, presented annually for the best Australian crime writing. Among the shortlistees for best debut novel is Suzanne Frankham for Shadow Over Edmund Street, published via Journey to Words publishing. Shortlists were also announced in true crime, international and crime fiction categories. To see the shortlists, click here.

Jennifer Down was named winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award for her second novel, Bodies of Light (Text). Down was chosen as the winner from a shortlist of five, which also included Michael Winkler’s Grimmish, which was originally self-published before being acquired by Puncher & Wattmann earlier this year.

Cate Kennedy has won the $15,000 Furphy Literary Award—one of the richest prizes for a short story in Australia—for her story ‘Art and Life’.  Lisa Moule took second place for ‘The Game’ and was awarded $3000, while Natalie Vella took third place for ‘Winter is for Regret’, receiving $2000. All shortlisted stories will be collected in The Furphy Anthology 2022, which will be published with Hardie Grant Books later this year. For information, see the Furphy website.

Melbourne, Canberra writers festivals

Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) has announced the full program for the 2022 event, which will take place over four days spanning 8–11 September and feature more than 150 guests. Among the headliners are author Mohsin Hamid, actor Brian Cox and comedian Jenny Slate, who will all be appearing in person at the festival, as well as taking part in Antidote festival in Sydney on 11 September. For more information, see the MWF website.

Canberra Writers Festival (CWF) has announced the full program for its 2022 event, which runs 10–14 August. The program includes 70 events and over 160 guests, including Jane and Jimmy Barnes, Indira Naidoo, Samuel Johnson, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Norman Swan, Veronica Heritage-Gorrie, Rick Morton, Dianne O’Brien, Ben Bravery and Jane Caro, among other journalists, writers and public figures. To view the full CWF 2022 program, visit the festival website.

#BookTok in Australia

Around the world, publishers are attracting new readers and experiencing increased sales via the #BookTok hashtag on TikTok—but what about here? Earlier this month, Books+Publishing looked at how Australian publishers, booksellers and authors are engaging with #BookTok, and tracks down some local influencers on the platform (subscription required).

Prizes and opportunities

Literary magazine Kill Your Darlings (KYD) has announced a new creative nonfiction prize, worth a total of $5000. Open exclusively to KYD subscribers, the KYD Creative Nonfiction Essay Prize is seeking creative nonfiction essays between 2500–3500 words on any subject. The winner will receive $3000, with two runners-up receiving $1000 each. The winning essays will also be published in KYD magazine in early 2023. Submissions open on 17 October and close on 27 November 2022. For more information, see the KYD website.

Allen & Unwin (A&U) has partnered with Voices from the Intersection to offer a mentorship opportunity for emerging children’s and YA Own Voices writers and illustrators. See Books+Publishing and the Voices from the Intersection website for more information.



Lessons for social media

RM Marketing Services director Rachael McDiarmid shares her advice on developing a social media strategy to create awareness of your books, with a focus on being prepared, setting goals and determining your audience.

All the social media and marketing advice says if you are engaging with an audience—with consumers, with booksellers, with librarians and teachers—you’re going to need a social media strategy.

Social media is about starting a discussion—about you, your product, your services. ‘Discussions’ do not increase sales—they create awareness. Your job is to enhance this awareness so you can develop a brand, build reader loyalty and have a sales strategy that makes it easy for someone to buy your book. That may be through bricks and mortar bookshops, online booksellers, special accounts or directly from your website. It should not be used solely as a sales strategy but linked to your overall sales and marketing plan for your books.

Lesson one: start early

One thing to keep in mind is that author and product awareness doesn’t happen overnight! You need to be thinking about your digital and social media strategy a long time before your book is published. As an industry consultant, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a phone call or an email because someone has ‘written a book’ and they tell me the book has just come back from the printers, can I help with a website, promotions, publicity, getting them on the socials? They have published a book and no one can find them! They have no brand, no online presence, no followers, no readers, no SEO search results—zero digital footprint as an author. They are starting too late to build their author brand in a way that will maximise promotional and publicity opportunities.

Don’t leave it to the last minute to develop a digital and social media action plan.

Lesson two: define your goals

So what is social media marketing? It is essentially a way of creating content in multiple formats then distributing that on an online platform designed to drive engagement, encourage discussion and share information for consumers. It builds virtual networks and communities. It’s a conversation. And if you’re an author, it will provide direct access to your readers and vice versa.

Another thing to keep in mind is where social media is taking place. Statistics shows the number of smartphone users in the world is forecast to be 7.9 billion this year and of those 3.96 billion are on social media. (Which reminds me: you need to be thinking mobile for your website as well. Is it mobile–friendly? There are plenty of online services now that can help you with your website and have it integrate with social media. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify and others can connect the dots for you. Websites aren’t expensive these days and you can contact industry professionals to help you get started.)

While I think everyone needs to have a social media strategy, that doesn’t necessarily means that everyone will have one. As authors and publishers one of the best things you can do is define what your social media strategy looks like. What are your goals? What are the platforms that are right for you? How will you communicate in those channels? Discover the voice that works best in those you want to engage with—then work out the best way to create and schedule content across those platforms. Do you have a content plan going forward? How will you keep the engagement going?

The best way to think about social media is to write down your goals. What do you want social media to do for you? Do you want to:

  • Attract new authors or collaborations
  • Drive more traffic to your website (this leads me to even more questions: what sort of website strategy do you have? Do you also have a blog there? A Look Inside the Books? Unique content? Reading group discussion points? Sign up for newsletter? Special offer on pre-order?)
  • Engage with the book trade
  • Get more followers
  • Increase audience engagement
  • Increase awareness of products
  • Increase email subscribers
  • Increase mentions
  • Market events and appearances
  • Develop paid partnerships
  • Produce engaging content
  • Promote your authors
  • Promote your brand and specialty
  • Reach new readers
  • Sell an additional service
  • Track content and reviews of products.

If you don’t think you have enough content for social media to encourage engagement, then it’s not for you.

Lesson three: know your audience

I read somewhere that unless you can answer the question ‘who is your audience’ then you’re wasting your time on social media! But now I’m going to hit you with the big question: who is your audience? This is really important for advertising on social media as you’ll need to identify your core audience, market to a custom build audience or a consider look-alike audience.

So, who are your readers? What do they read? What podcasts do they listen to? What magazines do they read? What television do they watch? What sex are they? What age group? Where do they live? What keeps them up at night?  What type of content are they craving? Do they stream content? Listen to ABC radio? How do they entertain themselves?

Over time social media analytics will build a nice but general profile of your readers so you will be able to discover who they are and continue to build discussions around them. Knowing your audience will help with your digital marketing strategy including email marketing and website.

If you can’t define your audience or some buyer personas, why did you write your book?

What to produce and how to produce it will be covered in the next post. We’ll look at content strategy in a future edition.

 Rachael McDiarmid is the director of R M Marketing Services. You can contact R M Marketing Services for consulting and special project work via her website or email.

Rachael is also hosting an online workshop on marketing and distribution for indie authors on 6 August with the New England Writers Centre. For more information, click here.


Ben Randall on 'Sisters for Sale'

Ben Randall is a filmmaker and the author of the ‘Sisters for Sale’ nonfiction series of books, which focus on the trafficking of young Hmong girls from Northern Vietnam to China. Randall released an award-winning documentary by the same name in 2018 before turning to writing to expand the story. Randall is also the founder of not-for-profit organisation The Human, Earth Project.

Randall was also shortlisted for Hachette’s Richell Prize for an unpublished manuscript in 2021 for ‘Snakehead’, which spotlighted another human trafficking story that followed on from ‘Sisters for Sale’. The most recent instalment in the four-book series is Mountains Beyond Mountains. Randall talked to Independent Publishing about his experiences self-publishing the ‘Sisters for Sale’ books.

How did you branch out from filmmaking and photography into writing?

I’d actually wanted to be an author since I was young, and writing has always been a passion of mine, but life led me in a very different direction. In 2011, my local friends May and Pang were kidnapped from their homes in the mountains of northern Vietnam, where I’d been teaching English. I set up a non-profit organisation to raise awareness of human-trafficking, and did everything I could to find May and Pang. Both girls had been forced into ‘marriage’ and motherhood in distant parts of China, and each faced the heartbreaking choice between her child and her own freedom. We produced May and Pang’s story as a feature documentary, Sisters for Sale, which went on to win awards at film festivals around the world. It was such a complex and fascinating story that what was to be one book has ended up a series of four. The books have been extremely well-received and have been selling incredibly well (largely via word of mouth). In April the fourth book, Mountains Beyond Mountains launched at the Newcastle Writers Festival.In what ways has your work as a documentary filmmaker influenced your writing?

I’d taken a cameraperson with me during my search for May and Pang in Asia. I reasoned that if I couldn’t find the girls, we could still use their story to help protect others at risk. The result was a huge amount of video and audio which all helped inform my writing of the ‘Sisters for Sale’ book series. What May, Pang, and I went through was extraordinary, and it made for a complex and incredible story. My priority in writing the books was to make that story highly accessible, by making it easy and enjoyable to read, and incorporating the beautiful visual imagery from the documentary. What makes the story so engaging is the fact that May, Pang, and I were friends before they were trafficked, so the emotional stakes were high, and I was willing to do whatever I could to help them. The comment I hear most often from readers is that they literally can’t put the story down—many have read an entire book in a single sitting, and have then come straight back for the next one.How has the book series helped raise awareness for your not-for-profit organisation, The Human, Earth Project?‘Sisters for Sale’ is a five-year story. There were so many fascinating parts to it that simply didn’t fit into a feature documentary, so writing the books felt necessary, and I’m really glad I had the chance. I’m really proud of everything we achieved with the film, but of course the books are always better! The books gave me the space to take a deeper dive into facets of the story that we only touched on briefly in the film, if at all. I was also able to share more of my own experiences and reflections, whereas with the film I’d kept a tight focus on May and Pang. Having the story in multiple media has been wonderful, too. There are many people who see the documentary and want to know more, and are amazed when they read the books and discover how much more there is to the story. There are others who get the full story from the books first, and then they’ll watch the film to actually see and hear that world and everyone in it, so it works both ways.

What are some of the avenues that have opened up as a result of the books and the film?I went into the pandemic presenting at film festivals, and am now coming out of it presenting at book festivals. It’s a whole new world that gives people a chance to engage with the story in a completely different way, and that’s been excellent. I know we have a unique, powerful story, I enjoy finding new ways to share it with people, and I love having those opportunities to meet its fans and supporters face-to-face. My hometown, Newcastle, has an iconic headland with a cluster of beautiful heritage buildings around a lighthouse. I was recently invited to hold the first ever solo exhibition there, which was an amazing opportunity. The ‘Sisters for Sale’ exhibition filled over fifty metres of wall space with photography, stories, and video from Asia, and was very well received. Together with Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, an organisation that has now rescued over a thousand people from human trafficking, I’ve also begun hosting documentary screenings and workshops for schools and universities. We’ve already worked with some of Australia’s biggest institutions, including UNSW and UTS, and it’s been a brilliant way of engaging young people with real-world issues. Plus—and this is the first time it’s been announced publicly—I’ve just begun working with a talented Sydney-based illustrator, Alaa Alfaraon, to produce the ‘Sisters for Sale’ story as a graphic novel for young adults. Visually, it’s a very beautiful story, and I’m really excited to see it come together. Alaa also produced illustrations for the ‘Sisters for Sale’ exhibition.What else have you learnt from self-publishing the ‘Sisters for Sale’ books?The ‘Sisters for Sale’ books have had a very unusual journey. I first began writing the story because one of the major publishers reached out to me, but I decided to step away from traditional publishing. The story is a unique one and self-publishing offered more flexibility to tell it how I felt it should be told, rather than trying to fit it into a pre-existing mould. After researching all available options, I decided to use IngramSpark’s print-on-demand service, which I’ve been really happy with. It’s easy, affordable, and the print quality is excellent. As a self-publisher, you have so much control over the process—and if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to do it properly, you can create something really special. While I do intend to return to the traditional publishers because they can reach a larger reading audience than I can, self-publishing has been a very rewarding process that has taught me so much about publishing and promotion, and about my own strengths and interests. I’m really glad that this is where my journey has begun, and I’d highly recommend it to new authors.You were among five authors shortlisted for Hachette’s 2021 Richell Prize from over 850 entries. How has this affected your writing career?The Richell Prize is the only major writing award I’ve entered, and it was highly validating receiving that level of recognition. Funnily enough, I’d originally planned to submit the opening chapters of Sisters for Sale. About two weeks before entries closed, though, I realised it was ineligible as it had already been self-published. I quickly cobbled together part of another human trafficking story which follows on from ‘Sisters for Sale’, and I was delighted that it was received so well. There seems to be a tendency in the publishing industry to look down on self-publishing as somehow illegitimate because any motivated author can do it. I feel that’s a mistake the industry is making at its own peril—real opportunities are being lost for publishers, and real gems are being overlooked. Traditional publishers will never again be the sole point of connection between writers and readers, and there are now excellent opportunities for the industry to grow in new directions. As for my writing career—I’ve spent most of my adult life living and travelling around the world, and have plenty more fascinating stories to share, so I feel like I’m just getting started. I’ve recently begun branching out into fiction and will complete my first collection of short stories by the end of the year.

What are you working on next?The amount of interest we’ve had in the ‘Sisters for Sale’ series has been phenomenal. The fact that so many people beyond the social justice niche have so enthusiastically embraced a $100, 250,000-word nonfiction story shows just how much potential this story has. Imagine what it could do as a shorter, more affordable single volume in the hands of one of the major publishers—it will be global. I’m currently working to dramatically condense the story for that purpose, and will be speaking with publishers in the coming months.


From the archive: Putting your publicity plan into action

From 2018—2019, the novelist Ellie Marney wrote a monthly advice column for Australian Self Publisher. Below, we have reprinted the fourth instalment in the ‘Self-publishing essentials with Ellie Marney: promotion, marketing and all that jazz’ series, in which she provides tips on how to put your publicity plan into action.

Get promoting!

We’ve reached the fourth instalment of this series on book promotion—and congratulations! You’ve done all the preparation for marketing your book! You’ve made a marketing plan, figured out the things about you as an author and your book as a product that will make an appealing package, and you’ve constructed your promo field kit (a website, a newsletter, a Facebook profile, a social media presence). Now the time has arrived to actually begin promoting! This article will help you get started, with a few suggestions for using your field kit tools.

First though, consider some important self-publishing variables that give you increased control. The main variable is quality—is your book the best it can be? Has it been properly edited, and attractively typeset and formatted? Does it have a great, professional-looking cover and a catchy description? Have you got your metadata sorted out to draw in readers? Make sure you have these things nailed down. Another variable is price—you have absolute control over pricing, which means you can be flexible. Switch it up, switch it down, put your book on sale for a limited time … play around with pricing and find the price point that works for you. You can also consider placement—where is your book selling? If you’re on Amazon, are you in Kindle Unlimited or are you free to go wide to sell on other platforms like iBooks and Nook and Kobo? Is your book only available in a digital format or are you distributing print editions into bookstores and libraries?

Once you’ve got these elements sorted out, it’s time to put your publicity plan into action.

Get started by making professional-looking graphics on Canva or Book Brush so you have some visual content for your blog, social media posts and website (you might even want to create a book trailer on Book Brush). Create social media headers to connect your social media presence to your book, and begin adding social media content about your title to your feeds. Remember to stagger your promotional posts (one in every five or so posts), so it’s not just a long string of promo. Set up your presence on Amazon Author Central and Goodreads (don’t forget to add your book there!) so people can find your work, and share these links in your posts, as well as links to your website and buy links.

Invite readers to your newsletter via your platforms and through links in your book’s backmatter, and then begin your newsletter by introducing yourself and your book to readers. Your newsletter should go out once a month, becoming more regular in the lead-up to a book release. If blogging is part of your strategy, get an introductory blog post up on your website. If you’re not sure what to put in your newsletter or what to blog about, try these ideas. Create bonus content and giveaways to attract reviewers and readers. Sign up for a Bookfunnel giveaway campaign to increase awareness of your book and gain newsletter subscribers.

Get posting on Facebook—interact with your friends, readers and audience members. Connect with other bloggers who have an audience that looks like your target audience, and start guest posting and sharing other peoples’ content if it’s adjacent to your interests. Prep advance reading copies for reviewers. Check blog and other review sites to find reviewers, and approach trade sites for reviews—maybe think about setting up a review team.

Connect with book clubs and libraries. Create a press release that you can send out to trade reviewers, bookstores and libraries. Think about doing some in-person promotion, such as an author talk at your local library or a school visit. Consider a book launch—it could be an online launch (most effective for ebook-only titles) or a party-style print launch.

Create a list or spreadsheet to keep track of what promotion you’re doing, and to help you work out what has been effective in engaging reader interest and increasing sales. Remember, if you write more than one book (which I recommend) you’ll be doing this again, so figure out what works. Now that you better understand your target audience, start thinking about paid promotion (advertising) and how it might fit into your overall strategy.

Above all, try to relax and enjoy the process. Don’t stress out about hollering into the void! Your intention with publicity is to create a community, connect with readers, fans, and others in the publishing and writing scene, and (along the way) set up a core group of people who enjoy your content and will support you by buying your book. It takes time and a lot of effort, so pace yourself and enjoy the ride.

If you’re after some other ideas for free promotion, check out this article from the Australian Writers’ Centre, or this one from Author Unlimited. Our final instalment in this series—coming soon—will be on paid promotion. See you then and good luck!

Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria with her family, and her latest book, None Shall Sleep (Allen & Unwin), was published in September 2020. Find her at or on Twitter or Instagram.




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