The recent demand by PayPal to pull all content its executives considered objectionable from Smashwords and other independent book distributed had once again demonstrated that, when shit hits the fan, the authors can only count on each other for help and support. If we, writers, don't stand up for each other, don't help each other, don't speak up, nobody will.
In this case, I am not talking about the authors blessed and anointed by the Big Six - with enormous contracts, publication budgets and millions of copies in print. No, I am talking about the self-publishers or those united under smaller independent publishers. To keep from limiting the indie field to writers alone, I would also like to call upon other creative artists - painters, sculptors, and musicians - to join in on this endeavor of promoting quality content across the board.
In publishing, a beta-reader is a kind of pre-reader - a guinea pig who volunteers to test your writing on him- or herself. Good beta-readers don't just read the first draft of your work and provide you with feedback about the storyline and the characters. They also correct whatever spelling and grammar issues they manage to catch, reducing the amount of editing work you need to do later.
Finding and engaging good beta-readers is tough, because they are usually your fellow struggling writers, who have jobs, families and their own writing to attend to. Once you find them, you want to keep them, for no good beta-reader should ever be taken for granted.
Barter. Offer to beta-read their unpublished works or to read and review the published ones. If your preferred method for obtaining beta-reads is to post your new work chapter-by-chapter on Facebook, keep careful track of those who consistently read and comment on your posts. Once the book is finished, cleaned up and published, send them a copy as a gift (you can do that both with eBooks and paperbacks), ask them whether they need a boost with some of their work.
While beta-reviewing is somewhat more challenging for other creative artists, it can still be done. Musicians can post the first drafts of their recordings, artists - photos of their new works - and ask for the opinions of others.
Please keep in mind, a good beta-reviewer is an honest one. So, don't get your knickers in a bunch if the reviews come back less than stellar. Take the criticism in stride - we are artists, for crying out loud, we ought to be prepared to handle that sort of thing - improve your work, try again.
Use the tools
I cannot emphasize enough how easy it is to promote your own and others' work these days. The social media - Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, blogs - it is all out there and free. Use it! And don't just hoard all the promotion effort to yourself, use it to promote others as well.
Do you have friends who are talented writers or artists? Share and tweet links to their work along with your own. Are you on any of the "wish list" sites (like Pinterest, Kaboodle or StumbleUpon)? Make a point to add your friends' work - pin it, stumble it, add it to wish lists.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble both allow you to review books without buying them, as long as you are a registered user and have bought something from them at some point. Which means, if you have beta-read a book for a friend, and then the book becomes published via these channels, you can march on over and leave a review and a rating.
Amazon.com has two additional pieces that are used to improve a book's position in buyer searches. One is the "Like" button located at the top of the book listing right next to the title. The other one is tags. The tag area is further down the page under the section for customer reviews. If a book is already tagged, you can simply agree with all the tags. If there are no tags or if some are missing, you can add your own. It is a small thing, but it does make a difference in how much the book is seen when readers search by a particular category.
Similarly, for artists who sell on etsy, entire stores or specific items can be added to your "circle" (a group of etsy sellers whose work you like) and to your favorites (pieces you would like to purchase or recommend to others). As with Amazon's "likes" and "tags", this pushes your creative friends and their work higher in the search hierarchy, allowing more of their pieces to be seen.
Give credit where credit is due
Amazon makes it very easy to include various contributors to a published work, in addition to the author. Yes, many indie writers do everything themselves: the editing, the illustration, the cover art. But if that is not the case, do include your team: your editor, your graphic designer, your book trailer designer, your translator, your historic consultant, etc. If you cannot pay other contributors for their services, it is once again time to barter. Ask where they need help and lend a hand.
If your work does very well and the royalties are plentiful, contact your contributors and discuss what percentage of royalties you can split away to compensate them. Keep your books diligently and stick to your word. With so much crap being manufactured in all areas of the arts, with so much corporates squabbling and mud-slinging, we in the indie world must maintain our integrity religiously, because otherwise, how else are we to prove that we are different?
Don't be a slacker
Even if you reach fabulous success, never, never, never forget where you started from and who helped you along the way. There is a difference between taking pride in your work and your achievements and feeling entitled.
Mentor other artists, whose work you admire but who are struggling to get noticed. Coach them on how to use the tools. Leverage own network (including the virtual network like LinkedIn and the brick-and-mortar network, like libraries, museums, art shops, and book stores).
Offer to beta-read. Offer blog interviews. Offer video reviews. Remember all the help you needed when you were in the trenches - what you received and what you did not receive. Chances are, someone else could use all of that help right now.
We are a community. We are unique in that we operate outside of political, economic and religious boundaries. We speak the language of art, which is universal. We carry within us an amazing power to unite millions of people. It is our privilege and our duty to make the most of it.