This week I had a large company introduce a new product to their offering. I have been a real fan of this company since they launched and have a lifetime subscription to their product. Up until now upgrades have been part of the my subscription, but they decided to offer more features for more money. This is not in their eyes an upgrade.
As a customer I don't think this is right so I didn't sign up for the new plan. I'm happy enough with the product I have or I was until their tech department screwed up the implementation. Due to several bugs in their system that weren't caught when they launched the new version my website suddenly had a live chat on it that could take comments from site visitors but wouldn't allow me to read the comments or see the email addresses of those who tried to use the chat.
The first evening of the upgrade, someone left a message for me. I reported the fact to the Customer Support engineer and asked them to either let the person know that due to an error on their part or send me the name and email address of the person so I could contact them. They support rep didn't response for a day. In the meantime, you guessed it, another person left a message for me. I reported this too and requested the person's email so I could answer them.
The following day I get a cheerful message from support letting me know that the bug had been fixed and not to worry – there were no more messages in my message folder! I have no idea who left a chat message for me or how I could have helped them.
When I first started using this company they were a small startup. People loved their work and they are now a big company. This story illustrates the seven indie publisher mistakes that can cost successful authors their customers.
- Never treat a fan like a nuisance. It takes time to respond to fan mail. Sometimes your readers will contact you a second, third, even four or more times. If they really respect you and want things to work out, they will keep trying to resolve their issue. Do you know when they will stop talking to you? When they decide you are a jerk. Then they declare they won't buy any more of your books. To avoid this indie publisher mistake talk to them until you work things out. Sure there are some readers and business colleagues that you decide are just harrassing you to try and takek advantage of you. Sometimes you would rather lose the relationship as continue to work with them, but these situations are usually few and far between.
- Don't insist on using email when a phone call is more efficient. Lots of writers are introverts but don't use that as an excuse to avoid talking to people. Emails are for distributing routine information. Phone calls are for resolving mistakes or making sure everyone understands a situation and coming up with ways to work together. The company I'm dealing with is now having to go back into the backup database to find the names of the two people who left me messages. They wouldn't have had to do that had they been willng to talk to me and resolve the issue in one phone call.
- Don't make hard and fast rules. Be flexible. You have offered a free future book as part of a contest. You declare a winner and another contestant writes you to say that they had their entry in before the winner and upset. Send them the book too. They will be grateful. You come off as reasonable. Now you have two readers saying how nice you were. Sometimes it doesn't hurt you to bend a little and in fact it benefits your business.
- Don't hesitate to apologize when you make a mistake. A simple apology goes a long way to keeping a fan or retaining a relationship with a fellow author. Did you accept a request to write a testimonial and forget to do it? Call up the writer, let them know what happened and ask if you can turn in the testimonial late.
- Let's face it your readers aren't always right but you should still listen to them. When you have a book take off, devoted fans will get into the story. No, they will get really into the story. They will let you know what you did brilliantly and what you got wrong. Hey, it is your story, but if you hear a pattern to the complaints, listen and take notes. They are letting you know what they like and if enough of them say the same thing, that is money in the bank information. Don't make the indie publisher mistake of ignoring what they say. Value it.
- Always be generous even when you have done nothing wrong. I learned a valuable lesson with my first company, a web design firm. Sometimes customers or business associates will accuse me of something you didn't do. They might claim you cheated them, or they might have a different interpretation of a conversation than you did and insist that you didn't fulfil your end of an agreement. Let them know you believe this is a misunderstanding, but rather than argue about it, offer to return their money. When I took this approach 99% of the time the person refused the money but were impressed I would offer. Those people were usually turned out to be my most loyal customers.
- Reward those who support you. You will not be successful without people who believe in you letting others know about your work. This goes not just for readers and your network of writer friends, but for everyone you deal with as you build your company. Look for ways to return that support. Maybe you don't have enough followers to help them get signups for the webinar but retweet their course announcement. Tell people at a conference about their great work. Write them a verified review on amazon. Go a bit out of your way to support those who are helping you.
Successful authors sometimes think their success came from all that hard work they did to reach the thriving business they have. They forget that their success came from lots of people helping them. Don't be like the big guys, be like the big guys who don't think of themselves as successful yet but are still working hard to build their business and avoid the biggest successful indie publisher mistake of all.