Self-publishing has a Catch-22 situation in regards to discoverability. It isn't all just word of mouth - particularly where Amazon is concerned you need a sustained burst of sales in order to have your book start appearing in the "also purchased" and "recommended for you" lists. So you need to sell a lot to sell a lot. Just dropping the price to $0.99 won't necessarily get you anywhere at all - there's a ton of books for $0.99 or for free on Amazon and search results are ordered according to number of ratings and reviews meaning, again, that the more you've been read the more you'll be read.
There's any number of things a self-publisher can do to promote their books:
- Chase reviews from book bloggers. Something of a challenge - a book blog with any significant audience will be getting free books from publishers, and will often have a "no self-publishers" policy. Whatever their policies, almost all blogs with an audience will be drowning in books sent to them for review. However, a review from an established blog which is willing to negatively review books as well as gush about the ones they like can have a tangible impact on sales. And a review from a small blog is still a review!
- Run giveaways. I run giveaways at Goodreads - I have two up at the moment (for Stray and Stained Glass Monsters - you need to join Goodreads to enter). I initially thought this would be a good way to get reviews but it's not entirely effective - winners aren't obliged to review, and so far I've had a less than 50% review response. It is, however, quite a useful way to advertise for only the price of a few books, and I get the occasional sale from those too impatient to wait for the giveaway to finish.
- Paid advertising. Not necessarily effective, though with the right venue, cover, content and price point there's a chance of one of those valuable sales bursts.
- Networking. Blog tours, reciprocal promotion with other authors, building an audience on a non-related blog (known as having a platform), friending everyone in sight. These are time-hungry pursuits and results vary wildly. Writers who have a platform, a tangible connection to others, will have a nice springboard for sales. Writers who insert their book into every post they make (or any post they make) will gain themselves a nice backlash. Mileage varies.
- Word of mouth. Someone loves your book. They tell friends. On it goes. Requires someone to love your book first. :)
Curiously, the Aurealis shortlisting was not effective promotion. It got my book mentioned on a lot of sites, but led to I'd say no more than a dozen sales. Still, the judges' report was great for the ego:
"The magic is variously humorous and breathtaking, and Höst has a fresh voice and an unusual heroine—a diplomat rather than a mage. You can read Silence of Medair for its strong, conflicted heroine, its playful subversion of fantasy tropes, or its deep, detailed analysis of the nature of racism. If not, just read it for the beautifully crafted prose."Currently I'm working on "Voice of the Lost" while waiting for my proof of "Lab Rat One" to arrive. [Well, currently I'm reading a lot of Rex Stout and playing computer games, but theoretically I'm working on "Voice". :D ]