Most new writers think marketing a book is as simple as writing a snappy blurb, throwing the book up on Amazon, and creating one or two social media posts. Then they call it a day, expecting the sales to roll in. Only to find out their strategy didn’t work.
Marketing a book is a long-term commitment for an author regardless of how you published a book. A book launch may be the first foray into the world of marketing; it can’t be the last.
Today, we’re going to talk about marketing yourself and your book. However, I will not be touching on the use of social media. Social media is its own beast, and I don’t want to overwhelm you with information. I will touch on it in a later post, though. What we’ll be talking about today is a bit more personal and can work as effectively, if not more so, than your social media efforts.
Marketing for Writers
Before you can do anything reader-facing, you must do some background work. If you skip this step, you could miss your ideal readers entirely and lose a lot of money in the process. And I don’t want that to happen, so we’re going to look at everything from start to finish.
At its core, marketing a book is about telling people why they want to buy your product and giving them an easy way to do so. Put that way; it doesn’t sound so scary. Does it?
As with anything else, the complexity is in the details. But if you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed by all there is to do, take a breath and remember to focus on these fundamentals:
Do Your Market Research
Of course, your writing is your passion project, but by listing your book for sale, you’re also turning it into a product. While writing can be as artistic as you like, you will need to focus on the business side if you want to reach your audience.
The first question to ask yourself is what genre are you writing in? Take a minute to browse Amazon as a reader. Here are some things to consider when it comes to genre:
- What kinds of books are selling best in the genres you’re interested in?
- What do they have in common, and what do they avoid?
- Is there a niche genre that would give you greater visibility?
- If you’re writing nonfiction, get a sense of not only the kind of titles you’ll be competing with but also the content they’re providing.
Write all your observations down, so you can look at them later.
Once you’re finished, ask yourself, who are my readers? You’ll want to consider their demographics: what kind of income level do they have, how quickly do they read books, and what are some of their other common interests?
Asking yourself those questions creates what’s called a “reader avatar” — a stand-in personality you can refer to when making marketing decisions. Whenever trying something new, ask yourself what would be the best way to reach that person. After all, the best marketing strategy is specific; trying to market to everyone will mean you’ll reach no one.
Have the Right Product for Your Market
Now that you know what your target readers look like, you will need to deliver something that exceeds their expectations. So write that novel already!
Once you get to the editing stage of your story, you’ll want to ensure you’re conforming to some of the standards of your genre. Some of the things you’ll want to try to match are:
- Tone and overall style
- Structure and story arcs
- Character types
- Popular tropes
- Type and density of information
You don’t have to do this, but it’s highly recommended. I believe you should try to retain as much originality as you can.
Make it Pretty
People do judge a book by it’s cover. Some even fawn all over a well-designed book cover.
So make sure you have an excellent one because it’s the first impression someone will get from you and your book. From Amazon search results to the ads you buy, it will appear everywhere.
What makes a good cover?
A good cover needs to be eye-catching, readable at small sizes, and correctly convey what kind of book is inside. Every genre has its own cover conventions, and matching the bestsellers in terms of colors, fonts, and overall trends (are they illustrated, do they feature people’s faces, are they stark and simple?) is an easy way to attract readers.
And you don’t have to do it alone. Traditional publishers have teams to handle this for you, and if you’re self-publishing, you can always hire someone to help you.
The other thing you need to make pretty is the interior of your book. It also needs to follow professional publishing standards and look good. If it doesn’t, it could turn away a reader.
Establish Your Web Presence
I will bang this into your heads with a two-by-four if I have to, but you need to establish an online presence to get publishing opportunities and grow a fanbase. You cannot sit in the shadows and expect significant results. It just doesn’t happen.
To have any visibility, you need a solid internet presence — and there is no such thing as “too early” to start building it. You don’t even need to be published to start building an audience and a presence online.
Here are some ways you can build a web presence:
- Build an author website. It acts as a central resource for all things related to you, allowing you to easily direct people to your books, social media accounts, mailing list, and more. Make sure you keep the design clean and easy to navigate and keep it up to date.
- Set up a mailing list. I truly cannot stress the importance of a mailing list enough. Mailing lists are the number one way to grow and reach your fanbase, and neglecting to learn how to use them effectively will only lose you sales.
- Create a reader magnet. Once you have the mailing list, you need to convince people to sign up, which is what reader magnets are for. It’s a special offer people get for signing up. It can be exclusive content (i.e., a prequel), a short story, a free template or ebook, etc.
There are even more ways to entice people to follow you. These are just a few examples, but they all have to deal with introducing yourself to readers and then point them towards buying something. You offer them value to get value (in the form of a book sale) in return.
Build Visibility and Credibility
Once you have established a platform for yourself via a webpage or Amazon, you need to get more eyes on your books. And there are a lot of ways to do this. Such as:
- Networking. And not just with other authors. You’ll want to connect with as many people as possible because they may know or have things you don’t.
- Guest spotlights. The more you appear on podcasts or blogs, the more likely people will remember you.
- Start landing reviews. Book reviews help other readers determine if your book is worth reading or not. So try to get as many good reviews as you can as early as possible. It’ll help generate buzz around your book. And the best place to look for potential reviews is on your email list.
- Try new things. Everyone is doing the same thing, so you could get lost in the noise, which is why experimenting is a good thing. It gives you a chance to stand out. So experiment with an open mind and keep what works, discard what doesn’t.
Leverage and Grow Your Fanbase
If you’ve got fans pouring in, you’ll want to engage with them to start building a relationship. It’s a great way to get people enthusiastic enough to share your book with others.
It is such an easy thing to do. All you need to do is be yourself and be nice. This is also where social media comes in handy. For instance, you can start a Facebook group for your fans and interact with them there. Ask your email list questions in fun polls or schedule giveaways and Q&A sessions on your Instagram account.
There are many different way to do this, and feel free to come up with new ways to interact too.
Learn the Secrets of Amazon
At some point in your writing career, you will have to use Amazon to sell your books. Even if you decide to sell wide and build up your presence across multiple retailers, you’ll still be making most of your sales through Amazon.
So it is within your interests to learn how Amazon works. Here are some things that you should keep in mind when working with the retail giant:
Build Your Book Page
A strong book page is the cornerstone of your Amazon sales strategy because this is where readers will decide to buy your book. To make sure you capture their interest, you’ll need to optimize your page. This means starting with a book description that will hook readers with a catchy premise, conflict, or character they’ll fall in love with. For nonfiction, you’ll want to showcase your expertise or the burning questions your book will answer.
You’ll also want to pay careful attention to your categories and keywords to zero-in on your target readers. The key is to find categories and keywords that are both true to your book, as well as being in the “sweet spot”: not so obscure that nobody is looking for books in them, but not so big that all the New York Times bestsellers drown you out. After all, you’ll have a far easier time convincing people to buy your book if you draw in the kind of readers who are already looking for what you’ve written.
You can learn more about what it’s like to set up your book page and how to select the right keywords and categories in Reedsy’s guide to Kindle Direct Publishing.
Consider KDP Select
One important factor all authors must consider is whether or not they want to participate in Amazon’s KDP Select program. KDP Select offers self-published authors many benefits, including participation in Kindle Unlimited and the ability to run price promotions easily, but it requires a 90-day exclusivity period with Amazon.
Customize Your Amazon Author Page
And don’t forget to optimize your Amazon Author Central page. Since you’ll be driving lots of traffic to your book page, you might as well capture some of that interest for yourself as an author and your future work. Include an incentive in your author bio, or you could build your mailing list from Amazon.
Use Amazon as Part of Your Book Launch Strategy
Since you’re already promoting your book, why not take advantage of that early interest and turn it directly into sales?
Pre-orders allow you to climb the sales rank early, propelling you up the charts before you’ve even started. Plus, it’s a chance to adjust your categories, keywords, and book description before launch day, allowing you to find precisely what works. With all this combined, your book is much more likely to have the start it deserves.
Additionally, Amazon has a lot of built-in features that can help you throughout launch week, such as good review juice which will rocket your book to that coveted number one spot.
Become an Advertising Whiz
The adage is true: you have to spend money to make money. The days where you could just put your book on Amazon, sit back, and wait for the sales to pour in without an advertising campaign are gone, unfortunately.
However, there are several advertising options available to authors, but you’ll need to familiarize yourself with them so you know what works and what doesn’t.
Advertise on Amazon and Facebook
You will want to know how to use Amazon and Facebook ads. Amazon ads display on both the product page of other books and the search results when people are browsing. They’re a powerful way to reach people who are already looking to spend money on books, and using them correctly can really boost your sales.
Facebook ads can be used to sell your book directly, but they’re also a powerful way to advertise your mailing list’s reader magnet. Or you can run multiple ads at once, targeting different users, to see what works best for your books.
Another online ad campaign manager that I’d suggest signing up for is Google’s Ad Sense program. You may not get the best results from this search engine, but you will get access to many of the other features that come along with the program, such as their keyword manager.
That keyword manager can help you write content around your books. If done properly, it’ll help you boost your visibility in the search engine rankings.
Put your books on sale
The other advertising tactic all authors should know is how to run a successful price promotion. By putting your books on sale and running ads through book promotion services such as Bookbub, you can dramatically raise your sales to rank on Amazon and increase visibility.
In turn, this will drive full-price sales, and Kindle Unlimited page reads even after your promotion is over. This is especially effective if you “stack” your promotional efforts — advertising across multiple services during the length of your sale to create a powerful advertising punch.
Scale Your Marketing Efforts
Just because you get some success, it doesn’t mean your work is done. As I previously mentioned, marketing is a long-term game that you must continually work on.
That doesn’t mean you have to work on it every day of the year. But you will have to spend a significant amount of time on it, depending on what your goals are.
For some of you, that might mean hiring someone to help you out. That way, you can do what you do best: write books.
(Before you hire someone, I’d check out this Publisher’s Weekly article. It outlines some things you should consider before signing a contract with a professional marketing firm.)
Marketing During a Pandemic
I don’t like to mention this, but I felt that I must in this instance. COVID-19 has dramatically changed how we do things, and the publishing industry is no exception.
Self-Publishing School was nice enough to offer some advice on how to survive these trying times:
- Switch to an ebook-first marketing plan (switch marketing images to ebooks, talk about the ebooks, make ebooks top-of-mind so buy those versus physical copies)
- Promote your paperbacks on other websites (Barnes and Noble, etc.) instead of sending readers to Amazon
- Have any collaborators switch to a different distributor or an ebook link for the time being
- Reduce your ebook price or run a special to get the word out
- Connect the current events to your story or message (it’s an excellent time for dystopian authors)
- Offer a free PDF for anyone who buys a paperback (so they can start reading right away while waiting for their physical copy).
- Run a special that donates a percentage of the profits toward families in need during this time
- Be aware of others’ struggles and hardships during this time, and be sensitive with your promotional materials.
You may also want to check out the following blogs for more marketing ideas: Greenleaf Book Group, Submittable, BookBub, and Publish Drive.
Please remember most of the advice that applies at regular times is still the same. It would be best to move away from physical book copies and appearances to more of an online strategy.
Different Marketing Strategies to Try
I know I’ve given you a lot of information to process today, and probably more than a few questions. But I wanted to leave you with another list of ideas to try. Most of these suggestions came from BookBub and Smith Publicity:
- Host a launch party. These create a buzz around your novel. You can add promotions and contests around your book to help move copies.
- Publish new books. New books keep your readers wondering what you’re working on. You can tie in teasers and cover reveals to ramp up the anticipation.
- Participate in live and virtual events. Many activities fall under this category, such as book signings, attending a book or writing conference, participating in interviews on podcasts, speaking at book clubs, etc.
- Sell book-centered merchandise. This is for the authors with hard-core fans. Satisfy your fans by designing book-themed mugs, t-shirts, hoodies, etc.
- Team up with a charity or cause to raise awareness. If you want to help your community and also promote your book, you can do that. Maybe donate your earnings to a charity or work with an organization to deliver clean water to communities in need.
- Book trailers. Take a page out of Hollywood’s book and create a trailer for your book’s release. It can be done by yourself and cheaply.
- Learn how to write ad copy. The entire point of doing all of this is to sell books, but if you aren’t up to speed on what that looks like, you need to figure it out. Writing an effective sales copy will help you tremendously.
Whatever you do, I know it’ll be great. So don’t be afraid to experiment or get rid of what doesn’t work. And most importantly, have fun. It’s only stressful if you make it so.
I can sit here and tell you what to do, but that won’t help you as much as getting into the nitty-gritty of marketing your book. You won’t know what the best route for you and your book until you start the process.
I know this is a lot of information to process, and like so many other things in the writing world, you need to take things one step at a time. If you don’t have a website or an email list. I’d start there. Get those set up and then branch out from there. That goes for new writers and veterans alike.
And whatever you do, have fun with it. Seriously. It makes you feel so good when things work out the way you want them to. Plus, think of all the happy readers you’ll be making because they got the exact book they were looking for.
What are the most important tools in your marketing toolbox? Do you have any sure-fire tips to boost your sales rank? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.
Wwwwwow, there’s so much in here I haven’t done! I can honestly say – as you know – I’ve had a website for over 2 years.
Unfortunately, I have very few followers.
I tried to use keywords for my genre, but I have not drawn much traffic at all.
I don’t remember hearing about the Amazon Author Page before, but I’m glad you covered it.
But I don’t want to give up. I want to still get published, market to an audience, and get my story into the audience’s hands.
Lol. I know. it’s a lot. Useful but a lot.
It might be the type of keywords that you’re using and how you use them. I know posting frequency also affects traffic.
I’m still figuring out things with Amazon as well. So I’m sure I’ll cover it more depth later on. XD
Oh yeah. Don’t give up at all! You’ll get there, but you may want to start looking at marketing techniques in more detail.
Yes. Like getting *educated* on them.
It’s more like looking at what’s popular out there coming to your own conclusions and then experimenting. It’s mostly what I do, and it’s worked really well so far. I know that I need to improve in some areas still but that’s okay. It’s a learning experience and fun for me.
And I’m not saying you don’t know what you’re doing. I know you do! 🙂
It’s more of figuring out what types of techniques work best for you. For you, I’d follow more of a networking type marketing strategy. You’re very friendly and personable, and that would come in really handy in collaborations with others, such as appearing on podcasts or guest articles.
That’s still an excellent way to get your name and books in front of potential readers and doesn’t rely on the ever-changing keyword hamster-wheel.
I like doing more of that background work (SEO) because it doesn’t cause me anxiety as talking to others. (I’m better in person than I am online.) I like fiddling with keywords and SEO because I find it interesting. Other people may not, and they don’t want to spend the time reading how-to articles, etc., to figure out what to do or how to use them properly. They have better things to do, and that’s totally fine too. (Again, not saying you’re one of those people.)
One other thing I have done is create a Facebook page for my website, oriented around my stories.
Also a really good idea!
One that we’ll be exploring in more detail next week on Tuesday. 😉
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