This is the 12th article in my series on publishing. For regular content, check back on February 11th.
This week I want to talk about Marketing. And, admittedly, there’s still quite a bit that I’m learning here. But there’s already quite a bit that I have learned as well. If you are a new author and you’re trying to get noticed, these tips below represent first steps that you should be taking.
I’ll assume that you took my earlier advice and got your book edited and a decent cover put on it. That’s great. That’s part of the problem solved there. Now, I assume, you have a decent quality product to sell. That’s the first thing to get corrected – your thought process. Your book isn’t your “baby”. It’s not your “creation”. It’s not some living, breathing thing. It’s a product. A product that you want consumers to buy. Until you start thinking of yourself a business that produces products marketing will often be a foreign or alien concept to you.
I digress. You have a decent product now. You put it up for sale on Amazon and… nothing happens. I mean, sure, you might sell a few copies here and there, but you’re not going to quit your day job anytime soon with approach. If you’ll remember back to a few weeks ago, I mentioned that there were a plethora of new eBooks on the Amazon market every month. You have a decent cover, so maybe your book already stands out from the crowd a little. But there are a lot of other books with professional covers that will compete directly with you.
You cannot expect to just throw your book out there and have people swarm to it and buy it. Maybe you figure that you’ll share you link on your Facebook page. You’ve got 500+ friends, so even if 10% of them buy your book, that’ll be a start, right? It only works that way on paper. I’ve never met an author yet who has had that approach be successful for them. Family and Friends are notoriously bad as sources of income or feedback. They don’t want to buy your stuff because they haven’t read it. And most of them haven’t read it because they are afraid that they won’t like it and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They don’t understand that you have a thick skin. It’s easier for them to make excuses about why they can’t read it or don’t have time to read it (even though they’ve read the latest NYT bestseller), than it is to tell you they don’t like it. And, if they don’t like your stuff, they’re less likely to share your link and help spread the word. Just assume that it’s not going to work as an overall strategy. I will add, it’s still worth doing once or twice. Throw the links out and see who bites in earnest. You will probably end up with a small handful of people who genuinely do like your work, and those people will be some of your most ardent supporters. You’ll come to rely on them.
If friends and family don’t work for marketing, then that means that you need to get your books in front of strangers. Brutally honest strangers. There are a couple of ways to do that. The first thing I tried was an Amazon giveaway where my books were free for a certain time period. I ended up giving away about 350 copies of my books. It wasn’t exactly fruitful. I got a few good reviews, but the vast majority of people who get the free books don’t bother reading them. They collect them and hoard them. If they do get around to reading them, it’s usually quite a long time later. Obviously, the more people that you give your book to, the more people who could potentially read it. But that goes back to the first problem – how do people know that your books even exist?
There are a few things that you can do early on. And if you plan on writing more than one book, I strongly encourage doing this. First, make a separate FB “page” (not a separate account, but a page… Under the dropdown, and then “Create Page”). Create a public “personality” page for your author brand. Invite everyone on your personal page to follow it. I try to keep my stuff separated. I don’t post about politics or things like that on my author page, and I usually don’t post book-related stuff on my personal page (unless it’s big news). My friends and family who do care about the writing will follow my author page and get regular updates there. This will also make it easier for people to find your page. And, once you start getting enough likes FB will start recommending your page to others.
Another thing I strongly encourage is setting up an author website (like the one that you are reading this article on). It doesn’t have to be big, or fancy. It just has to look nice. There are a lot of ways to go about this, but I would strongly advise in making the investment to get a personalized domain name and web hosting. Even if you aren’t very tech savy, there are a lot of options. This is way easier than it used to be. One thing I would absolutely advise: pay close attention when buying domain names. A lot of companies (*cough* GoDaddy *cough*) will have super amazing deals where you can buy a domain name on-the-cheap for like, $1! …except when that first year is over, they want like $30 to renew it for the next year. I went with a different company who had their initial and renewal rates posted up front. The company I chose had the same rate for the first year as they did for the renewal. It makes budgeting easier. Web hosting is also a good thing to consider. You could just buy a domain name and point it a free site, but then your readers will see ads and it makes your website look less professional. Buying your own hosting plan doesn’t have to be expensive. I pay $35 a year and I have enough space to run multiple websites off of the same space.
Another very important thing, something I learned late in the game – a mailing list. There are lots of ways to go about this. You could collect mailing addresses manually via Excel or GoogleSheets or something, but then you have to maintain those yourself. Or, you could go with a service like MailChimp or MailerLite. A lot of the services are free up to a certain number of subscribers, and then they start charging so they’re a good way to go. Creating a mailing list allows you to track people who are interested in your work and email them directly when you release a new book or have other important updates. But, it also helps to entice people with a reason to sign up for your mailing list – a “reader magnet”. Usually a small story or a novella of some kind. Some authors band together and all contribute a short story to an anthology. It’s nothing more than a little quid-pro-quo bribery. Of course, there’s nothing to stop people from signing up for your list long enough to get the reward, and then taking themselves off the list. Those probably aren’t the readers that you want anyway.
If you are selling your books through Amazon, you can create an Author Page. And people can follow you right from Amazon’s website. But you have no control over this list. Amazon will email them when you release a new book. But you don’t know how many people are on the list or have any way to interact with them directly. It’s really Amazon’s list of people who like you. You can also create a GoodReads author page. This can be an interesting way to engage with some of your readers, but it’s not likely going to get you a lot of new readers.
One way to market is to go to local events. Conventions. Artist fairs. Book signings. If you network with local book stores they may host you for a signing. That’s a great way to increase exposure and get new names for your mailing list. If you do this, have “swag” available. Business cards, book marks, little trinkets or things with your name on them. I’ve seen some people make posters that they give away at a raffle for people who sign up for their mailing list. Others have done hats or shirts or coffee cups. There are lots and lots of companies that can make this type of merchandise for you. The only real question here is your budget.
Another way of marketing that I have recently discovered is book clubs. Sometimes there is a local book club that you can get to read your book by donating copies. This is particularly helpful if the book club has a lot of members, or if the members blog about their books.
You can also try giving out “review copies” to people who write reviews. Be careful with this. Amazon forbids you from giving away a copy to someone in exchange for an Amazon review. However, if the person writes a literary blog or magazine and they review the book on their own site (not Amazon’s product page), then you aren’t in violation on their policy.
You can also try book list giveaway & sales sites that list books that are on-sale or temporarily free. BookBub is the most famous (and most expensive), but there are a number of other smaller sites that can help get you exposure to your book.
The most effective way, from most of the other authors that I’ve talked to, is paid ads. Of those types, the two main sources are Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads. Google also does offer some advertising services that I’m going to explore, but most of the authors I have spoken with don’t seem to going that route. Between the two popular choices Facebook Ads are the least effective for me. I’ve used them before. I set my budget, crafted my message, included a photo (people like pictures), and set my target audience parameters. I got a lot of views, but only a few clicks, and only one purchase. I spent more on the ads than I made in revenue. Your mileage, obviously, may vary. I’m going to try Amazon ads next. A few of my other author friends have had good luck with that. The Amazon ads are slightly more expensive than the Facebook ads, but also more effective. Why? Because they are targeting people who are already in a shopping mindset (they’re browsing Amazon already), and they are targeting people specifically that like your genre. Both of these things make it far more likely that your ads will produce results.
Doing all of these things has greatly improved my sales and visibility, but there is still a lot more to learn. This is by no means an all-encompassing approach to marketing, but it’s definitely the first steps that you should take if you are serious about trying to make money on your writing.
I hope that you found this helpful. Next week I will talk about expanded distribution models.