7 Tips To Help Promote Your First Self-Published Book

While this site is now aimed at being a graduate education for author-entrepreneurs, I still get emails every day from new authors who are just discovering self-publishing.

book market on the seineI suggest that they start with my Author 2.0 Blueprint, and the other free resources as well as the audio podcast. Plus I wrote this checklist for new self-published authors when I published my Dad’s first book. But there are always more questions!

So today, Debbie Flint offers some tips for promoting your first book. This will also be one of the last guest posts on the site, so expect to hear from me more in future posts.

When a new author presses the ‘publish’ button and creates their first ever title, what happens next?

Now more than ever, success in self-publishing is all about ‘discoverability’, especially if you want to spread the word about your very first self-published novel (or your second or third but for the complete beginner in particular, it’s even more daunting).

Which extra strategies will best help spread the word?

Once the big day has come and gone and the initial rush of sales has (hopefully) happened, once you’ve told everyone you already know that it’s out there and numbers have begun to stall, how then do you continue to spread the word without continuously tweeting ‘buy my book, here’s my book, oh by the way, buy my book?’

Here are some of the technical tools you can toy around with to help progress your reach. Many of these are Amazon based as most self-published authors make a large percentage of income there, but some are not related to Amazon and are available to all.

1. Freebie launch – Also Boughts

Build up your ‘also boughts’ and reviews with a freebie launch, which is basically the books that appear underneath yours on the sales page. These start appearing within a few days of sales starting on your book, but you can speed them up by using a promotion or giveaway.

 also boughtAs you may know, on Amazon you can opt to be in KDP select and utilize their promotional tools. One of them is being able to offer your book free for a certain period (up to 5 days in every three month period). These work best when you have more than one title, creating a knock-on effect on sales of your back catalogue as new readers (hopefully) like your freebie and come back for more, so increasing the sales of your other titles.

A book page with many ‘also boughts’ fulfils a browsing reader’s need for social proof. Plus, with enough downloads of your freebie, you could end up with 14 pages or so of ‘also boughts’ listed right underneath your book on Amazon, (up to 70 or so other books all bought by customers who downloaded yours), which in turn means your book may appear on those others’ pages. With a good thumbnail pic of your cover and a tempting title, yours may be the next book they click on. This results in more sales over time without you directly soliciting them.

2. Freebie launch – Reviews

when dreams returnOffering a freebie at launch makes it more likely that you will get more reviews early on. Whether they’re good or not is the risk you take – as is offering your book out to the top 500 reviewers pre-launch, but it’s rare they’ll take a first title if you’re not a reality star or an octogenarian actress.

In one of my recent promotions, When Dreams Return, a 14,000 word spooky romantic suspense, was offered free for 5 days across Mothers’ Day weekend. It led to 12 reviews on Amazon.co.uk – off the back of 2400 free UK downloads.

Only 2400?

The landscape is changing, and whilst this was a niche spooky romantic short story, it’s still an indication of current levels of downloads achievable, depending upon the book. The heady heights of Dec 2012 are a thing of the past, when many self-published authors reported 10,000 downloads just by putting up a 5 day freebie.

PERMAFREE – a quick note. Once you have more than one title available, offering a permanently free or ‘permafree’ first book in a series is a good tactic that’s familiar to many. In case you’re not one of them, you set the price as free on other platforms via Kobo, Apple, Smashwords or Draft2Digital.com. Then Amazon (eventually) price matches, side-stepping the five day limit.

However, for a new author, purely to build up reviews the launch freebie may be worth considering, as a review will still show ‘Amazon verified purchase’ even if it was free – proving that person downloaded it from Amazon, and are more likely a genuine review.

3. Freebie launch – Facebook ‘Boost Post’ Paid Promotion

Amidst all the fervent counting down to launch and pre-launch cover-teases, Facebookers amongst you may have noticed the occasional ‘sponsored link’ or paid-for promotion pop up on your feed. You can use this yourself and is surprisingly easy if you have a Paypal account. The promotion is only as good as the post itself however, and a rubbish headline or badly worded post may not get much reaction whether 100 or 10,000 people see it.

If you are to pay for promotion on Facebook it’s often most effective for promoting a freebie eBook. Using an attention grabbing headline, for an attractive proposition like a worthwhile freebie, it may be worth spending the money.

facebook boost post

Click on the ‘boost post’ button at the side of your post on your Facebook page. You’re offered a choice of fee to reach a certain number of people and your post appears amongst the other feeds more frequently than it would otherwise do, so more people notice it and (hopefully) read it and (even more hopefully) action it.

EXAMPLE – Currently the £18 price band promises an est. reach of up to 12.7k views and so on. Once it’s up and running it counts down the amount of money left to use, and gives you a running total of how many it reached. And if enough of these thousands of extra people finding out about your freebie with its laser sharp headline, and download it as a result, this paid for promotion could well get you higher up the free kindle charts. Which can then lead to even more benefits. You also get a summary once the promotion is over, like the one above – which was for a post promoting my website newsletter sign up in return for a free steamy download.

CHART POSITIONS – of course if you get in the top 100 in the Free Chart then even more people will see your offer since Amazon list the top 100 free right next to the top 100 paid for. A great cover and a good title can catch the reader’s eye amidst the 99 other choices, making yours the next one they download, thereby taking you even higher up the chart.

CASE STORY – Pre the above promotion, When Dreams Return languished around number 120 in the Free chart in UK. Once the promotion was up and running it dipped inside the 100 and headed on upwards as more and more thousands saw it due to the ‘boost post’. It peaked at No. 23 on day 5, just as the promotion reaching 22,300 people for £66 ended.

If you care to experiment, it’s worth dabbling in the lower bands to test the efficacy of your post/headline. If you see it start to take effect, you can always add more money to the promotion and continue it. It’s hit and miss if you don’t get the right offer or the right headline – but it’s a weapon in your armory over which you have total control and full reporting afterwards. And it’s especially good for freebie offers.

[Note from Joanna: Please be VERY careful with paying for Facebook advertising, especially for free books, as it is very easy to spend too much money for very little return.]

NB nearly two weeks after the freebie promotion, this title is still selling enough to remain at around 1880 in the Kindle UK paid charts, possibly helped by still being in the top 5 on these niche categories. See 9 below.

4. Reduced Price Offer – KDP Countdown

Once your book has been at a certain higher price for at least a month, you can use the relatively new KDP Countdown system. It allows you to run a reduced price offer – preferably a substantial reduction – for a short period, all the while showing how many days and hours left before the price reverts to the higher level. The most useful aspect of this, if you’re a little geeky, is the statistics chart you can generate at any moment from ‘Reports,’ showing the difference the offer has made to sales, pounds per hour and items per hour, comparing figures from before and after the offer.

CASE STORY– Till the Fat Lady Slims, a weight loss book down from £2.99 to 99p for just four days over Mothers’ Day weekend, went from 20p per hour to £2.23 per hour royalties, an increase of 1015% on the previous week. This type of reporting can really help you decide whether to do price promotions again, monitor more specifically the various variations on your offers, (eg do it at £1.49 next time) and whether therefore to remain in KDP Select (click here for an alternative viewpoint), or abandon it and use other platforms not just Amazon (see below.)

This promotion will also (hopefully) enhance numbers sold, which in turn can raise chart position, increase number of reviews and improve ‘also boughts.’

KDP Countdown Screenshot

5. First Chapter Freebies

Pick out a specific section of your book and upload it as a separate title as a freebie, making it very clear it’s an initial instalment – particularly useful if you have only one title.

However, it’s got to satisfy, and be worthwhile as a stand-alone – or should have a really tempting cliff-hanger at the end – so that the freebie may entice readers to go for the rest of the novel once they’ve read the first bit.

Make sure it’s well written in order to (hopefully) counteract any chance the reader might feel cheated eg if you haven’t made it clear it’s only the first part of your story.

It may also be worth ‘unpublishing’ that instalment once the freebie is over, to avoid bad reviews if someone inadvertently pays for it, not realising it’s short or incomplete (not everyone reads the product description). Unpublishing is fairly easy, but if you are in KDP Select, the title can’t be published elsewhere for the desired length of time (90 days even if a book is unpublished.)

You can also use the freebie on Wattpad, or as a giveaway on your author site.

6. Choose a niche category to enhance the chances of charting higher

niche categoriesExplore the niche categories on Amazon and pick your two genre/categories wisely, aiming for the more niche ones if you think it will enhance the chances of getting to the top of that chart. Whatever you’re writing, there will be some people exploring the other books in the chart their last book appeared in. Fewer obviously in more niche categories, but if you get to number one in that chart in a paid for offer (not a freebie) you can legitimately call yourself a ‘best seller’ on Amazon as your book got to number one in that chart – even if it was ‘KindleStore/Books/Fiction/Romance/Paranormal/Ghosts.’

CASE STORY – By the time it was number 44 in the overall Kindle Free UK Chart, When Dreams Return also got to number 1 in the more important ‘KindleStore/Books/Fiction/Horror’ chart too. If I’d chosen ‘short stories’ as the second category, not Horror, I may not have charted that highly at all.

7. Updates, from a personal angle

Finally, if you are left with only your own social media platforms to try to encourage more people to click on your book link, at least make it personal.

‘Had a really nice review already from A James on my new freebie romance eBook – how lovely it feels to read such positive feedback – thank you @A L James! #WhenDreamsReturn. Still at 99p till midnight’

‘My short story #WhenDreamsReturn still 99p till midnight – lots of good reviews, check it out! (Plus link)’.

Often any tweet with a link is just overlooked by the seasoned Tweeter, as they merely skim down the newsfeed on the home page – they follow so many people on Twitter it’s impossible to keep up with them all.

Do your own research by looking down the twitter newsfeed and deciding which tweets you’d ignore and which you’d read. And as they say, always comment on others’ tweets, thoughts, observations, if you expect to get it back in return, someday.

These are just a few observations which are easily accessible and possible of use in building your reach for your first novel.

Do you have any other ideas? Please do share them in the comments below.

debbie flintdebbie flintDebbie Flint is a self-published author of several romance titles and short stories, and by day, presents on QVC The Shopping Channel (well, by night actually, as she’s nocturnal!). Having done three years of courses, workshops and conferences, including Cornerstones, Writers’ Workshop, Watermill Posara, Arvon and Julie Cohen, she reached the final of the top ten ‘Best 100 First Words’ competition at York Festival 2011 for her first full length novel, Hawaiian Affair. Her fiction includes the Hawaiian Trilogy, the third part of which will be out in June 2014, and several short stories. With a professional script-writing partner she has co-written ‘French or Dutch’ (working title) a cross between ‘Mr Selfridge’, ‘Call the Midwife’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ set in the 1920’s, which is currently doing the rounds with the production companies in UK and LA.



Top image: Flickr Creative Commons book market on the seine by HelenST

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  1. says

    I’d just say that early readers/reviewers can really boost that debut author launch. That way, you have reviews ready to hit Amazon once it releases, and they are WELL-THOUGHT reviews. I’d highly recommend having a pool of early readers and get your nearly-perfect manuscript out to them at least a couple months ahead of launch. I think that can make a huge difference in how the book is perceived.

    • says

      This is the best advice. Not doing this was my biggest mistake. Now I’m struggling to get reviews even though I get a lot of positive feedback. It seems that my readers are just really reluctant to put anything up on Amazon in case they then get inundated with emails. I swore at the start that I would only take genuine reviews, not ones I’ve paid for, and I’m sticking to that, although it’s tempting at times.

    • Peter says

      Hi Heather.

      Sorry if this sounds like a silly question but I’ve not yet completed my first novel yet and when I do, is getting early reviews an easy thing to do pre launch? I was wondering how a person can put up a review for a piece of work that has not yet made it to the official release date.

      Many thanks in advance fir your time.


      • says

        As above Peter. Get beta readers and allow them to read much of it prior to launch. I’m lucky in that my beta gang also like to buy the books when first released (many also like to buy the paperback version too when it’s out for their bookshelves). That way when they kindly do their reviews it shows as amazon verified purchase.
        It’s harder to send a book for review if you don’t like to email someone a PDF copy. Some authors send ebooks to reviewers/beta readers by sending them a link for a 99p voucher or whatever price is relevant. They can spend it on what they like of course, and there are no guarantees it’ll end up in hem sticking to the purpose. But it simply means a reviewer can get the book as soon as it’s released, on their kindle (even tho a word doc can also be emailed to a kindle, many don’t like to do that in case of piracy.) Depends on your group of beta readers I guess. I haven’t sent vouchers out yet but I understand it can be a convenience.
        Do read the link above on my previous reply, about how to obtain beta readers, and good luck!

  2. Debs flint says

    Yes good point, Heather. Even better if those kind readers are prepared to also download the book from Amazon before they review it, so it comes up on their review as an Amazon Verified Purchase – showing it’s less likely to be from a relation – or from you! This is one of my other points on an extended version of this blog, on my own website Read It Write It Sell It page.
    Interesting info isn’t it, all this. And it’s changing all the time.
    Best wishes!

  3. says

    These are helpful tips even for those going the traditional publishing route.
    And to add to the list, I’ve offered podcast and YouTube readings of the first couple of chapters.

  4. says

    Those are some great tips for self-publishing! Going to festivals, conventions, and workshops might also be helpful for your genre. Those like the Mystery Writers of America, they have a big conference, and you can meet a lot of new people, network among people who work specifically in your area, so you’ll get to know mystery writers, mystery editors, mystery agents; they’re all in one place. If you haven’t made it to where you want to go in the writing field, then why not? Why not go, if you can afford it, to the conventions and festivals that focus on your topic? Try to go to BEA, the book expo every year in New York.

    • says

      Anita –
      Would love to – have never been to New York. I’m finding my writing bending towards romantic suspense nowadays, eg a spooky short story compendium for Hallowe’en in October, so maybe it’s a good time to go!
      The Writers Workshop festival in York is also excellent for mixed genres.
      Best wishes

  5. says

    Agree. Some of these tips are price-based, of course, but the majority of the tips above are not. Reviews in particular will be very qualitative. The hope being that reader-reviewers agree with your own definition of quality! :-)

  6. says

    I am in perplex: are Facebook promotions and ads working for free and even paid books?
    James Altucher pays Facebook to decide between a few book titles which he runs as ads in front of his friends.
    What about targeting specific countries in Facebook ads and Twitter ads?

    • Debs f says

      Am sure there are a multitude of different replies to that one, hon, depending much upon the actual offer. I find more response to a freebie being promoted, for instance. But how many read it voraciously straight away, versus keep it tucked in back of Kindle for ‘one day sometime never’ who knows. A compelling sales spiel in the product description will help enhance it’s appeal whatever the situation.
      To Experiment is probably the key.

  7. says

    I just published a book called “Shift!” And I haven’t released it to friends family or colleagues yet, because first I want to see how many strangers I can get to buy it. Seems like the opposite way around…here’s my experience: I have hit Twitter very hard, but it’s a soft-hard…lol….one in ten of my posts is about the book. People need to know I’m a real person and not just promoting constantly…so far I have only sold two kindle copies at $3.99 each. I only started tweeting since last week, but the book has been published since late August. I have posted in forums on Goodreads and groups on other writing based sites. It’s harder than it seems if you’re not willing to throw money at it. For me, it’s a social experiment, but when I release it to the people that I know, I’ll get a giant spike…but that’s not the aim. The target readership is strangers. I’m really trying to get an idea of which marketing strategy works best and so far, Twitter doesn’t seem to be it. I read somewhere, also, that the best way to get a burst of sales is to write another book…this advice seems accurate…maybe I’ll try that next. If anyone is interested in reading or trying the book as part of this experiment, let me know, but so far the Twitter marketing approach is a dud.

  8. Debs f says

    Hi Bill –
    Firstly congrats on finishing your novel and for getting it self published. That’s a huge leap for many.

    How many twitter followers do you have? Are they mostly book reading folks? Sorry to hear twitter doesn’t work for you. It varies person to person. Keep trying though. I know one guy who steadily sells his fiction by tweeting two or three times a day and his reviews have gone up and up, but his already-built fan base of 7000 or so is receptive to reminders. Also the subject matter of your fiction really makes a difference, just publicising it doesn’t mean people will want it. There are tons of books on how best to sell your novel. Also vital is what you are saying when you tweet. Some say thanks for a new five star review and include a little quote, for instance.
    Just wondering why you set the price so high, for your first title? Maybe an entry level price for eBook may help, especially for a new author with no track record. Also on amazon.co.uk there’s no ‘look inside’ – often people never buy without seeing a sample of the authors first few pages. Your one review may also be alerting people to the need to examine the writing before they plunge into quite a high investment with an unknown author.
    If I were you, I’d fix the look inside, change the pricing to entry level (lowest possible, and state in the product description it’s only for launch) , then build up your twitter following by following the followers of other authors with similar genre. If that makes sense! You usually get follows back, which will build a more meaningful and more useful twitter following.
    Well done on not over-tweeting about the book thought! That’s one sure fire way to lose followers ! Lol
    As you’re probably aware, there’s no one size fits all, and it’s an exciting journey finding out what works for each of us.

    Best wishes

    Ps just seen you only have 470 twitter followers. Do aim for several thousand at which point twitter techniques may work more effectively for you.

    • says

      You nailed it Debs!
      I also checked your book Bill and I must confess it’s very expensive for a debut novel. Tyy reducing the price and enroll to KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, my advice. This way, you’ll get more reviews without sending emails to literally bloggers, etc. Then I would choose BookBub – number one tool for promoting a book. Once they list your title in their email list which is sent to over 2 millions subscriber, it’s nearly impossible to sell less than 1000 copies. But there is a catch – your book cannot be for the day of promotion higher than 2,99 dollars. Also they are very picky. I’ll advise you to upload a professional headshot and integrate your latest tweets on your Amazon’s author page. You can email me at vickymanova11@gmail.com for more advice.
      Good luck!

  9. says


    Thanks for the tips you’ve shared. Actually I landed on this site because I am searching practical ideas how to do promotions on my first self-published book in Amazon.com. It’s a quiz trivia book and I am hoping it attracts readers nation wide. The Quiz Master: Be a connoisseur of information is now available in Amazon and I am currently finding tips online how to effectively promote it, don’t actually know where to start other than promoting it in my blog sites.

    • Debs f says

      I can’t say what you should do hon. But what I would do is put it up free for a few days first. A friend of mine Carolyn Mahony recently did a five day freebie on Cry from the Grave and shifted about 6000 copies, which is fab nowadays.
      It then went on to sell well and got to 800 or so in UK amazon kindle chart. Previously it had dropped down below 20000.
      That’s not going to happen to everybody tho. Another friend of mine had a little Xmas anthology out and didnt do a freebie. It sold a few dozen. You’ll have to decide for yourself though.
      Let us know back on here what happens!
      Debs x

  10. says

    One thing that we’re actually doing right now is something we call a “soft launch”. The book is uploaded to Amazon and for a very low cost we’ve handpicked about seven people to read it AND review it before the major launch when we tell everyone it’s ready for purchasing. We haven’t seen the effects yet but hopefully this will help us out as we go through this process.

    • says

      Joyce – lots of tips above, tell us how you got on when you used them?
      Lydia – yes, cool, but try to get them to actually buy it specially if v low cost eg 77p, so it shows up as amazon verified purchase. Those give more credibility! Good luck both. D

  11. says

    R.L. –
    Some beginner authors I know build up their social media platform, first, following and chatting to followers/readers of other authors who write in a genre similar to their own. Then you can ask if any of these new contacts could help with reviews. You may find, as I did, that you can form your own little beta readers group on Facebook. (Relationship building is what social media is there for nowadays, of course, so a newcomer should in general be doing this anyway to build up their platform if they want to be taken seriously later by a publisher.) good luck!
    Ps an update since the above was published in April – ref ‘boost post’ on Facebook – they now restrict the percentage of text used in a promoted post, plus have more options to use paid-for posts. Also I would include using Goodreads amidst your promotion tools. Google how to use Goodreads to promote your first book. Facebook groups also now are proliferating, look for ones specialising in free ebooks, join them, post about other people’s freebies several times so it’s not just about your own self-promotion (relationship building again!)
    Pinterest also is now currently on the increase!
    More on my weekly Read it a write it Sell it blog on debbieflint dot com, as well as here on the lovely Joanna’s own posts of course.
    Best wishes

  12. says

    I was searching google for more ways to promo my self-pubbed books on Amazon and came across this post. It’s excellent, Joanna, thank you for the tips. I am multi-published author, but some of these I was unaware of, and I appreciate learning about them. Thank you!

  13. says

    I finally hit the publish button and since 12 days my book is available on Amazon. I though wonder whether to first try paid promotion on Facebook and Goodreads or directly to jump on KDP Select and submit my free book to all book sites and then run paid promotions?
    What would you advise me, Debbie?

  14. says

    Yes, more books are coming. I am currently on the final editing of my next novella. It will be published while my first one is in KDP Select. Maybe it would be good enroll the second in Select too? I learned a smart technique from successful indies – to publish a chapter or two from the next book at the end of the free book. However, I plan to make the first one a permafree and the second one – a paid.
    By the way, I wanted to ask you Joanna how are you directly selling from your site with the new VAT reform? I think it’s a lot of pain right now.

  15. says

    I really like the article. I thought the idea of having a sample chapter is a great idea. What if the chapter is really long, can I have it 3-5 pages? I heard of Wattpad, never thought of having it as a sample chapter. Can it be a few pages? I have a booklet of short stories, each story is between 15-25 pages.

  16. says

    Joanna – Your site has inspired me to publish my book. I have completed one book in non-fiction (On effective communication). I am going to publish my book for the first time. So, there are many questions about how to go about. Going through various ideas given by you, I am planning go ahead as follows:

    1. Get my book launched through KDP select in Amazon (with 5 days free)

    2. After 90 days I get out of KDP select and go in the normal channel. Along side I get my book book published through some self publishing company.

    Am I thinking rightly? One more question, while on KDP select may I promote my book through my site and other social sites?

    Kindly give your expert opinion.


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