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.

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Deadly Dozen Hits The NY Times and USA Today Lists. Lessons Learned From The Box-Set

I’m extremely excited to announce that ‘Deadly Dozen,’ the thriller/mystery box-set I am part of, hit the New York Times Bestseller list as well as the USA Today Bestseller list for the second week running!

NYTimes Deadly Dozen130314It’s #13 for fiction E-book bestsellers and #19 for combined print and ebook, plus it’s also now ranking #42 on the USA Today list, up from last week. That’s a writing dream achieved!

I’m now a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author, along with the other fantastic authors in The Twelve: Diane Capri, J. Carson Black, Joshua Graham, Cheryl Bradshaw, Allan Leverone, M.A. Comley, Aaron Patterson, Carol Davis Luce, Vincent Zandri, Linda S. Prather, and Michele Scott.

We also had a brilliant publishing partner in Phoenix Sullivan from Steel Magnolia Press who wrangled us into a team and USAToday 42 DeadlyDozen_130314coordinated the publishing side.

Thank you so much to everyone who bought the book and joined in the promotion. And if you’d like to read 12 bestselling mystery/thrillers for a great price, you can still buy the book from all ebook stores, or read more about it here.

Here are my lessons learned from the experience:

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Book Marketing: On Changing Book Covers

One of the main reasons for self-publishing is creative freedom and control.

remake desecrationMany of us regularly update book blurb/descriptions, as well as changing categories and keywords. I’ve also blogged before about making sure non-fiction book titles are based on keyword research.

Today I’m talking about changing book covers because within a few hours, you can completely change the look and emotional impact of your book. When authors like Polly Courtney have resigned over the cover branding for their books, this seems like the ultimate indie freedom.

Desecration Michael ConnellyI published Desecration, a crime thriller, in Nov 2013, and after it debuted on the bestseller list alongside Michael Connelly, it pretty much sank down the charts. I haven’t done any further promotion, and it hasn’t sold as well as my other books.

It gets brilliant reviews, so once people read it, they love it. But not enough people were trying it … sure, I haven’t done any specific promotion, but based on my other book sales, it should be doing better.

The ‘aha’ moment

Russell Blake, the author who has sold over 400,000 thrillers and now writes with Clive Cussler, wrote a post in Feb 2014 about tweaking his covers. Russell changes covers in order to “find one that resonates with my readership – as expressed in increased sales.”

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How To Love Book Marketing

I teach a lot of authors about book marketing and many start the workshops with dread, knowing they have to learn this stuff, but not really wanting to do it.

marketing is sharing what you loveMy aim is always to change their mindset to one of happily incorporating marketing into their daily lifestyle, and generally, by the end of the day, most authors are much happier! In today’s article, Bryan Cohen talks about his own marketing change of heart.

If you had fun marketing would you be looking for advice on a book marketing blog?

Probably not. I imagine most people search these blog posts for a magic bullet. A marketing solution that takes less time and energy. A tactic that leads to increased sales and more time for writing.

I’m not sure this post fits the bill, but I will tell you what I’ve done to make space in my life for publicizing my books.

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A Brain Scientist’s Take on Bad Reviews

We cannot please everyone with our work, so the 1 star review is inevitable, and yet still we fear it.

1 star reviewsIn today’s post, author and neuroscientist Livia Blackburne puts it all in perspective.

I’ve noticed a pattern in the blog posts of debut authors. Before the book comes out, there’s a flurry of activity about prelaunch preparations. Then there’s a celebration on launch day and a big promotional push. And  finally, after things have quieted down there’s a philosophical post about bad reviews. This is mine.

I released my novella Poison Dance last September and have been obsessively stalking goodreads, googling myself once an hour, attentively monitoring early reader response. A good review is a lovely thing to wake up to, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to find that bad reviews — while not exactly enjoyable to read — don’t bother me as my as I thought they would. I think this is due to my background as a psychologist and neuroscientist. When you look at stories through a psychologist’s point of view, bad reviews no longer seem as scary. Let me explain.

In his book The Language Instinct, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker describes language as a way to shape thoughts in someone else’s brain.  As authors, when we package our words into a novel, we’re taking a story formed in our heads and transmitting them in a nice package for other people to experience.

Pretty cool huh? Like mental telepathy without the foil hats. But it’s imperfect mental telepathy. To understand why, let’s take a closer look at the storytelling process.

The Author’s Idea:

A story starts in the author’s imagination. It isn’t made of bare facts, but draws on the author’s life experience. Whether it’s an epic love story or an nail-biting thriller, the story is informed by everything from the writer’s worldview to her favorite hobbies.

From the Author’s Brain to the Page:

Once the story is there, the author puts the words to page. Again, the combination and style of the words used depends on the author’s individual understanding of language. Everything from the phrasing employed to the details mentioned are the author’s unique signature.

Sentence level decoding:

After the book is written, it enters the hands of the reader. And here, it passes through another set of filters. Just as everybody produces language differently, everybody understands language differently. This means that different readers will find different voices compelling. One reader might pay more attention to short distinct sentences,  while another might bask in lush descriptive prose.

Image level meaning:

By now the reader has decoded the sentences, which  tells her the bare bones of what happened —  a ball bounces on the pavement, a man punches a security guard. But does it matter that the ball bounces, and should we be shocked that the man punched the guard? What if it had been a nun who did the punching? Events and images must again be interpreted, and this  relies very much on the reader. For example, take a romance in which a man takes a woman’s hand. A reader who is very sensitive to physical touch might interpret this as a strong display of affection, while a more touchy-feely reader might not think this is a big deal at all and be completely surprised when the man declares his undying love a few chapters later.


After the broad events of the story is conveyed, there remains the larger message. What did the story mean? Was it happy or sad? Just or unjust? Again the story’s meaning is colored by a reader’s worldview. One reader’s Cinderella ending might be another reader’s objectification of women.

As you can see, the act of writing and reading a novel isn’t a simple straightforward thing. It’s more like an elaborate game of telephone involving the writer, the reader, and their various language processing modules. At every single step of the process, the story passes through filters that depend on the person, and this is how 10 different readers can wind up with 10 very different impressions of the story.

This not a bad thing. It’s part of the beauty of art.

But it does mean that if you write a book about a glass that’s half full, you might just get:

Reader 1:  What a wonderful tale about a half empty glass.

Reader 2:  Meh, a mediocre tale about a half full glass.

Reader 3:  That’s a funny looking flowerpot…
And because no blog post would be complete without graphs, let’s include some as a visual aid. As an author, it’s sometimes easy to think of a book’s quality as something like this.

The y axis represents a book’s quality, and the error bars represent subjective differences in opinion.
But instead, it might be better to think of story enjoyment like this.

Here, the Z axis represents how much someone enjoys a book, and the X and Y axes represent reader characteristics, anything from their favorite genre, their attention span, their worldview, the number of traumatic childhood experiences they’ve had involving killer pigeons, etc. All come into play when they read a story.

What do you think? How do you feel about bad reviews? Please leave a comment below.

If you’d like a more in depth look at the reading process, my essay From Words to Brain: A Guided Tour Through the Neuroscience of Reading, is currently on sale for 99 cents until February 17, 2014. (Regular price $2.99).

Buy the essay from: Amazon |Nook | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play


Livia Blackburne started writing her debut novel MIDNIGHT THIEF while conducting research on the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into peoples’ heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner. She still blogs about the intersection of psychology, neuroscience, and writing at A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.