OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
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.
I 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.
As 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
Offering 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.
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.
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.’
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
Explore 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 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