Every author, regardless of the way they publish, needs to think about marketing their books. Troy Lambert walks us through the common road-blocks that authors encounter when they approach marketing and gives tips on how to get through that resistance.
Want to make a writer cringe? You can do it by simply asking them one question: “How’s marketing going?” At the very least, you will get their attention.
That is because no matter how great a writer you are, it’s pretty likely that you struggle with marketing.
A part of this is understandable. The rules of the game change every few weeks if not more often. It can be another part-time job just to keep up with these changes and try to make the right marketing decisions. It’s exhausting.
But the other harsh truth is this: the book that is not marketed does not sell. If you’re going to be a writer who sells a decent number of books, you’re going to either have to learn to market your work yourself or pay someone to do it for you.
Here are seven marketing struggles that every writer faces no matter how experienced and popular they might be.
1. Knowing Where to Start
Even if you have an established audience, you need to know the best way to reach them. Of course, they are your fans, but they still need to discover that you have new work out there.
There are several ways you can do this, from your email list to Book Bub and Amazon followers and more.
But if you look at things like read-through rates, or the percentage of readers who read your first book in a series and follow it all the way through, you will see that you need thousands of readers, and you also need to constantly attract more of them to your work.
This means you must not only reach your fan base but the other readers who are like them and will love (and purchase) your work.
This means you must start by learning who your readers are, where they hang out, how you can reach them, and what the most effective (and least expensive) way to do that is.
2. Understanding Testing
First of all, it is important to clarify a couple of things. Book marketing is any act of getting the word out about your work, and can include social media, blogging, word of mouth, your street team and email list, and paid advertising.
There are ways to test all these methods to discover what works best for you and what actually nets you the most followers and sales. Not only can you test where you are sharing things, but what you are sharing.
For example, you might send a couple of groups of emails to your mailing list, one with a certain link or certain text, one with a different link or different text. You can then evaluate the results to see which email is opened more often, and how often links are clicked on.
Using your sales data from different platforms, you can then determine where you are getting the best results, known as conversions in marketing speak.
But it isn’t always about sales. Sometimes, it is about people subscribing to your newsletter, following you on social media or Amazon, Book Bub, Goodreads, and other platforms.
You’re building your audience and your author platform, or the people who are already connected to you that you can reach.
3. Vetting Marketing Opportunities
There are million “opportunities” out there, and companies who will offer to market your book for you. Many will promise you amazing results and even bestseller status. How do you tell what is real and what is not?
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Legitimate channels seldom reach out to you. You reach out to them. If you get an email filled with promises, it is probably a scam, or at least not worth the effort to put your book on that platform.
- Google them. It sounds simple, but often a simple Google search will reveal what other authors have learned about the service and even the experience they have had. Learn from the mistakes of others, and gain knowledge from their success.
- Ask your peers. Whether online or in-person, you know writers. Find out what works for them and what doesn’t.
What you will find is that not every opportunity is a good one or even a legitimate one. There are times to take a risk but using your valuable marketing budget to do so is often a problem.
Here’s a secret you should know: no writer ever feels like they have enough time for marketing.
It is a necessary part of the writing business and selling books but can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Just keeping up with industry changes requires dedicated time each week in addition to creating and monitoring what is working and what isn’t.
Here are some tips:
- Schedule marketing and social media time and use it wisely.
- Hire help if you can. Social media and ad management can often be done by a virtual assistant at a reasonable cost, one that keeps you writing.
- Automate where possible. There are programs that can help you with social media posting, ad management and even project management, many of them free or for very little cost.
- Write blog posts and emails ahead of time and schedule them. You need to focus on writing the things that make you money, and since these can be automated ahead of time, you can spend one day creating them rather than writing them more often.
The truth is, there is no easy answer except for time management. Set aside time to market, take a deep breath, and do what you can.
[Note from Joanna: More tips on managing your time in Productivity for Authors.]
The second most common thing writers say about marketing is that they do not have the money to market. “When I sell more books,” they say, “I’ll be able to afford to do more marketing.”
There’s a major issue with this thinking. The only way to sell more books is to do more marketing, and even so-called free marketing channels will cost you time and effort, and since time is also a premium, they are not really free.
The second issue is simply this: if you don’t invest in your work, why do you expect your readers to do so?
You’ve already invested in a great cover, good editing, proofreading, and producing your book. Why would you skimp now on getting the word out about them?
You might have to make some sacrifices, do some freelance writing or editing, or heaven forbid get a part-time job (think bookstores and libraries or something else book-related if possible) in order to raise money to finance your marketing efforts. The one thing you cannot do is neglect them entirely.
6. Return on Investment
How do you tell if your marketing and advertising efforts are working? That is another complex topic. You need to track where sales are coming from if possible, and while there are tools for doing so, they can be a bit complicated to understand at first.
The number one key is that you must be tracking: everything from ads to social media posts to sales on different platforms and the followers you gain on various platforms. If numbers are trending upward, you are doing the right thing. If they are headed downward or even just holding steady, you may want to rethink strategy.
Many advertising platforms like Book Bub, Amazon, and Facebook, offer tools to track your ad performance. Use them in conjunction with tracking your sales, and you will begin to see a picture emerge.
7. The Sucking Marketing Black Hole
A writer writes, but we do so much more than just that. The sucking marketing black hole has one looming danger: it can suck you in to the point where you are no longer writing as much because you are spending so much time figuring out how to sell books.
Things go in various cycles in your writing business the same as in other businesses, so there will be more times when you are will be marketing more than others, and other times where your focus will be writing with a lot less time dedicated to marketing and social media.
It’s about balance, and like those ball-chairs that are supposed to help with your posture, that balance can be tricky. Every single writer struggles with marketing from time to time, and some more often than others, no matter how popular or how easy they make things seem from a distance.
The key is that you turn and face the struggle. Get started. Pay attention and test things. Budget your time and money but dedicate some of both to marketing. Be careful, measure your return on investment, and if at all possible, avoid the sucking marketing black hole.
After all, if you don’t write another book, you won’t get to go through this fantastic process all over again when it comes time to market that one.
How do you balance your writing and marketing time? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Troy Lambert is a freelance writer, author, editor, and publisher who has dreamed of writing books since he was a young boy. He wrote his first book, George and the Giant Castle, when he was six years old. After being told by teachers, counselors, and many people around him that writing was a great hobby, but not a great way to make a living, Troy explored other money-making options.
After nearly three decades amassing a collection of name tags, hairnets, and various careers, he finally found the way to fulfill his dream of writing full-time and making a living at it. He currently has written over two-dozen books including ghostwriting projects, is a freelance writer, content strategist, ghostwriter, publisher, and occasional editor.
Troy lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho with his wife and a pack of very talented dogs who are occasionally enlisted to write blog posts and book blurbs. His fiction work can be found at fictionupdates.troylambertwrites.com and you can learn more about writing for a living at writingasabusiness.troylambertwrites.com. Learn more about his publishing work at unbound.pub.