Ask most authors about book marketing and they will roll their eyes.
Let's face it, we are authors because we love to write, most often alone in our rooms or inside our heads in a café. We want someone else to handle the marketing. But times have changed, and at some point, you will have to get involved.
Marketing will be a lot easier and more fun if you start by changing your mindset. Here are some ways to reframe book marketing.
This is an excerpt from How to Market a Book Third Edition, available now in ebook, print and audiobook formats.
(1) Marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it.
Marketing doesn't have to be scammy or sucky, or forcibly ramming your book down people's throats in real life or on social media.
Perhaps you're writing a book about how you recovered from Type 2 diabetes. Don't you think people want to hear about that?
Or you've written a kick-ass action-adventure thriller that will blow the socks off those miserable commuters you share a train carriage with and help them to escape the grind for a few hours. Don't you think they want to know about it?
You've got to find ways to connect with people who would want your book if they heard about it – that's marketing these days. It is not scammy or sucky or awful (if you don't want it to be).
It's about authenticity and the principles around ‘know, like and trust’ as well as the technical things.
You also need to reframe marketing because we are ALL salespeople these days. In Daniel Pink's book To Sell Is Human he explains how the world has changed, and how the job of ‘salesman' doesn't really exist anymore, but that we're all involved in selling every day. It might be ‘selling' healthy food to your kids, or ‘selling' yourself to advance your career, or as authors, it's pitching our ideas to agents and publishers or trying to get people to be interested in us and our books.
If you change your attitude, it will all be a lot easier!
(2) You are responsible for your success. You need to do marketing however you choose to publish.
Many first-time authors assume that a publisher will do all the marketing for them, but authors always have to get involved. If you're traditionally published, it often involves physical appearances at bookstore signings, literary festivals or conventions, as well as media appearances and reader correspondence.
Some authors have publicists within the publishing house or an external marketing firm organizing things for them, but often only for the launch period, and that won't pay the bills for your long-term writing career. Of course, if you do get a publicist and you do get media attention, you are the one who has to speak at events and festivals, do media interviews and more.
Publishers will sort out distribution and work with bookstore buyers, as well as advising on what you can do to help them market the book. You'll likely have to do all the platform stuff anyway. So even though you might have a team to advise over the launch period, you will still need to do a lot yourself.
And after the initial launch phase, you will likely be left alone as the publisher moves onto the next author and book on the publishing schedule. As Pulitzer Prize winning author, David Mamet said when he announced his decision to self-publish, “publishing is like Hollywood – nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”
On the flip-side, authors new to self-publishing assume that they will sell books purely because they loaded their book up on Amazon. But they swiftly find out that's not enough to get noticed among the hundreds of thousands of new books added every year.
So remember, you are responsible for your author career. No one else cares as much about your book as you do. If you empower yourself with knowledge around marketing and put it into action, you will always be able to sell your own books and make an income from writing.
(3) Marketing is creative, and your writing can be marketing in itself
“Good marketers tell a story.” Seth Godin
If you reframe marketing as creative and fun, you will find yourself enjoying it more. There are a lot of creative ways to market, you just have to find what works for you.
For example, I love taking pictures and share a lot of images on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and on my Facebook pages. I'm taking pictures on my smart phone anyway, and it only takes a minute to share them online. It provides a glimpse of my life, and if the picture resonates with you, perhaps you'll follow me and eventually be interested enough to read one of my books.
You can also use writing as your main marketing mechanism.
Write short stories, flash fiction or articles and share them on your blog, or publish one article or story a week on Amazon to keep the algorithms pumping. You could post your work in progress on Wattpad or other story-sharing sites.
Think about your own social and reading behavior and then consider how you could incorporate that into your book marketing because the best marketing comes from empathy with the reader.
Since you are likely an avid reader in the genre you write in, you know how your readers behave. Switch your mindset from the author to the customer viewpoint. What makes you stop scrolling to read or watch? What do you do with that spare minute in the supermarket queue?
How could you reach a reader like you?
(4) It's all about learning
I have no formal qualifications in writing, publishing, marketing or running a business. I've learned everything over the years from books, audio, online courses and live events. I'm still learning from new books, Facebook groups and a lot of podcasts across multiple niches because marketing changes over time.
If you love learning new things, then book marketing becomes something else to discover. There's no need to be afraid. No one is going to die if you screw up an interview or run a Facebook Ad that doesn't work, or if you need to change your cover to something more genre-specific. We all make mistakes and learn from them. If you hear about something new, research it and try it out. If it works and you enjoy it, carry on. If it doesn't work, learn more and maybe try again.
In 2008, I started three different blogs. The Creative Penn was my third and the only one that I couldn't stop writing for. I still schedule content months in advance because I share what I learn and I never stop learning. I'm a super geek!
In 2009, I discovered Twitter. I was petrified of it, but put up a profile and gave it go. It remains my favorite platform for connection and marketing. I also tried podcasting in 2009 and loved that. Other things have fallen by the wayside. For example, I am never going to do much Live video because it's just not me. But you don't know until you try.
The tools and tactics mentioned will change over time, as will you and your priorities for writing and selling books. The most important thing to focus on is an attitude of play, experimentation and learning. We can gather all kinds of ideas from other people, but in the end, we have to make our own decisions about what works for our books and our lives.
I'm offering you a smorgasbord of options, but don't do everything at once and try different options over time. You can also revisit older ideas as tactics change. For example, I had stopped using content marketing on my fiction site, JFPenn.com, because it wasn't having any impact on my book sales.
But then Facebook Advertising came along, and I installed a pixel on the site and now it's worth using content marketing to attract my target audience because I can re-target them with advertising for my books.
(5) A case study is not evidence. Experiment and measure.
There's an old saying: “50% of marketing works, but no one knows which 50%.” It's hard to track the effectiveness of some types of marketing. For example, if I appear on a podcast interview, someone might listen to that six months later and then buy my book, and I will never know how they found it.
But there are also a lot of techniques that can be attributed to specific marketing campaigns. For example, paid ads on sites like BookBub can provide an obvious spike in sales and you can also use tracking links like bitly and other services to see where sales originate.
Of course, your ability to do prompt and specific sales tracking will depend on your level of control over the book. Self-published ebooks are the easiest to measure, as you can log into the author sales portals and see how many books have sold on a specific day. If you are doing a promotion, you can see within hours how that impacts on sales and ranking. Traditionally published authors can look at sales rank as an approximation for the effectiveness of marketing activities.
You can also find out what other people are doing. One of the amazing things about being an author these days is how many writers are sharing their experiences online, whereas it used to be a very closed environment with a lot of smoke and mirrors. Now authors are collaborating and helping each other. There are even some Facebook groups and blogs where authors share their marketing experiences as well as results and actual data.
Read these and get ideas and try them yourself but remember, it might not work for your genre or your price point or your country, or any number of other variables. A case study is not evidence.
You can only try things and then note down what works for you in each situation, so that you can improve on it next time. Take screen-prints of your rankings and put your sales into a spreadsheet or document along with the techniques you used because, believe me, you'll forget what you did a few months later!
(6) You can hire other people to do marketing for you
There are plenty of freelancers, virtual assistants and companies who will market your book for you. But the truth is that you know your book better than anyone. You also know you better than anyone, and it takes trial and error to figure out what kind of marketing works best for each person and each book.
For example, you might hire a publicist to get you on TV and in the papers only to find that you hate doing traditional media, but you'd rather post photos on Instagram instead.
Or you might hire someone to do your Facebook advertising only to discover that you prefer networking in person or speaking in public. You might end up paying a lot of money for little results, so it's good to at least understand what you want before you start outsourcing.
I did everything myself for the first few years. Now I have one person who does the audio for my podcast, another who does the video for YouTube, another who does the transcription of the show notes, another one who edits and formats the show notes. I have people who write articles and a virtual assistant who formats and schedules them, as well as someone who helps run and analyze my paid ads. All these freelance assistants do smaller pieces of work, but I understand it all and could do it again if I wanted to.
To be clear, I only started to hire people once my author income justified it, and now I'm thrilled to have a great team. But I recommend you start by doing things yourself and outsource over time.
If you do want help with book marketing, check out the curated professionals at Reedsy, which you can find at www.TheCreativePenn.com/reedsy
(7) Marketing is more than a book launch
There is a pervasive myth in publishing that the launch is everything and that one big push will rocket your book up the charts and you'll be a multi-millionaire. Yippee! This might be because it occasionally happens for an author, but it's more of a rare lightning strike. Most authors sell books over the long term, and as you write more books, a launch becomes a regular event.
The short-term spike launch approach comes from traditional publishing and print books. Publishers and booksellers have monthly business cycles, and each book gets a short window of opportunity to make an impact before everyone moves on to the next set of books in the queue. There is limited shelf space in physical stores, and those front tables cost money!
But the world of book buying has changed, and now it's more about the long tail, where there are fewer blockbusters but many more authors making a decent living in the margins of the industry.
So, the launch doesn't have to be everything for us. In fact, initial launch period sales are often disappointing compared to what happens once the algorithms kick in and you get some traction around reviews and reputation.
In August 2016, a box set of the first three books in my ARKANE thriller series hit the USA Today bestseller list. Those books were originally published in 2011-2012, but they were brand new to the readers who found them and my sales were certainly better that week than they had been on first publication.
If you want to be an author for the long term, then consider a business model based on long term sales for your lifetime as an author, not on an unsustainable spike on launch. It's certainly good to plan for a successful launch, but you're also building a foundation for the long-term, which means incorporating ways to keep marketing your books even when you're not in the launch phase.
(8) Marketing is an investment. You need a budget.
All publishers have a budget for book marketing. How much they spend will be different per book and per author, based on how many copies they expect to sell. Clearly, Stephen King will get more marketing budget than an unknown author on their third book in a low-selling series. But the point is that some money is set aside to push the book in front of readers. If you want your book to have any chance of reaching your target market, then you will need a budget.
Marketing is an investment, which means you will need to put in the time and/or money now, with the expectation that you will receive money later to offset those costs. All businesses invest in marketing to drive sales. If you want to sell books, you need to do the same.
How much you spend is, of course, up to you. Many authors spend far more time than money, and that's what I did when I first started out. After setting up a website, I used content marketing and social media to attract attention to my books. I only used paid advertising once I was making money. These days, I have a marketing budget set aside, but you can certainly use most of the options listed here by using your time.
(9) Decide on your definition of success
A lot of authors say that they want to ‘sell more books,’ that they want to be a ‘successful' author or that they want ‘everybody' to read their book. But those goals are too broad, and it will be difficult to know when you have succeeded or hit your target unless you clearly define what you mean.
You need to consider what your definition of success is, and what your goals are, because this will help you to shape what you do with your time, money and effort. You also need a wider perspective on the ‘why' behind what you are doing, because only that will carry you through the inevitable difficult times.
For example, if you want to hit the New York Times list or to make number one in romance or any big category, you need to have a large email list of people waiting for your book or pay for spike promotion.
If you want your book on the shelves of your local bookstore, it's possible to do this as an indie author publishing through Ingram Spark, and then by fostering relationships with local booksellers.
If you want to make a consistent level of income every month, then you'll focus marketing efforts on list-building over time, growing a base of happy customers ready to buy books or building a business beyond the book.
Your definition of success and your goals for this book and your author career will shape how you approach your publishing choices and marketing efforts.
Always try to be specific with your goals and what you consider success to be, and you are more likely to make it happen.
So, what's your definition of success?
Be very specific around your book and also your career as an author over the next few years. Break that down into steps as you go through this book. For example, if you want to sell 10,000 books, how will you start by selling the first ten in the first month?
(10) What type of marketing suits your personality?
You might not believe this if you've seen me at live events, but I'm an introvert and like to spend a lot of time on my own. Hey, I'm a writer! Chances are you're similar in many ways. I'm not shy, but I need quiet and silence and time alone to recharge. So going to live networking events with crowds of people isn't really me, but social networking online at times I can pick and choose fits my personality very well.
I also love content marketing, as I like being useful, so by writing interesting articles, podcasting, making videos or sharing useful links on Twitter, I can attract attention without feeling like I'm ‘marketing.' Many authors say “I could never do video or a podcast as I'm shy,” but the truth is that when you make videos or audios, you're alone or with one other person, so it works well for introverts. So don't discard any ideas just yet. Here are some questions to consider so you can work out what kind of marketing might fit your personality.
- How do you like to connect with people? Do you enjoy large groups, parties, events or do you prefer one–on-one connection? When do you have energy for interaction? How can you utilize these natural preferences for marketing? Will you push yourself outside your comfort zone to achieve something specific?
- Do you like to be helpful and provide information? Or are you entertaining? Do you make people laugh? Are you inspiring?
- Do you like images or words in terms of conveying ideas? For example, a love of photography might skew you toward Pinterest or Instagram, or doing video instead of writing articles.
- What sites do you hang out on right now for fun? Do you love YouTube or Facebook or listening to podcasts already?
- What broader interests do you have outside the world of your book? For example, do you love dogs? Are you a parent? Scuba diver? Do you do a lot of research for your books? These aspects of your character can act as hooks for your marketing, leading people tangentially to your book.
You also need to think about your long-term career as a writer. Is your marketing just about one book, or are you building for the long term? How can you make marketing a sustainable part of your life?
When it all gets too much
Marketing is like an eat-all-you-like buffet. If you try to eat everything at once, you are just going to get sick. The same applies when you're in eighteen different Facebook groups, reading tons of books and listening to podcasts and getting advice from so many people that you end up overwhelmed and frantic, wondering why the hell you're bothering.
I definitely get overwhelmed sometimes, because the To Do list is never finished. There is always more we could read, or do, or share. You will always be missing out on something because you just can't do everything. You have to choose.
Some days, it's best to switch everything off, step away from the Internet, turn away from whatever is driving you crazy and just rest. Read a book. Sleep. Go back to the pleasure of writing before you thought about marketing. Remember why you're doing this. And later, when you're rested, you can return to your marketing with more energy and a fresh perspective.
These are some of the mindset shifts for you to consider. Weigh up how each marketing idea fits with how you see yourself now and in the future. But also, challenge the way you feel and don't be afraid to try new things.
This is an excerpt from How to Market a Book Third Edition, available now in ebook, print and audiobook formats.
You may also like The Successful Author Mindset, also available now in ebook, print and audiobook formats.