A Crash Course in Book Marketing
We’ll bring this series on profitable authorship to a close with the most rudimentary talk on marketing that one could possibly imagine. That isn’t to say that this article will be light reading; far from it. But marketing is a vast subject, a rather nebulous and ever-changing art that you’ll be learning for the rest of your life.
By its very nature, it is nearly impossible to become an expert in marketing. The means through which one advertises constantly change. Audiences migrate to and from platforms. Readers become more savvy and less prone to simply buy a book because the cover looks nice. Therefore, what worked last year may not work this year.
Does that mean that marketing is not worth your time and attention? Quite the contrary. Marketing is, after all, an equal part of the Holy Trifecta:
- Writing a stellar, genre-appropriate manuscript
- Publishing a professional and attractive book
- Marketing to the right people with the right tactics
If you don’t become a proficient marketer, no one will buy your book. And given that you’re reading this far into a series on financial success as an author, I assume that this is not an acceptable outcome.
Think About Marketing Before Writing Your Book
Though this article will bring this series to a close, I don’t want you to relegate marketing to an afterthought. In fact, you must be thinking about marketing from the very start, before you write a single word of your manuscript. The most successful authors consider the marketability of their works before they put pen to paper (or fingers to keys).
But why didn’t you say anything in the first article?!
Oh, but I did. If you recall, I spent a great deal of time talking about genre and reader expectations. I may not have used the evil M word, but it’s all the same thing. What I was doing, essentially, was explaining how to write a marketable book. Same deal in the second article: I was stressing the importance of professional publishing so you could advertise a marketable book.
It may sound like I’m retroactively shoehorning a vague and abstract concept into the last two articles to make some heavy-handed point, but I’m really not. It all comes back to marketing.
When we first started this journey together, I imagine you scoffed when I dubbed the three facets of successful authorship “The Holy Trifecta.” Even if you didn’t, I imagine you probably considered one facet to be more important than the others (probably writing).
But now, I’m really hoping you’re starting to see how it all fits together, and you now realize that you must consider all three equally and put serious time and resources into each one. If you do, you are already miles ahead of the average Joe who has vague dreams and a copy of Scrivener.
The First Harsh Truth of Marketing
Now that all that inspirational, mushy stuff is out of the way, I have bad news for you: Little of what I’m about to say will sell you the vast majority of your books.
WAIT. Don’t close the tab yet. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
The first harsh truth of marketing is a simple roadblock that has plagued gurus for years. It’s the one problem we haven’t been able to solve ever since Caveman Ugg invented a hammer (which was really just a slightly differently shaped rock) and tried to sell it to Caveman Grog.
You see, no matter how much money we spend, no matter how clever our advertisement, no matter how salacious the imagery we use … there is next to nothing we can do compared to the ultimate force in marketing. We are all but powerless, insignificant in the eyes of the Holy Grail of marketing. What is it?
Word of Mouth
You can spend all the money in the world on a massive LED advertisement in Times Square, but it doesn’t hold a candle to a trusted friend telling you, “You have GOT to read this book.” 92% of consumers are swayed by suggestions from friends and family than they are by advertising. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it is truth nonetheless.
The good news is that this isn’t entirely out of your control. If you paid attention in the first part of this series, you are well on your way to writing fiction that connects with a target audience so perfectly that they can’t help but tell someone about your book.
But before you go back and read the first installment again, this article is not a waste of your time. First of all, there are plenty of readers who do not rely on word of mouth (readers are typically introverted by nature to begin with).
And secondly, it’s still vital to learn effective marketing strategies. After all, the only thing more powerful than word of mouth is word of mouth accompanied by an eye-catching advertisement.
Say you run an ad on Facebook. A target reader sees it, finds it interesting, but asks their Romance Readers group for opinions before they rush out and buy it. If you did your job and wrote the right book, the social proof in the comments of that question praising your work will be all the motivation the reader needs to purchase your book.
So beyond writing the right book, what is in your control when it comes to marketing? Getting your book in front of your target audience. However, most authors go about it the wrong way.
Stop Trying to Find Your Readers
This point will sound counterintuitive to most of you. And to some extent, finding your readers is exactly what you should do. However, it’s more the nuance of this statement with which I take issue.
Trying to find your readers almost makes it sound like the readers are hiding from you. Some authors actually believe this. But nothing could be further from the truth. Assuming you’re a good author, readers are looking for you. They want to find you more than you want to find them, believe it or not! They’re hungry for your fresh voice and your unique take on their favorite genre.
Therefore, it’s important to approach marketing in the exact opposite way: Stop trying to find your readers, and instead make it easier for the right readers to find your book. It sounds like a minor mindset change, but it is a rather important paradigm shift that will make marketing much easier to grasp.
It all goes back to one of the very first concepts we discussed: If you want to make money as an author, you must serve your readers. The onus is on you to make your work available to your readers.
But before you can serve your reader, you must know them.
How to Know Your Reader
I won’t spend a great deal of time discussing the notion of “knowing” your reader, your target market. After all, I discussed it at length in the very first article of this series.
In short, knowing your reader and knowing what they want all boils down to knowing your genre. If you’re not already a reader of the genre you’ve chosen, stop what you’re doing and go familiarize yourself with it! Learn what tropes the reader expects when reading this genre. Read until you understand what makes the genre tick.
Finally, talk to other readers of the genre, and find out what they love and hate. Pepper them with questions until you understand why they read this genre. If you can bottle the passion that gushes forth when a devoted reader of the genre talks about it, and if you can reproduce that in your work, you’ll have struck gold.
How does this connect back to marketing? Well, aside from having a marketable book, you’ll understand what kind of marketing tactics are effective for your genre. You’ll know the kind of imagery expected or despised by your target audience. In some cases, you’ll have very specific tropes that you can reference in your copywriting to further focus your efforts.
I was recently surprised to see a famous author directly list a series of tropes on an eye-catching graphic, plastered all over in big, bold letters. It almost looked tacky, but the excited comments in that post told a different story. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. To devoted readers of a genre, seeing “enemies to lovers,” “found family,” and “DRAGONS!” slapped on a graphic, it’s like a checklist of their favorite fantasies. You’re literally listing off reasons why this is the right book for your readers.
I’m not suggesting that you do exactly this. My point is merely that when you know your genre inside and out, you’ll know how to speak the language of your readers, and that alone will take you far.
Your First Practical Steps
So what exactly does marketing entail? Is it just paying Facebook to boost your posts saying that you wrote a book? Do you put good keywords in your book listing and hope that Amazon shows it to the right people? Or is your money best spent on a megaphone that you can take downtown and scream the title of your book at cars that pass by?
Well, again, I won’t go too far into specifics here. When it comes to the daily minutia of advertising and marketing, whole books have been written on every aspect imaginable, and rightfully so. It’s an incredibly dense and far-reaching subject, and I highly recommend that you read such books so that you get a complete picture. Treat this article as a sort of checklist, if you will, that will help you make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
If I had to narrow the bare necessities down to three elements you must maintain as an author, I’d give you the following three platforms:
- A website.
- A mailing list you own.
- Your chosen genre’s preferred social media.
Build a Website
You need a home on the internet, some space that you own and no one can take away from you. It’s not enough to have an author profile on Amazon or Goodreads. Terms and conditions change all the time, and you need to have a space where you alone dictate the content.
In the olden days, building a website was a much more painful process. You had to either have some knowledge of coding and design, or you had to hire out an expensive professional. The uninformed still believe this to be true, but I have good news for you if you’re reading this: It doesn’t have to be that way anymore. It’s easier and cheaper than ever to own space on the web, and it just so happens that you’re in the right place as we speak.
As someone who has some experience in web design, I didn’t mind creating my own website, and I’m pretty happy with it. But when I stumbled across SiteArcade’s booth in a convention recently, I quite literally stopped in my tracks to watch their demo.
For those of you who haven’t taken advantage of their free trial, I highly recommend that you do so now. To have a website build itself and dynamically grow with you is a dream come true. I’ll let their documentation speak for itself lest you think there’s a gun held to my head. I’m sure you’ll find that it’s as exciting as I make it sound.
Search Engine Optimization
Before we move on, I do want to address the buzzword that makes creatives quiver in fear: search engine optimization. Don’t think you have to be an SEO wizard to build the best website. It’s more about owning digital real estate and having a home base than being discoverable. Most authors believe that they have to have their name rank in search. This can indeed help, but most readers will not find you this way.
Think about the last time you googled an author’s name. Chances are, you did it to get a list of their publications. Maybe you did it to get to their Wikipedia page. No one’s going to be doing either with your name right now because no one knows it (as mean as that sounds). And chances are, you don’t have a Wikipedia page.
There are a host of reasons that you need a website (a landing page for advertising, a link to put in books, etc.), but you don’t need to worry about discoverability in search engines. New readers will find you through Amazon and through advertising, so don’t worry about becoming an SEO expert just yet.
Build a Mailing List
Perhaps even more important than owning a website, a mailing list is king in the land of marketing. If you use it correctly, it’s cash money. Yes, it can be difficult to write the perfect message that doesn’t go straight to the “Promotions” tab in Gmail, but if you can master email marketing, you’ll be set for life.
It’s not enough to just have a Facebook page. You don’t own Facebook. You don’t make the rules. In a lot of cases, you have to pay extra money just to have your content seen. But once you obtain a reader’s mailing address, you have it for life (at least until they change it or unsubscribe).
How you build your list can vary greatly, depending on your backlog, genre, and the amount of time you’re willing to put into it. Some authors give away full-length books in return for a reader’s email address. Some will offer up a few chapters of their latest book as a free download. Others swap their lists with similar authors, others run giveaways, and others still just put a link in the back of their book and hope someone clicks the button.
However you build your mailing list, it is a must-have. You’ll find that the more you grow your list, the easier time you’ll have selling your books.
Establish a Social Media Presence
Wherever your readers congregate, there you must be as well. Whether that’s Facebook groups, Goodreads forums, or some obscure message board dedicated to your niche, you need to be present.
It’s crucial that you spend time among your target audience. This will help you understand them, speak their language, build trust with them, and form the most effective marketing strategies when it’s time to ask for their money.
Assuming that you now have the bare minimum (a website, mailing list, and a social media presence), let’s talk specific marketing strategies that you need to get right. After all, you’ll be rinsing and repeating these for your entire career.
The Book Launch
There are a thousand different ways to launch your book, and at least a dozen of them are proven winners. This is by far one of the trickiest areas to get right.
Remember how I said that entire books have been written about each facet of marketing? This is where I’ll recommend one book that you read cover-to-cover. It’s one of the most thorough treatises on book launches, and you’ll be better off once you’ve finished it, moreso than if I wrote an extra 10,000 words of my own thoughts.
What I will give you are the essentials, the absolute must-dos that would be a shame to forget or disregard:
- The Right Book.
- A Street Team.
- Get Name-Dropped.
The Essential Elements of a Successful Book Launch
The Right Book
You know this by now. This is merely a genre-specific narrative that is wrapped in a professional, appealing package. On to the next element!
A Street Team
This step is seen as optional by most. However, considering the raw power of word of mouth, I believe it should be non-negotiable for most authors. To have a group of loyal readers storm the castle with you on day 1 of your launch, leaving a review as soon as the book is live, talking you up on social media, and gushing about you to their friends can do wonders and create careers.
Where do you get this street team? They can come from beta readers, or they can come from the social media presence that I mentioned earlier. Either way, you’ll want to pull a group of readers who have shown special interest in you and your work, loyal readers of your chosen genre who can effectively communicate to the masses why your book is worth reading.
What do you pay? This can vary greatly. A lot of people will go to bat for you without asking for a darn thing in return. Some people will happily promote you for the cost of sending them a free digital, advance copy of your latest book. Others can be bribed with swag such as bookmarks with your branding. Whatever you promise, be consistent! Make sure your entire street team feels the love, and they’ll be more than willing to help you with the next release.
If you’re able to get your book reviewed on BookTok, Bookstagram, or BookTube (the book lover’s sections of TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube), you will print money. People follow reviewers and their recommendations religiously, and if you can be talked up by someone with a significant following, you’ll get a huge kickstart on your launch.
I didn’t have an “in” on BookTube specifically when I launched my debut novel, but I did have a friend with 150,000 subscribers on YouTube. He liked my book so much that he invited me on his channel without my even asking. That ended up giving me a huge boost on launch, and it also kickstarted my own YouTube channel.
This is the hardest facet of a successful book launch to nail, but if you can manage to secure a recommendation from a trusted, public name, it’ll be the best thing you can do.
This part can be tricky. In most cases, you’ll lose money on advertising your book at launch. The reviews will still be coming in, so social proof won’t quite be there yet. If it’s the first book in a series, you also miss out on readthrough (at least for now) since you’ll spend more money acquiring a reader than they can spend on you presently.
Furthermore, a lot of sites require your book to be live for a certain period of time. Others demand a certain number of five-star reviews. This means that you’ll have few options, but whatever you can spend on advertising in that first week and first 30 days will likely be money well spent. The more love you throw at Amazon and its tricky algorithm (more on that later), the smoother things will go.
But advertising really becomes your best friend when you consistently publish new books in a series. If you advertise the first book in your series as you publish book 4, you can reach a certain sweet spot where you’ll get a bunch of new readers all willing to go through each book. This is where the magic of advertising really kicks in.
The Second Harsh Truth of Marketing
As hinted at a moment ago, the sad truth of marketing is that you will lose money before you make money. It can be expensive to find the right combination of graphics and text that work perfectly. It can cost a lot of money to run 100 different variations of ads until you find the one that clicks. But trust me when I say that when you finally perfect your marketing, it can all come back very quickly, especially if you write a series.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, knowing that you’ll likely spend a decent amount of money before you see a significant return, but I have to assume that you’re in this for the long haul and not just trying to make a quick buck. Stay the course, friend. Assuming you have the right book, a professional publication, and an appropriate marketing plan, you’ll make it back.
How to Keep Your Books Selling
Let’s say you’ve made it through the craziness that is the book launch. What the heck do you do now?
Well, this is where marketing truly begins. If you only ever sell books in the first 30 days of their shelf life, you’ve likely done something wrong. Marketing is a lifetime endeavor, after all. So buckle in. This is your new full-time job.
This is where a lot of your expenses will go after you publish and launch your book. In order to consistently get new readers and more sales, you’ll have to pay a pretty penny to keep it in front of new eyes.
Sadly, it’s almost impossible to just hit Publish and walk away. Amazon will do some modicum of promotion in the initial days and weeks of your book’s shelf life, but after it’s no longer considered a new release, you can kiss that attention good-bye. Unless your book somehow went viral, Amazon has no incentive to suggest your book to anyone new.
In case you haven’t connected the dots, Amazon really likes money. It’s obscene how much they love it, but that’s a rant for another day. Your book may have done mildly well on release, but unless it sold a million copies with no sign of slowing down, Amazon is going to recommend other books that it thinks will be more profitable.
This is where you’ll have to get your wallet out and your hands dirty. For a price, Amazon will continue to show your book to new readers through their advertising platform. I won’t even begin to cover the specifics here. The breadth of information needed to even summarize the nuances of Amazon advertising is staggering. Thankfully, there is plenty of information out there in the form of books and courses. I recommend Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors as a great place to start. Honestly, the course is so thorough that it may be all you need.
To accompany Amazon advertising, I recommend becoming proficient in Facebook advertising as well (which the above course includes). Depending on the genre, you’ll have more or less success with Facebook ads, but you’ll miss out on some very powerful demographic targeting if you only rely on Amazon advertising.
Assuming your book is enrolled in KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), which many new authors choose for its simplicity and certain marketing benefits, your book can be discounted for five days every quarter, or even offered for free.
Running a promotion in conjunction with advertising through book promotion sites can be a very powerful way to consistently gain new readers. Yes, chances are you’ll lose money in the short term, especially if you discount your book to free. But the upside of building your email list and building a readership that will buy future books is too great to ignore.
Master the Amazon Algorithm
Did you hear that? Across the world, a million indie authors just let out a bitter laugh.
The idea of mastering the Amazon algorithm is a pipe dream at best. Thousands of authors claim they know the secret sauce behind the Amazon algorithm, but most of it is mere speculation.
There are tricks we do know and patterns that seem to be effective, and if you follow the example of successful indie authors, you’ll be on the right track. But the algorithm is an ever-changing monster, so be flexible and be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
Suffice it to say, what you need to know is that there is a sort of artificial intelligence at the heart of Amazon’s online bookstore. It is far from a static, exploitable program, and so rather than fall for the latest and greatest “hack” that certain gurus will try to sell, you’re far better off paying attention to the market, following the examples of proven sellers, and, most importantly, serving your reader.
To some extent, you want to be at the top of your reader’s mind. Chances are, the book that you spent four months writing is the same book that they devoured in a weekend. If the next time they hear from you is four months later when the sequel is released, chances are they’ll have forgotten about you.
Ouch, right? No one likes the idea of being forgotten. But when your readers are finding a new book every few days, you can’t really blame them.
The best way to avoid this is to get them on your email list by whatever ethical means you can imagine. Beg, plead, bribe with free chapters–do whatever you have to do (within reason), but get that email address! Again, please, don’t go violating any privacy regulations.
Once you get their emails, use your newsletter as a platform to talk to your subscribers like humans. Yes, humans. Not consumers. Humans. Talk to them about your life, your dog, your hobbies. Make a lasting connection that is impossible to forget.
Obviously you’ll tell them when you release a book; you’d be foolish not to. But human connection goes a long way toward building trust and a relationship. This is what will set you apart from the other hundred authors they find every month. This is what will keep them coming back for more.
Write the Next Book
One of the most effective ways to sell a book is to write the next book. Few bother to deny the powerhouse that is writing a series of books, and for good reason. When you write more books, you sell more books. It’s that simple.
If you can craft a unique setting, compelling characters, and a gripping narrative that spans over several titles, you’ll set yourself up for a very long time.
Allow me to deviate for a moment to discuss a term you may have heard floating around: Rapid Release.
A strategy that many authors have found to be powerful is to release a new book every 30 days, 60 days, or even 90 days. This is because one thing we do know about the Amazon algorithm is that it favors novelty. New releases tend to get a little more love from the algorithm, and when you are constantly releasing books, you’re constantly in the New Release category.
You’re also keeping yourself top of mind in your readers, training them to expect a regular release, and for all intents and purposes, creating a subscription model where you can expect regular, monthly income from a hungry audience that is impatiently waiting for your next book.
However, this strategy is much easier said than done. Writing and publishing a book in 30 days (even 90 days) is no easy task. This strategy is best done by authors who have mastered the techniques I discussed in article 2. That is, they spend 30 days writing a book and then send it off to a team of editors, proofreaders, formatters, etc. so that they can focus on writing the next book.
Let’s be clear: This is very doable. Especially if you’re a full-time author, it is more than possible to write a book and publish it in 30 days. Don’t listen to the loudmouths who say that if you spend any less than a year on a book, the quality will be horrible.
Yes, amateur writers do fall into this trap all the time and think that their first 50,000 NaNoWriMo project is ready for publication. But if you’re a proficient writer, this may be an effective strategy for you.
However, I caution that it’s all or nothing here. If you’re going to commit to this strategy, you must fully commit, or it defeats the purpose. Once you settle on a release timing, you must stick with it. This works best when you’ve written multiple books in advance and have them all ready to go before the first one ever releases. Obviously, this strategy isn’t feasible for everyone, but I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss Rapid Release at least briefly.
Write the Next Series
All good things must come to an end. When you finish your series, you need somewhere to go next. The good news is that when you reach this point, chances are you’ll know exactly what to do.
If your series was successful, chances are you’ll want to write in the same genre with fresh faces and places (perhaps in the same universe for crossover potential). This can be quite profitable as most of your readers will continue with your new series. They know by now what to expect, and they’ll happily give you more money.
If your series didn’t perform as well as you’d like, maybe it’s time to try something drastically different, perhaps a completely new genre. This is far trickier to do, but there’s a chance you’re simply trying too hard, shoehorning yourself into a genre you’re not best suited for.
In some cases, a move to a new genre is the best thing you can do for your writing career. Yes, you’ll lose some writers who enjoyed your zombie fiction but have no interest in reading your steamy romance. Such is life. But if hopping genres is what it takes to launch your career in a big way, take the leap.
Where to Go from Here
After three installments in this series, I hope by now you have an understanding of what it will take to make money as an author.
Yes, it’s daunting. Yes, there’s a lot. But it’s all digestible, every last bit of it. It’s all too possible if you’re willing to put in the work.
True, you can’t just vomit 50,000 words of nonsense on a page and sell it (I mean, technically you could, but you’d get a lot of refunds). You have to develop your craft just like any other author.
But the sad truth is that there are some brilliant writers out there who will never make a dime because they refuse to treat their books like a business. Yes, you must master craft, but you must also master the entire Holy Trifecta equally: writing, publishing, and marketing.
If you dedicate yourself to this more holistic approach of authorship, you will make money. I truly believe that.
Thank you for taking the time to read these articles. Now, get some writing done. The world needs you and your book, so get to work!