*** updated 2 May 2019 ***
Marketing. It strikes fear into the heart of many a writer.
It’s like being asked to plunge your bare hand into a barrel of cockroaches. ‘Oh God, really, no. Do I have to? Oh, ick.’
Partly, I think it’s the word. Marketing. I think of flashy glad-handers in sharp suits, shoving pamphlets I don’t want in my face. Or I think of charts and accounts and similar dull businessy things that make my brain curl up and whimper because it wants to think about fun things like cursed monocles and secret societies.
But I’ve done marketing now. I dove into that barrel of cockroaches and I promise that the creepy-crawly ‘I can’t’ feeling is just fear of the unknown. It’s actually easy. It’s a bit time-consuming, but that’s the worst I can say about it. It’s not icky, and once you’ve read this ten-step blog post it won’t be mysterious either.
Marketing is just ‘telling some people about the book you wrote’. That’s it. There are whole books on marketing and I read a couple, but a lot of what they said was already out of date because things move so fast on the internet. Read one, if you feel it’ll help, but I think this post (which is long, but not nearly as long as a book) gives you the basics in a digestible non-scary way.
Disclaimer: An experienced author might read this post and sigh because I didn’t do X or Y, but my first self-published novel’s been out for just over a month now, and it’s sold about 3,000 copies (and counting) and had good review coverage. So, I’m not JK Rowling, but I’m happy with my sales. And I think most first-timers would be.
So, here they are, ten steps to marketing a book:
- Set up an author platform: By this I mean a website, plus a couple of social media accounts. I use Twitter and Facebook. Some people adore social media and use it all the time. I’m sporadic and some people would say I don’t do enough, but I’m an introvert with kids and a day job, so I do what I can cope with and that seems to be OK. Social media is a great place to meet other writers and learn who’s who in your section of the publishing industry. Most other writers are VERY generous about giving tips and assistance and you can offer help yourself sometimes which is a nice feeling. But don’t get addicted to scrolling Twitter because it’ll cut into your writing time and devour your life-energy. So watch that thing.
- Investigate Facebook groups and join some: This is WORTH IT because there are groups for WHAT YOU NEED: authors discussing cover art and where to get good deals, reviewers listing their sites so you can approach them for reviews, readers looking for free advance copies, readers recommending their favourite books in YOUR genre. Most of these are closed groups, so ask to join now and start reading posts before you need to do your promo. It’s amazing how much you’ll learn about how to do things.
- The blurb: Spend time crafting a really good blurb because this is your main chance to sell your book. I see people treating their blurb like it’s a quick chore; something they throw together when they’re making the book live on Amazon. I`ve seen blurbs with typos, grammatical errors, weird echoes and clunky sentences—and then authors wonder why people don’t buy their book! Your blurb is as important as your book, so treat it as such. Get beta readers for it like you did with your novel. Spend longer on it than you did on your novel. No, not really to that last one. But you take my point. The blurb is the first taste of your writing a reader will see. Make sure it’s snappy, enticing and well-written.
- Cover art: Along with the blurb, the cover art is your main advertisement for the book, so if you’re self-publishing I think money’s well-spent here. You can expect to pay between $175 – $225 for original, professional cover art, tailored to your book. Or you can buy ready-made covers (anything from $30 – $100). Some ready-mades are pretty nice, but they are usually more generic. In my opinion, it’s worth it to get something original. Readers can tell if you’ve skimped here and I’d rather give my money to an artist than spend it on adverts with some big company like Facebook or Amazon.
- Goodreads: If you’re self-publishing, once you’ve made the book available for pre-order on Amazon—and whichever other formats (e.g. Kobo, Barnes & Noble) you’re using (if you’re using them)—set yourself up as an author on Goodreads, and then add the book as one of your titles. Goodreads is great because people can post advance reviews here (they can’t post reviews on Amazon until your release date). Advance reviews are good because they get people talking about your book – and that gets you pre-orders. OH BUT WAIT. Maybe we don’t want pre-orders now (see update)
*** Update 2 May 2019 *** – OK, so it looks as though pre-orders on Amazon are NOT something you want. Sure, it’s someone buying a book, so that’s good, but Amazon pre-orders do not count towards your sales on publication day. And it’s sales on publication day that set the book’s rank. Amazon’s algorithms are a mystery to me, but basically the more people buy your book on publication day, the more the algorithms are likely to make the book show up to other people. WHY they wouldn’t allow pre-orders to be added together and included in your sales on publication day – I don’t know.
So, I guess the mitigation for this is to send out your ARCs as usual but ask all reviewers to ONLY post on or after the Amazon publication date, even on Goodreads or their own blogs. That’s maybe not as convenient for them, but that’s what I’ll be asking in future.
- Send out advance review copies: Now the book’s live on Goodreads, send out advance review copies (ARCs). Do this about four – six weeks before your release date. There are two kinds: reader reviews and professional/book blog reviews. You need both. ARCs are so important that points 6, 7 and 8 are all about them.
For reader reviews, I set up a Google doc for sign-ups (ask people for their name, email address and which file format they prefer: .epub or .mobi), then posted my book and the Google doc link on a Facebook group for readers specifically looking for ARCs of the kind of book I’d written (m/m romance). A very kind fellow author helped me by posting a link on her Facebook group as well. I had 40 people sign up in a few hours, after which I closed the Google doc. When a few late-comers said (via the Facebook group post or direct email) how disappointed they were to have missed the offer, I sent them a free review copy too, making a total of about 50. When you email them the .epub or .mobi file (whichever they requested when they signed up) tell them the book is available on Goodreads and tell them the release date on Amazon (ask them to review on the Amazon release date if you can – see the update above for the reasons why). Remember, their reviews are voluntary so if they choose not to review that’s their right (they don’t owe you because you gave them a free copy) but most people will review in both places. I sent a reminder email just after the Amazon release date, thanking people who’d already reviewed and reminding people who hadn’t that the book was now live.
It’s best to get reviews from people who already read within the genre. They often know each other and will recommend your book to their friends and followers. Also, Amazon’s algorithms will offer ‘books you may also like’ based on people’s previous purchases. Therefore, it’s best not to get all your friends to review your science fiction novel on Amazon if they never normally buy science fiction. You want readers in your genre reviewing your book.
A note on pirates: Some writers worry terribly about pirates at this point and it’s true that some unscrupulous dickhead may masquerade as an ordinary reader and upload your book to a pirate site. But, really, what’s the alternative? To not send out ARCs because one person might do you wrong? Personally, I make a conscious choice not to care. Pirates will get you anyway if they want to. You’ll still get plenty of regular honest readers who will buy your book.
- Offer your book to reviewers/book blogs: There are hundreds of review sites and book blogs out there. There are promo services you can pay to offer your book to these reviewers and book blogs. Experienced authors say it’s not necessary, but if you don’t know which sites to approach it can take the stress out of it and it’s not that expensive ($25). I used Signal Boost Promotions (because they specialise in my genre) and had about 40 blog sites and reviewers sign up (you get to see which ones sign up). About 15 of them were just offering to advertise my book on their site (i.e. running my blurb and cover) and the rest asked for a free advance review copy as well so they could review the book. You don’t have to do any of this approaching or sending of review copies: the service manages it all for you. NB – you do need to engage them at least four weeks BEFORE your release date.
- Approach more reviewers: As well as the promo service (but you could do this instead if you don’t want to pay for the service) I directly approached about 50 reviewers/other writers who sometimes feature books on their websites. I discovered these reviewers/writers in my travels around the web. I checked out who wrote positive reviews for books like mine and approached them in the way they asked to be approached (e.g. some have sign-up forms on their websites, some ask you to email them directly etc). Some of these people ignored me completely, but at least 30 either requested a review copy of the book or offered me some form of free promo (such as an author interview, or to run my blurb and cover art). NB – remember a request for a review copy does not necessarily equal a review, but that’s OK. That’s why you send out so many. Start approaching these people six weeks (or earlier) before your release date.
- Release day: On the day, blog and post to social media (be careful not to put buy links on Facebook posts because Facebook doesn’t allow that now – link to your blog post instead. NB – this is true at the time of writing but Facebook may change its policy again).
- Post-release day: People will often tag you when they review your book. If they’ve given you a nice review you can re-tweet or post a link to it. I noticed I’d got new followers so I blogged a couple of times about some history related to my book. I also accepted offers to talk to a reader’s group (on Facebook) which was lots of fun and do an author interview (which was also fun). Then—try to relax. You marketed your book.
Pro tip: If you’re going the traditional publishing route, before you sign your contract, check it allows you to send out electronic advance review copies. If your publisher says they don’t ‘do’ ARCs ask them how on earth they expect you to market the book.
That’s it. That’s one way to market a book. I’m sure there’s lots of other things you could do – like paying for advertising or joining a site that does promo for a small membership fee – but I didn’t.
And the best way to keep up your sales? Go and write another good book.
I hope this post helped to de-mystify marketing. Feel free to ask for clarification—or, if you have some useful hint that worked for you—please let me know below.