The basics of book marketing: What every self-published Indie author needs to know to sell more books

Due to popular request, today I’m going to segue into the topic of marketing for self-publishing Indie authors.

Before I do, I want to be clear on where my knowledge on this topic comes from. Craig Gibb, the outreach coordinator for the Story Perfect team, is the author of over seventy titles (under various pen names), most of which are self-published. For the steps involved in self-publishing a book, Craig has a lot of practice. Earlier this year, for the launch of our Story Perfect Books imprint, we published How to Self-Publish Your Book. Originally, the goal of publishing this book was to make it a ready reference for our editing or cover clients since we get a lot of requests on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing. However, in putting it together we realized that, between the two of us, we have a wealth of knowledge on the aspects of marketing for self-publishers and had to streamline most of these discussions in the book.

The result: We’re working on the follow-up book, How to Market Your Book, which we hope to have out this summer. You can look forward to more marketing articles from me, based on some of the core topics from our book, over the next few months.

To start, let’s tackle the basics of book marketing.

Your book is out…now what?

You’ve done all the hard work — you’ve written and revised your novel, you’ve had it professionally edited, you’ve purchased a top-notch cover, you’ve formatted it perfectly for upload, and now it’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and more.

Now’s the time to sit back and wait for the money to roll in as the reading public discovers your book and recommends it to all their friends.

Only…that last part isn’t happening.

Book marketing is one of the most difficult steps in the whole process of publishing a book. Everything else is clearly defined as something you can check off a to-do list. Fixed plot holes? Check! Typo-free? Check! Formatted properly? Check! Strategic keywords chosen? Check!

Book marketing is a lot more ambiguous and amorphous to the Indie author who is stepping into daring new waters.  It also involves a great deal of work with little immediate payoff.

But the good news is as an author there are steps you can take to ensure you are optimizing your chances that you will connect with your ideal readers and ultimately, sell more books. These steps involve setting up an effective platform and developing an effective engagement system.

Pick your platform with care: know where your ideal reader will show up.

Simply put, platform is the place where your readers can find you. I’m going to focus on internet-centered marketing, since this typifies the approach of most Indie authors. Hence, your platform in this case can be thought of as your “online presence”.

Usually, a platform consists of website, blog, and social media. Ideally, these are all interlinked and if a reader were to Google your author name, they would enter your platform.

The purpose of a platform is twofold. On one hand, you want your platform to exist for readers of your book to find you online, so that they can become fans and buy future books. On the other hand, you want your platform to connect you to ideal readers who eventually buy your books and eventually become your fans. This means when you set up your platform, you want to think carefully about your brand (a topic for a future blog post) and ensure that comes across in your author bios (yes, your Twitter bio counts as a short author bio too).

Some authors say you should be on every single platform — Website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon author page, Goodreads, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Wattpad, Tsu, WordPress/Blogspot, Google Plus, etc — and other authors say you should chose the one or two platforms you particularly excel at, and stick with those.

In either case these two extremes are not built on sound book marketing principles. Being on every platform is like firing bullets in every direction and hoping one will hit the target. But what if the target needs five clean shots? Fifteen? You’re wasting your time elsewhere and won’t be able to give it the attention it needs. Remember: you only have so many hours in the day — and only so much energy — and as a writer ideally you want to be writing as much as you can. The other example of being only on the platforms you find you naturally excel at means you’re choosing where you want to be based on your own comfort level, which might be fine, but what if all your idea readers are elsewhere?

Both Craig and I have found it helps to be somewhere between those two extremes, and not just arbitrarily so: In deciding where you should be setting up your platform, you should be where your readers are.  If you write young adult or new adult fiction, you likely won’t find them on Goodreads or Pinterest, no matter how much you love those platforms.  Instead, you’ll find them on Snapchat, Tumblr, and perhaps Wattpad.  If you write fiction targeted at men, you’re likely wasting your time on Pinterest — but Pinterest is the place to be if you’re targeting adult women. (Though this might sound stereotypical, it’s based on market demographic research, for example, this article: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/.)

When it comes to thinking about your platform, think like your ideal reader. In fact, this ties back to my previous post on how to channel your inner ideal reader. Whatever fiction you’re writing, hopefully you are a fan of that fiction as a reader, and as such, you know where you like to hang out and can frequent those spots when setting up your author platform.

If you’re not sure, then experiment. Better yet, do research (especially, the kind that involves reaching out to other authors in your genre who are doing well and try to learn from them). One of the best platforms for an author, in my opinion, is a blog (WordPress.com is easy to learn and probably the most popular) because it allows you the opportunity to both host other authors and to be a guest on other author blogs — you have an instant reason to connect when reaching out to authors in your genre. (I’ll be doing a post on blogging and how to write effective guest blog posts at a later time.)

Engage for the sake of engaging: how to use your author platform to get more readers.

The second step to connecting to your ideal readers and selling more books is to set up an effective engagement system. Simply put, an engagement system is a set of actions by which you govern yourself while using your platforms. An important sub-component of an engagement system is a content system (also a post for a future date) — your choice of what content you post (and why).

This is a broad topic and in practice, developing an engagement system is a continual work in progress. You learn as you go. Because I plan to talk about blogging and newsletters in another post (and in that I’ll be covering the topic of the importance of getting reviews and blurbs from other authors and bloggers), for now I’m going to focus on social media because, aside from author website and blog, social media is the primary means by which authors engage with their readers.

I want to emphasize, though, that your goal is to engage, not just to sell books. Promoting on social media is about building relationships. Sending out non-stop promo tweets or posts, while it might be effective for some, is nowhere near as effective as building genuine relationships with your readers. So if you’re on a platform, your best strategy is to just be yourself — share tidbits of your personal life (within the bounds of what you decide is appropriate for your author persona) and react or respond to what others are saying and doing.

Twitter makes engagement easy. You can jump into conversations by searching for relevant hashtags, or by combing through your feed of lists or users who’ve followed you and hitting “reply”. If you combine this with sharing personal information tweets, someone new who is about to follow your account will see that you like to engage your audience and they’re more likely to follow you. If you try to limit the amount of promotional tweets to about 20% of your overall tweet content, then a prospective fan will see that you’re an author and can discover your work when they’d like to, but won’t feel that in following you they are going to be smothered by endless tweets of “buy my book buy my book buy my book”. (One good tip: create a tweet that links to your book, with the cover added as a photo and relevant hashtags, then pin it to the top of your feed; this lets new followers see your book right away, as well as any other time they view your feed, reminding them of your book without them feeling like you have a case of self-promotional diarrhea.)

I’ll be posting at a later date about effective engagement on Twitter because I’m just scratching the surface.

The same core principles apply on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads, Tumblr and others, though of course each platform has its own nuances. It is worth mentioning that with Facebook, having an author page makes engagement difficult. If you’re running a page, you’re not actually connected to your readers and so you can’t see what they’re posting on their personal profiles. (That being said, and this will be yet another future post, engaging on Facebook through a page is still better than engaging through a profile, despite the connections that a profile can provide.)

While this principle of engaging vs. hard selling is a good rule to follow, different platforms and even different genres allow for different levels of marketing. In general, romance and erotica authors can engage in considerable self-promotion and maintain good relations with their readers. Authors of slower turnaround genres such as fantasy and science fiction are best to go light on self-promotion as readers typically want to see less of it. Non-fiction is a genre that allows a lot of promotion, particularly because you’re giving your readers solutions to a problem and can offer that with a natural segue to your book.

There are always exceptions to the rules. You have to figure out the undefined and invisible lines set up by your readers, and do your best not to cross those lines. You’ll make an error now and then and that’s okay. You’ll do a promo at the wrong time and lose followers, but you’ll also do a promo at the right time that attracts followers and bumps sales. Just make sure you’re continually learning and approaching engagement with the intention to learn.

Putting it all together: engage effectively on your platforms and you will gain fans who market for you.

By being engaging and focusing on building a dedicated fan base, you begin to build a readership that will buy every book you write, post positive reviews, and promote your book to their friends. And that’s just the power of this strategy: if you approach book marketing on your platform with the intent to engage your ideal readers, then you find fans who love your books so much that they help you market — or they even do it for you. A lot of times, you won’t even see this happening, so it can be very hard to quantify.

Oftentimes, it can feel like you’re putting in all this effort and getting nothing — but the truth is that a lot of the time, the results either come much later or the results are not easy to see. The key is to approach marketing without these objectives in mind, to engage with your readers as if you’re just having a good time, not that you’re there for the sole purpose of selling books.

While every author dreams of their book spreading across reader networks like fire on a field of dried grass, the reality is often for new Indie authors, success comes in the form of a rolling snowball. As you build your fan base through an optimal platform and engaging effectively, you gain momentum, and you keep on going, and keep on growing until nothing stands in the way of success.

How do you approach marketing? Did you find you had to experiment a lot to discover your ideal platform and means of engaging with readers? Are you struggling with book marketing in general, and if so, is there anything in what I’ve said that you want to try out? Any lessons you’ve learned from social media you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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One Response to The basics of book marketing: What every self-published Indie author needs to know to sell more books

  1. Pingback: How to use twitter as an author to reach more readers: tips, etiquette & twitter marketing strategies | John Robin's Blog

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