A writer’s first priority is to set aside dedicated time to writing books. Their second priority is to sell those books. Since most writers juggle a day job in addition to caring for family and finding time to write, marketing often falls by the wayside. Yet, marketing information is the most common request I get from authors each year.
When authors think about marketing, often times they envision an advertising campaign that will magically draw people to their book. In reality, marketing encompasses much, much more. Marketing is defined as any activity an author undertakes in order to sell books. Consequently, a good marketing strategy begins the moment an author decides to write a book.
Below is a step-by-step guild that walks authors through the various stages of book marketing and includes a downloadable checklist to keep authors on track.
Book Marketing Plan
A well-made website is the cornerstone of an author’s marketing plan. Ideally, an author will create their website 2 to 3 years prior to publication. In order for the website to become a successful book marketing hub, it needs to be filled with quality content and important information must be clearly visible.
Every website should include these elements:
- About Me Page – Provide a catchy bio, a headshot, and your contact information.
- Book Page– Initially this will be a place to update readers about your progress. After publication, add book covers, a blurb or description, reviews, and links to purchase your books. This is also the place to add bonus content to keep readers engaged.
- Blog– Mix updates on your writing career with evergreen content so the blog will stay relevant for a long time.
- Links to Social Media– Include social media icons or other clear ways readers can connect with you on their preferred platforms.
- Subscription Signups– Use both a pop-up and a homepage sign-up form to invite readers to join your email list or subscribe to your website.
For more information on author websites see: Building an Author Website
People generally use social media for pleasure, so authors should treat social media as a place to connect with readers rather than trying to directly push sales. The goal of social media content and advertising should be directing consumers to your website or newsletter subscription page in order to convert them to subscribers.
Your branding should be consistent across platforms, so use the same headshot and bio everywhere. Pin your email signup to the top of each feed. Integrate your website and social networks so they automatically post across all media. At a minimum, maintain accounts on the following networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and LinkedIn. If that feels overwhelming start with what you have and work out from there.
Email is the most effective marketing tool at your disposal. You own your email list. No one can take it away from you and algorithms can’t affect your reach. The same cannot be said for social media. Not to mention that, according to Campaign Monitor, email marketing generates an average of $38 in sales for every $1 invested, giving it the highest ROI of all digital forms.
To make email marketing easier, use a platform like MailerLite. This allows authors to create custom templates, landing pages, sign-up forms, and pop-ups. After creating a compelling “hook” or “lead magnet” as an incentive, set up automation so you’ll be free to write your book while the email program keeps fans engaged. As an added bonus, email subscription services offer a double opt-in process, so you’ll be in compliance with state and federal laws.
To learn more about author newsletters and email marketing, see: Author Newsletters
That’s right—We’re going to use the book to market the book! The end of the book should not be the end of the writer-reader relationship. Every book should direct readers back to the author’s website in order to sign up for the email list. Do this by creating additional value for the reader.
Hire a Professional Editor
The most important thing to know about marketing is: you must have a marketable product. No matter how good your marketing plan is, a shoddy product will lead to bad reviews and fewer sales down the road. The better the book, the easier it will be to market. Spend the time and money to ensure the book is fully edited and proofread before publication.
For more on editing, see: Editing: From Alphas to Betas and Beyond
Market in the Back Matter
Back matter is the pages that come after the end of the story. When someone buys your book, their natural next step should be to visit other parts of your online platform, moving them from being a casual reader of one book to a follower or fan. Quality back matter is a way to accomplish that goal. At the end of the book be sure to include:
- Discussion Guide – Including a list of discussion questions at the end of your book will make it easier to market to book groups.
- Calls-to-Action – Ask readers for reviews, to visit your website, or direct them to other resources regarding the book.
- Promotions – Include information for other books you’ve written and/or the publication date of your next book.
- Links – On the last page of your book, include links to your website and social media platforms.
Get a Professional Cover
A great book with a bad cover won’t sell, but a bad book with a great cover will. Hire the best cover designer you can afford, preferably someone who is familiar with your genre. Then create a focus group composed of members of the book’s target audience. Present several covers to them and get feedback before making the final decision. Add a blurb to the back cover that will entice and intrigue readers.
For more on covers, see: Book Cover 101
Hire a Professional Formatter
A quality self-published book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. To acquire that crisp professional look, with interior art, drop caps, and all the other typesetting bells and whistles, hire an interior formatter. You’ll be glad you did.
For more on formatting, see: DIY Guide to Book Formatting
Provide additional content on your website that readers will love. Bonus content includes:
- Bonus Chapters or Deleted Scenes – Readers love extras that provide more information that what’s contained between the covers.
- Audio/Video Recordings– Record audio or video of you reading from the book, introducing the content of each chapter, or talking about character motivations. Be sure to include any interviews as well.
- Downloadable Images – Any artwork, illustrations, or photos used in world building are all likely to intrigue readers.
- Promotions – Someone who has already purchased your book is much more likely to purchase other things from you as well. Make sure they know about other books and any author swag available for sale.
Amazon is book-selling behemoth. While authors strive to get their books listed on Amazon, many neglect to take advantage of all the services they provide. Since most sales will come from Amazon, any book marketing campaign must include:
- Author page – here’s where authors market themselves, rather than just the book. Upload your headshot and bio. Link to your blog feed so readers to connect with you outside of Amazon.
- Book page – this is your sales and product information page. The holy trinity of the book page is: a stellar cover, an outstanding description, and a professional looking opening sample (less than 10% of your book.) Encourage readers to by your book buy including editorial and literary reviews.
- Metadata – Make sure metadata is complete with accurate categories, genre listings, and appropriate key words so the book will appear in search results.
For more information on metadata, see: Metadata: SEO for your Book
Many authors don’t think about reviews until it’s too late. The time to be thinking about reviews is one year prior to publication. There are many places that accept submissions of self-published manuscripts for free and paid reviews. There’s stiff competition for the free reviews, so be prepared to pay for some review services.
For more information on acquiring reviews, see: Book Review 101
A book trailer can be a great way to attract readers to your book. It can also be a huge money sucking pit that doesn’t generate sales at all. Either way, set a budget and stick to it. If you decide to produce a trailer yourself, don’t focus on dull information such as price and publication date, write a compelling script that will move people emotionally and draw them into the story. Better yet, hire a company like Damonza to create a professional trailer for you.
Podcasts are exploding in popularity, with more people than ever are tuning in. This is a way to connect with fans who might never hear about you otherwise. Podcasts enable authors to turn their book into short episodes that run as a series in order to get noticed. Alternatively, you can cross-sell by hosting guest interviews with other writers or offering yourself to serve as a guest on one of their podcasts.
Everyone wants to drive bulk sales. To do this, set up an incentive structure to encourage readers to purchase multiple copies at once. Here are three great places to start:
- Joint Ventures– Partner with other authors promote your books together.
- Book Clubs– Provide discussion questions on your website or include them in your book. Offer to meet with the groups via Zoom and send them author swag, such as complimentary bookmarks as a thank you gift.
- Digital Downloads– Provide a code for free ebooks or other digital content to book buyers, but avoid offering the book for free otherwise. Readers are much more likely to give bad reviews for free books than they are for books they paid for.
Here’s why you shouldn’t give your books away: The Terrible Truth behind Free Books
Creating promotional material before networking, interacting with the media, or scheduling events is an absolute must. Promotional materials are essential for providing information about both the author and the book. Everything should be branded to match your website and/or book cover, and/or other properties of your brand. Items to prepare ahead of time include:
- Book One-sheet – This is a single page sales sheet for your book. It includes the book’s cover image, a brief description of the book, pricing and publication information, your bio, and reviews.
- Author FAQ – Provide a few pre-written questions and answers about yourself and the book that can be used word for word by interviewers and media outlets.
- Press Kit – This is an expanded version of the one-sheet. Provide more detailed information on the book, your full author bio, links to downloadable high-resolution images and other related content.
- Author Swag – Bookmarks, ink pens, posters, postcards . . . whatever you choose, make sure it’s branded to match the book. Considering adding a QR code to get people to your website long after the event is over.
Use what you’ve got. Send emails to all your contacts asking to be directed to influencers who might be willing to share information about your book. Everybody knows somebody, so don’t be afraid to reach out to former and current colleagues, family, friends, and acquaintances.
When networking, focus on live events and local opportunities. Not only are these great ways to connect with readers and sell books, but it’s the one instance where living in a smaller community can pay big dividends. People love local celebrities. The smaller the market, the easier it will be to land promotion opportunities. Networking ideas include:
- Local Businesses– Support local businesses and readers by hosting an event. This can be anything from a book signing at your local bookstore to having a Q&A and reading at a coffee shop.
- Clubs– Meet with local book clubs and writers groups in your area. Offer yourself as a speaker to groups such as the Lion’s or Kiwanis clubs.
- Schools– Schools and colleges love partnering with local authors for on-campus events. It’s even better when the university is your alma mater.
- Conferences and Festivals– Speaking at a conference or festival where a crowd already exists is much easier than trying to draw a crowd yourself. Even if you can’t be a speaker look for other opportunities to network and sell books.
For more information about networking and author platforms, see: Building an Author Platform
Media Outreach Campaign
Media coverage can play a huge role in selling books. Local TV, radio, and newspaper outlets love having feel-good stories from the area. Don’t just pitch your book, send them a press release and offer to be interviewed.
Use these steps to manage a media outreach campaign:
- Create a list of media outlets and track down their contact information.
- Create multiple different pitches from different angles in order to appeal to different media outlets.
- Create email templates that you can easily customize and use multiple times.
- Develop a spreadsheet to track all your media contacts, date contacted, and response.
Advertising is a great way to increase sales (and lose a lot of money.) If an ad campaign is not generating sales at $10 a month, spending $100 a month won’t help. Never spend more than you can afford to lose. Immediately kill ad campaigns that aren’t building your email list or selling books. Start by advertising on one platform and when you’re comfortable with it, add another.
- Online Advertising – These are fast, inexpensive, and easy to track. In addition to advertising on Amazon and Facebook, check out Google AdWords and book promotion sites such as BookBub.
- Offline Advertising– This can be anything from direct mail, magazine advertisements, or listings in industry sales catalogues.
Meeting readers is a great way to build lasting connections. Thanks to Zoom and Skype, authors can tour the nation from the comfort of their home office.
- In-Person Books Tours – To prevent these from becoming a huge waste of time and money, only visit places where you know you can draw a crowd. Confirm the date and coordinate with the venue. Do not expect the venue to do all the marketing—that’s on the author. If you don’t invite people, don’t be surprised if no one shows up.
For more information on book tours and signing events, see: Tips for Successful Book Signings
- Online Book Tours – Online tours are a great way to connect with readers by partnering with other authors, bloggers, and content creators. These tours are also much more cost effective than an in-person tour.
Lastly, take a moment to ask yourself why you are writing and publishing. There’s an old saying that a starving salesman stinks. Don’t be the stinky creep constantly begging, “Buy my book.” Write for the love of writing and don’t burden your work with a need to support you.
Learn more about the cost of self-publishing here: Budgeting for Publication
About the Author:
Khaliela Wright earned her master’s degree in economics from Washington State University. Combining her love of books and business, she founded the Palouse Writers Guild with the goal of bringing professional development to authors, championing indie books sales, and helping self-publishers navigate the business side of writing. When not immersed in business and economic statistics for work, she writes feature articles and columns as a freelancer. Khaliela lives in rural Idaho and delights in being anything but the quintessential small-town girl.