I talk a LOT about book marketing for writers, but I still see self-publishing authors make the same mistakes, so let me try to simplify things here. The MOST important thing to remember publishing your book, is it’s not about you. The danger in having control over all aspects of publishing is that you’re not an expert and may get things wrong, even if you hire a professional to help.
#1. Your “core offer” matters more than anything else. Your book cover, the # of reviews you have, and your book description will either convince readers to buy – or it won’t. In which case, no amount of book marketing and promotion will help (it can actually make your book fail faster, because if your book page isn’t converting well, Amazon will actively show it to less readers.)
You need a book cover that conforms to genre expectations and attracts your ideal audience, without making amateur design mistakes that tank credibility and trust. Whether you hire a professional or design your own book cover, it’s important to learn the basics first.
After that, you need to format your book for print and ebook, upload to Createspace and Kindle (my preferences), and start giving away advanced reader copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers. You must get at least 10 reviews up quickly, before you start marketing, and you can’t just give up because it’s hard work or feels uncomfortable. The easy way to get book reviews is to build a large email list before you publish, then offer them a free copy of the book and encourage them to review.
Finally, you need a well-formatted description (with some bolded text, a hook on top, space between paragraphs, and sales copy – not a book summary). If you have those three things in place, you’re ready to start marketing your book.
#2. How to get tons of free visibility for your book
Visibility + conversion is the secret to book sales, but it can be difficult to achieve. There are basically three ways to boost visibility.
- Paid advertising, with Amazon or Facebook ads.
- Organic traffic, with seo-optimized content marketing
- List shares or trades with other authors in your genre
That can sound overwhelming, and most authors don’t want to invest time and resources promoting their book, but these are the only consistent book marketing strategies that work.
If you have more time, you should start six months before you launch, reach out to hundreds of influencers in your field, and ask if they’ll post a review or guest post from you around your launch (most people won’t have time to review, but may be willing to let you post an interesting article – free content for them). Organize as many as these as possible; set up interviews and make lots of author friends who will feature you in their newsletters.
This takes a great deal of organization, however, and just because you have an epic book launch doesn’t mean your books will keep selling – in fact Amazon recently began penalizing books whose promotion were too successful.
Personally, I don’t like to rely on others to promote my books, and I’m too lazy to organize a massive campaign like this, so I focused on building up a big email list first. Now when I publish a new book, I can just send an email to my list, sell a few hundred copies, and get the book to #1 in several categories.
I also use advertising sometimes, because I can set up some ads and let them run – I only check in once a week to see how they’re doing and tweak if necessary. The great thing about ads is they run on autopilot and can introduce more readers to your books, as long as they stay profitable it’s the easiest way to sell more books (unless your page isn’t converting, because you still need to fix the three things I mentioned earlier).
HOWEVER, my books continue to sell even if I stop marketing and advertising my books altogether, because I’ve build a lot of content for free readers that shows up in search results. This technique is basically just blogging. Most authors hate blogging because they don’t know what to say and nobody is visiting their author website anyway… but I use my blogs to lure in potential readers when they are searching for relevant keywords, like “best young adult fantasy books for teens with female protagonists” or something like that. They’ll find one of my articles, and might sign up to my list or buy a book if it catches their attention. This strategy can take work, but since most authors aren’t doing it at all, it’s been relatively easy for me to rank on the first page of Google for many keywords.
How SEO works: don’t worry about getting too complicated or technical. Basically you just need to write about what people are searching for (if you don’t know what people are searching for, you can try this keyword tool.)
But THEN, Google will take a look at all the sites talking about that subject and choose which is the best one, to present first in search results. They measure things like:
- How long people stay on your website
- How fast your site loads
- How many people are sharing your post on social media
- How many relevant blogs or websites are linking back to your content
If you’re just starting a blog from scratch, it can take too long to build up trust and credibility, so you also need to guest post on some higher-profile blogs and websites, and use it to link back to your website or book on Amazon. For example, this is one of several sites about writing and publishing I use to offer free tools to authors, and I can also use it to boost my book in search results by linking keyword tags like this: Book marketing is dead – book promotion strategies you MUST learn before you publish. (That book is actually free, you can download it if you want to).
This site has an impressive site authority, and you can publish your own book reviews or author interviews for free – just remember to link back to your own content!
#3. What about book promotion campaigns?
Most authors don’t actually want to do any of this stuff, and would rather just pay for book promotion or book marketing, but that stuff doesn’t work because:
- Any blog or website that offers book promotion and claims to have a million followers probably has a big audience of authors, not readers of your genre.
- What you need to do is find genre or topic-specific sites where your readers or audience hang out
- Or get influencers with a platform or list of your ideal readers to share (it’s important to make friends with authors in your genre!)
- Getting on a local radio or TV show won’t sell copies
- Going to a book fair won’t either (you might break even, but it’s a lot of work – selling in person is uncomfortable for me, I’d rather set up my books to sell on autopilot so I can spend my time writing). Plus, books fairs are full of all kinds of readers, you want to get in front of readers who love your kind of book. You can do that much faster and cheaper with advertising.
- A high quality, expensive book marketing campaign would be a PR manager who reaches out to people for you, but be wary of self-publishing packages that include things like a “press release” (they’re easy to do and won’t sell books) or help you set up a book-signing (it’s not great if nobody shows up).
- “Book blasts” on a thousand Twitter feeds or Facebook pages don’t work that well either – they might sell a few copies but readers are sick of seeing promotional book marketing content.
There are a lot of people who will take your money for book marketing campaigns, but the after the launch your book will stop selling and you’ll be back at ground zero. That’s why it’s important to build up your own author platform and email list. (For more help, make sure you download my free guide Guerrilla Publishing).