Books do not market themselves, nor do agents and publishers do all the work for you if you’ve gone that route. And if you’re a self-published author, that means most or all of the burden of marketing falls upon your shoulders.
This article talks about methods you can use to promote your book. One thing I want to point out is that it’s difficult to determine which methods pay off even after you’ve made them. Sometimes book sales can happen as a result of a combination of two or more different methods, and even after the fact, you may not know which methods played a role.
Most of these approaches are free, except for your time, so I say, try as many of them as you can.
It is advisable to have a marketing plan before you start, even if it’s a simple plan that evolves over time. Consider the following elements:
• Set goals for yourself — establish a number for the number of books you want to sell, earnings, number of books written, number of author interviews you do, number of guest blogs you participate in, Amazon ranking, number of hits on your website, number of Facebook “likes,” number of articles you write, and number of positive reviews you get.
• Know your target audience. What age are your potential readers? What gender? Are they likely to be from a specific geographic location? Do they have special interests?
• Know your competition. Find books similar to yours and read their reviews. See what others like about their books. Check out the author’s Amazon author page, their website, and their blog. See where their books are priced. Learn everything you can about your competition. Learn from their successes and their failures.
• Prepare a budget. There are lots of free resources out there, but it is unlikely you will be able to publish a book at no cost whatsoever. Consider these potential costs:
o Cover design
• Think about your brand as you act upon your marketing plan. For authors, your brand is your name. Think about what you want people to say about you, and then behave accordingly. Be consistent within your website, blog, author profile, on-line discussion groups, and interviews. As Warren Buffet once said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
• And finally, track the results and revise your marketing plan as needed.
Always have a media kit available to send to the media when asked or to hand out at book signings, speaking engagements, conferences, and any other place where there is potential for self-promotion. At a minimum, include the following:
• Book summary
• Press release
• Select book reviews
• Author bio and headshot
• Image of book cover
• Where to buy the book
• Author contact information
CREATE A GOOD PRODUCT
I almost hesitate to include this on the list, but more than once I have been asked to review a fellow author’s manuscript or published book, and it violates every writing rule on the books and/or it contains typos. At the very least, I recommend investing in a professional proofreader.
It is essential for authors to have a website, and for those of you who have never created one, or think you don’t have the skills to create one, think again. It’s not that hard. I used Yahoo Site Solution to create mine, but there are numerous others available. Just Google “free website design” and you’ll see tons of site design tools for free. If you truly can’t handle designing your own website, or don’t have the time, you can always hire it done. Be prepared to pay a minimum of $1,000 for a very basic site.
Before creating your website, you’ll have to get yourself a domain name. Domain registration is cheap and easy. I used Namecheap, but there are many others available. Most web hosts offer domain registration as well. Put thought into the name. There are tips for choosing a good domain name on the Internet such as you’ll find on thesitewizrd.com.
You’ll also need a web host in order to post your website on the Internet. I used Yahoo, but there are numerous others. My advice is to find one that offers 24/7 tech support. Some are better than others.
Things to include on your website are:
• A “Home” page that welcomes people to your site and gives them an overview of what’s inside
• Your bio, including a photo of yourself
• Your contact information
• A synopsis of your book and cover of your book if published
• Links to other sites you think may be on interest to your audience
• Some sort of “freebie” whether a sample of your work, writing advice, sharing your expertise, links to related sites, etc.
• Where to buy your book
• The right keywords in the page titles, tags, and contents of your page
Promote your website as often as you can. Include the URL on your business cards and stationery (if you use stationery, and if you’re under 25, if you even know what stationery is). Include the URL as part of your bio. Put it in your e-mail signature block. Whenever you give someone your contact information, include your website URL.
You have to blog nowadays. (If you’re reading this article from my website, and you’ve checked out my photo, you know this statement didn’t exactly roll off my tongue.) In my day… well, never mind. Today people blog. They read blogs, and they follow blogs. Blog, blog, blog.
It’s relatively easy to create a blog. There are numerous blog templates to choose from. I chose WordPress. It’s easy to use and it’s clean. For me, there’s nothing worse than a cluttered blog where you have to sift through a lot of erroneous stuff looking for what’s meaningful to you. Another pet peeve I have is to see typos in blogs. Blogs should be well thought out and proofread. Otherwise, you may lose credibility with your audience.
Most bloggers aren’t going to spend time reading or following a blog that doesn’t interest them, so the lesson here is to create material that is of interest to those who you want as followers. Sounds like a simple concept, but it really isn’t. It takes a lot of thought to get it right. Focus on providing your readers with free worthwhile informational content, even if it means commenting on other peoples’ blogs or directing them to other sites. It’s okay to have fun, too. Don’t be afraid to do something a little crazy once in awhile.
People love freebies, and free eBooks are a great giveaway since they don’t cost you anything.
Conducting polls can generate great discussion on your blog. I’ve seen authors post things like “Choose which cover you like best,” “Tell us about your all-time favorite character in a book,” and “What makes you keep turning the pages?” You might learn something very valuable in the process.
It’s one thing to create and maintain a meaningful blog, but it’s quite another thing to draw people to it and then become your followers. Including the right keywords will help. Asking questions can also result in some lively discussions and keep viewers coming back. I saw on one person’s blog, “Make me smile today… leave a comment or question.”
Don’t forget to include other links on your blog. Make it easy for readers to see what else you have to offer, including the link to buy your books.
Blog sites need to be consistently updated with new material. Once to twice weekly appears to be an acceptable frequency. Too few posts and you’ll appear stale. Too many may cause an overdose for your audience.
Remember, promoting your books should be secondary on your blog. If you do a good job with the rest of it, book sales will follow.
Like websites, blogs take time to catch on. Don’t get discouraged the first year.
AMAZON.COM AUTHOR PAGE
If your book is available on amazon.com (and if it isn’t, you’re missing out), it behooves you to create an Amazon author page where you can include your bio, photo, a link to your website, blog and twitter page, events, and videos.
Be sure to include all your links in your e-mail and stationery signature blocks.
BOOKMARKS (not the electronic kind)
Bookmarks are an inexpensive way to promote your books. Include on your bookmarks a copy of your book cover, a synopsis, your bio and all your web links. Carry them with you wherever you go and give them away like you would a business card. Pin them to community bulletin boards. Always include one in books you give away. Ask your dentist, hairdresser, or dry cleaners if you can leave a supply in their reception area.
ON-LINE DISCUSSION GROUPS
There are numerous online discussion groups you can join to get advice, give advice, and network with authors, editors, book reviewers and publishers. Three of the most popular venues for discussion groups are Facebook, LinkedIn and Goodreads (see more discussion on each of these down the page). Become an active participant in discussions–the more you interact with fellow members, the more you learn and the more exposure you’ll get for your books. Look for successful authors in these groups who have great web pages and/or blogs you can follow and learn from them.
Many groups have separate areas of the site that will allow you to post information about your book. Use these to promote your book, but don’t forget to provide feedback on postings from your fellow authors. Not only are you helping them gain exposure, but you will gain some for yourself. These groups are all about helping each other.
Social media sites are a must for authors, and Facebook is by far the largest and most popular. But before you go promoting your book on your Facebook wall, give serious thought to creating a Facebook Page (f/k/a Facebook Fan Page). This will keep your professional posts and other activities separate from your personal ones. Facebook Pages are viewable by anyone, even non-members, so your posts can get significant exposure with the right keywords. One of the great features of the Facebook Page is that when someone ‘likes” your page, it gets broadcasted to their contacts, potentially reaching many more people who may be interested in your books.
Post milestones, book launches, interviews, and book signings on your Facebook Page… anything that you deem interesting to your followers and potential book buyers. As long as you keep it interesting, it won’t be considered spammy. Strike a good balance for the number of posts. Too few and people will think it’s not an active and current site. Too many and people may get annoyed. Be generous with including links, not only links directly related to you, but include other links that may be interesting or helpful to your audience members. Direct your visitors to places they may not otherwise have visited.
It’s important to get people to “like” your Facebook Page, as search engines, such as Google, favor Facebook Pages with lots of “likes.” One way to get “likes” is when you “like” someone else’s Page, ask them if they will return the favor.
Just remember, Facebook is all about creating relationships, whether you’re using your personal profile or professional page. It is not advisable to use Facebook strictly as a selling tool. Once you make connections and earn their trust, the sales will come naturally as a side benefit.
What Facebook does for social networking, LinkedIn does for business-oriented networking. With more than 50 million members worldwide, LinkedIn provides a vast pool of valuable networkers and potentially buyers for your books. Just as you would create interesting posts for your blog and Facebook Page, you would do the same in LinkedIn. But also like Facebook, you don’t want to make your LinkedIn site into a hard sell endeavor. That will just turn people off.
Use LinkedIn for offering interesting articles, making announcements and reaching out for advice and/or offering advice. Increase your visibility by encouraging discussions and comments. Offer freebies. Create contests. Make it fun. Even though it’s business, people still like a little fun.
Book reviews are the best way to promote your book, and while you can pay good money for them, you can also get them for (almost) free. For the cost of a book and postage, you have the opportunity to get great publicity from a good review, and the rewards can be enormous by posting them on your website, your blog and anywhere else you have exposure.
One way to get reviews is on amazon.com. When someone tells you they really enjoyed your book, ask them if they would write a short review on Amazon. A positive book review on Amazon is worth its weight in gold. Potential book buyers read reviews! If you can get ten or more positive reviews, your book looks like a winner for anyone looking to buy it.
You may want to try offering a free book to someone in exchange for a review. Just be cautious who you pick. If it isn’t an experienced reviewer, you may get back something you don’t want to ever share with anyone. Experienced reviewers know how to highlight the important things you did well and constructively state where the book needs improvement.
It’s not easy to get one of the top five book reviewers to review your book, but it’s always worth a try. They are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Midwest Book Review. A more comprehensive list may be found at stepbystepselfpublishing.net/reviewer-list.html. Some charge for their services, and others don’t.
BRAGMedallion.com is a privately held organization that brings together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States, Canada, and the European Union. BRAG (Book Readers Appreciation Group) states its mission as “recognizing quality on the part of authors who self-publish both print and digital books.” Books submitted are read and evaluated by members drawn from its reader group and judged using a proprietary list of criteria, but the single most important criterion they ask their readers to use in judging a book is whether or not they would recommend it to their best friend. Once a book meets this standard of quality from three out of three reviewers, they award it their B.R.A.G. Medallion™. Less than 15% of books submitted receive this honor, so if you submit your book and you become an honoree, you can use it proudly to help promote your book.
Whatever you do, do NOT pay someone to post bogus reviews on Amazon.com or any other site. Not only is this dishonest and less than honorable, but you’d only be fooling yourself about the quality of your writing.
You may be surprised at how easy it is to get interviews that focus on you and your book. Send your press release or other promotional pieces to radio and TV stations, newspapers, newsletters and magazines and ask for an interview. A local ethnic TV station contacted me when they saw the press release for my first novel, “The Coach House,” and invited me in for an interview. My book had an ethnic thread running through it, and they thought their viewers would be interested in it. Did I mention they have 500,000 viewers? You’ll also find agents, publishers, editors and other authors who include author interviews on their blogs. I ran across several such people in the online discussion groups in which I’m a member.
BOOK CLUB AND DISCUSSION GROUPS
Book clubs and book discussion groups love to have the author present for their discussions. The tricky part is finding a book club who is interested in your book. Word of mouth may be the best way. Spread the word to your friends you would be willing to participate in a book club discussion.
There are thousands of online book clubs, but since they are online and accessible to anyone, you can be sure they are inundated with requests, so try to be genre-specific in your queries. Here is one book club list book-clubs-resource.com/online/. I am sure there are many others.
BOOK PROMOTION SITES
Launched in 2007, Goodreads is the largest site for readers and book recommendations in the world. They claim to have over 8,900,000 members who have added more than 320,000,000 books to their shelves. Goodreads allows authors to submit their books for consideration.
Here’s a list of other book promotion sites.
On Book Talk
Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, newsletters, and trade journals. Call your local radio station and offer to do an interview. Contact your local library and book stores and offer to do a signing or free lecture. Talk to everyone you visit about your book–your dry cleaner, dentist, doctor, and grocer. Look for bulletin boards wherever you go to post information about your website, blog and books. Make the postings fun and eye-catching.
Something as inexpensive and easy as business cards will let others know you’re a serious professional writer.
I live in a 56-story high rise with 482 other residents who are neighbors (of sorts) and potential book buyers. I designed a postcard with a very easy-to-use template from Paper Direct and sent it to all my neighbors. On the front, where the stamp and address label go, I included an image of the front cover of my book, a one-sentence synopsis, and the fact that I’m a local author. On the back, I included a little longer synopsis, where they can find my book, a few promotional sentences from someone who had reviewed my book, and my contact information.
Press releases get the message out about your book launch, and anyone can write one. Send yours to any media outlet you think will be interested in helping you promote your book – TV and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, newspapers, book stores, book clubs, book discussion groups, book reviewers, etc.
There are templates available such as on PRWeb.com, pressreleasetemplates.net and smallbusinesspr.com for do-it-yourself ones. If you want to engage a service, try mymediainfo.com, cision.com or vocus.com. Muckrack.com is a free service.
Testimonials can be a great tribute to the story you’ve written, even if coming from family and friends. Post them on your website and in your blogs.
Here’s something fun to try. If your storyline includes something a certain celebrity or group of celebrities could relate to, send a request to their manager or agent asking for a testimonial from the celeb. For example, let’s say you’ve written a story about how a young man pulls himself out from the depths of an impoverished childhood and makes a name for himself in the world. Wouldn’t it be a coup if Jay-Z or Jim Carrey (each with a similar story) would endorse your book with a two-sentence testimonial?
Try connecting with groups or associations who can identify with your protagonist and/or storyline. For example, let’s say your protagonist is biracial and has a difficult time fitting in. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who have experienced the same thing and many of them belong to the Association for MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) or subscribe to Mavin Magazine. On AMEA’s website, they list recommended books (fiction and non-fiction) for their members, and Mavin Magazine has an E-Library available for their subscribers. This would be a good opportunity to offer some freebies or a discount for members. Since there’s a group out there for just about everything, this avenue is worth pursuing.
I signed up for a Google Alert for the title of my book, “The Coach House.” That’s when I discovered there are quite a few restaurants around the country and in Europe named The Coach House, and that got me to thinking. I sent each one of them a letter telling them we had something in common and maybe we could do something fun that would benefit us both, like have them hold a drawing (business cards in a fish bowl) where one of the prizes was a copy of my book. In return, I could advertise their restaurant on my website, blog, and Facebook page. Think outside of the box, they say.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Don’t discount word-of-mouth with family and friends. If all my FB friends re-posted my book announcement, I would reach close to 10,000 more people. That’s a lot of potential book buyers.