… and how not to.
Today’s blog post is a guest post from the wonderful Eric Sparks, I was fascinated by his extensive insights into marketing when I was researching my post on self-publishing and I asked if he would be kind enough to guest-write a post dedicated to the topic. Marketing is often highlighted as the main concern for authors, especially independent authors. Eric is here to give a comprehensive breakdown of the best strategies to use, and the ones to avoid!
Tips for Marketing Your Book (From a Marketing Professional & Writer)
Section 1:Why YOU Should Market Your Book
You’re finally finished. You finished the manuscript. You finished the editing process. Lastly, you finished jumping through all the hoops of getting your book published. You’re finished.
Wrong! Now you have to market your book! Shakespeare is not (necessarily) the greatest writer in the history of the English language. But if anyone else was better, we never found out about him/her. “But,” I hear some of you protesting, “I can’t market my book – that is not in my skillset. I’m just a writer. I just want to write books, someone else needs to market them.” Shakespeare got to write (and act) all day because his works were well known enough during his lifetime that he was able to pursue his passion full time. How much of his catalog would never have been finished if he had to work full time as a merchant or tradesman?
And guess what? No one will work hard to market your book until you’ve already proven it can be successful. Oh, they’ll run it through some paces if you pay them – gladly, because that’s money in their pocket. But they aren’t motivated to make your book succeed. After all, literature is subjective. They can always blame their failure to increase your sales by saying people just don’t like your book. No, marketing must first start with you!
Before you despair, let me first encourage you. As a writer (especially if you are a fiction writer), you already possess a huge advantage over a lot of people who produce something to sell to the public: you understand motivation. Surely, you didn’t write a book where the only thing that changed between each character was their names? Each character has his or her own motivations, desires, and goals. In creating believable characters, you dove into their psyche and discovered what circumstances and actions from other characters would move them in the direction you had in mind for the plot of your story. Even better – if you are a writer, you’re a reader. This gives you an even deeper understanding of your client base. Not only do you know what motivated you, but likely many of your friends and families are readers too with varying things that catch their attention. Doubtless, you’ve picked up a book or heard others talking about it and thought, “Not my cup of tea, but this sounds like it would be perfect for my Leslie.”
That means you already understand the most important concept in Marketing! The fancy professional term is “knowing your buyer persona.” You know your buyer persona on a level most Marketing firms can never reach.
But not only do you have the most important concept down, you also have the most important skill: telling a story. In Marketing, this is where you “plan the buyer’s journey.” Getting people to see you and understand how what you’re selling satisfies their desire to gets them to trust you enough to buy it.
You may not be an amazing graphic artist. You may not be able to produce your own videos. But don’t worry. When you are first starting out, you shouldn’t be doing those things anyway – even if you could. Which leads me to my next topic…
Section 2: What NOT to Do
If you take nothing else away from this blog, take away this: there is no guaranteed method to ensure your book becomes profitable, so do not spend exorbitant amounts on snake oil from marketing firms and/or professionals (it IS technically possible to pay enough for it to be a bestseller, as you just have to pay enough people to buy your book, but in addition to being deceitful, it is also a very, very unsound financial decision). Some of my colleagues have enough skill in false promises and flattery to make used car salesmen and politicians jealous.
So, here is a list of seven things to NOT do
- Spend a bunch of money (as explained above).
- Give your book away (at least, not yet). If you are an indie novelist, don’t give your first book away to make a name for yourself. Trust me, by the time you finish the next book, they will have forgotten how badly they wanted the sequel. I’ll explain more, but when it comes to making a living as a writer, research says the magic number is four.
- Pay for social media ads – but DO use social media. Trust me. I’ve tried it, even though I was told not to. You will get tons of likes, which will make you feel good – but (almost) no sales.
- Stop writing – never never never never never (quintuple negative used for emphasis!!) stop writing your next book to promote your first (or second, or third…) book. Again, more on this later.
- Stop promoting. Sales may be slow – for months, or years. Keep promoting. You never know when society’s fickle tastes will turn your way, or what small interaction with a potential reader will be the one who becomes your ambassador with a megaphone that gets your book in front of the right people.
- Rely solely on the eBook. The eBook Boom is over. No, eBooks are not going anywhere and they definitely should be a key part of your strategy. But eBook revenue has plateaued and is even starting to dip (eBook revenue dropped by 4% from 2017 to 2018). Also, because of the ease of publishing in digital format only, you will be a tiny fish in a massive pond. Don’t limit yourself. The hardest part was writing the book. Various distributing methods can easily be learned or cheaply paid for from a professional firm.
- Put yourself down. “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” When you say things like, “I know I’m not anyone special,” or “I don’t know if I’m good,” people will think one of two things – either you aren’t that good or you are insecure and need to resort to fishing for compliments to feel better about yourself. Either way, that is not someone people want to give their money to or risk wasting the time they would invest to read. Of course, you should not talk about how amazing of a writer you are either. Focus on what OTHER people are saying about your book. It’s not bragging if you are quoting someone else – you are simply relaying the news.
Section Three: Things You SHOULD Do
Again, these do not guarantee the level of success you desire, but all of these are proven tips to increase your success from what it would be if you did not do them.
The list of seven things to do:
- Distribute your book in print. While bookseller chains may be dying, local bookstores are actually increasing, and (more importantly) physical book sales are growing, both in-store and from online retailers like Amazon.
- Have an audiobook produced. In the same span of time eBook revenue dropped by 4%, downloaded audiobook sales SOARED by over 37%! With companies like ACX (an Amazon company), you can get your book narrated and sold in the juggernauts Audible and iTunes for zero money upfront and a very reasonable royalty split fee and amazing bounty program ($50-$75 for someone who creates an Audible account to download your book). This is simply a no-brainer.
- Go to conventions and other events. It’s been proven over and over again. People will buy a book straight from the author when they would not otherwise have done it. I can speak to this from personal experience, as can my fellow writers Daniel Kelly (The Fall of the Phoenix) and James Stevens (Fern Majestic). Bring a pen. They will want the book signed. It won’t matter that you aren’t famous – yet. Between people instantly respecting someone who finished a book, the personal connection to the book they will now have when reading it, and the hopes that maybe one day you will be famous and they’ll have a signed copy. And don’t limit yourself to book conventions. In fact, you will probably do better when your booth is tangentially related. Why? Less competition, but you are still in front of your target buyer persona. Write Fantasy? Go to your local Comicon. Write Historical Fiction? Set up at a historical fair or reenactment (think of how many books you could sell on colonial America at a Revolutionary War event).
- Be active in social media as a community member. Marketing 101: people don’t buy because of the product, they buy because they know and trust the source. Get on podcasts (fellow writer Noelle Nichols, Shadow’s Hand, has done this extensively), write guest blogs (heyo!), crack jokes with people online.
- Always introduce yourself/let others know you are a writer (but don’t be obnoxious). When you first meet someone and they ask what you do, always say your day job, “and I’m an author” (better than “writer,” as author specifies that you write for the enjoyment of others not just giving a professional service). Trust me, if that person reads, they will instantly ask, “Oh, really? What do you write?” If they don’t, they won’t say anything. Don’t worry, unless you constantly bring it up, nobody is going to bat an eye at you letting them know such a huge part of your life. EVERYONE – even people who hate books – knows that it takes a ton of effort and time to write a book, and they will not blame you for sharing that part of you. Just don’t be the annoying parent that shows 10000000 pictures of their kids and tells every mundane even that has happened since their birth.
- Keep writing until you have enough you CAN give away (or almost give away) that first book. If you have enough books (four) to keep people reading, THEN sacrificing one sale for the sake of future sales makes perfect sense – and is very effective.
- Have fun. Always remember, you write because you enjoy it. Don’t ever let this become a list to check off, a mindless chore. If it reaches that point, you’re dead. You won’t keep doing all this if you lose your passion.
Hopefully, you now understand both why you need to market your book yourself and that you can indeed do it. Of course, once you have some success, you SHOULD hire a marketing firm. That is the dirty little secret we marketers don’t like to admit. Our skill is not actually in creating demand from scratch (though many will tell you they can and try to prove it by showing you cases they did – what they won’t show you are all the times they tried and failed that would prove that if you throw enough darts in the dark you will still eventually hit the bullseye). What we can do is take something successful and grow it exponentially faster and easier than non-professionals ever could. We can take your history and what you have shown works for you and infuse it with our knowledge and skill to let you spend more time writing while growing your audience and revenue. We may get all the credit because we come in and build the eye-catching stuff at the top that can be seen for miles around. But only you can build the foundation – without all of that, you can throw as much money at us as you want to make you all sorts of pretty things. But without your foundation, it all will come crashing down.
So get out there! Market your book. And don’t worry – you have the ability. Just do what you do best: tell the story the audience wants to hear.
About the Author:
Eric Sparks is a Marketing Expert with over a decade of experience with various companies and now runs his own marketing firm, Swift and True Media. He is also the author of the high fantasy series, The Tales of Lugon. Truth Unearthed, Book One of the saga, A False Dawn, is available on all platforms at all major retailers. Check it out on Amazon now!