In certain respects, writing a book and making it available for purchase are the easier parts of the publishing process.
Once published, you will be competing with millions of other authors for shelf space, whether virtual or physical. Promotion and marketing are, therefore, essential considerations for every author who is ambitious to reach a large number of readers with their work.
Promoting and marketing a book, or a series of books, is a complex and potentially costly process. It is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of the publishing process (in my opinion, anyway!). The terms promotion and marketing are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Promotion is about raising awareness, and marketing is about targeting and analytics that relate to the audience you are hoping to attract to your book.
As I have already discussed in the Choosing a Niche article on this website, I am much more keen on personal and organic approaches to book promotion than any hard-selling tactics. Being a kind and generous person is, in my opinion, the most important element of book promotion and marketing (and, arguably, life in general). However, in this post, I will offer some practical suggestions which self-publishing authors might consider as they seek to reach more readers with their writing.
Websites and Blogs
Authors need three things in order to get a website up and running: a domain name, a website hosting package, and the website itself. There are countless web services companies competing for a slice of the author website market, but some of the most popular ones that offer all three of these ingredients include Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress.
WordPress tends to be the most popular option for authors on a tight budget, because they have a free plan which enables anyone to get a website or blog up and running without spending any money. There are of course paid plans as well, and a popular affordable WordPress package is called ‘WordPress Premium’. For a small fee, this plan allows you to choose a domain name, build a website, get rid of advertisements, access unlimited support, and a host of other features.
Squarespace and Wix are both popular and good alternatives, but they can be very expensive. They are also constantly trying to ‘upsell’ their customers (i.e. encourage you to spend even more money) via bolt-on services to their standard packages. While WordPress do this to some extent as well, they do so less aggressively than most.
Many people who are new to building websites are unsure of the difference between a website and a blog. This is how I would explain it: A blog is like an online journal, where you post regularly as you would do in a diary. You log onto a website interface where you write posts which you then publish, and these posts appear in reverse chronological order on your website with the most recent post showing first. A regular website, on the other hand, is more like a set of independent pages that don’t necessarily need to be updated or superseded with fresh content on a regular basis. The pages on a website are less time-sensitive than is the case with a blog, although a website can feature a blog as one page among many.
A simple author website might include a biography of the author, details about their work, links to retailers where their books can be purchased, links to the author’s social media profiles, featured extracts from one or more of the author’s books, and a whole lot more.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are one of the best ways for authors to reach an audience in the contemporary publishing world. Each social media platform has its own pros and cons, but organic growth through networking and regular posting are often an effective way of reaching new readers and growing an audience.
I have a personal feeling that social media is less important these days than has been the case since the birth of Facebook and the like around 20 years ago. There has been quite a big backlash against the tactics that social media giants use to attract consumers’ attention, and many people these days find the experience of using social media very frustrating, as they are overloaded with features and difficult to navigate.
My personal approach is to have a presence on all of the main social media sites (so people can find me if they are looking), but only to post occasionally when I have something important to share. No individual can master every social media platform available, so it’s good to develop your presence on one or two platforms that you feel are most relevant to the kinds of books you write. For instance, writers who use images in their books will probably find Instagram most relevant, while an author who writes about politics may feel more at home in the political opinion storms of Twitter.
Securing reviews in traditional media outlets is incredibly difficult due to the over saturation of the publishing market and a lack of willingness to take self-published authors seriously. However, a carefully thought-out pitch to a newspaper, magazine, or TV show can provide valuable exposure to authors seeking to reach a large audience. There may of course be a publication or a TV show that is directly relevant to a particular niche you are writing in, and in this scenario I would say by all means target that medium intentionally and wholeheartedly.
Historically, working with a PR company has been the best way for authors to gain access to traditional media exposure, but this can be very expensive and results are by no means guaranteed.
The power of relationships when it comes to promoting a book should not be underestimated. My personal opinion is that “word of mouth” recommendation is still the most effective marketing tool there is. A book launch event, therefore, can be a great way to generate interest surrounding a book release, as well as just being a good excuse to catch up with friends, and perhaps make some new ones.
With the coronavirus epidemic having led to the introduction of social distancing, traditional launch parties are pretty much out of the question right now, so authors are having to be more creative. I have personally found that a blog tour surrounding a book launch can be a great way to raise awareness surrounding a release.
An example of a blog tour is where an author agrees with a number of bloggers that they will each feature the author’s book in some way on a particular day over a period of, say, two weeks, so that at the end of this period of time there will be 14 blog posts featuring that author’s book on the Internet.
Blog tours can be a bit ‘hit and miss’, but they are certainly better than no promotional activity at all, and can be good fun and productive when approached in a thoughtful way.
I’m going to let you into a bit of a secret. By far the most successful tool I have ever found for promoting a book is a Featured Deal on the discount eBook website BookBub. BookBub has millions of subscribers on its email lists in various English speaking nations around the world, and sends out emails featuring a carefully curated selection of eBooks that are on sale either at a substantially reduced price or entirely free. These emails are highly appealing to readers, for obvious reasons.
Competition for a BookBub Featured Deal is fierce, and only about 10% of those authors who apply to be featured get accepted, although this figure can vary depending on genre. I recently applied for a Featured Deal and was delighted to be selected, and I subsequently sold over 1000 copies of the featured book in a single day. For a niche author such as myself, this represents quite a coup!
There are self-publishing authors who have made it onto the most reputable bestseller lists in the world off the back of a BookBub Featured Deal campaign. For those authors that aren’t selected for a Featured Deal, there are other ways they can take advantage of BookBub’s massive mailing list, via the use of paid advertisements, for instance.
There are those who dislike BookBub’s business model, because they believe that aggressively discounting books devalues them and leads to a kind of ‘race to the bottom’ which is destroying the book industry. I think there is some truth to this. However, all things considered, I would recommend BookBub promotions, not only for the potential exposure and book sales you could get but also because my experience with their customer service team has been exceptional.
I mentioned BookBub ads in the preceding section, and no overview of potential marketing strategies would be complete without a discussion of advertising. The BookBub Featured Deal that I mentioned was quite costly, and it’s so often the case in book promotion that you have to spend money to make money.
With Amazon being the number one marketplace in the world for book sales right now, advertising on this platform can be a logical and wise idea. I have experienced some success using Amazon advertising, and I find their advertising dashboard is for the most part simple and intuitive.
You can advertise on Amazon by choosing a selection of keywords. When people search for those keywords in the search bar on the Amazon website, an advertisement showing your book will appear near the top of the search results. If someone subsequently clicks on that advertisement, you are charged a small fee, whether or not they go on to buy a copy of the book.
This ‘pay per click’ advertising works in a similar way on Google, and while I believe BookBub and Amazon currently hold the top spots for authors wanting to advertise, Google advertising can be a very useful way of promoting an author website, for instance. I should also mention that Facebook offer advertising opportunities, although frankly the user experience with Facebook is beyond dreadful in my experience so I’ll leave that platform for you to investigate yourself, should you be interested in doing so.
With both Google and Amazon advertising, you can participate with a very small budget. You could, for instance, choose a budget of £1 or $1 a day, and this would give you some beneficial exposure, and perhaps lead to a few extra sales, without breaking the bank. Advertising can give you a sense of confidence that your book is getting extra exposure, though any advertising campaign should be sensibly thought out and monitored closely.
In this article, I have provided just a few examples of promotion and marketing strategies that can help authors to reach the right audience and sell more books. While being by no means exhaustive, I hope the article has whetted your appetite and given you an idea of what a promotion and marketing campaign may entail. This part of the publishing process can be daunting, but get yourself a blank sheet of paper and a bottle of pop and see what you can dream up by way of a brainstorm around how you might promote your next book. You might surprise yourself in relation to what you already know, and what exciting possibilities you might think of to experiment with.
Oh, and finally… do your research! Use search engines and forums, sign up to author newsletters, buy books about successful promotion strategies, do a video course in marketing, search YouTube for the latest ‘Top 10 Book Promotion Strategies’ videos, and so on. As with so many things in life, you get out what you put in.
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