Originally Featured on The Writers Bloc on July 20, 2015
Few aspects of the writing world are quite as mercurial and challenging as marketing.
What works now may not work next year – or even next month. And with digital publishing, shifts in audience tolerance and interest happen more quickly than ever. However, it must be done – people need to hear about your books if you want to be read.
In this article, I’ll outline some of the marketing approaches and techniques that indie, small press and big publishers are currently using. Hopefully this will help build your readership and generate some income, too. I’m not an expert and I’ve only been employing these techniques for a short time, but I will say that I’m seeing results and I wouldn’t have anything if I’d simply sat back and waited.
For a long time now, advertisers have been talking about ‘clutter’ and how to break through it. People are exposed to so many commercial impressions that it all becomes clutter. It’s all noise, it’s all spam – and obviously there’s no use spending time, money and effort sending promotional material for a thriller to a person who doesn’t read thrillers – or worse, to a person who doesn’t read at all.
And so, several questions follow:
- Where do readers converge?
- Where do they seek books or information about what books to buy?
- How do I put my message before them?
- How do I get my message to stand out from all the others?
Before I go further, there are two pieces of advice I’ve come across repeatedly over the years, which I believe can seriously impact the techniques I’m going to outline, both in negative and positive ways.
1. Write more books:
The more good titles you have available the better. Ten readers who buy all six of your books are better for you in the long term than ten readers who buy your only book. If you’ve only got one book, any fan you might win over cannot buy anything else from you.
Of course, this is hard work. It can take years to release multiple books and so for a while at least, you might only have one title to offer readers. And that’s why so many writers advocate for you to ‘write another book’ when you finish the first one. And then another. And another...
2. Write a series:
This advice is, to some extent, targeting ‘binge readers’ of certain genres, especially mystery, thriller, fantasy and romance. It does allow you to ‘guarantee’ income from readers who enjoyed Book One, when you release Book Two, and so on.
If this is something you feel comfortable doing, or that fits with your writing style, then you have a partial advantage in building an audience over writers who release unconnected stories. It also ties in well with some of the techniques below. For poets and writers of a literary style, this approach might not be a good fit for you – but tip #1 holds true whatever style or form you write.
So, let me summarise the techniques now that your book is ready – start by publishing the title, then seek reviews, run your giveaways and finally list your book with promotional (promo) sites. Sounds easy enough, right? Now let’s talk specifics.
Whoever publishes it, your title will probably be available via Amazon and similar sites, which are key places readers look for books.
Onlinebook retailers, especially Amazon are vital to the success of the following techniques. Due to its market share, Amazon is the giant here. But these retailers are also vital due to their ‘recommendation/also bought’ algorithms. Suppose someone purchased Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and one of your novels featured similar dystopian elements, next time that customer browses Amazon they might be recommended your book. Especially if it happens to be on sale for 99c.
And if the customer likes your book, you have a new fan who goes on to buy your other titles – often at full price. Again, this is especially useful if you’re writing a series.
But let’s back up a bit first.
How does the reader even make a decision, once they’ve seen your book, as to whether they’ll buy it?
Aside from word of mouth, four things matter now: cover, blurb, sample and reviews (if you have them). Three of these elements are under the direct control of you and/or your publisher. Some readers only need to see a single element, or a combination of the first three, to make a decision. Others will want to read a range of reviews first, which is why a listing with many of the newsletter/book club-style promotional sites (more on these sites below) will require your book to have a minimum number of reviews and a decent average rating – say, 10 reviews and 4+ out of 5 stars.
And so sourcing reviews becomes important to the process of getting your book in front of more interested readers.
Send review copies to a range of publications, book bloggers and readers (e-copies can be best, especially if you’re approaching international reviewers). Common advice suggests targeting reviewers who read in your genre and post reviews to their own publication/blog along with Goodreads, Facebook and/or Amazon – which becomes very important for promotion later.
Be sure to plan your approach in advance. Most reviewers are booked up weeks or months ahead. Make sure you have the capacity to send out ARC (advance reading copies). The more you do this, the more reviews you will land. You won’t catch every book blogger’s eye but that’s just the way it goes; keep sending queries.
Be polite and personalise your query when you approach a reviewer. Many will also list their requirements for review queries – it’s like submitting a short story to a literary journal. Follow their guidelines so that you aren’t automatically dismissed.
If you’ve queried all the reviewers you can and still can’t hit that minimum quota of reviews required for a listing with the promo sites, consider running a Goodreads or LibraryThing giveaway in order to garner more interest in your book. Hundreds to thousands of readers gather here. If interested, they will ‘add’ your book to their ‘shelves’ (which indicates the intent to buy/read it later). Friends of each person adding your book will see your book and maybe add it themselves – and their friends will, and so on.
Run the giveaway, send off the paperback (LibraryThing allows eBook giveaways) and hopefully you score a review out of it – Goodreads encourages it, and many readers who like to review will post both at Goodreads and Amazon, increasing your visibility again.
Okay, so you’ve got ten reviews. Time to hit the promo sites and get your book in front of thousands more possible fans.
Promotional sites usually operate by featuring a dozen or so discounted books per daily newsletter. A typical newsletter will be a single ‘page’ that shows thumbnails and blurbs along with purchase links to major e-retailers.
This ad will be sent out to their mailing lists and featured on their site, though the mailing list is more important as it’s solicited mail for the reader.
Further, readers who sign up to these sites usually choose which genres they wish to be notified about. Some of the sites have a more sophisticated preference list, such as The Fussy Librarian (circulation 115k), where readers can choose languages and whether or not to limit graphic content. This, of course, gives the reader more confidence in the recommendations from the newsletter.
Listing your book on one of these sites could result in anything from a handful to hundreds or thousands of sales in a single day.
A boost of thousands of sales in one day will probably put your book into the top ten of a genre or subgenre at Amazon – after which, Amazon will begin recommending your title to interested readers left, right and centre. Your book might stay in the top ten or top fifty of your genre/subgenre for weeks or months.
Of course, that sort of success is dependent on various factors – some genres sell faster than others. The cover, blurb and sample also need to be ace, and the price has to be right. Often these promo sites are only effective if the price of your book can be set at $0.00 or $0.99c – basically, the book you list with the promo site operates as a ‘loss-leader’ and buyers move on to buy your other full-priced titles.
So, how do you choose a good promo site?
Check to see if the site lists subscriber numbers per genre. For instance, the biggest name in the game, BookBub, lists 1,750,000 subscribers for the ‘contemporary romance’ category. An ad for your free book might cost $345 – but they estimate anywhere between 11,000 to 49,900 downloads after your promo has run.
That means you could potentially earn tens of thousands of new fans who will buy future releases. Other promo sites will have smaller projected returns and costs, but all should get your book in front of interested customers.
Personally, I’ve just started running promos on two of my titles, City of Masks (traditionally published) and The Fairy Wren(self-published). Being able to control the price of my self-published title made it easier for me to trial several of the smaller promo sites.
During my last two week promo for instance, I sold 103 copies of my short fantasy novel The Fairy Wren at $0.99c. Prior to March I sold perhaps 10 copies a month. For my traditional title, where the price was still below $5 but not discounted, the same methods netted me a dozen or so copies.
The promotion cost me approximately $5-$15 per listing and I used around eight different sites (each requiring a 10 review minimum on Amazon). Now, the promotion didn't net me a profit but more importantly, it earned me new fans who have since gone on to buy my other titles – which is the true value of the marketing approach I’ve discussed.
Even so, don’t expect lightning fast results, even with these techniques. Remember, writing and publishing is for the long haul, but if you try the above methods you may build a fan-base a lot quicker.
Ashley Capes is a poet, novelist and teacher living in Victoria. He teaches Media and Music Production, and has played in a metal band, worked in an art gallery and music retail. Aside from reading and writing, Ashley loves volleyball and Studio Ghibli – and Magnum PI, easily one of the greatest television shows ever made.
He is the author of six poetry collections and three novels and was poetry editor for Page Seventeen from issues 8-10. He also moderates online renku group Issa’s Snail.
You can see more of his work at his website www.ashleycapes.com.