So you’ve completed a great novel. What now? How do you get it noticed by book buyers and convince them to buy it?
If you’re a self-published writer, you might think that writers signing with publishers don’t have to do any marketing planning at all. And you’d be wrong. In fact, we get a lot of mail from first-time authors that goes just like this: “my agent/publishing house says I need to get reviews – will you help?” I sometimes ask what marketing plan their publisher has laid out for them. The most common answer? There is no plan.
The truth is that a lot of publishers simply rely on excellent print book distribution and do very little marketing at all. Let’s face it – if you have a great book cover, and your book is sold in Walmart or in an airport, you’re going to sell lots of books. But selling books online is a different beast altogether, and that’s important, since that’s how most people under 50-years-old find books.
So if you’re a new author, and you’re with a major publisher, having an effective online marketing plan is one of the only ways to really gain traction. It doesn’t have to be formal, and there are some writers who can do all that I’m about to describe intuitively. But for mere mortals, take heed, and read.
Without further ado, here are the main ingredients for your book marketing plan, ranked in order of importance.
#1 – Define Your Target Reader
This exercise is the same as virtually any marketing exercise in any industry. You need to create a profile of your ideal target customer, and then pursue them relentlessly. This is the building block of your entire plan.
For writers, I often suggest that they target the readers of another writer whose style closely resembles their own. You could spend thousands hiring an agency to work up a target reader for you, but allow me to propose a free shortcut.
Let’s imagine you have written an edgy paranormal thriller with apocalyptic themes. You could do far worse than targeting Justin Cronin‘s readers (given that he is both massively successful and recently successful). Go check out his Twitter followers.
Judging by their photos, names and descriptions, you might find that they are largely professional American female millennials.
Let’s double-check this by going to Amazon and looking to see which books are purchased by people who bought Cronin’s book The Twelve. We find that lots of them are also buying Hugh Howey’s edgy post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, Wool.
Excellent. Now let’s head over to Howey’s Twitter page. Just looking at his most recent 200 followers, he’s got more males than Cronin, and more international followers to be sure, but still, there are, once again, more American women who appear to be professionals under 40.
And boom! You just might have your target reader.
For comparison’s sake, you can run this exercise against as many other writers as you like. You can also double-check the results in GoodReads, although its user base is largely American, and therefore not as telling for writers with large international audiences.
#2 – Align Your Book Cover Design With Your Target Reader
Note: Don’t even think about hiring a book designer until you’ve nailed down the profile of your target reader!
Let’s say you’ve written an erotic thriller, and your target customers are American moms between 30-50. First, realize and accept that many bestselling writers have already experimented with different book covers in different styles. Many even redesign their entire catalogue every few years.
With all that in mind, look closely. What similarities do you find? Are there similar fonts used in your genre? Are there pictures of men on the cover, or are they illustrated? How are they portrayed? Can we see their faces? Are they pictured with women?
It’s worth noting that one of the most successful self-published erotic thrillers in history gambled everything by creating a cover that went against the existing design conventions entirely. That book is 50 Shades of Grey, and it featured a black cover with a grey tie on the front. It was a huge risk that paid off. You can roll the dice too, if you like, but you have to ask yourself – do you feel lucky?
…spend more money on your cover than any other component of your marketing plan. Yes, it’s that important.
…include an advanced praise blurb on your book cover.
…find out who designed the top-selling books in your genre.
…ask the book designer to illustrate a scene from the book. Symbolism usually works best.
…give your designer examples of what you like in your genre.
…settle for second-rate work. There’s nothing worse than an amateurish cover.
#3 Craft Amazing Marketing Copy
You’ll need two sets of marketing copy. The truncated version will go on your book jacket. The slightly longer version will go on your book pages on sites like Barnes and Noble, GoodReads and Amazon.
Rule #1 – Outsource it – Unless you are a professionally trained marketing copywriter, don’t even think about doing this yourself. And even if you are, you’re far too close to the material to summarize it in a compelling way. For God’s sake, hire someone. It’s just 1-2 pages, so you can get it done cheaply.
Rule #2 – Model your copy after Hollywood, not the NY Times Bestseller List – In general, Hollywood marketing agencies really get the art of the concise plot summary and the hook when describing films. Mostly, the publishing world does a terrible job at this.
Rule #3 – Use Genre-Based Keywords – If your target reader likes paranormal thrillers with dystopian themes, those keywords better appear in your marketing copy. They’ll help readers find you on the main search engines.
#4 – Create a Pre-Order Page
Amazon allows authors to create pre-order pages for their books. You’d be a fool not to take advantage of it.
#5 – Get Independent Reviews
It’s obvious that you’ll eventually need reader reviews, and lots of them. But don’t think for a minute that you won’t need trusted independent reviews, too, especially for your book jacket and pre-order page (Disclosure: we offer professional book reviews for thriller and mystery authors). There are always exceptions, but there are very few books who achieve enough tractions for big-time bestseller status without them.
To be clear, what you really need to market your book is a handful of great blurbs – excerpts from longer reviews. As an unknown writer, there are a few ways to get them:
Fast, Guaranteed – hire readers such as those at Kirkus Reviews, Clarion or BestThrillers. Will those reviews always be glowing? No, of course not. But hopefully you’ll at least get a blurb that you want to use in your marketing.
Fast, (Almost) Guaranteed – you can hire a book publicist to get reviews for you. They may not be able to get you into Entertainment Weekly, but they will usually get you something.
Slow, Not Guaranteed – contact the top writers in your genre. If you can convince a bestselling author to review your book, you’ve got something valuable. Try not to solicit blurbs from writers who are relatively unknown, as they don’t carry much weight.
Really Slow, Likely to Fail – you can try contacting book reviewers and editors yourself. To have any success at all, plan on putting in a lot of time and contacting tons of them multiple times. You won’t believe how overwhelmed even book bloggers are (even the ones you’ve never heard of before). Prepare to wait, and then wait some more.
#6 – (Don’t) Put out a Press Release
There may be a few librarians who still read them, but for the most part, press releases have lost most of their value. An exception to the rule would be if you are already a household name, and are truly submitting something that news services will surely pick up.
#7 – (Don’t) Schedule Readings (- at least not for the money)
Readings and in-person events can be fun. After spending so much time alone honing your craft, they can be intensely satisfying. So if you enjoy them, do them for pleasure.
But if you are a new writer, just be aware that you probably won’t help you sell many books. Let’s say you draw 50 people to your reading. Given the size of the audience, you would do well to sell 15 books, which is far less than you might sell doing any number of other things.
If you’re an established writer who can draw a big crowd, then signings and readings are a valuable opportunity to connect with your fans and deepen their loyalty.
#8 – Establish Distribution
For online eBook sales, the path is currently very clear: get your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and Kobo. Those four services cover the majority of online book sales, and the cost to you is zero. No brainer.
Note – beware of booksellers that require exclusivity in exchange for promotion. It’s often not worth it.
For Audiobooks, the path is also clear – and possibly quite expensive. The only major player for downloadable audiobooks is Audible. If you write non-fiction and have a great speaking voice, then you can produce and narrate the entire book yourself and sound reasonably professional. If you write fiction, however, you typically need to hire a professional voice actor and studio person. The cost can often be $3000-$5000, so you’ll need to plan on selling enough audio books to cover your initial investment.
For print books, the path is murky. This is where the major publishing houses excel and have a clear advantage. For self-published books, the cost of producing printed books remains high, and the margins are currently quite low. There are, however, new models emerging. Investigate them thoroughly.
#9 – Choose Categories Carefully – But Don’t Get Obsessed
Once upon a time, the categories your book appeared in on sites like Amazon.com were incredibly crucial to sales.
They’re still important, but much less so on Amazon since they sell everything under the sun. These days, people mostly navigate Amazon via site search because it is almost impossible to navigate the site’s dizzying menu structure. That is less true on a site like Barnes and Noble or GoodReads, so pay more attention there.
Look at what the top sellers in your genre choose, and try to follow suit. That’s where your target readers are.
#10 – Plan Some Marketing Campaigns
Once you’ve got both independent and reader reviews, you should set money aside for marketing campaigns. Even if you don’t recoup all of your money initially, if you have a very good book, they can pay off in the long run.
Currently, email campaigns – combined with social media exposure – appear to work best. We included a long list of email book marketing providers on our Book Marketing Landscape post.
Another option is GoodReads pay-per-click ads. Did you know that you can actually target the followers of other authors? That’s handy, since you have your target reader defined. Unfortunately, you can only track clicks, not sales, so ROI is not clear. Hopefully that will change in the future.
I hope these tips are helpful. We’ll update this post as conditions change. In the meantime, happy marketing!