And what to do instead.
One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with in self-publishing is self-promotion.
I hate pushing my work on others.
I can’t stand the idea of begging people to read my books.
I just want to work on stories.
I don’t have time for this %$#! — I’d rather be writing!
If you’ve said, or thought any of the above, I can sympathise. The idea of selling and promoting our work can seem desperate at best, pushy and obnoxious at worst.
You see plenty of indie-authors (and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this too!) spamming everyone’s Facebook and Twitter feeds with ‘buy my book – it’s great’ messages. Every blog post they write is promotional, every newsletter they send out is the same. It’s so much work!
But all that effort doesn’t result in a sales-spike, so we get depressed and give up.
Why it doesn’t work
No one likes to be spammed. Think about your own buying habits. I know I buy books based on the recommendations of friends and family, and sites like Goodreads. I often go on Amazon primarily for the purpose of buying something, and I buy books based on the ranking and reviews. I buy the books of my favourite authors without even looking at price or reviews.
I have never bought a book because some author I’d never heard of sent me an email or posted something on Twitter or Facebook. Never. Have you?
Truthfully, I used to feel depressed about author marketing—I used to believe that it was all about ‘selling’ and I couldn’t stand the idea.
Then I did a bit of research online and found a few experts who doing things differently, with great results. There are so many great resources available on the internet, you just have to know how to find them. I use the advice of a lot of self-publishing experts, but with regard to author marketing there were two people in particular who really impressed me, changing the way I approach this (very) important aspect of my business.
What does work
Nick Stephenson and Derek Murphy both have fantastic advice on book marketing—advice that works.
Nick Stephenson is a bestselling indie-author who also runs online courses on how to build your author platform and sell more books.
Nick talks about the importance of using a ‘Reader Magnet’. To do this you set up the first novel or novella in your series (or a standalone if that’s all you have) as a ‘permafree’ on Amazon (and all the other platforms). At the beginning of the book, make sure you invite readers to sign up to your mailing list to get another free novel or novella—that’s your reader magnet.
Yes, that means that you have to give away at least two items for free! You might think that is way too generous—but think about it. If you’re just starting out no one knows who you are. You have to build trust and credibility. People have to start talking about you, recommending your books. That won’t happen if you don’t give away lots for free.
On Nick’s advice, I set up Dark Under the Cover of Night (Book #1 Kingdom of the East Angles) up as a permafree. Then, inside the book I give way a starter library, where you can get a prequel novella, and the first two books in the series away for free.
The permafree and the Reader Magnet (the Starter Library) have both boosted sales of the rest of my series, and have grown my mailing list. My only regret is that I didn’t discover this earlier!
Best of all, it’s ‘set and forget’—no marketing required!
I won’t go into detail on how to do this, as Nick has it all covered in free resources:
Nick has a free book on Amazon called Reader Magnets, which I highly recommend.
Nick also has a free course called ‘Your first 10,000 readers’, which is also excellent.
Derek Murphy of Creativindie is also a great advocate of the Nick’s method—however, he also has some other advice on other aspects of author marketing. Derek started off working as a book cover designer and editor before moving into self-publishing fiction just over a year ago. He’s now making a living out of his fiction, so he must be doing something right!
Derek focuses on making your presence on Amazon the best it can be. He made me realise that book marketing starts with the image I’m presenting on Amazon (or on Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble etc.). Rather than focusing on telling others about how great your book is, start by taking a cold, hard look at how it stands up at first glance alongside others of its genre.
That means having professional-looking author page, and a brilliant cover (one that is eye-catching and is easily recognisable as belonging to its genre). Derek has clever advice about cover design and loads of free resources on his site CreativIndie.
His motto when it comes to cover design is ‘be clear before you are clever’. That means that a highly imaginative, complex cover isn’t what browsers want. If they read Sci-Fi, they’ll be looking for a cover with a spaceship on it. If they are into Fantasy, a cloaked figure against an epic background is popular. And with romance, the naked male torso or couple in a clinch are the norm.
Boring and uninspired … maybe … but you’re not creating a cover to impress yourself, but to draw in readers.
I hadn’t heard of Derek’s advice when I started self-publishing, so I went with my more imaginative, arty covers. I was proud of them, loved them—but after realising they didn’t scream ‘Historical Romance’ I decided to cut the cord. Once I changed them, making them more commercial, sales have improved dramatically.
Moving on to your book description.
Derek believes your cover is what makes a browser on Amazon actually click on your product page. However it’s your book description that actually converts browsers to buyers.
Since I work as a marketing copywriter, I decided this was definitely something I could excel at.
I’ve written a blog post on the subject so I won’t go into too much detail here—suffice to say having a ‘hooky’ description is one of the best things you can do for your book. You need to engage the reader’s emotions, make them think: “Gotta read that!”.
Derek Murphy’s non-fiction guide ‘Book Marketing is Dead’ is currently free on Amazon, and has plenty of useful advice about taking a savvy approaching to marketing your work without losing your soul in the process. However, the best book he has written on the subject is Guerilla Publishing: Revolutionary Book Marketing Strategies, which is also available on Amazon (although not free).
In a nutshell…
To boil all of the above into a couple of lines, what I’ve learned about taking the stress out of book marketing is:
- Give up on self-promotion on Social Media—it doesn’t work and it just annoys people. Instead use Social Media to connect with others who share the same interests as you, and to share interesting, cool stuff
- Set up some automated systems (a permafree, Reader Magnet and mailing list sign up with some cool incentive) to help readers discover your author brand, join your mailing list, and get hooked on your work
- Focus on making your brand as clear, distinctive and professional as possible—this means presenting the same image through your website, blog and Amazon and Goodreads author pages
- Work on the things you have some control over (like polishing your writing and your packaging) and stop stressing over the rest of it. It’s largely out of your hands anyway!
You might have already discovered all this, but I was a bit slow to grasp most of the above.
Now that I have my mailing list has grown and sales and reads (I’m part of the KDP Select programme for 99% of my books, so Amazon Prime readers can borrow my books from the Kindle lending library) have tripled over the last few months (don’t get too excited on my behalf, we’re still talking triple digits!). Plus, instead of wasting valuable energy on self-promotion, I’ve been able to focus more on writing (with two books published already so far this year!).
How about you? Have you discovered any other—low-stress—ways to market your books? Please share in the comments below.