In the previous installment of my thrilling journey into self-publishing, I managed to publish a book on the Amazon Kindle and Smashwords platforms. I thought the hard work was over.
So it turns out the actual act of publishing a book on Amazon or Smashword is not particularly difficult. Both Amazon and Smashwords make it as painless as possible for you. Just read their instructions carefully (yes, chaps, RTFM) and all will be well.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of work needed to promote the book. I figured a few tweets, set up a Facebook page, and I’d be sorted. Silly boy, Cogs.
Lesson 3: Selling a book is harder work than writing a book.
It is a full time job, no two ways about it. As I was working full time on a freelancing gig during this period, with only my lunch hours and evenings free to promote the book, I had a lot of unexpected late nights.
Here’s a run down of what I found useful (and not so useful):
1) Reviews. Get reviews, the more the merrier. There are plenty of useful blog posts and ebooks on the subject, but in terms of getting your rankings up on Amazon, you must have reviews. Not necessarily all 5 star ones (Joe Public is a cynical beast), but as many as you can muster. I haven’t got nearly enough reviews for The Elementalist, and it’s rankings (#88,634 on Amazon.co.uk and #892,061 on Amazon.com) reflect this.
2) Sell it well. Make sure your book page is up to scratch. Look at the Amazon pages of the best sellers and work out the things they do and replicate those. Make it as easy as possible for people to get a good idea of what your book is about. Include reviews, a small sample of the text, even remind people that they can click on the Read Inside link at the top of the page (by the time they get to the bottom of your blurb, that link will have vanished off the top of the screen).
3) Book tours. These were something of a revelation to me, and proved one of the more successful marketing techniques I tried. There are lots of sites that will allow you to promote your book in a kind of virtual tour. Some are free, others charge, but in terms of gettings eyes to read extended information about your book, they are very good (also very good for the old SEO).
4) Guest blogging. Bloggers are always looking for things to write about. If you can make life easier by writing a guest blog post for them, especially if you can tailor it to their specific blog, they will almost certainly post ot for you. Make sure you include relevant links back to your site and your book in the author bio at the end.
5) Social Media. I don’t know about you, but authors constantly tweeting praise about their novel does tend to wear me down a bit. Social Media is a conversation, let people get to know you and then drop your book into the conversation when it’s appropriate. This is why I prefer App.net to Twitter these days. There’s simply too much noise on Twitter. I daresay App.net will go the same way eventually, but for now it’s my social home and a place where I’m building up some very good relationships with people. (If you want to try App.net for free, you can sign up to the free tier here).
John Locke has an interesting take on how he uses social media in his ‘How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!‘, which I would recommend as essential reading for anyone promoting their self-published books. In fact, his method of building up relationships with people on Twitter inspired me to create Tweepio.
6) Blog. If you don’t have a blog, start one. It’s a great way to keep in touch with your audience. WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr – choose your weapon of choice and get blogging. If you’re stuck for something to say – there’s always Michelle Goode’s Writers Prompts a Day (#wpad). Follow Seth Godin’s advice and blog every day. This post is the third in my attempt to follow this advice.
7) Fiverr. Fiverr.com (and it’s UK counterpart fivesquids.co.uk) has a multitude of book promotion gigs – reviews, social media promotion, book tours etc. I used a few and all of them drove enough sales to cover the cost. Be choosy who you pick and check the reviews. If you’re in the UK, fiverr.com is better value.
8) KDP Select. Using the Amazon KDP Select free giveaway days is a superb way of raising your profile. Admittedly it doesn’t make you any money, but it’s easy to promote on social media - everyone loves a bargain. Use it! If it means having to delay publishing on Smashwords or other outlets until later, it’s worth it. There are loads of free day promotion sites who’ll promote your book on the free giveaway days. One site I found very useful was http://authormarketingclub.com which has a useful tool for submitting to quite a few of these free day promotion sites in one hit.
9) Competitions. I ran a weird weather photo competition to promote The Elementalist, and it was, by far, the most effective thing I did, at least in terms of driving traffic to the site. With hindsight, I wouldn’t have let it run on as long. Six weeks was a long time to keep the momentum going, and once I’d initially promoted it, I quickly lost interest in it until the last couple of weeks. It all kicked off in the last three days where I got a lot of traffic and made a large number of sales.
10) Book trailers. To be honest, as a filmmaker, I find most of these a bit naff, but then most of your target is audience probably isn’t a pompous arse like me, so they are certainly worth investigating. There are several sites and services that can make one for you, at a cost.
11) Print Advertising. I splashed out a reasonable sum of money on an advert in SFX Magazine, promoting both the book and the weird weather competition. Initially I was reluctant to go down this route as the costs were high compared to all the online activities. But when you’ve worked as a Marcom Manager, the old insticts start kicking in. Large niche target audience – check, good ‘brand’ exposure – check. So I went for it. I’ll be honest and say that I was more than a little disappointed in the results. I was over the moon with the ad, and the positioning within the magazine. Yet it resulted in very few sales. Which leads me on to perhaps the biggest lesson I learned.
12) Write more books. If you don’t have a back catalogue, promoting your book is somewhat self defeating. If people don’t know you, they probably won’t care about an ad in SFX magazine. ‘Andy Cough-who? Pah!’ And they’ll move on. This is why reviews are critical. People tend to buy based on the advice of their friends or trusted sources (bloggers, reviewrs etc.). This ‘second level of influence’ takes time to build up. To compound the issue, if you do write a good book (as I’m sure you have), people will get to the end and want more. If you can’t offer them more immediately, some of the magic disappears and an almost guaranteed sale is lost.
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So there you have it. Four months worth of hard work distilled into two blog posts. The long and the short of it is simple; marketing your book is really, really hard work.
If you are a new writer, don’t get hung up on spending a huge amount of time beating your head against a brick wall, only to find the sales only slowly trickling in. As someone pointed out, book marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re probably better off spending your time writing more awesome books than trying to sell one awesome book on its own.