My five-part answer to what are the most important elements of your book promotion includes some predictable points, and one that might not be so obvious.
It’s THE question. The one I’m always asked, whether I’m speaking at author conferences or doing webinars. It’s top of mind for all those would-be authors who are itching to give self publishing a try. Though phrased a little differently each time, it goes something like this:
What are the most important things that go into successful book promotion?
My response is always the same – a five-part answer. The first four parts are, quite frankly, pretty predictable. The last one might come as a bit of a surprise.
Here are all of the must-haves:
- You’ve written your best book. Hopefully it’s a great book. But it’s your best effort and you can’t ask for anything more.
- Your manuscript has been edited by a professional. Not by your sister, the part-time English teacher. Your book deserves to be edited by a pro who has devoted her lifetime to the merits of the Oxford comma.
- Your book cover is eye-catching and appropriate for you genre. It requires the talents of a graphic artist who specializes in book design. There’s no faster way to condemn a book to poor sales than to give it an amateur-looking cover.
- You’ve put your book into the widest distribution possible. That means creating an eBook, Printed Books and Print-on-Demand distribution. Maximum eyeballs, and that means not just Amazon.
Like I said – it’s pretty much the standard stuff you read everywhere. And finally there’s this:
- You’ve factored in time to the equation… Publishing equals patience. Many of the mistakes a self-published author will make involve some aspect of time. Either they rush into the marketplace, or they give up too quickly.
Publishing experts like to use the phrase “Publishing is a marathon and not a sprint.” I buy into that, but I use another saying: “Good books don’t have an expiration date.” Authors need to realize that overnight sensations are outliers. Patience and persistence are essential parts of a great book marketing plan for self-published authors.
Here are the five ways that time can be on the self-published author’s side.
1. You need to publish when YOU are ready.
Of course that means taking the proper time to finish your best manuscript. But it also means you need to allow time for editing (3-6 weeks) and creating a great cover design (2-4 weeks). But there should be a limit to your patience when it comes to picking your publishing path.
First-time authors trying to join the traditional publishing fray should expect 18 to 24 months to pass before their book comes into the marketplace. And that’s if they’re successful in finding both an agent and publisher – no sure thing. Meanwhile if you choose to self publish, you’re talking about a fraction of that time: as few as six weeks. I may be biased but this one is an easy choice.
2. Make pre-sales your priority.
A lot of authors miss out on the single most important marketing time period for their eBooks and Print On Demand books: Pre-sales periods on Amazon and B&N. Pre-sales are where books are listed for sale well in advance of the official release date. Customers can read sample teasers from books and place orders (their credit cards aren’t charged until the release date.)
Pre-sales time frames have tons of benefits, and not all of them are apparent to first-time authors.
- Collecting these pre-release sales can provide you a better chance of making the best seller lists on many retailers, including iBooks, B&N, and Kobo. (It does not influence Amazon charts).
- Having a future release date means you can orchestrate the availability of your book, and use this launch date as a centerpiece of some marketing efforts.
- Behind the scenes, pre-sales activity has a huge effect on your positioning on retailers such as Amazon. Their algorithms measure activity on your selling pages – the more page views, traffic, and sales during that period mean your eBook could come up higher in searches and other referral methods. With Print On Demand, Amazon will take a more aggressive inventory position based on strong customer activity.
3. Let me be the first to say it: Book Launch, Book Smaunch. It’s not all that.
This goes against a lot of popular book marketing thinking today. What’s the real value of a book launch? It really depends on who you are. If you are an established author with a built-in audience, a book launch can be a powerful selling starting point. But what about the typical self-published author searching for those alpha readers?
I understand that your book launches might be a nice personal milestone or accomplishment to commemorate that first book. Am I advising against having a book launch? Certainly not. But I advise you to put this opportunity to good use:
- Use the opportunity to interact with your readers – even if only a few – as well as other authors. Get close to them – they can be a tremendous resource.
- Measure each and every one of your marketing efforts surrounding the event. Try to learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Don’t get stressed out if your launch doesn’t sell hundreds of books. I’ll tell you right now – it most likely won’t, but that doesn’t mean your book will fail. Don’t let this deter you from future efforts.
4. Take your time for marketing.
Lord knows there are no shortage of book marketing opportunities.. getting reviews, going on “blog tours,” sending press releases, posting on all the social media platforms. And don’t forget spending time on Goodreads.
For most authors it can be completely overwhelming to do it all. So don’t. That’s my advice. Focus on one channel at a time. This month you can work on your Twitter campaign, follow the right people, add new followers. Then next month you can devote to Goodreads, and so on. If you buy into the concept of book publishing being a marathon, these short-term marketing targets are like the shorter legs of that long race.
5. When is it time to give up? Never!
A great, and very recent example of how persistence can pay off is the amazing story of The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep. Most folks have heard the story of the self-published book that suddenly shot up the New York Times Best Seller list in late August. Written by Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, the book attracted the attention of all the major traditional publishers, resulting in a reported seven-figure contract for future titles.
And now for the rest of the story. Ehrlin originally published the book in 2013 (with BookBaby) as an eBook. He posted very modest sales from the launch all the way through 2014. This lack of early success didn’t slow his enthusiasm for the book as he had it converted into five languages and gave away over 45,000 eBooks! Ehrlin called in to the BookBaby customer service team quite often for advice and encouragement. He completely believed in his project and never stopped promoting it.
Later, Ehrlin created a printed book version and added Print On Demand distribution, with modest sales through 2015. Suddenly last summer, his sales started to climb. All of those free eBooks had created tremendous word-of-mouth marketing. A few stories appeared in European newspapers and the story soon spread across the globe of his unique parenting techniques.
The moral to this story: After three plus years of hard work and effort, this “overnight sensation” was really anything but. Ehrlin used his marketing time wisely and he’s now reaping the rewards.
In the words of French dramatist Jean Racine: “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.” The key to your best book promotional effort could be revealed tomorrow, next week, or maybe next month. Be patient and give your book every chance it deserves to succeed.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
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