Successfully marketing a self-published book takes a lot of effort and creativity, and you don’t have to rely exclusively on social media to do it.
Self-published authors don’t need to be reminded of the daunting challenges they face marketing a book, but the sheer scope of the task could use some perspective.
Physicist Stephen Hawking provided perspective in his book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, saying, “If you stacked the new books being published next to each other, at the present rate of production, you would have to move at ninety miles an hour just to keep up with the end of the line.”
Getting your book discovered amidst this onslaught of titles requires a fresh approach and perhaps rethinking the basic tenets of marketing, especially the idea that you must maintain a daily presence on every social media platform that exists.
A recipe for burnout
The standard litany of book-promotion advice is to immediately set up an author platform, create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and whatever other media channel is the darling of the day. Then, start a blog or podcast and spend two or three hours a day creating content.
Social media channels can be very useful, but be selective in deciding which ones suit your goals and be aware what you’re giving away in exchange for gaining a presence in an online community.
Piggyback off existing sites
There is a place for an author platform, but it will generally benefit established writers whose readers seek them out by name more than an indie just getting off the blocks. As a new writer still establishing your name, the utility of an author platform is limited, especially if you’re mainly showcasing one or two books. In an article titled “Platforms Are Overrated,” Stephanie Bane takes the outlier’s viewpoint:
“As a recent MFA graduate who’s wading into the world of publishing, I’ve been counseled to start a blog, scare up a couple thousand Facebook friends, consider Twitter. This pressure to promote myself, in addition to writing a book and working full-time, could break my will, make me consider giving up writing altogether.”
Instead of a full-blown author’s platform, consider setting up a point of access — basically a landing page — to your prospective readers on an existing, well-trafficked, high-profile site.
- LinkedIn provides numerous options to highlight your accomplishments, build connections, embed videos (such as book trailers or author trailers), and join any number of professional writing or publishing groups. Interactions with these groups can establish affiliations and link people to your professional page.
- Amazon Author Central can serve as a multi-purpose author’s site with links to your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) books, photos, biographies, videos, and recent blog articles that you’ve written. You can even add a “Follow” button so fans can learn about new releases. Here is a walkthrough of the process of creating an account and an author page.
- Medium is a diverse, ad-free site from which you can establish your writing credentials, attract followers, and jump-start the discovery of your books. Rather than a place to generate heavy-handed pitches, Medium gives you an opportunity to talk about your expertise in a specific area (if you’re showcasing a nonfiction book) or stories about your personal self-publishing journey. Either way, an oblique, thoughtful reference to your published titles can often be more effective than making a blatant appeal: I wrote a book; you can buy it here! Joining the writing communities on Medium can also be a valuable way to learn what promotion techniques have worked for other writers.
Creating a landing page through a service like MailChimp is another inexpensive approach to consider to help build a list. Even at its free level, MailChimp provides templates to create a landing page with a unique URL if you want to introduce a book, offer a discount coupon, let someone download an excerpt, or announce an upcoming release. You can post to a social media site, embed the URL in an email, add it to a blog article, or distribute it in any manner that you’d like.
Don’t be a buzzkill
I’ve seen entire book-promotion campaigns based on placing ads on social media sites to alert prospective readers of your title. Ads can be effective, but oversaturation is an omnipresent problem. Jon Simpson, writing for Forbes, explains that “Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day. At some point, we start a screening process for what we engage with and start ignoring brands and advertising messages, unless it’s something that we have a personal interest in.”
The authors of Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online take the approach that ads that interrupt someone’s attention (when they’re viewing a video, reading an article, or scanning an online publication) create a negative impression.
The premise behind Inbound Marketing is that if you create compelling content — visual experiences, relevant blog articles, information podcasts — you will draw readers to a product: in this case, your book or book series. The concept is much like the debate over push versus pull marketing: instead of aggressively pushing ads out to get into as many peoples’ faces as possible, you draw them in using a variety of strategies to reach, entertain, and inform prospective readers.
Some of the ways you can attract readers beyond running ads include:
- Engaging with your local library through events and activities. Given that libraries are often eager to showcase local authors, inquire about getting your book placed in the library and giving a presentation to patrons (virtual, of course, until libraries are out of lockdown).
- Writing blog posts that spark interest in your title and then posting on LinkedIn, Medium, or as a guest contributor on another person’s blog site.
- Creating a book trailer or author trailer and posting them where prospective readers can easily find them, such as your bio page on LinkedIn or through the Amazon Author Central site.
- Contacting a virtual book club that specializes in your genre and offering to give a reading or a Q&A session with members.
- Participating in group discussions or forums where readers congregate, such as Goodreads, Medium, or established readers’ groups or book clubs. (Here are twenty worth considering.)
- Soliciting honest reviews of your book on Amazon, Kobo, Goodreads, Apple Books, or a smaller site that does reviews of specific genres. There is an ethical line to be considered: is it appropriate to solicit reviews from a service, group, or other venue that offers your book for free in exchange for a posted review? In a way, it’s different than sending a free copy of your book to a bona fide reviewer who has earned credentials for reviewing titles honestly.
- Encouraging those in your network of connections to spread the word. Word-of-mouth advertising is still one of the most effective and reliable ways to stimulate interest in your writing, with no arm twisting involved.
- Promoting via book discovery sites. Enlisting a book discovery service promoting cheap or free eBooks is one way to get reviews, find readers, and increase book sales.
- Creating an audio narration of an exciting, dramatic, or emotional segment from your book can be a hook for prospective readers who then want to go deeper into the story. Audio pieces anywhere from two–to–ten minutes can be embedded on landing pages or whatever social sites you’ve adopted. Spoken word readings can bring out elements of your story in a way that can be very compelling. If you’re ambitious, you can create a free account on Anchor and do regular chapter readings in the tradition of serial fiction.
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Some of the statements in this article may sound contrary to mainstream guidance, but the point is to be realistic, smart, and targeted in your book promotion efforts. It’s more of an attitude than a formula. Not everyone has the time, money, and inclination to launch a multi-level book promotion campaign and dream of the day when you have a steady passive income from a book series.
In the meantime, use available resources that can boost the discoverability of your book and establish a stable foundation for your writing endeavors to flourish.
Indie Authors And The Independent Bookstore
Public Libraries: An Asset For Independent Authors
Virtual Book Clubs In The Era Of Social Distancing
Creating An Author Video: Three Paths To Success
Creating A Low-Cost Book Trailer