There are dozens of things you can work on to start your book promotion before you finish writing your book. I’ll focus on the three most important areas that require authors’ attention from the get-go.
This is the second in a series of blog posts focused on essential book marketing topics for self-published authors in our campaign, 2021: The Year To Find Your Readers. These posts will cover topics in two categories:
1. 100 days before publish. Tasks to accomplish while your book is still in production.
2. 100 days after publish. The latest and greatest book marketing tactics for self-published authors.
Today, I’d like to focus on some of the most effective marketing techniques used by self-published authors. But more importantly, I want to focus on when they should be deployed during the publishing process.
Many things have changed during the decade that BookBaby has been helping writers self-publish their manuscripts. One of the biggest shifts is authors’ awareness of the need for powerful book marketing. In the early days, it was thought that merely listing a book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com was enough to move units. While securing the widest distribution possible is still critical, successful self-published authors know that book marketing is what moves the needle.
Research backs this up. A few years ago, BookBaby surveyed more than 10,000 self-published authors on a range of topics, including book marketing. Our study illustrated that modestly successful authors — those who earned over $5,000 in sales over a 12-month period — were more active marketers than lower earners, engaging in 5.3 marketing activities per-author compared to 2.2 activities.
But it’s not just what they did to promote their book — it’s when.
We followed up with the most successful authors — those who earned $10,000–$100,000 in a year — and posited this statement: “The marketing of a book should begin even before the book is finished.” Over 80 percent of these high-earning authors either agreed or strongly agreed with this sentiment.
The takeaway I’m sharing today is simple: Book marketing is just like what cynical political pundits used to say about voting in notoriously corrupt Chicago: Do it early and often.
Marketing your book should start even before you write Chapter 1 — and the process never really ends. To be successful, self-published authors need to develop a lifetime marketing plan for their books to be used and enhanced over time. And you should start the process as early as you can.
There are dozens of things you could work on to start your book promotion machine before you write “The End.” To keep things simple I’ll focus on the three most important areas that require authors’ attention from the get-go.
I’m not referring to those old post-work mixers or industry cocktail parties with everyone wearing a “Hi, my name is ______” badge. When I use the term “networking,” I’m thinking of the widest possible connotation of the word. It’s about all the people who can possibly help you promote your book. I urge you to spread your net out as wide as you can.
I’d start by joining some of the best writer’s organizations. We’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I’m friends with Orna Ross, the director of this outstanding organization, and her website is a marvelous resource for authors. I’m also a member of the Book Marketing Network, an online community for authors and small publishers to share their knowledge and support one other. I also found this great list of associations and organizations on Writer’s Relief.
Next, you should target friends and associates who have a large and loyal following who could be your potential readers. Do some research on these potentially important folks:
- Bloggers and websites. Create a list of all the most important bloggers, websites, and digital publishers in your niche. Try to think of a way of getting them involved with your release once your book is done. For example, you can ask for quotes, do interviews, use them as case studies, etc.
- Journalists. Create a list of all the journalists in the world who might be interested in your book. Think how you can get them excited about its publication so you can get them to contribute, refer to your book in their articles, get interviewed, etc.
- Other institutions or associations. Are there any notable academic institutions or colleges that teach about your niche? Make a list and send them free copies when the book is available. It’s also a good time to approach any associations and societies whose audience is relevant to your book. Brainstorm some ideas with them. How can you work together? Can you run a workshop, do a book signing, agree to a co-promotion deal, speak at an event, write for their website or magazine?
Many authors’ eyes start to glaze over when the topic of SEO (search engine optimization) is brought up. Why is it important? Well, I imagine that selling books is of interest to you. Getting found on Amazon and the Internet is a big part of selling books. With over 1.2 billion websites on the Internet, getting found can be very difficult without attention to SEO.
Any work you do on your website to improve SEO will take time — don’t expect to leap to page one of Google search results overnight. With effort and time, though, you can improve your rank for relevant keywords. I could write an entire book on SEO best-practices for authors, and I suggest you do additional research on the topic, but here are the three most important elements of a strong SEO strategy for authors.
1. Research keywords. Keywords are simply the words we type into a search bar to find something. Thus, when people are trying to find something (e.g., a book) on Google or Amazon, they’ll type in some keywords. Your job is to anticipate what someone potentially interested in your book might type in. These keywords will be the drivers of traffic for your books on Amazon and other retail platforms. Don’t leave the job of researching keywords until the last minute; put time and thought into this task as you’re writing.
2. Start a blog. The worst thing you can do is throw up a website and never look at it again — stagnant websites are ranked lower by Google. Your SEO will tank, even if you’ve done everything else correctly. Look at it this way: Treat every page on your website as an opportunity to get found on the Internet. Therefore, the more pages your website contains, the more chances to get found!
So, now is the time to think about starting that blog. Yes, I know, you are already spending a lot of time writing and finishing your book. But peel off a few moments every day, because blogs are a great way to drive traffic to your website, show off your writing, promote your book, and perhaps even collect content and ideas for your next book.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to write for hours to craft worthwhile blog posts. Your posts only need to be 300 words for Google to take notice, with the optimum length at 900-1300.
3. Link up. On every page, include a link to another page on your website. Google follows links to discover content and to rank this content in the search results. A post or page that gets a lot of links tells Google that it’s an important or high-value article and should rank higher in the search results. With the right internal links, you’ll guide Google to the most important pages on your website.
You can also be nice and link to other people’s websites as well!
How will you know if you’re being found on the Internet? There are two ways to determine if your efforts to improve your SEO are paying off:
1. Manual searches. Using some of your keyword phrases, do searches in Google in a private or incognito window that does not track your previous searches or location. Where does your website show up in the rankings? Page one? Probably not yet, but keep trying.
2. Google Analytics. Using the Google Analytics dashboard, you can easily find out which pages on your website get the most views, which keyword phrases people are using to find you, how much traffic your social media is sending to your website, and much, much more. And using Google Analytics is really not that difficult — click here for instructions.
Become comfortable using social media
I’m not recommending you spend all your time mastering Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever new platform comes down the pike. Just devote a little time each day to understanding the medium. If, like me, you can still remember when we were all friends with Tom on MySpace, you’ll know that social media has changed in a big way.
Here are a few things you can accomplish on social media in these early marketing days.
Meet your tribe. Get to know other writers. Talk to industry people. Meet booksellers and librarians. Even if you don’t have a book out yet or a deal in place, laying the groundwork here is so important — not just for future sales and support, but for the emotional benefit of finding your people in this quirky publishing landscape.
Connect with readers early on. I’m an avid reader in my favorite niche of World War II history, and I have a bunch of bookshelves groaning under the weight of the paper and ink. I’d say that most are by authors I’ve become close with on social media. They’re the authors I’m most vocal about, whose books I talk about when someone asks for a recommendation. That level of personal connection is something no publisher or advertisement can buy you. It’s an emotional connection.
It’s not all about me. I’ve seen too many authors sabotage their social media campaigns from the get-go. How? They make their initial social media posts all about themselves. Nobody wants to follow someone who is only writing about themselves and their book. If it’s all you, all the time, it is going to be hard to build a following.
Instead, introduce yourself by listening, then sharing. Stay on top of relevant trends and current events and comment on them as soon as you can. Share other bloggers’ posts — the writer will be grateful, too. Share advice on subjects you know about. Start conversations about what you’re reading. Make recommendations. Tweet articles that are interesting. Boost up other people.
Focus on quality, not quantity. Work at social media early in your book project because it’s going to be a long process. It takes a while to build your audience of loyal followers. Remind yourself you’re in this for a long haul and it’s okay if you only have a few dozen folks following you. If you follow my recommendations, you’ll slowly grow that number over time. It’s better to have fewer fans who listen and respond to your every word and message than to build a host of thousands who aren’t really paying attention. I subscribe to the theories espoused by marketing expert Seth Godin, who says that anyone who wants to build a brand needs a “tribe” of about 1,000 people to spread the word effectively. You can sell a lot of books someday if you aim for a tight-knit group of solid fans.
For more information about jump-starting your book promotion efforts, I suggest you download BookBaby’s Promote Then Publish guide, which details more results from BookBaby’s groundbreaking self-publishing survey and offers other ideas for your early book marketing campaign.
Read the entire series!
Step #1 To Finding Your Readers: Make The Best Book You Can
Start Promoting Your Book Now!
Planning And Capitalizing On Your Book’s Pre-Sale
The Basics Of Print On Demand (and how POD changed publishing)
The “Do’s” Of Planning A Book Launch
10 Book Launch Don’ts
Harness Social Media To Sell Books