Book Marketing and Promotion

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I’ve been asked from time to time how to get a book out there and get it going, so I decided to make a post about it instead of telling everyone individually. I have a book marketing eBook on Amazon (for $0.99) and it’s on Smashwords (for free), so you can check it out if you want to learn some extra tips on marketing just to Amazon’s crowd. This is more of a general book marketing and promotion post to tell you some of the things I do that have worked well. I should also put a disclaimer that I’m hardly an expert at this, as I’ve just gotten started myself; however, people are asking me how I’ve been able to sell around 2,000 copies in five months. I don’t think this is amazing success by any sense of the word, but it is probably more successful than most. (At least more successful than around 700,000 ebooks and more successful than about 8,000,000 print books on Amazon.)

First, you need to optimize your book in every way you can. I’m not talking about the actual copy, the print, or the cover (although maximizing these features will help). I’m speaking more of optimizing sales pages where you can. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Author Central tools help a great deal in allowing you to add bits that will help your book sell. When people visit the product page on any sales hub (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), they want to find out about the book and see if it interests them.

The best thing you can do is look at blank product pages for other books if you can find some. Look at the book cover, the author’s name, and any other information that you can find. Would you buy a book based solely on the name of the author, the book’s cover, or other basic publishing facts that are put on the page by default? I wouldn’t, either. When you end up selling millions of books, people might buy it on name recognition alone, but even some of those wouldn’t buy it unless it clearly said, “John Doe’s new masterpiece, author of the Amazing Books That Sold Billions Before is back!” or something like that.

So, utilize these tools to make your product page more attractive and use it to explain your book. The tools are free to use, so there’s no excuse. Make sure everything you put up on the product page has the correct grammar and spelling, punctuation, and etc. This is as much a sample of your writing skill as your book. People are more compelled to try or buy something if it has compelling copy on the product page, but don’t get too “markety” with the language. Readers read books because the material interests them, not because it’s gimmicky or hard sold to them.

Second, we look at multiple sales channels. You may only want to sell on Amazon, but it’s not the only place in the world to list your book. Take a moment to look at these other services, as well.

  • PubIt! – Barnes & Noble’s new digital publishing platform. I’ve seen a few sales through here, nothing major.
  • Smashwords – A digital publishing distribution service that will get your book on Barnes & Noble (I prefer PubIt for this functionality, but it’s up to you), iBookstore, and their own website where international customers can buy the book. Not all customers can use Amazon or Barnes & Noble, so keep that in mind.
  • Your Website – if you don’t have a website, get one, in one way, shape, or form. Make it your own personal space on the web. It has been said that less than 3% of your sales will occur on your website, but it is also said that a great deal of your publicity can and will occur there. If you want to develop “fans”, you’ll need a place for them to learn about you.

Do you want to make all of your sales through places other than the largest marketplace on earth (Amazon)? Maybe so, maybe not; however, you will have more exposure by posting your book for sale as many places as possible. Some people have reported that they found out about the book on Smashwords, but they ended up buying it somewhere else. The same is true for people finding it on Amazon and seeing if it was on Smashwords, for instance. Every little bit helps.

Third, I will expand on “every little bit helps”. Somtimes we get starry-eyed in thinking about how we can maximize, maximize, maximize!!! Always maximize!!! If it doesn’t reach 1,000,000 people’s eyes, it’s not worth the money! Let’s take a look at that kind of thinking. Don’t be afraid, I’ve thought the same way before myself, and I have to bring myself back down to earth and focus. So, let’s talk about it.

If I promote to a specific group of people who are more likely to buy my book, does it really matter how big that group is? Let’s say I have $1,000 to spend on my marketing efforts. I could drop that whole, cool grand into Google AdWords, pick some popular keywords, and that’s all it takes, right? The ads will get bazillions of views and we’ll all be rich, right? Not so fast.

Your book has appeal, period. It doesn’t matter if it’s got an ugly cover (Amanda Hocking, a rapidly rising auhor in the indie world, has covers that many say aren’t that wonderful), some grammar mistakes and spelling problems (even big publishers have this), some consistency problems (Charlaine Harris has been known to be inconsistent, but she’s  a bestseller), or other things/problems. This isn’t an excuse not to write the best book you can, but it’s more of a concession that just about every book has problems. But, it’s also meant to say that each book has appeal to someone. Figuring out that someone is the most important part of your marketing effort, and you’ll spend your money more wisely the sooner you find that out.

Let’s say you write a book about young wizards who attend a school of magic half of the year. (lol!) “It’s not J.K. Rowling at all, it’s totally different!” you exclaim with every breath to the naysayers. That’s fine. What would be the best market for people who like books like yours? Well, I’d venture to say that people who liked the Harry Potter series would probably be the best candidates that are easily identified. So, you’ll want to aim your marketing at the websites and places that people who like Harry Potter might visit.

“That’s impossible!” you say, rubbing your chin. “Harry Potter fans are everywhere all the time! I’d have to put up TV ads, put up ads all over Google! I’d spend more than Ford on advertising!”

Well, you could, but you don’t have to. There are places that you can advertise where you reach the audience, but you don’t have to plaster it everywhere. Part of the reason that Harry Potter became so popular (or any book, really), is that one person saw an advertisement, read it, recommended it to their friends, they bought it, read it, recommended it to their friends, and so forth. Sure, it was a large publisher that put those things out like hotcakes and showed it everywhere they could, but you can get exposure without going all out. As you make sales and get a little capital going, you can expand. That’s the essence of expanding a business. You are, after all, a business (didn’t you know?). You make a product, sell it, get profits, and get happy.

Unlike other people who write articles like this, I’m going to tell you exactly where you can get such advertising opportunities. One place that I use is Project Wonderful. You bid on advertising space, and, if you bid the highest, your ad is displayed on that web page. It’s not expensive (for the most part). Here’s where I will expand more on the less is more mentality.

Rather than dropping my $1,000 on an expensive newspaper ad or somesuch, I decide to put $20 on Project Wonderful and target a few specific markets. Since we’re using a children’s fantasy book as an example, I would probably be best putting my advertisement on web comics that deal with fantasy or magic, children, or other specific, similar topics.

Let’s say I find a website that gets about 1,000 unique visits a day, and they’ll let me put a button or square advertisement on their website for a minimum bid of $0.01 per day. So, I can put my ad up there, about 1,000 people will see it a day, and it will cost me a grand total of 30 cents to run the ad for a month. After a month, 30,000 people (about) would have seen the ad. If I sell 0.01% of the people who see that ad, I’ve made 3 sales. So, my book that’s priced at $2.99 has made 3 sales at that price, which gives me a $6.60 return on Amazon’s KDP. After the cost of advertising is taken out, I’ve made a total of $6.30. It’s not big money by any means, but I think you’ll find that any advertising that has a return of 2000% is good advertising. There are plenty of worse options.

Let’s say you want to use more than that 30 cent investment per month. Let’s say you’ve even found a good ad space for your particular book, it matches the target audience very well, and it’s $1.00 a day. The site is much busier than the last, let’s say 30,000 unique visits per day. After a month, you’ll spend $30 for 900,000 views on your book. At a 0.01% conversion rate, you’re getting 90 sales in that month. If your book is $2.99, you’ll make about $2.20 per sale on Amazon, which comes out to be just under $200.00. Could you use an extra $200.00 per month in your pocket?

An extra $200 per month would pay my cell phone bill plus a utility like water or gas. Or, it would pay a little less than 1/4th of my mortgage. Or, I could go on a mini vacation out of town for a weekend. Better yet, I could use that additional money to get more advertising the next month to expand my sales further. Once I have some wiggle room, I can try new marketing methods that were, before, a little too expensive to try out. I could use the money to put out a print copy of my book(s) that I’ve been wanting to do. The options are as limitless as any money spending affair. The point is this: I now have $200 more in my pocket because I made sales on my books, and I have the knowledge that 90 more people were willing to give my book a try and see what they thought. It’s a win-win situation.

Beyond direct advertising, there is promotion and publicity. I much prefer promotion and publicity to straight advertising because it’s more useful and usually free. There are several ways you can acquire publicity for your books, and I’ll list the methods below. I’m sorry if this is becoming a long post, but I wanted to get as much as possible out there this time.

Book publicity things that I do, every time they’re offered/available:

  • Book reviews (pre-publication) – I try to get at least three pre-publication reviews before I put it out if I can. Reviewers who post to Amazon (at least) are preferred, but it’s not a strict requirement. Book reviews that you can get posted from professional sources can help explain and sell your book because they are from third parties without an association to you, they are book reviewers (so they read a wide variety of books), and they give unbiased opinions on what they think about it. My preferred source for reviews is Midwest, but I’ve contacted bloggers and reviewers with a specific interest in my genre independent of Midwest, as well.
  • Book reviews (post-publication) – I try to line up as many book reviews, blog reviews, and other networking that I can after a book has come out. Book bloggers and book review websites grant extra exposure for your book, and most will review and post because they want material for their site visitors to try. The book review process grants them free copies of books to review to generate traffic for their site, they can sell advertising (or just enjoy the many visitors, whichever is their fancy), and, in turn, generate traffic and interest for authors.
  • Press Releases – I issue press releases for free through PRLog.org. I haven’t done any lately, and I’ll probably be getting back to that, but it’s a free service and extra exposure. You need as many as you can get.
  • Interviews – I participate in book interviews about my book at every opportunity. It’s extra exposure. I usually do this through email, and I respond as soon as I get one with my answers (usually within 1 or 2 hours of receiving the questionairre unless I’m asleep).
  • Facebook – I keep my facebook active. It’s extra presence, but you won’t see a huge number of additional sales from this venue. I do advertise on Facebook, but I don’t put much money into it.
  • Twitter – I didn’t have amazing results from Twitter. Like Facebook, social networks are more for connecting with people you find interesting, not for being sold on something. It’s more like “local social news items of little importance” most of the time, but it never portrayed itself as anything different.
  • Discussion forums – I’m big on these, and I think they do help. Don’t just post “Buy My Book plz!” threads. Join in the discussion and enjoy yourself, your contribution, and the contributions of others.

The last thing I’m going to talk about right now is multiple books. I highly recommend putting out more than one book and not resting on your laurels. Very few authors make enough money from a single book – especially in self-publishing – to keep them afloat for the rest of their lives, and this is especially true for your first book. It will usually not be your greatest contribution to the human experiment. So, do what a writer is supposed to do: write!

Having multiple books out means you are granted additional exposure for your other books, and you have more things for people to try. Branch out into different genres (unless you’re doing exceptionally well in a single one that you enjoy), try new things. Write new books. Write interesting books. Try to make them as good as you can. Get the word out, and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!

If you have additional tips, I’d love to hear them, so reply to this message and let us know what you think! If you know an author, publisher, writer, or anyone interested in promotion or marketing in general, feel free to share this article on your preferred social network. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you check back for the next one!

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Comments

  1. Helen Smith  February 13, 2011

    Thanks, Brian.

    Congratulations on the success of your books, and thanks for sharing the links to the sites you have found useful.

    Helen

    reply
  2. Brian  February 13, 2011

    Hey, I appreciate you stopping in, Helen. I only hope the tips are helpful to others who find themselves in the same predicament that I did: very few sales and few readers stopping by.

    reply
  3. Nathan Lowell  February 13, 2011

    Some good advice.

    Your first point is particularly good. Fill in all the information. For paper, page counts, for ebooks, word counts. Don’t leave people thinking they’re getting a novel when you’re selling a short. And if it’s under 80k it’s a novella. I’m sorry. I know a lot of people buy into the NaNoWriMo 50k words is a novel, but as a consumer, if you sell me a novella at a novel price, I’m gonna be peeved and I will never buy another thing you write. And SAMPLE — if your ebook does not have a sample, you’re not going to sell it to me. Which is too bad because I buy a lot of books.

    Point two. Multiple channels is also a good idea. Sure I sell 50 kindle versions for every 1 Nook version I sell at B&N but at the end of the month, that’s still 50 books I wouldn’t have sold if I weren’t listed there. Channels are also funny. I’ve heard from authors who sell the opposite numbers. Maybe your audience is on B&N.

    Point three, we have differences over. Old media advertising is ok if you don’t have anything better. Proper placement of the ad can make sure that people who have at least some passing interest in your book will ignore the ad. That’s a lot better than people who don’t care at all.

    Yes, I’m being a little snarky there, but there are some realities. People who don’t bite on the ad will have been exposed to your cover and maybe the title. They may remember it when they browse looking for books. The first level of customer defense might be broken there and the potential buy will enter the awareness stage. It’s possible. It’s particularly possible if the ad is placed where people who are actively looking for books to buy are hanging out.

    In truth, most people are really good at looking around the ads. The more intrusive you make them, the less likely people are to buy it.

    For me – and your mileage may vary – the real power promotion is social media. Twitter is huge. Until you learn to use twitter, you’ll be limited in your ability. Facebook is interesting and I don’t use it enough to have mastered it. I’m not convinced that it’s as powerful as many people are suggesting, but I’m also aware that there may be opportunities in that platform that are going begging. It’s something I’ll be looking at over the next year.

    Participation in communities is also important. The key is to participate in READER communities, not writer communities. Too many writers believe they’re building platform when they really are only creating professional networks. Professional networks are important for knowing about the issues surround the profession, but are extremely limited by comparison to what a true social network platform can do for sales.

    My own strategy is “1000 True Fans” and so far, it’s paid off extremely well.

    The key to this strategy is focusing on gaining 1000 true fans. A true fan is somebody who will buy every book you write, and tell everybody they know how great it is. They’ll buy copies of your book and donate it to the library, or give them as Christmas presents to friends and family. They hang out on your blog and talk to you on twitter. They leave messages on your Wall and write reviews of your work everywhere they can.

    With a thousand true fans, you have a platform. A thousand true fans are surrounded by ten or twenty times that number of “people who’ve heard of you and maybe bought something.” Eventually a thousand true fans becomes ten thousand true fans, and it grows from there.

    As far as other ideas for marketing, I’m a firm believer in “the book as property.” Every one of my books starts as a free podcast. You can listen to every single book for free. Download it from the iTunes Music Store, find it at Podiobooks.com. By building the audience in audio, you risk no print rights and find out whether or not you have an audience. You begin to collect the true fans. No, you don’t cannibalize later print sales. People who’ve heard the book WANT to buy it so they can share it, so they can get it signed, so they can read it for themselves to see if the voice in their heads changes. Sure, some people who hear it might not buy it. That’s ok. They’re not True Fans. They’ll help out. They’ll tell a friend. They’ll leave a review or a rating. Every drop in the bucket helps.

    This is a powerful tool and one that almost nobody is using.

    How powerful?

    I’ve got nearly 18,000 fans worldwide for my podcast novels. One of the books has seen over 1/2 million downloads by itself. When my last book released to Podiobooks, their daily traffic *doubled* and I’m only one of three hundred authors. I have a mailing list of nine hundred listeners who WANT to be notified when I put out new content.

    All from paying attention to developing one thousand true fans.

    I think it was Doctorow who said, “Quality is not the obstacle to sales. Obscurity is.”

    Social media is the key in the lock of obscurity.

    reply
    • Margaret Lake  February 13, 2011

      Nathan, thank you for identifying what a “platform” is. I hear it all over the place, but you’re the first one to put it into words. If I understand it right, a platform is a fanbase. Now if I could only figure out what “content” marketing is, I might get a handle on this whole thing.

      Margaret

  4. Brian  February 13, 2011

    Hey, Nathan,

    I appreciate that information. There’s some very useful information there and some different points of view that are important to note.

    I don’t recommend traditional media for those just starting out since it can be a money trap if not done well. It can be an expensive arena to play in. If you can get ads in traditional media on the cheap, well, that would be something to consider as a possibility. It does happen.

    I’m very interested in your comments about releasing the audio edition of the book for free. I’d be interested to hear more on that venue. I have signed up on Podiobooks myself, and I’ve considered doing this in the past, but it’s difficult to decide how to handle free content. It gives exposure, but it doesn’t always guarantee further sales. I do agree that Podiobooks is a tool that no one is using, but I do intend to get moving on that arena to see if it will help even more.

    reply
    • Nathan Lowell  February 13, 2011

      I see you’re already a member at community.podiobooks.com – your sample from December went to Rapidshare (I don’t do rapidshare) but I’ll write more about your questions over there.

      NOTHING guarantees further sales. Podcasting gives you an audience. With an audience, you’ve got an opportunity to create demand for your work and that demand might lead to sales.

  5. thea atkinson  February 13, 2011

    great, sane advice. many thanks for detailing it so cleary and honestly.

    reply
  6. Brian  February 13, 2011

    Sure thing, Thea. I’m glad that it was useful to you in one way or another. Best of luck with your work!

    reply
  7. Brian  February 13, 2011

    I should also note that anyone making comments will be put into the cue for approval. I don’t have it on auto-approve yet, as I’m making sure the spam filtering plugins are doing their job properly. Everyone who is a human is approved so long as it’s not obscene.

    reply
  8. Brian  February 13, 2011

    @Nathan

    Yes, I saw that you posted on Podiobooks, but I can’t access the site to make a reply over there from where I am right now. I have to wait until I get home. I’ve emailed you about all this, but basically, I was interested in making an audiobook for sale, but I’d be willing to release them for free as an audio edition to build interest, but I do need some help figuring it all out.

    Usually I don’t have a problem with such things, but I’ve never been one to fool with making music or audio beyond just experimenting and having fun with it.

    reply
  9. Mike Van Horn  June 9, 2011

    Excellent, Brian, thank you. And also Nathan’s response!
    I have questions!

    1. You seem to focus on fiction. My area is how-to for small business owners. I’m converting print and pdf books to ebooks. I’d love to know how your suggestions would be refined for this genre.

    2. Kindle vs. iPad. Which do more people use to read Kindle/Amazon ebooks–esp. how-to books like mine? This matters to me because iPad allows many more formatting options than Kindle, and I use charts and tables and graphic elements. I’ve been advised, “Just stick to plain text,” but I resist this.

    reply
  10. Brian  June 9, 2011

    Hey, Mike,

    Thanks for dropping by. Yes, at the present time, I do focus on fiction, but I do have some non-fiction pending. I have thought about how to market the non-fiction stuff when it comes out, and here are some of my plans.

    :::#1:::

    First, you must know your target audience. This is actually easier to pinpoint than fiction most of the time. For instance:

    Let’s say I write a book called “How to Manage a Small Business”. Who would this appeal to? Of course, small business owners, right? What kind of small business owners? Usually, this is going to be targeted at small business owners who are knew to running a business (thus, the ones who have been in business a while and who have turned a profit probably already know most of this information).

    Now, the trickier part comes. How do you find people who are just starting their own business? Well, let’s look at a little speculative data. Small business owners who are just starting out are probably younger adults, probably somewhere between 25 and 35. Some will go on up in age, but we’re talking about the vast majority (your greatest exposure target). Where do 25 to 35’s hang out on the internet? Where do they hang out in the “real world”?

    25-35 year old, business-minded adults probably visit business blogs, finance blogs, and so forth. They probably have a Facebook account, they may have Twitter. The percentages that they don’t have email, Facebook, or Twitter are probably somewhere around 1,000,000:1. If you could get some cheap Facebook advertising (I always recommend not paying more than $0.10 for 1,000 impressions or a single click), drop some messages on Twitter with popular hashtags (like #smallbusiness or #smallbiz, etc.), and start making blog articles on your own site and also posting them on popular blog piles, you could generate some interest. eZine Articles is one blog pile site that I post to.

    Do they listen to the radio? If so, what is the most likely for a business-minded young professional? Most of the ones I know tend to tune in to a channel called 98.7 in this area, and it is generally easy-listening. Why? Well, a little more speculative thinking: business-minded people would probably not want blaring death metal going in the car in case they get a business call. Similarly, many 25-35’s have young children, and – no matter how much they might like to rock – they may listen to something “kid-friendly” the majority of the time. I know I do (I’m 28 years old, by the way). If you write well and have an interesting topic that might appeal to national radio personalities (such as John Tesh who is also syndicated to my local station, 98.7), he may do a quick mention with the major points of your book. Exposure in this method is free, and it is extremely effective.

    The key to effective marketing and promotion is knowing who you’re audience is. Like I said before, it can be much easier to identify them with a non-fiction title. Find the greatest market segment out of your target audience to market to, and use the passive promotion techniques (blogging/blog piles, social networks, forums, and the like). I always recommend to put as many of your blog posts on the higher-traffic blog pile websites to get high-quality linkbacks and traffic to your own site.

    :::#2:::

    I’m with you there, brother. I’ve been writing a roleplaying game (think Dungeons and Dragons), and, as such, there are numerous graphs, charts, and pictures throughout the edition going to print. Do I drop all that and go plain text? If I do, the book loses much of its value. Is there an eReader that will just view a PDF and be done with it? I think there are some, but they aren’t as popular as Kindles and Nooks.

    My suggestion is usually to first get the book out on the devices which most readily support your document. I’ve read many how-to books right from my computer screen, and I don’t think many people have a problem doing that. Besides, when they’re planning a business (like your books will instruct), they’re often using their computer to log their plans anyway. iPad could be released simultaneously because I think it can view PDFs. According to Wikipedia, the following can view PDFs:

    PDF files are supported on the following e-book readers: Mobipocket, iRex iLiad, iRex DR1000, Sony Reader, Bookeen Cybook, Foxit eSlick, Amazon Kindle (1, 2, International & DX), Barnes & Noble Nook, the iPad, PocketBook Reader, Bebook Neo and the Kobo eReader. Also, pdf files can be read on the iPod Touch using the free Stanza app.

    So, apparently they’re supported, but who can say how they might actually appear? I don’t own any of the devices personally, so I can’t advise how they might appear.

    At any rate, you could at least get the PDF out there and then work on making editions for each eReader. I would focus on Amazon Kindle first because it’s the most popular device available now (the biggest market share). After that, the Nook would be the next target. After that, you may just need to instruct people to use the PDF version on their eReader if it is supported.

    I know you can include images on any eReader, but charts and tables also need to be converted to images before they can be used. In their infinite wisdom, eReader designers didn’t make many provisions for reading HTML tables on the eReader. They often appear as just text with some weird spacing between the cells and rows. Hardly what you want.

    I hope this has helped. If I totally missed the mark, let me know and I’ll try to answer your questions correctly. 😛

    reply

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