POST UPDATE 9/30/2019
This post originally premiered back in 2013. Despite more up-to-date marketing guides, this one includes historical data from some author surveys Lulu conducted. We’ve updated some information to maintain relevancy to modern authors, but we’ve kept intact the data from our 2013 survey
Drawing from a large-scale survey of Lulu authors, we’ve formed these 7 tips to help you understand and create your own marketing success as an independent author and entrepreneur! For an even more in-depth look at practical marketing advice, check out our Marketing Toolbox for the ultimate guide to building a marketing plan.
Tip #1 – Know Your Audience
The most important step towards marketing your product—whether it’s a book or a business or a lemonade stand—is understanding your audience.
We knew this was true for Lulu.com as a business and wanted to see if this basic principle was also true for successful authors. So we posed a question to a large group of our most successful authors: “Why do you think your book was so successful?” Here’s what they said:
The top 3 answers that authors credited for their book’s success are all representative of understanding and providing content for a very specific audience. Again and again the words “niche,” “audience,” and “filled a need” came up in answers to this question.
As one author said, “Make it your overriding passion to learn as much as you can about your audience and then give them what they crave.”
For now, note two related answers “Only book of its kind” and “Subject/topic.” Many authors stress that successful books require a fresh perspective on a popular topic or cover a subject that’s never been written about. One author said their book was successful because “it fills a niche with no competition either for content or quality and clarity of presentation.”
Tip #2 – Finding (And Building) Your Audience
Now that you know the importance of identifying your target audience, it’s time to go out and get them. We asked successful authors about how they found the audience for their book.
Here’s what they said:
Most authors wrote for audiences they either consider themselves to be a part of or whose needs and shopping behaviors they were already familiar with. This may have made determining how to reach their audience easier because they knew which marketing channels would effectively grow their reader base. Is this also true for you? For example, if your book is on health and fitness and you have identified your audience as other like-minded fitness enthusiasts, you may already know several websites they may regularly visit to learn about fitness and make related purchases.
If you’re writing for an audience you don’t know that well, you’re not alone! Nearly a third of the authors conducted research to find out what made their audience tick and how to find them. They used pre-existing professional networks, organizations or online communities to reach readers that would respond to their content.
Tip #3 – Know Where Your Audience Shops
In the book business, figuring out where people shop and how to get books to those places requires a distribution strategy. There’s more to a distribution strategy than just bookstores. Some authors leverage their professional connections to make sales. Others teach classes and sell their books to students. And still, others sell their books through churches or partner with niche websites.
There are many ways to distribute your book, and it takes some trial and error to find the right distribution channels. Every book is different, but we wanted to see if there was a pattern in where authors sold their books. Here’s where our best-selling authors sold their books:
Tip 4 – Beyond The Lulu Author Experience
Distribution channels for authors, both traditionally published and self-published, are changing. With the closing of many large brick-and-mortar booksellers, the most notable of which was the exit of Borders, all publishers are reevaluating their distribution strategy. In August 2013, Bowker released study findings citing a 5% increase in online book sales in the U.S., up to 44% of total book sales compared to 39% in 2011.
What does this mean for you? Focus on your audience and the best distribution strategy for them. If you can reach them via your own existing channels or easy-to-find networks and communities, selling to them on Lulu.com’s marketplace can be a strong component of your distribution strategy. If you need to target a broader audience that seeks content all over the Internet and in stores; expand to additional distribution channels
Another more recent survey of book buyers’ perceptions may be helpful. The eBook formatting fairies did a survey of readers in August 2013 that revealed fantastic insights into how readers perceive books and authors. We’ve compiled a few highlights of their findings below
Tip 5 – Know Your Book
Many best-selling authors pick their topic or angle specifically because they know it will interest their audience. The pairing of those two strategies—targeting an audience and delivering a unique message to them—is what sells books. As one author said, “We wrote the book for a specific market giving them information we knew they needed.”
In the marketing world, we call this positioning – understanding your audience and explaining why your book is uniquely suited to their interests. You might also think of it as “finding your niche.” Once you’ve found your niche, you’ll have a clear, easily articulated understanding of what your book is about, who it’s for, and how it fits into the existing body of published books within your domain.
Here’s an analogy for you. Entrepreneurs are often challenged to come up with an elevator pitch for their business—it’s a short, interesting way to explain what value their business offers to the world in the time you’d have in the elevator with them. It has to be concise and informative while driving the person you’re speaking with to take action. For you as an author, the elevator pitch for your book may sound a lot different from that of a start-up, but it still affords you the benefit of successfully positioning your book to your audience.
Tip 6 – What Matters Most?
Okay, you’ve conquered the art of developing an audience, positioning your book and targeting your readers with an effective distribution strategy. Now let’s talk about that book you want them to read: yours.
Ever looked at the bestseller lists and wondered, “What are they doing that I’m not doing?”
Here’s how authors ranked specific items and the frequency with which they said they were important:
It’s important to know what attributes of your book will make it stand out and what marketing activities will best highlight these strengths to help drive sales. To help you understand these steps, we asked our authors what made a difference for them.
Tip 7 – The More Books The Merrier
There is another secret to selling lots of books: writing lots of books. We asked best-selling authors about how many books they had written. Here’s what they said:
Nine out of ten best-selling authors have published over one book. More than half have published ten or more books.
Writing lots of books in one niche has many benefits. For starters, you don’t have to relearn your audience. And if you write non fiction, you’ll also be able to re-use a lot of the research you did for your first book.
Meg Crawford writes for the Lulu Blog – Archived