You’ve finished your book. Celebrate! But once you have a moment to enjoy your accomplishment, what comes next? For self-published authors, it’s the marketing plan. There are several things you can do as a self-published and independent author to promote your work. With Lulu’s Marketing Toolbox, you’ll find the software you need to successfully market your books.
The Marketing Pre-Plan
Your marketing strategy will have to be unique to you, your goals, and your work. There is no ‘answer’ that will magically help sell your book. What we have in this guide are the best practices and tools to use in your marketing efforts. The first lesson is a simple yet challenging one; break everything into manageable pieces.
The same advice is true for almost any large-scale project. Books include. So hopefully you have a little sense for ‘chunking’ up a project to bring it under control.
At this stage, let’s say we’re in pre-planning mode. Your book is under construction, but it’s not nearly ready for the world yet. The perfect time to give your marketing strategy some attention.
Begin by envisioning your book marketing plan holistically as three phases of the book’s life-cycle. No, I promise your book won’t be dead or gone at the end of this. More like, once you reach the end of your book’s marketing life-cycle, it’ll be time to move on to the next book.
Researching The Market
Before we jump fully into planning, we need to do a bit of market research.
Who are you trying to reach with your book? Unless you’re writing entirely for your own enjoyment, your audience must be a consideration. Your intended reader can inform the way you write and structure your book. The same is true for marketing.
If you’ve written a children’s book, your audience will differ from if you’ve written an erotic thriller. That might seem like common sense, but it is important to have this on your mind. The strategy you use to promote your book will be tailored and focused around your intended readers.
You want your book to be read, yes? Then you’ll want to think about who those readers are, what they expect, what they look for in a book, and what they avoid.
Your Place In The Market
All of this can seem obtuse. How do you know what your potential readers expect? How do you know what they avoid? The best way to learn is to seek and subscribe to as many publishing industry newsletters and market research websites as you can. Grab as much as you can and get familiar with what readers are buying.
A great place to start is the Author Earnings blog, an independent source for a range of publishing industry statistics and data. Another great resource for learning more about what is trending in the publishing world is Publishers Weekly. I strongly encourage any author interested in promoting their book to sign up for PW’s newsletters.
The Market Position
The market position is a kind of made-up marketing term that loosely means ‘your product’s relevance to buyers.’ Essentially, you want a sense of what need or role your book will play in the marketplace. Is it a manual with specific information that will apply to a niche of professionals in need of that information? Is it a science fiction adventure that will appeal to that fan base?
Take a minute and look through the book you’ve written. Define for yourself the genre. Think about the kinds of books you’ve read that it is similar to. Then ask some friends, colleagues, and reviewers to share their thoughts. What books do they imagine on the shelf next to yours? What genre would they put your book into?
Take all this information, compile it, and use it to define the position of your book in your genre. I like to look for a hierarchy of genres, rather than being strict about it. This need not be definitive or exact.
Let’s say you’ve written a spy thriller novel with lots of mystery and intrigue, exciting action and a host of characters. You might think of your book as a thriller. A friend might call it a mystery. Your reviewers might key in most to the protagonist’s love interest and see it as a romance with action overtones. Save all of this data (it’ll be useful in updating your keywords) and decide about your genre. You’re the author, so you have the final say. Though if you know anyone with publishing experience, I would heavily weigh their thoughts on this matter.
Remember, this is not about placing your book in the genre you like or think it belongs in. This is about placing the book in the genre your readers are interested in.
The genre you fit into will inform your position in the market. If you’ve got a long mailing list or your part of a big reading community, you’ll have some potential customers before you even publish.
The last piece to understanding your book’s market position is your reader. Again, this will probably be tied closely to your genre, but they are not the same thing. I suggest creating a “reader persona” as an exercise to better understand your readers. Imagine what this person reads, how they surf the web and the online journey that would bring them to your book. Considering this reader persona can provide insights and ideas about how to reach readers and where to place any paid advertising you might purchase.
Okay, so we have a sense of the genre and type of reader we’re hoping will buy this book. Now we can create our book marketing plan.
The Planning Phase
You’re a writer and you’ve written a book (or multiple books) you plan to self-publish (and therefore self-promote). The marketing aspect may not be something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the lead up to publishing. But (sad to say) books do not sell themselves. Nor do they mass sales because the book is amazing. No matter how amazing. Even the most successful authors in the world have a book marketing plan in place.
For any product launch (which is essentially what publishing is) the marketing plan needs to be well established weeks or months in advance.
The first step in developing a book marketing plan is to identify your goals. How can you know if you’ve been successful if you don’t have a goal to measure against?
Something as broad as “sell lots of books” is not what I’m talking about here. You want to set down a reasonable, achievable goal to provide a structure for your plan. Think about this the same way you structure your writing. Do you plan a word count goal daily? Weekly? Do you hold yourself to those goals? Give your marketing plan the same treatment.
Here’s a moment to pause (I know, we literally just got started). As you think about your goals, you also must understand your market. If your goal is to sell 1,000 copies in the first year, you need to know something about who those 1,000 readers are; what they like to read, how they like to shop, etc.
I lovingly refer this to as market research. If you’re getting ready to market your first book, you’ll want to keep in the know about trends in the publishing world. And if you’re multiple books into your publishing journey, you still must stay up on the trends. We’ll cover this more in the ‘Marketing in Action’ section below, along with a list of newsletters and resources to follow.
Back to your goals. Are you aiming to attract new readers? Do you want to hit a specific revenue amount? Are you looking for a big initial push or to spur a trickle of regular sales?
These decisions will be highly personal, based on your book, your desires, and your existing marketing infrastructure. If you already have a strong social media presence and a large mailing list, you might aim for many thousands of sales from an initial book release. Likewise, if your footprint is relatively small, and you have only a few contacts and minimal online presence, you might aim for expanding your mailing list and capturing readers as opposed to making many sales.
Your goal will be personal to you, but I encourage any first-time publishers to be moderate. Even the most wildly successful authors weren’t wildly successful at first. For independent authors, that’s even truer. You need to set realistic and achievable goals or you’ll face the inevitable burn out.
The best way to set a goal is to find a metric you can aim for. The most common are:
- Followers (email & social)
I think all four are important to track. Set yourself a revenue and sales goal based around several books you want to sell and the revenue amount you want to earn. Consider measuring email and social media follower growth.
Here’s a simple marketing plan template:
|Pre-Publishing||1 Year Goal||2 Year Goal||3 Year Goal|
I might amend this table to include a ‘1 Year Actual’ column so I can include my actual revenue along with the goals. The template doesn’t delve into specifics like how much I’ll earn per sale, and how that will vary on different retail platforms. The goal template is a simplified, high-level overview only.
With a series of goals defined we need to create a publishing, pre-launch, and post-launch timeline.
Just like setting daily writing goals, a timeline allows you to break down the big and complicated task of marketing your book into smaller, achievable individual goals. I like developing a timeline to keep myself on task with my writing, and the same mentality can apply to your marketing plan.
Rather than try to plan multiple, overlapping timelines for every piece of your marketing and publishing adventure, I think you can combine all your to-dos into one timeline. For some, this might overwhelm; so do what works best for you.
Here’s a generic timeline with a twelve-week work-back plan. Meaning this timeline begins when you have 12 weeks until your book’s planned launch day and lists tasks to get you to the launch date.
|12 Weeks||Contact reviewers/bloggers||Contact local bookstores||Finalize cover and graphic designs|
|11 Weeks||Begin drafting book release page (website)||Order Advance Reader Copies (ARCs)||Approve graphics|
|10 Weeks||Create social media schedule||Outline social posts for launch||Plan graphic variants for social platforms|
|9 Weeks||Draft release announcements (press release, blog, email)||Plan giveaways||Finalize your budget (make any final adjustments)|
|8 Weeks||Post initial teasers on social media||Email teaser||Check in with reviewers/bloggers|
|7 Weeks||Check in with ARC readers||FInalize all graphics||Take a rest, go see a movie or concert|
|6 Weeks||Schedule social media posts for next 6+ weeks||Incorporate ARC comments/edits||Finalize any giveaways|
|5 Weeks||Finalize manuscript design including all edits||Launch giveaways/contests||Begin launch email campaign|
|4 Weeks||Announce any signings/appearances||Order initial bulk of books||Finalize online listings (book retail sites)|
|3 Weeks||Publish a teaser (first chapter) on blog||Finalize launch page, incorporating reviews|
|2 Weeks||Send reminders about signing/appearances||Increase social media push||Take another rest|
|1 Week||Make launch page live||Begin taking pre-orders||Reserved for Emergencies|
|Release!||Sell Books!||Continue social media and email campaigns||Publish and promote and ‘at launch’ materials|
Note that my timeline includes some elements (like social media and email strategy) that we haven’t covered yet. I include them because they represent important elements you must consider. But don’t get stressed about how you’ll grow social media followers or send amazing emails. For now, just know that both will be part of your broader plan going forward.
Align Marketing Plan and Publishing
At the risk of applying an overused simile, you can think of marketing your book as a puzzle. Each step you take to promote your book, each promotional social media post, blog article, giveaway, each contact you add to your mailing list; these are all pieces in the marketing puzzle.
Sticking with the puzzle idea, your book is the smooth-edged border pieces. The ones that frame and define how the rest of the pieces will fit together. The book is central to your plan and you should allow it to inform your marketing plan. Just like the border of a puzzle helps you figure out which pieces connect next!
Because your publishing and your marketing will invariably need to align, build your entire plan around both sides of the process. Don’t start thinking about marketing after the book is published. And don’t start worrying about marketing while you’re still writing the book. Okay, maybe when you’re like 99% done writing you can let some marketing worries take shape.
The point of overlap comes after we write the manuscript. Here’s a Venn Diagram that shows how publishing and marketing overlap.
With your publishing tasks and marketing tasks aligned, a timeline that targets your goals, and an amazing book; you are ready to launch!
Using Your Tools
We’re not talking screwdrivers and hammers or even some sweet power tools.
Nope. Just marketing tools here. Which means software, best practices, and spreadsheets. Sorry about that.
Now that you’ve got a reasonable plan in place we need to fill all the gaps in with marketing tools. How will you publish a launch announcement? What email platform will you use? How often will you post on social media? Which platforms will you post on? How do you even build an author website?
I answer each question above with a marketing tool. But before we can get into the tools you’ll use, we have to start with the basic information these tools will use. That information is your ‘metadata.’
We define “Metadata” as a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. In a book, this refers to the information describing and defining your specific book. Metadata is version-specific too, which means the metadata for a paperback version of your book will differ from the ebook version, and both will differ from the hardcover.
Your book will have a whole range of different pieces of information attached to it in the form of metadata. The benefit to you and your marketing plan lies in how you build this metadata.
First, let’s talk about keywords. These are words or phrases that you associate with your metadata. If your book is about horses, you might apply keywords like horse, horseback riding, equestrian, and so on. To determine what keywords to use, do some research. Start by making as long a list as you can of any word or phrase you associate with your story. And if you can, ask a beta reader for their list.
Now you’ll take this list, winnow it down to the best few, and start Googling. Tools like Google Analytics are a terrific way to gauge users coming to your site, but for keywords, you’ll want to search your terms in a variety of forms. Using the example above, if your book is about horses, you’ll want to think about how you can narrow the focus. Is it about horseback riding? Horse anatomy? Diet? The equipment horseback riders use? Then think about what specific questions or problems your book answers. Now you’ll be able to search for those phrases and find other sites around the web using the keywords you’re considering.
Your metadata will be a huge part of how you track and grow readers (and searchers) on your author site. Remember, too that metadata is not set in stone. You probably don’t want to go editing your metadata often, but you can change it. Be smart and use the data you’ve gathered (which we’re about to get into) to inform how you create and curate your metadata.
Marketing is built on two pillars: data and content. As a writer, you’ll have a head-start on the content. But what about the data?
Well, if you’re not a fan of gathering, understanding, and deciding based on data, you probably should look for help in your marketing efforts. Because every blog and email and social post will be measured and will offer dozens of data points you can look at to inform your decisions about future marketing efforts.
In marketing speak, metrics refer to quantifiable measures to assess your progress toward a goal. In the more business-oriented sense, this usually means a sales figure or clients gained. For your book marketing plan, you can assign a variety of metrics. Likes on your author Facebook page, subscribers to your blog, paperbacks sold; these are all areas you’ll want to see continual growth in. Assigning metrics gives you a reasonable means of tracking progress toward your goals.
You’ll also be looking for failed metrics. For example, let’s say you send a weekly email to 800 subscribes. Each week, about 200 open your emails and 50 of those who open the email ‘click-through’ to your site. That’s a 25% open rate and a 6.3% click-through rate (CTR).
Now imagine you have a weekly email with only 40 opens and a CTR of 1.5% (so 12 clicks). That’s not on or even near your average. Something is going on with that email. A negative metric is an indicator. Maybe the subject line did not resonate with your subscribers. Maybe the images you used are too large, and the email didn’t load properly on their mobile devices.
With the data you gathered and the metrics you track, you’ll know not only when things are going well, but when things are failing. Both are vital trackers of your plan’s success.
Google Analytics – Offered free by Google, their Analytics tracker provides access to a HUGE amount of traffic data. To set up Google Analytics, you’ll activity the service for your Google account and link your site (a blog or author site) through a tracking code. That might sound like some complicated coding, but all the popular site building tools (we’ll cover those later) make integrating GA simple.
Google Search Console – Complimenting the mountains of data GA offers, Google’s Search Console shows data about how users are finding your pages. If you’re hoping to win some searches (which means your page appears at the top of the list when someone performs a search) you need to pay careful attention to search results. The most useful metric Search Console offers is the ‘Position’ average. This measures the average position your posts appear in when they appear.
If you look through your position column, you’ll likely see a few pages that rank well (5 or higher) and more that are lower (in the 20s, which means your page appears on the second or third page of results). If you want to boost your search appearance, find a page that ranks in the teens and focus on that one page.
Use the tools we’re about to get into (your SEO tools) to help that single page improve. Once it performs better, move on to another page! If you’ve got just a few important pages and a blog, you can repeat this process, helping all your pages rank higher and improving the chances someone searching the web will find you.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a fancy way of saying “how easy is ____ to find online.” Anyone, be it an individual or a company, hoping to be seen online will need to understand how SEO impacts their search ranking. At the most basic level, you want to use keywords to improve your book’s SEO.
Remember that search engines (which means Google for most of us) want to serve the person searching with the most relevant and useful pages first. There are some searches you absolutely want to show up for. Like your author name and the titles of your books. Think about it like this: if you title your book “Monster Coffee Mugs From Space” you’ll have a great chance of ranking well for that EXACT search. But anyone searching the individual terms (“Monster,” “Coffee Mug,” or “Space”) will probably never find your link.
But there are ways to game the SEO for your pages. What about this search term: “Coffee Mug Book”? Since your metadata will include plenty of references to your book, Google should have a good idea about what you’re selling. Adding ‘book’ to the search term will help Google narrow the search.
It’s worth noting too that building SEO is not that important for many authors. If you are writing fiction for a niche audience, there’s a good chance you won’t be relying heavily on SEO to grow your audience. Most people searching the web are not typing in ‘fiction books for me’ or anything else so broad.
That doesn’t make SEO irrelevant, just not as important. I argue that your Blog should be your primary SEO driver. So, if you blog, monitor the position of your posts over time and look for ways to improve that position. This can help you earn new readers and expand your niche market (which means more revenue!).
The important question becomes; how do you know what search terms to try to ‘win’? You use your SEO tools of course!
AnswerThePublic – This is a great (and free) way to find questions people are asking online. For example, let’s say you’ve got a book about tax law. You would want to know what kinds of questions people are asking about filing their taxes, right? AnswerThePublic will help with finding the most common questions so you can streamline your metadata. This tool is great for helping you create sub-headings for your blog posts.
Moz – If you’re interested in SEO and building your audience via improved search performance, I cannot sing the praises of Moz enough. Follow their blog. It is a treasure trove of SEO related data and advice.
Gushing aside, Moz has a bunch of free tools that are restricted in the number of searches it allows you. If you want to avoid paying them for more searches and some high-end tools, you just have to be smart about how your research. Moz also has a plugin for Chrome called the Moz Bar that will show data about individual pages. Another great free tool for seeing what is working and what needs improvement.
But for most of us, the Keyword Explorer will be the most useful tool. Again, we have to use SEO to help improve our Blog content (primarily). So you can research a keyword you want to win and find which other sites are appearing. This can really save you time and work. Back to that example of a book involving tax law, imagine wanting to write a blog post about specific tax code. Moz will help you find other sites that are appearing when people search that tax code.
With that information, you’ll know how hard it will be to rank high in the search results.
Okay, we got the most obtuse and difficult aspect of your marketing toolbox out of the way first. Next up, we have the one that will really help you boost those sales. That’s email marketing! Email marketing remains one of the most powerful tools available for reaching and engaging an audience. So how do you use a mailing list to maintain a consistent marketing strategy?
For email marketing, the first and biggest challenge will be to build a base of subscribers. You can do this at trade shows and events by collecting business cards, and on your author website, probably by offering a subscription to your blog. As you begin the lead up to your book release, gather as many emails as you can. The mailing list you use should be ever-expanding, so you must be sure to post to your blog consistently and send notifications, at least a couple times a month if not more. Use the mailing list for announcements of upcoming events, release dates, sales, giveaways; any excuse you can find to get into your reader’s inbox is worth considering.
But with that said, do not under any circumstances spam your subscribers. Spam—when you send a lot of low effort content—is the absolute worst marketing mistake you can make. Aside from outright lying.
Building Your List
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to building your mailing list. It takes time, dedication, and some luck. The best thing to do is to make email capture central to your plans. Include a pop-up or slide-in (a polite one, if you can) on your website. If you don’t obscure the page or impair the user’s experience, there’s a good chance you can get their email address.
For a blog, this is even more important. I like to include a sign up in the sidebar and footer. If someone clicks over to your blog, you can assume your content interests them. If they enjoy what they read, there’s a great chance you’ll get a signup.
As we get into the specific software, you’ll use to gather contacts and send emails, you’ll have several options to help grow that list too. Just remember that nothing will ever beat quality content. Neil Patel, widely regarded as one of the best marketers in the world, has 10 tips for growing your subscriber list. The #1 tip? A compelling offer—in your case that means content!
Let’s assume you have a reasonable mailing list already. Now how do you go about using this list? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- We open nearly half of emails on mobile devices – Realizing that about half of your readers will view the email on their phone should prompt you to think about length and image size (if you’re using an image) to accommodate a phone’s screen size.
- Personalize without using a name – A lot of email tools provide code that will pull in a name associated with the email address. Don’t bother with this. It takes time and effort to gather names, and if the auto-fill code fails for any reason, the reader will see a strange intro line like “Dear [name here]”. Instead, look for other ways to personalize your emails. The best way to achieve this with your book marketing emails will be through content.
- Give them something – Content is king. If you’re sending a few emails a month, try to pair your next marketing email with a blog post. Now you can send a promo for your new book, alongside upcoming events, and a link to your newest blog post—you’ll have a content-rich, high-value email!
- Subject line – When you see emails in a list on Gmail or Yahoo or Outlook or on your phone, you see the sender and the subject line, and possibly a teaser. The subject line is critical, as this is what will push a recipient to open the email and read it or mark it for the trash bin. While there is no magic formula shorter subject lines are useful for getting the email opened, and longer ones work better for “click-through” traffic, which means the recipient opens and follows a link out of the email and over to your content.
These are just a few important points to note. Email marketing is a tricky business, so you should just focus on getting something sent with regularity. Include content if you can and offer important information with minimal fluff. This includes a link to your site, an image of your book, a list of upcoming events, and possibly a positive reviewer comment or something similar.
Now be consistent. Send emails often but not too often (once a week, but experiment and track sales trends alongside email and content offerings). To learn more about effective email marketing, check out this article from HubSpot.
Really Good Emails – This one’s not exactly a ‘tool’ but if you want to send better emails (or even the best emails!) you need to sign up for Really Good Emails newsletter. These guys don’t specifically help you create emails, send emails, or capture subscribers.
Instead, they curate a searchable site full of the best emails. Like, the absolute best.
If you need inspiration or affirmation that something is working, Really Good Emails is my go-to. Their newsletter also helps stay abreast of new and emerging trends in emails. For a free resource, Really Good Emails is a must.
MailChimp – Odds are good MailChimp is familiar to you. And even if it’s not, there’s a very good chance you’ve used a MailChimp sign-up box on a website recently. Because MailChimp is pervasive for email marketing.
For good reason too. They offer free services for up to 2,000 subscribers and 10,000 emails sent a month. That may seem like a lot, but you’ll discover quickly that it’s just enough for many authorpreneurs.
If you’re just getting started with your email game, MailChimp’s offering is hard to argue with. They offer normal email campaigns (meaning you create and schedule the emails to send at a specific time), embedded and pop-up email capture, and great segmentation of your mailing list. Segments are useful—for example, you might capture emails during an event. If you grab 50 emails over the course of the event, you’ll want to send just those 50 subscribers a one-time email pertaining to the event.
That’s the vital personalization you need and MailChimp makes it simple. For free.
Mailerlite – I haven’t used Mailerlite, but they come very recommended as an alternative to MailChimp. The features are very similar, so if you’re looking for an alternative to MailChimp, Mailerlite is a terrific option.
Social Media is a great means of engaging in continual, low effort marketing. Ideally, you’ll focus your media efforts on the social media your readers are most likely to engage with. Facebook is a popular place but you have to know your audience and their habits. Once you’ve pinned down the form of media, start posting regularly.
Post more than marketing and sales material.
You’re not just building a network of consumers for your books, you’re also establishing a following of content consumers. People love content.
Go on Facebook and share interesting stories (ideally publishing or writing-related, but not a requirement). Post often and when possible, use video or photos to enhance the post. A few lines of text work best, while longer more in-depth posts are likely to get glanced at and passed over. On a platform like Facebook, you want to establish your presence more than anything. You want your profile picture to become a familiar face or image for other users.
Alongside the efforts toward general recognition, you’ll be plugging in tidbits about your book, your publishing journey, and yourself. Establishing a following is about getting personal. People want to know people and lining up followers from a social media platform gives you a venue to speak not only about the book you’ve written but about yourself. Who you are, why you write, what you write about; all of this is interesting to people on social media, and will help build credibility for you when it comes time to sell your book.
While you’re going about building a following and generating content on social media, plug your book from time to time. Create Facebook events and invite your followers to signings or readings you’re holding. Post excerpts or reviews of your book. Sprinkle in advertising for your work, but don’t let it dominate your social media presence. You’ll have an author website for that.
Social Media Tools
Social media tools will play a few important roles in your marketing plan. At the most basic, these tools will help you create and schedule posts across multiple platforms, help respond to messages and comments, and provide data about your social media accounts. It’s important to note that you can do without these tools and run your accounts individually through each platform. If you’re only using one or two social media profiles and your presence is rather small, using the built-in dashboards likely makes the most sense.
But if your author brand is growing or you’ve already established a solid following on one or more platforms, some kind of management and organizational tool will be a huge help.
Buffer – Coming in with the most affordable options is Buffer. They filter their service options into three products; Publish helps you create, plan, and schedule social posts, Reply provides a single location to respond to comments from all your platforms, and Analyze provides a wealth of data.
You can purchase each of the tools through individual plans, meaning you can craft a social media tool for your needs. Doing so enables great cost savings, though you will need to know of how many users you’ll have, how many platforms, and any other metered facets of Buffer’s offering.
Hootsuite – Next up is Hootsuite, an all-encompassing social media tool designed for small businesses. For many authors with a few books in their catalog and a moderately sized social media presence, Hootsuite will be perfect. They offer a reasonably priced starter plan that includes post scheduling, a single dashboard for all profiles, and comment responding.
Hootsuite also offers Apps, which means you have access to numerous free and paid add-ons for the main dashboard. That includes tools like Adobe Stock for stock photos and a Google My Business integration. At a fair price per month for the features included, Hootsuite is well suited for authors with a growing social media presence.
Sprout Social – Last on our list of social media tools is Sprout Social. With the widest set of tools included, Sprout is also more business-focused than other social media tools. That means they emphasize selling and connecting with buyers over more traditional posting and sharing.
Sprout is the most expensive tool out of the three listed here. With that price tag, you get some built-in tools (like Landscape, their image re-sizer) and a dashboard for all social monitoring in a single place. That includes mobile support, ensuring you can track your social posts and comments from your laptop, desktop, and mobile device.
For most authors, Sprout is more powerful than you’ll need. They design their service for a small- or medium-sized business with multiple social profiles on multiple platforms, all of which post regularly.
You need not spend a lot of money or time developing a website. But you want to have a website to direct your readers too. An author website can be a simple design. All you really need is a page to direct readers too, a blog, product pages, and a way for readers to contact you. The website’s primary function is as a ‘final destination’ for new and returning readers.
Your author website will be the central hub for your author brand. Anything you do across the web to market your book can link back to the website. You should provide plenty of teasers and excerpts from your book and clear methods for buying your work. DO NOT send your readers to Amazon or to any other site to buy your book!
More Than a Store
We all know how important Amazon is for any retailer. I contend and will continue to make the argument that Amazon MUST be a tool you use for reaching an audience, but it CANNOT be the tool you use to sell. If you only offer your book via Amazon, you will need to sell thousands upon thousands of books to get ahead. Free shipping isn’t exactly free for the creator, as anyone who compares revenue numbers can attest.
Amazon is better thought of as an exposure tool. Just like other creators who use Etsy or Kickstarter to sell their products, you can sell your books directly to readers on your website with little cost and exponentially higher revenue opportunities. Tool #5 below is going to really dig into ecommerce, so we’ll leave that subject for the moment.
Don’t think about your author website as just a storefront. It should be so much more. Ideally, your author site will become a destination for readers seeking your content. So you must supply their demand!
Similar to your social media postings, your blog need not focus on your book and selling yourself as an author. Share your thoughts about the writing process, about the places you’ve traveled and your experiences. Your blog is the center of your marketing strategy. And since you’re a writer, blogging is a great way to always be writing.
As a self-published author, providing content is the most natural and simplest way to create a valuable reason readers should return to your site and social media presence. You must think carefully about what your readers and potential readers look for in online content and do your best to fill that need for them.
So as you decide about how to build and maintain your author website, remember that blogging will be an important function.
WordPress – WordPress is the most recognized name in website development for a reason. They’re easy to use and inexpensive tools give you everything you need to get started. And with a vast ‘Plug-In’ library, you can adapt the basic site to fit your specific needs.
What sets WordPress apart is its open-source option, which allows anyone to create a website free. But if you prefer a simpler option hosted by WordPress, that’s available too.
We built this blog on WordPress. It’s a solid option and the most affordable if your focus is blogging. And it comes with easy integration with services like Shopify and WooCommerce to enable selling (more on that next).
SquareSpace – Many alternatives to WordPress exist. Of them, I like SquareSpace for authors. The pricing for hosted services is comparable to WordPress, but what sets SquareSpace apart are the website templates.
With WordPress, you have nearly unlimited freedom in the design. But that also means that crafting the site requires more setup. SquareSpace offers modern website templates that simplify the design process.
Shopify – Last on the list, we have Shopify. Their platform focuses on ecommerce, making Shopify a perfect option if you’re selling a range of products. By focusing on the retail side, Shopify lacks some polish in their site designs.
For an author, the opportunity to automate a variety of retail items leads to even great revenues. Shopify builds its ecommerce site on a series of add-ons offering many customizations. Lulu even offers direct print-on-demand with our own Shopify App. You could also offer bookmarks, prints of your covers, t-shirts; all fulfilled with on-demand Apps.
Blogging is included as well, though many of the features offered by dedicated blogging services like WordPress are missing.
Marketing experts are known to refer to an users experience with a brand or company as a ‘funnel.’ At the highest point of the funnel is broad or general content. And at the bottom of the funnel is the sale.
That sale is what all your marketing eventually points toward. Social media and blog posts generate interest, but eventually you want your followers to buy your book. Right?
To make ecommerce a little more challenging, you don’t really want to select a single site or platform. Ideally, you want your book to be available to a reader in whatever form they want. That means spending a little more time and effort listing your book.
This is where a service like Shopify is useful. When someone comes to your website and wants to buy your book, be the one selling it to them. Primarily because you earn all the revenue from that sale, but also because you add their contact information to your mailing list.
Historically, authors would order a bulk supply of books. When an order lands, they pack and ship the book themselves. With print-on-demand, the options now exist to automate the process. However you manage this process, the benefits make it well worth the effort.
You should take note too that you will sell fewer books on your site. This sales channel may well prove to be your least profitable. But the readers who shop on your site are the ones who become superfans and payout more in the long term.
List your book, in print and ebook on Amazon. Too many shoppers use Amazon to ignore it. That you will make much less per sale is acceptable when you consider how many sales you wouldn’t make without Amazon.
Think about Amazon as a marketing tool. Every copy of your book that’s out there is also a marketing device. And Amazon will help you get those copies out into the world. There’s a lot of value in that.
Offering distribution to a huge range of booksellers, listing your book in Ingram’s catalog is important to setting up bookstore sales. Luckily, listing with Ingram is simple from a variety of sources. You probably won’t get a ton of sales through your Ingram listing, but the option to order from bookstores makes it worthwhile.
We’ll look more at bookstores in the next section.
There are many ebook retailers you can list with. Kobo, iBookstore, and Nook to name a few. You might get the most sales from Kindle, but getting an EPUB version of your book out there is worthwhile too. If you pick only one, the iBookstore is your best option. But I encourage listing your ebook as broadly as possible.
Finding Marketing Success
You’ve got your tools lined up. Print-on-demand published, listed on your site and retail sites, social media profiles posting on the regular, and a blog schedule built around an email strategy.
You’re practically a marketing machine.
Unfortunately, as an author, it doesn’t end there. Between writing your next book and working a day job, you must consider additional marketing avenues.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
I’m betting you’ve heard that idiom at least once before. Ignore it. While there might be merit in the meaning behind the phrase, taken literally it is wrong. Potential readers will judge your book by the cover, either actively or subconsciously. But they will judge.
Don’t despair. Knowing that readers will look closely at your cover and that your cover will influence them, is something you can work with. If you know the cover matters, you know you have to put some energy and effort into creating a stellar cover.
Let’s imagine you have your cover, and it’s awesome. It speaks to the audience you’re aiming at; it uses fonts and color combinations expertly, it just looks great.
Your cover will be the image that symbolizes and references all your marketing efforts. Posting on social media? Use that cover thumbnail. Writing a blog post? Cover thumbnail. Email marketing? Cover thumbnail yet again. Each time you drop that cover image somewhere, link it back to the book’s page on your author website so readers can quickly learn more (and ideally make a purchase). The cover (and more than that, the front cover as a thumbnail image) is the go-to image representing both your book and you as an author. Remember that.
The visual is key both for reminding your readers of the book and pulling in new readers.
With your cover ready to go, you’ll want to use it as much as possible. A quality cover will draw attention when your book is in a list with other similar books. It will make your book stand out among the crowd. Which is what you want, right?
A lot of how you’ll use your book cover, and how effective it will be, lies in the professional appearance of the finished product. Don’t skimp on your cover. After the initial push for sales and promotions following your release, the cover will be a lynchpin for your continued marketing efforts. You’ll use the cover as a visual cue and as a link/button to locate your book. Just like a strong subject line can power email marketing, your high-quality cover will draw in new readers and give you and your book the recognition you deserve.
Let’s say you need a new laptop bag to tote your gear back and forth to the cafe, library, or work. So you go to Google or Amazon and type “laptop bag” in the search bar. You’re barraged with a variety of products that fit your search terms. Hundreds of products. Maybe even thousands.
Keywords will define relevance (hence the importance of keywords) but once you’ve narrowed the field to a few choices, how do you make the final decision?
One important factor is often user and customer reviews. You might see a bag that looks perfect but only has 2 stars. And the reviews point out flaws in the bag’s durability, something critical because you abuse your laptop bags. What appeared at first to be ideal turns out to be a poor choice through reviews. Or imagine the inverse. You found a bag that seems boring and plain, but the reviews are stellar and speak to the quality build, the durability, and the price.
Book reviews work about the same. If readers find your book, you’ll want your reviews to help seal the deal. Imagine a reader who has your book and ten other books that came across their screen. This reader carefully reads the blurb for each book and narrows their list to three books. Now how do they decide?
Well, in a perfect world, they would buy all three. But if they only want one book, they’re likely to look at the reviews next. If you have a few solid critical reviews and a decent star rating, you’re doing worlds of good for your book’s chances.
Have you ever noticed that New York Times bestselling books always point this out on the book’s cover? Or the pages of reviews prefacing the title page on a book’s interior? This kind of promotional activity is all thanks to reviewers taking the time to read and comment on the book.
As an author, you must solicit reviews. Start by asking friends and colleagues to review the book for you. But don’t stop there. It’s important to have some neutral reviewers. And there are plenty out there. Here’s a list of some popular online review blogs you can consider. Different reviewers may have different expectations, but do not be surprised if the review requires a free copy of your book. You may find some reviewers willing to take an ebook or PDF version, saving you on that expense. Regardless of the cost factor, you’ll do well to secure some reviews for your work.
Studies have shown noticeable increases in sales for books with good reviews. Because you’re working on a smaller scale, this may not translate into a large uptick in immediate sales, but over the long term, having those positive reviews will lead to more interest and more sales, and prompting new readers to provide their feedback and get you even more reviews!
Bookstores & Events
A bookstore listing is a badge of honor for authors. And it’s a good way to earn new readers and make a few sales.
Even if your bookstore sales aren’t impressive, you’ll be networking with the local store, the readers, and possibly other authors. The larger your network, the more potential readers you have access to.
Look to schedule a signing with local writing groups or any organization. Don’t be shy to reach out and ask; offer content for exposure. Give a talk at the local writing group on self-publishing. In exchange, you might capture some emails and maybe even a sale or two. And you’ll have an event to list on your next email.
Don’t underestimate the value of networking in person. Get some pictures if you can (content!) and meet people. Writing is a community activity, and without people connected to you in the community, you’ll struggle to make sales and get your book in new hands.
With your book distributed through Ingram’s catalog, the bookstore can order your book from their normal channel. You can also offer to provide copies from your own supply. For some smaller bookstores, working on commission is the only option.
I’ve gone into detail about getting your book on bookstore shelves. But really, this market is still changing. Ecommerce and on-demand production are changing the way we shop and bookstores are changing to remain relevant to their patrons.
Beyond the Book—Long-term Marketing
Considered broadly, your long-term marketing plan for your book is simple. Basically, you’ll just extend the initial plan to a lesser degree. Social media, emails, and consistently generating content for your author website/blog will still be priorities. This may seem obvious, but once that initial surge of marketing and selling ends, I’m guessing you’ll want a little break, then you’ll dive into your next project, be it writing, editing, or designing your next book.
Eventually, that book will be done, and you’ll start the process all over again. Right?
Sort of right. You don’t want to just stop marketing after your book’s release and initial push. Think about it from a reader’s perspective. For a few months or so, your readers see social media and email updates regularly, they buy a copy of your book (Yay!) and they get to understand your author brand. Then all that vanishes. They might read your book and drop a review on your Goodreads page, but they stop interacting beyond that. And they will stop interacting unless you keep prompting them.
So how do you keep marketing without a book to promote directly?
Followers. Or true fans. However you want to define it, you’ll maintain your presence by watching your best fans.
You’re mailing list, blog subscribers, Facebook likes, and anyone who can see your content when you make it available qualifies as a follower. These are the people who have asked for your content. So keep giving it to them!
Content is the heart of your marketing plans. Post on social media. Write blog posts regularly. Send emails regularly. These train your followers to expect content from you. Don’t lapse on giving the people what they want.
Content is the glue you’ll use to bind followers to your brand. All the initial contact may have resulted from a sale or a recommendation from someone you’re already connected with, or perhaps even in person events. However you did it, you’ve got a list of social media followers and email addresses. You cannot allow this resource to go unused!
You need relevant and quality content to keep your followers engaged. If they find you interesting and keep up with your content offerings, they are that much more likely to notice your next book launch. Content can do this for you. Sharing interesting articles about publishing, writing, or books writing blog posts that engage and reveal something about the life of an author, the way you write, or the publishing process, and even personal content like funny pictures of your pets or mention of other significant achievements in your life are all valid and useful pieces of content you can use.
Balance posting book and publishing-related pieces with some personal stuff. Your followers need to get to know you and your work. The more topical your content, the better, as it will speak to current and trending questions your readers may have about publishing and authorship.
Your first marketing tool was analytics. With your book release campaign behind you, now is the time to study the data. Look at sales, sessions on your site, and subscribers. Compare the actual numbers to your goals to test how well your campaign succeeded. Don’t be put off by failures either. Marketing is a learning process.
And data is ever evolving. Every book launch is a new opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. Without a definitive answer, your data is there to guide you in making smart decisions.
For example, if your readers responded well to emails, you’ll know to put extra effort into your emails for the next book. Data will help you focus your efforts and in the long term simplify your marketing campaigns.
Managing one’s time is a challenge we all face in many aspects of our day-to-day lives.
You’re a writer, so it’s safe to assume you’ve got a good sense of managing your time. Finding the hours to write your book, edit it, layout it out, and all the other self-publishing prep works likely ranks you among the best at time management. It is even more important than that you do not let your marketing plan slip. Block time regularly to perform the tasks you’ve incorporated into your plan (social media posting, researching the industry, blogging, etc.).
Managing your time well, in an organized and consistent fashion, will keep you on track with not only your marketing plan but also your writing.
The reason to bring this up regarding the long-term marketing strategy is that your workload will shift post-release. For a period, you’ll be putting all your focus on selling and promoting your new book. Once that period ends and you transition to writing or editing your next piece, the time you spend promoting your book(s) and yourself will naturally decrease. But you can’t allow it to grind to a complete halt!
Plan time to make those social media posts, set aside time to blog weekly in your regular writing schedule. Consistency in your marketing, both for the book(s) you are selling and for yourself as an author, is crucial to maintaining an ever-growing base of followers.
Some authors will tell you they plan out their book from start to finish, others will write freely and let the story evolve. Be creative in your writing methods. But when it comes time to sell the book, the more preparation, and planning you can dedicate to the project, the more successful you’ll be.
I cannot reiterate the importance of planning enough. Do not expect a great deal of success in selling your book(s) without a dedicated marketing plan. It might happen, but I would chalk that up to luck more than anything. Or maybe you’re the next Stephen King and your books are just so good they will sell themselves. But most of us are expecting reasonable sales – and to make that a reality, you need a solid plan in place.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.