This is the second installment of our Marketing Toolbox series. If you missed the first part, you can find it here. Previously, we looked at the planning stages of marketing your book. Today, we’re going to look at enacting that plan, and how to stay active in your marketing strategy.
For this article, we’re going to assume you’ve laid out a marketing plan and reached the official “release” date for your book. Remember, because this is self-publishing, it’s easy to release a book you’ve already published. The marketing strategy is more about how you reach your readers than the official timeline for your book. So, working from the assumption that you’ve got a reasonable plan in place, you’ve done a book release, and you are beginning to follow through on the plans, what is your next step?
To understand how you should proceed, let’s start from the seven “Key” elements I identified at the end of our last Marketing Toolbox:
- Social Media
- An Author Website
- A Mailing List
- Books Reviews
- Book Cover
Most of these keys need to be in place or planned out fully before launching your book. What’s a book without a cover? But none of these elements–not a single one–is something you set and forget. Marketing is an ever-changing process of trial, results, revisions, more trials, and consistent tracking. Before we dive into the seven keys above, let’s take a moment first to go over a couple of important terms.
Metrics, or Business 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 acquired over a period of time. For you marketing your book, 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.
To track your growth, you’ll be studying your consumers (readers and followers) as they interact with you online. The Analytics of your blog, website, and the retailers through which your sales occur are all data you’ll want to capture. For example, let’s say you look at a three month chart of the page views across your blog. You see each new post with many views, a home page with the most views, and your “about” page with hardly any views. This could signal a need to redo the about page, or maybe consider moving valuable content off this page and onto one more often clicked on.
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 rating. At the most basic level, you want to use keywords to improve your book’s SEO. We’ll get into how you do that more when we examine Metadata below.
Seven Keys to Marketing Success
A fair warning. I’m going to point to seven elements of book marketing we’ve observed to be of the utmost importance. That does not mean these are the only pieces of a marketing plan, nor does it mean these seven items will always be the most important to you and your book. For example, if you’ve written a local history book about the region you live in and are familiar with, word of mouth may be the most vital marketing tool available to you. The book will appeal to a very specific audience, and you’ll need to engage that audience in the way that makes the most sense, both for you and for your book. Book marketing – and all marketing really – is a game of trial and error. The keys that I identified are those that have shown time and again to be important, but that in no way means they are the only ones.
“Metadata” is defined 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 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, you’re going to have to 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 is a terrific way to gauge users coming to your site, but for keywords, you’ll want to go ahead and 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 those phrases and find other sites around the web using the keywords you’re considering.
From this information, you can review the other sites you find to see how they handle keywords. Build your keywords from this info. Try to mix in both short terms (one or two-word searches) and long terms (full questions or four plus word phrases). The short keywords will be broad and cast a big net, while the longer terms will answer very specific inquiries you expect your potential readers to search.
You can also get a sense of how people search for similar terms with AnswerThePublic, a cool site that shows the questions other searchers look for, using your keywords. If you haven’t done some research into the keywords you’ll associate with your book, you won’t know if they are effective or not. One of the biggest mistakes an author can make when they are making their marketing plan is to neglect their metadata. Just because this data is behind the scenes, does not mean it’s unimportant.
Social Media is a great means of engaging in continual, low effort marketing. Ideally, you’ll focus your media efforts on the kind of social media your readers are most likely to engage with. Facebook is the popular place right now, but you have to know your audience and their habits. Once you’ve pinned down the form of media, start posting frequently.
Not everything should be sales related either. You’re not just building a network of consumers for your product (books), you’re also establishing a following of content consumers. People love content. We’ll go into a little more detail in the next section about how to use content as a marketing strategy, but for social media in particular, you have a lot of leeways.
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 as well. 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.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money or time developing a website. But you do want to have a website to direct your readers to. For some greater detail on the ins and outs of an author website, check out this post from the Lulu Blog.
In terms of your marketing plan, the author website is going to become your central hub. 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, as well as clear methods for buying your work. Lulu provides an HTML button you can embed in your website to “Buy Now” and direct your readers immediately over to your book in our bookstore. Something like this is key for your author website, as you’ll want to remove any obstacles to your readers purchasing your book.
Don’t think about your author website as just a storefront though. It should be so much more. Ideally, your author site will become a destination for readers seeking your content. So you’ll have to supply their demand!
One great way to use your author website is to keep a blog. Similar to your social media postings, your blog need not be solely focused 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. You’ll have a few purposes behind this blog: relating to your readers, sharing updates and sales about your book, letting them know about upcoming events and giving a retrospective on events in the past, and most importantly, creating value for your readers to come back to you again and again.
Modern online marketing plans tend to emphasize content and value over flashy catchphrases or amusement. 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. As with all suggestions, you’ll want to think very carefully about what your readers and potential readers look for in online content, and do your best to fill that need for them.
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?
It’s actually easier than you’d think. You’ll begin by gathering contact information from readers. 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’ll need to be sure to consistently post to your blog 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.
Let’s assume you have a reasonable mailing list already. Now how do you go about effectively using this list? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Nearly half of emails are opened on mobile devices – This is just a smart thing to keep in mind while creating your emails. Realizing that about half of your readers are going to 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, as well as 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, generally 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 couple of 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 or so, but experiment and track sales trends alongside email and content offerings). To learn more about effective email marketing, check out this article from marketing company HubSpot.
We’ve looked at the need for mailing lists and an author website, and in doing so we touched on the importance of content. You can get a lot of mileage out of a simple blog and excerpts of your book, but just as important are events.
Because you are self-published, you’ll have a tough time getting your book in brick and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble, but that shouldn’t impede you from working with local bookstores. You’ll have to invest in some copies of your book to sell by hand, and you might be able to negotiate a deal to get a few on the shelves of your local bookseller on a commission basis. Even if the bookstore isn’t offering you a great deal, I would take it. The exposure alone will be worth the small profits. And don’t forget, if you do get your book on the shelves of your local bookstore, snap some pictures and share it with your social media network, post about it on your blog, and list the bookstore as a location to find your book on your website.
You might also be able to schedule a signing with local writing groups or any organization that aligns with your content. Look around and don’t be shy to reach out and ask. Again, offer content in exchange 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 the 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.
One last thought on events – trade shows and expos. Attending these events is absolutely worthwhile, but also expensive. So, balance out any decisions regarding traveling and attending trade shows with the understanding that you’re not likely to recoup the expense in new sales, but you are likely to get some terrific networking opportunities. If you can afford it, definitely attend events like Book Expo America and Book Convention, but don’t go into them expecting to walk away with a massive number of new sales.
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 one of those big online retail sites (you know the one I’m talking about) 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 factor will be 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 durability of the bag, something critical because you abuse your laptop bags. What appeared at first to be ideal is revealed 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 among others thanks to the effective use of keywords, you’ll need your reviews (and your cover, but we’ll touch on that in a moment) to seal the deal. Imagine a reader has your book and ten other books that came across their screen thanks to the effective use of keywords. This reader goes through and 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’ll need to solicit reviews. Some of this can be easy, by simply asking friends and colleagues to review the book for you. But don’t stop there. It’s important to have some completely 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 a free copy of your book is required. You may find some reviewers willing to take an ebook or PDF version as well, 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, as well as prompting new readers to provide their feedback and get you even more reviews!
“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 absolutely 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 be looking closely at your cover, and that they will certainly be influenced by your cover, 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.
We’ll look at some do it yourself cover advise a little later this month, and if you can afford to hire a professional cover designer, you should consider doing so. But for today, we’re going to consider more how you should utilize your cover as a marketing tool. This is actually pretty simple, though the effectiveness of this strategy will hinge largely on having a high quality, well-crafted cover. So start there.
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 is going to 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 Lulu or 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. For that reason above all else, I say 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.
Next week we’ll wrap up the marketing strategy series with a look at long term marketing strategies. In this, we’ll expand on the Keys in this article and think about how you can keep seeing consistent sales with reduced marketing effort as time goes by. It’s one thing to sell a lot of books on release, but it’s another entirely to have a book that consistently sells for years to come. That constant trickle over time is important to the continued success of your book and your author brand. So join us next week so we can wrap up this story and help you get your marketing strategy in place for the long term!
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, responsible for all the words you see on our site (misspellings included). He also manages the community site – http://connect.lulu.com/en/ – and in his free time, he’s an avid reader and short story writer.