If you’re a content creator, you know how challenging it can be to earn revenue from your work. There are several things you can do as an independent creator to promote your work, but all your efforts will fall flat without a marketing plan. If you’re planning to sell a book (or anything you’ve created), this marketing plan lays out the foundations for success.
The Book Marketing Plan
Your marketing strategy will have to be unique to you, your goals, and your work. There is no single ‘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.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts, here are the stages of the marketing plan.
- Market Research
Learn about your genre, competition, and publishing options.
- Audience Building
Find guest blogging opportunities, get published online, and develop a personal brand.
Determine your publishing and marketing budget.
Build hype with your audience, fundraise and prepare your products and services.
Sell your book!
Use simple, repeatable tactics to keep selling the book long after the launch.
Before you dive into market research, start by answering these three questions:
- What is my goal for this book?
- What does my audience look like?
- What is my genre/niche?
Unless you’re writing entirely for your own enjoyment, your audience is going to be the first and most important consideration. The best way to imagine your audience is by creating personas. I suggest taking some time to develop a few personas. Each should define a segment of the audience you’ll be marketing to.
Now consider your genre. If you’ve already written your book, find other books in the same genre. And if you’re still working on the content, think about the questions your book answers or the story you’re telling and look for books that are similar.
Finally, you’ll want to look at your publishing options. Map out the customer journey to understand where your potential readers like to shop. Pair that knowledge with the publishing options that best meet their needs while ensuring you earn the most revenue.
Market Research Tools
Like most things, you can find a near-endless number of options for market research tools. Here are a few that are free to use and effective for learning more about your potential readers.
- Answer The Public – Ignore the weird gif playing on the home page. Answer The Public takes any topic and shows you related search phrases.
- U.S. Census Bureau – Their search function lets you leverage all the data of the U.S. census to better understand how your audience shops.
- Google Trends – Quickly and easily discover topics that are getting attention in Google searches to learn what people are looking for.
Unless you’ve already got thousands of email subscribers or tens of thousands of social media followers, you will need to build your audience.
The most important audience you’ll develop is your email subscriber list. When someone gives you their email, they’re telling you they want the content you create. That’s why email is consistently the best channel for reaching your audience and earning revenue.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore social media. Find the channels your audience uses (your personas can help here) and develop a social media strategy.
You should look for opportunities to display your expertise and promote yourself. Guest blogging is a great way to reach a new audience. Platforms like Medium and Substack have lots of publications looking for content.
You’re not just building a network of consumers for your books, you’re also establishing a following of content consumers. People love content.
Another medium to consider is podcasting; this is a growing medium with lots of opportunities to find guest spots in your niche. And YouTube still has a vast audience and plenty of channels looking for guests.
It’s likely your fans want more than just books. Keep that in mind as you grow your audience and look for other product opportunities as they arise.
You should keep your marketing budget separate from any funds you allot for editing, design, and publishing. You’ll need to set aside funds for services, like website hosting, printing, and ecommerce.
Your marketing budget will need specific book sales targets. There’s no one answer because every indie author has a different goal. But you should base your expectations on your audience size and goals.
Here’s a simple marketing plan template to estimate revenue from your book sales:
|Pre-Publishing||1 Year Goal||2 Year Goal||3 Year Goal|
Once you establish your initial marketing budget, you’re ready to plan your book launch!
How long you plan to prepare and market your book before launching it can vary, but you should allow for at least three months to get the word out, get some reviews, and publish your book.
Your timeline allows you to break down the big and complicated task of marketing your book into smaller, achievable individual goals.
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 design and order final proof copy||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 ‘at launch’ materials|
During the pre-launch phase, you’ll need to prepare your content for publishing. That includes editing and completing your content, designing the book, creating a cover, and preparing your sales page.
You’ll need parts of your upcoming book during the pre-launch marketing; creating digital content as teasers, using the blurb as a meta description for the product page, and, of course, your cover. Your book cover is the most important marketing asset for promoting your books and developing your personal brand.
We all rely on reviews as proof that the product we’re thinking about buying will meet our needs. Treat your book just like any product for sale—which means you need to get some reviews before you launch!
You’ll need ARCs to send out to peers and reviewers, so be sure to have those sent out with plenty of time for your advance readers to read the book and send you back their thoughts. Use the best reviews as social proof on your book’s cover!
Finally, don’t skip reviewing your own product. Get a proof copy in hand before you launch to catch any typos and make certain your book looks perfect.
You don’t have to take advantage of crowdfunding tools like Kickstarter or Patreon, but if you are, you need to start during the pre-launch phase. How you manage your crowdfunding efforts deserves its own plan. I won’t belabor the point here, but if you are going the crowdfunding route to promote your book, read this guide from Indiegogo.
When the day finally arrives, you should have a growing list of subscribers, social media followers, and backers from your crowdfunding campaign. Make sure anyone and everyone who showed an interest in your book knows they can buy it.
Before you send that first launch email or post on Instagram, take a minute to review the product pages for your new book. That includes your own sales page and any retailer sales pages. If you see errors, fix them immediately (on your own site) or request updates (for retail sites).
You can define for yourself how long your book launch lasts, but you’ll want to promote it aggressively for at least a couple of weeks, if not a month or more. The launch campaign will involve all of your channels—that means email, social media, and vying for search engine results pages.
To capitalize on your book launch, you’ll need to watch the data as users make their way through your marketing funnel.
Book Launch Tactics
Successful marketing plans rely on data. If you’re not watching and reacting to the data you gather with tools like Google Analytics, you will not be as successful as you hope. Gathering and understanding data is too large a topic for this post, but I encourage you to check out Google’s Analytics Academy for lessons on using their tools.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a fancy way of saying “How easy is ____ to find online.” Search engines (which means Google for most of us) want to serve the person searching with the most relevant and useful pages first.
Think about it like this: if you title your book “Monster Coffee Mugs From Space” you should rank well for that EXACT search. But anyone searching the individual terms (“Monster,” “Coffee Mug,” or “Space”) will probably never find your link. Since your metadata will include plenty of references to your book, Google should have a good idea about what you’re selling.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the opposite of SEO. Instead of using keywords in your digital content (like the book’s description and product page), you’ll use keywords to display ads to searchers. SEM can be costly, as you’ll need to bid on keywords relevant to you. The benefit is visibility, as you can see in this example.
Search engine marketing is not a requirement or necessity for all authors. If you’ve got a large audience already, you may forgo paid ads and rely on your own emails, social posts, and SEO to drive traffic to your book’s product page.
Social Media Marketing will play a huge part in your initial launch. You may not get the most sales through your social channels, but it’s still important to use social media to spread the word about your book launch.
Email Marketing your email strategy is the most important marketing tactic, period. Email subscribers are the most interested and engaged of your followers, the most likely to meet the ‘true fan’ definition. And we all know that true fans—fans who buy most if not all of your products—are key to sustainable income as a creator.
- Moz – One of the best ways to research keywords, Moz will help you find related terms and search frequency so you can optimize your content for search.
- Google Search Console – Once you’ve connected to Google Analytics, the Search Console will help you learn how people are actually finding your website.
- Google Trends – With Google Trends you can research what searches are popular and look for opportunities to show searchers your content.
After the launch phase is complete, you need some downtime. Take a break, step away for a day or two, and don’t worry about selling books. The work that goes into creating a book, publishing it, promoting it, and successfully launching is… a lot.
After a little rest, come back to your book and sales efforts to set the last piece of your marketing plan in motion.
The last phase of your marketing plan will center on long-term sales. Your book is no longer ‘new’ and it joins all your other books and products you sell as part of your catalog.
That does not mean you stop marketing that book! Often referred to as backlist marketing, you’ll want to continue to promote your book (and all of your products) to your fans and followers. Think about marketing your backlist as a scaled-down version of your launch. You’ll do some normal promoting but with simplified ads and emails to make the process easier and less time-consuming.
Data plays a huge role in your post-launch marketing efforts. Keep track of which products from your backlist continue to sell versus the ones that aren’t generating interest. Use that data to understand what your fans want; this can inform what you’ll write or create next!
We’ve covered the outline of a marketing plan. To end this post, I’ve got a few suggestions for platforms you can use to help achieve the various goals in your plan.
I’ll say it just one more time: email marketing is your most important way to connect with your fans. There’s a good chance you’ll need to invest in your email service provider too, so carefully weigh your options when deciding how to email your readers.
- Really Good Emails – If you want to send better emails (or even the best emails!) you need to sign up for the Really Good Emails newsletter. They curate a searchable site full of the best emails. Like, the absolute best.
- MailChimp – With MailChimp’s free services for up to 2,000 subscribers and 10,000 emails sent a month, they are the best option for new and novice entrepreneurs.
Social Media Tools
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. Once you’ve pinned down the form of media, start posting regularly.
- Buffer – Affordable and easy to use, Buffer is perfect for creating, planning, and scheduling social posts. You’ll also be able to respond to comments from all your platforms and analyze a wealth of data.
- Hootsuite – For authors and creators with a few books in their catalog and a moderately sized social media presence, Hootsuite will be perfect. Their plan includes post scheduling, a single dashboard for all profiles, and comment responding.
- 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.
There is plenty of publishing advice that will push you to use KDP and Amazon to sell your book. And you might want to do that. But you absolutely, 100% cannot skip having your own website. Your website will serve as a hub for all of your content (like your blog, videos, or podcasts) as well as a home for your product pages.
Selling on your own site is more than just profitable; it’s also key to building a community of fans and giving them a place to find the latest and greatest from you.
- WordPress – Easy to use and inexpensive, WordPress provides the tools you need to build a website and maintain a blog. And with a vast ‘Plug-In’ library, you can adapt the basic site to fit your specific needs.
- Shopify – Most well known as an ecommerce service, Shopify makes it easy to create a website to sell your products. Their design features and blogging options aren’t bad either.
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.
Do not expect success without a dedicated marketing plan.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not 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.