Guest Post by Ron Schrader
Writing a book can be a very challenging thing to do, one that provides the author with a great sense of accomplishment once complete. Unfortunately, if you want to actually sell beyond your close family and friends, the real challenge comes after the final word is written—it’s called marketing. Marketing is simply making potential buyers aware of your product; in this case, your book. It can be something as simple as posting a link to your Facebook and Twitter feeds, or as complex as running effective ad campaigns across multiple platforms. Either way, I think we can safely assume that most authors find marketing to be their number-one biggest hurdle in achieving success—and for good reason! It’s why advertising firms exist, because most of us really don’t know how to sell.
In fact, there’s an interesting lesson to learn about selling books by studying Amazon: have you ever read a best-selling book that, quite frankly, stank? That’s because the book was a best-selling book, not a best-written book. The term “best-selling” does not necessarily mean it’s a good book (even though marketers hope you’ll take it that way); it simply means that the author and/or team of people involved with the book were skilled in the art of selling—they knew how to generate buzz and prod curious buyers to put down cash. (If you don’t believe me, visit Amazon’s Best Sellers and you’re sure to find books with an average of 3 stars or fewer.)
So without getting a degree in marketing, what does it take for you to sell more copies of your book(s), given that the vast majority of self-published authors never sell more than a few hundred copies? I recently helped an unknown indie author (fiction) reach close to 17,000 book sales in his first year and get featured twice by the competitive BookBub. Based on that experience, and a couple years of intensely researching online book marketing, I have a few observations I’d like to share with you.
1. Go Pro
First, start off with a good book. Now, I did just tell you that best seller and best written are not necessarily the same thing, but you don’t want to aim for only selling an initial round of books. Giving readers your very best work is only going to benefit you in the long run. This means you should invest the time and money necessary to have the book edited, all without any guarantee of future sales; but, from my experience, it definitely ups the odds in your favor. A good book means you’ll be getting the best long-term (free!) marketing there is: word of mouth.
Second, you’ll also be investing in a professional cover. It’s the first impression, and it counts. If the cover looks cheap or unprofessional, it’s a sure bet you’re going to lose sales. The few hundred bucks is worth the investment—it could result in a few thousand sales you didn’t lose.
2. Optimize Your Sales Page
My own experience is limited to Amazon here, but any online retailer that gives you control of your book’s sales page is also giving you an opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot! If you don’t know how to choose the correct categories and keywords, get help from someone who does. Those two things alone can heavily impact your chances for success (again, no guarantees of instant success with any marketing, but the wrong information can hurt you).
The book description is also important, and should be written in a way that grabs your reader’s attention quickly and makes them want more. Think of a movie trailer; you can’t always tell what the movie or story is really about from watching the trailer, but a good trailer will always make you interested in seeing the movie. Use the above-the-fold principle from the bygone days of newspapers: if it doesn’t summarize the key hook of your book in the first sentence or two, it could mean lost sales. (You’ll note that print books have a back cover blurb that is also marketing copy, not just a description of the content. Your online book description will do the same thing, but in even less space.) Luckily, Amazon is full of good sales pages you can learn from.
3. Get Reviews
You’ll need a lot of reviews! This is one of the more challenging tasks, so of course it also happens to be one of the most important. Reviews are basically “social proof”—if so many other readers enjoyed the book, your potential buyer might too. Getting reviews is the hard part, but here are a few do’s & don’ts:
- Don’t buy reviews. This is a practice that can get you banned from sites like Amazon if you get caught.
- Don’t tell reviewers (friends/family) how many stars to give you or what to say in their review. You might think that doctoring up initial reviews will be helpful, but the truth will eventually come out. Let people be honest with their reviews. It might hurt at times to get some constructive criticism, but it will hopefully help you become a better writer in the long run. (This is also one way to learn about flaws that may need correction—an easy fix with digital books.) Real comments will also give your reviews credibility and entice readers to find out for themselves who they agree with.
- Do run promotions, inviting friends/family to get your book for cheap or free during the promotion, and ask that they read your book and leave a review. This won’t always work out like you want, but there will almost always be a few willing to help you.
- Do ask readers at the end of your book for a review, and provide them with the link they need. Ask the top reviewers (of your genre) on Goodreads and Amazon to review your books. Again, these don’t always pan out, but asking for what you need is more likely to get you results than not.
- Do everything you can (short of annoying people to death) to get the reviews you need. Sometimes people just need a few reminders.
4. Don’t Wait for an Audience—Find It!
Putting your book for sale online helps readers find your book. But you also need to help your book find readers. Many of the following strategies won’t do you much good until you have a dozen or more reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, etc. So make sure that’s moving along as you dive into building an audience. First, grow your own website mailing list (with MailChimp or AWeber or other online subscription services), as well as Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Use incentives (giveaways, contests, etc.) and start a blog to help grow interest in these venues. Invest in ads and other book-promotional services, such as BookBub or App for Authors. Be prepared to spend a little money to help get the word out! That said, do it cautiously. If you’ve never run an online ad before (i.e., Facebook, Goodreads, and Google Ads), you might want to learn how first, or find someone with experience to do it for you to avoid just throwing money away. And before you pay anyone to promote you to their “list,” find out what you can about it. How big is it? Does it convert? Ultimately, you want to know if the money you spend is worthwhile or not. In advertising, there is always some risk when it comes to spending money, but it doesn’t need to be a blind risk. Even spending $5 on sites like Fiverr is a waste if no one buys a copy of your book. As mentioned before, book-promotion services like BookBub are a great resource, because they give you a lot of statistical information about their success rate. When you’re paying a lot of money for a promotion, it’s always better to have some decision-making data on hand.
5. Study Marketing
A good friend of mine once told me that anyone who wants a successful business must study and perfect the art of sales/marketing. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling; if you don’t know how to get the attention of your customer, you won’t be in business for long. As an author, you’re automatically in business for yourself, regardless of whether you self-publish or are being represented by a more traditional publisher. Read marketing and copywriting blogs and books, study ad copy and sales funnels (some resources are below). Learn everything you can to make yourself a better salesperson. The alternative to this would be to hire a professional to do it all for you, but know that good marketing doesn’t come cheap. So learn what you can, and then fill in the gaps with professional help.
Get Started Now
- If your book is done, has been professionally edited, and has a marketable cover, get started on gathering those reviews and building online buzz: social media acquaintances and groups, blog tours, top online reviewers, print media, friends, family, and/or work, volunteer, and church associates, book clubs, writers’ groups, neighborhood email groups, and book promotion sites—whoever you can think of!
- Explore those book promotion sites. Here’s a short list: BookBub, App for Authors, EBookBooster.com, BookGoodies, Author Marketing Club. And read this article to see how one author used book-promotion sites as part of an overall strategy to hit the USA Today best-seller list. (Don’t forget to avoid scams—find data with these types of sites so you aren’t investing blindly.)
- Study marketing. Here are a few sites to get you started with free content: Author Marketing Experts, Inc., Tara Gentile, Marie Forleo, Copyblogger, Seth Godin, and Digital Marketer.
- My final advice is something that I’ve read and heard more times than I care to count, but it’s true: if you want to be a career writer, keep writing. Books one, two, and three might never make it big, but then, out of nowhere, book four takes off. The next thing you know, all of your books start selling! Don’t get so hung up on promoting one book that you neglect the ongoing task of writing more books. In the end, a smaller number of regular sales from twenty books is probably going to be worth a lot more than good sales from just one book.
And most important of all, don’t get discouraged! Success comes to those who remain persistent and don’t accept failure! Stay positive and keep writing!
Your thoughts? Have you gathered or read great reviews? Where’s the best place to get them? And which of the above marketing tips will you act on now?
Ron Schrader has been involved with online marketing for several years now. In early 2013, he took on his first book client and, after having some great success, formed KWYM Publishing with the goal of making publishing and promotion easier for self-published authors. App for Authors is a resource he created as part of that goal. Although other time commitments have slowed the process, Ron is also pursuing his own career as an author and hopes to be able to write full time one day.