Revisiting Your Book Marketing Strategies

I published my first novel a little over three years ago. As part of my promotion for that title and the three that followed, I was featured on a number of other blogs, either as a guest blogger, in an interview or as a spotlight feature. In total, it was over 53 posts. This past weekend I reviewed all of them as I consolidated them into one place. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that 20 of them no longer existed, whether because the post had been deleted or the blog itself no longer existed.

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I want people to understand this: when I published my first book three years ago, blogs were considered an important promotional strategy. Some of it was to improve our SEO, and some of it was to help expand our audience to readers of different blogs. Some authors—myself included—paid companies to arrange blog tours and get us space on other people’s blogs, because 1) there were so many blogs that most people couldn’t keep track of them, and 2) many blogs had a backlog of requests but were more likely to respond to someone they’d already dealt with. In other words, blog tour promoters earned their money.

But now many of those posts are gone, and so are a number of blogs that I posted on.

I’m not bitter about it—a few months ago, I cleaned house on my own blog, mostly to get rid of posts with missing images after I changed email accounts—but it served as an important reminder that indie authors need to constantly reconsider what our options are and where our time is best spent. Here are my recommendations based on what I’ve seen in the last year.

An Amazon author page

Amazon allows you to create an Author Page as soon as you have a book in their pipeline. Take advantage of this real estate on the site where most of the US is buying books online. You are a writer, so make your profile there as attention grabbing as you can, and always keep it up to date. Include the best photo of yourself that you have, and above all make sure that you claim all of your books.

Amazon reviews

Speaking as a long-time Amazon customer, author and consumer reviewer (I’ve been reviewing since before it was cool), it appears that the heat around Amazon reviews has cooled. Unless it’s a big, heavily promoted title, I’m not seeing as many reviews for most books, across genres and categories. To some extent, I think this reflects just how many titles there are (I receive at least five requests to review something every day) and I think this also reflects how useful reviews haven’t been in making sales. (The less said about authors who paid for bogus reviews, the better.)

Having said that, genuine reviews are good to have, and given the more ephemeral nature of blogs (please see above), I’d prioritize getting reviews on Amazon (and other consumer sites) over blogs.

A Smashwords author account

There are many authors who sell exclusively on Amazon through KDP Select. Up until 2014, I would have said that’s a viable strategy for most authors. However, as Amazon is now glutted with e-books and many titles are in that program, KDP Select isn’t offering the same level of visibility. I therefore recommend having your book available across as many channels as you can, and Smashwords is a convenient way to do that. Once you can get your text past the publish program (affectionately called The Meat Grinder), your book can be sold through BN.com, iTunes and Kobo, as well as the Smashwords site itself.

Once you’re published there, take advantage of their built-in features, including not only media and links to where to find you, but also an interview.

For more on aggregators, head on to this article to learn Everything You Need to Know About Aggregators.

A Goodreads profile

Goodreads is a place for readers to share their recommendations and feelings about books, authors and themes. While some complaints about the site have been legitimate (it’s not a good idea for readers to harass authors, and it’s a really lousy idea for authors to harass readers and reviewers), it’s best understood as a place for readers, not authors.

Having said that, it would be foolish not to claim your books on a site with so many passionate readers. Don’t obnoxiously push your books at readers, but make them available through giveaways (paper only) and on the many groups that offer Advanced Reader Copies.

A blogsite

I steal this word from Catherine Ryan Howard: a blogsite combines both a website and a blog. You need a website to list static information: your books, where to find them, excerpts and reviews (if applicable); you need a blog for up-to-date information, including release events and any promotional activities (e.g., posts on other people’s blogs, book signings, public speaking engagements, etc.). While this site should include an author photo, don’t worry about going crazy with graphics or design; a template from WordPress or Blogger with just a few tweaks should be more than adequate.

Want to give this some personality? Then post your thoughts on a regular, if not necessarily frequent, schedule. You can post about anything you’d like, but you’d be well-advised to make it something your target audience can relate to (e.g., history if you write historical fiction, thoughts on women in the media if you write women’s fiction, etc.).

For more on how to monetize your blog, check out Sell Books on WordPress with the WooCommerce Plugin.

An email list

The reason everyone agonizes over how Amazon decides what to highlight (the mysterious algorithms) is that it’s a great way to stay visible to potential readers. By all means, work to be visible on Amazon, but don’t let that be your only strategy. Build your own email list—of people you know have at least some interest in you—and market to that.

When I began my email list, it was easy enough: I simply sent an email to all of my family and friends and asked if they wanted to join. If they said yes, I added them myself. Before I published my first book, I had over forty people I could get a targeted announcement out to, which brings us to…

A newsletter

Every author should have one of these, if only to announce new publications. You might also want to use it to share your recent activities (as they relate to your writing) and highlight developments of interest in your industry (especially if you write non-fiction). Whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re adding value and not just taking up someone’s valuable email storage space: give your subscribers a discount on your titles the first few days your release is out, or highlight other authors you think they’ll like.

A Facebook author page

Although Facebook was the first social media site I couldn’t wait to leave, I grudgingly allow that the platform still has some value for authors. As of this writing, this is still where the majority of users are, and some have argued that Facebook has become an overlay to the internet itself. Given that, it’s important to maintain a professional presence on the site. The huge caveat here is that if you want guaranteed visibility it’s going to cost you in the form of Promoted Posts and Facebook ads, even if hundreds of people have already Liked your page. Still, given the flexibility of campaign options, it can be money well-spent.

A community

Over the course of the five years that I was very active on social media, I met a number of writers and publishing professionals. It was great to bounce ideas off of each other and I learned a lot. However, as time went on, many of those people receded, not just from my correspondence but from publishing itself. I could write a whole post on this, but for now I’ll focus on the people who have endured and what they have in common:

  • They treat writing as a career and not a get rich quick scheme.
  • Their focus remains on the writing and all marketing efforts are secondary.
  • As such, they don’t burn the candle at both ends and thus have the energy they need to sustain their writing over several years, not just two or three.
  • They’re aware of both developing market trends as well as time-tested small business sense.
  • They’re willing to share what they know (and thus they’re the people who deserve to receive whatever intelligence or information you’ve picked up).
  • They have boundaries between the personal and the professional: they’ll share information without requiring that you become BFFs.
  • They don’t make sweeping public pronouncements or where their hearts on their sleeves and tend to have measured opinions.

As you may have guessed, the majority of the people you encounter aren’t this sober and mature (and that’s true for any business). But when you do find these people, nurture your connections with them and provide whatever value you can, even if that’s just sharing links they may not have seen. This is not where you’re going to see fireworks, but this is where you’re going to glean some sage advice.

Please note: this is as things stand as of this writing, and I already see some vectors for change. While email marketing is a sound tactic that’s as old as the World Wide Web itself, the advent of website pop ups in the last year trying to tempt you into signing up for a mail list could very well spark a backlash, at least in the short term. It’s also possible that as Facebook tries to build revenue it’s going to raise the cost of effective ads and compromise its utility. Finally, the more time I spend on LinkedIn, the more I’m appreciating its capacity to build a B2B network. (However, for the majority of authors, that’s not the best place to meet readers unless you write in a niche, non-fiction category).

What have you found?

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