Many authors still hope to discover the Holy Grail of book promotion, a one-size-fits-all solution that will instantaneously propel their book to bestsellerdom. I bring some sobering news: such a thing does not exist. But with some work and a bit of creative thinking, it is possible to pull off a successful book promotion that will help boost your book sales and lay the groundwork for even more successful book publications to come.
The first thing to know about promoting a self-published book is that strategies that work for publishing houses don’t necessarily work for independent authors. While big publishing houses often use wide-net, “shotgun” tactics to promote their major titles (think ads on the sides of buses), these costly tactics aren’t particularly efficient, nor are they financially viable, for the average independent author.
Instead, most independent authors favor a niche marketing approach. Niche marketing is all about targeting specific communities of readers that are predisposed (by their interests and activities) to like your book, and therefore want to buy it.
With this in mind, here are nine best practices that can help you successfully reach (and in some cases build) a relevant community of buyers for your book.
These best practices are the fruits of years of trial and error by authors, many of them indie pioneers, who as early as the 1990s were already exploring different ways to successfully self-publish and promote their books in an emerging global market.
Few book promotion strategies will involve all nine best practices. Every book is unique, and so no book promotion strategy should be exactly the same. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a successful indie author who hasn’t drawn on at least a few of these practices in their promotional efforts.
Before you publish
You don’t need to have your book in hand to start promoting it. In fact, most successful promotion strategies start long before the book is published. Niche marketing is all about building a community of devoted readers and fans. Community is built on trust, and trust takes time to develop. Here are three of the most popular ways to build a following before your book is published.
1 – Write a blog
Writers are artists of the written word. A blog is a great way to showcase your writing and build a following. Make sure to post regularly (once or twice per month), so that you maintain a healthy connection with your followers. Blogging is also a good way to engage directly with your readers, building trust and relationships that can benefit you when you’re ready to publish your book.
2 – Crowdfunding & pre-sale
One of the major obstacles that authors face when self-publishing is the cost. Editing, design and printing fees adds up. Crowdfunding and pre-sale are two efficient ways of collectively funding your book’s publication by tapping into your own personal network and those of the people close to you. Don’t underestimate the power of these networks. The people you know can be powerful ambassadors for your work.
To maximize your crowdfunding or pre-sale campaign, turn it into a story. Social media and special offers are a good way to incentivize readers and build loyalty. Cultivate fans among your campaign followers who will then talk about your book to the people they know. Word of mouth remains one of the best ways of promoting a book.
3 – Newsletter (building a list)
A newsletter is a great way to build a mailing list of followers. This list will be crucial when the time comes to build anticipation before and during your book’s publication. Once your book is published, your list will also help you in your book promotions, special offers and events. Make sure to prioritize quality over quantity, even if it means sending out newsletters less regularly. Spamming and lesser-quality content may lead your followers to unsubscribe.
While you publish
Most authors, particularly those publishing for the first time, will postpone their reflections on book promotion until after the book has been published and printed. But there’s a lot to be gained from conceiving of your book’s design and content in terms of how you plan to promote it.
4 – Book cover
You’ve heard this one before: your book cover is one of your most important promotional tools. It’s the first part of your book that a potential buyer will see, whether they’re considering your book from a bookshelf or online. Team up with a professional designer to make a high-quality cover. Make sure your book stands out while also respecting the conventions of its genre.
5 – Read reviews
“Read reviews” are reviews provided by beta readers – people who have received advance reader copies of your book. Not only is beta reading a great way to get feedback on your book before it’s published, but it’s also an opportunity to gather sympathetic reviews that can be included in your book and on your back cover.
6 – Book launch event
Every book needs a book launch event. The book launch is your moment to celebrate the publication of your book, to gather your friends and followers in a single place. There are lots of different ways to do a book launch event. Personalize the experience to something that reflects you and your book. Send out invitations in advance, and follow up on social media after the event is done.
After you publish
Most books experience a honeymoon phase following their publication date: a period of about six months during which sales will rise and hold steady as they ride the wave of your book’s launch. Following this honeymoon phase, sales will tend to drop significantly. The challenge of how to maintain sales beyond the first six months (what we call “long tail promotion”) is a challenge faced by most authors. Here are three ways to regularly stimulate sales of your book beyond the first six months.
7 – Book promotions on your website and social media
Plan a book promotion every 4 to 6 months, during which you offer your book at a discounted price for a short period of time. It’s an excuse to do some outreach on social media and it can provide incentive for those potential readers who are still on the fence about buying your book.
8 – Google and Facebook ads
Having your face plastered on a billboard or on the side of a bus may sound fun, but advertising tools exist today that are far more accessible (and efficient) for indie authors. Google and Facebook ads can target specific interest groups, so that you know the right audience is hearing about your book. Ads can be run occasionally depending on your budget (facebook ads are particularly affordable, ranging from 10$ to 50$ per month), and can be paired with a book promotion for maximum effect.
9 – Book marketing agencies
There exist services, many of them online, that provide marketing and promotional support to authors. As with promotions and Facebook or Google ads, many authors will use these services to periodically boost their book’s visibility. Keep in mind that agency services can be quite expensive.
If used intelligently, a marketing agency can provide a valuable complement to your other promotional efforts. However, it’s important to remember that it does not replace the eight other practices listed above. A marketing agency does not replace the need for a proactive promotional strategy by the author. This golden rule is something that publishing houses know as well as indie authors: at the end of the day, the most valuable marketing asset you have is you, the author. Book promotion, like reading and writing, is about connecting with others and building relationships. This, no one can do on your behalf.