I’m joking; if I knew I’d be a millionaire. If anyone tells you they have the magic formula – back away very slowly. I do believe that there is one little piece of magic involved, but I’m not going to reveal what it is until the very end.
This world of promotion and marketing is all very new to me. This time last year I wasn’t even sure I was going to publish. However, encouraged by my wonderful editor, Hiliary Johnson and friends and family, I finally took the plunge last July and set my book baby free in the big bad world. Frankly, that was the easy bit; what came next is like something out of a nightmare. There I was clutching my book baby and no clue how to get it noticed. I ran around like a headless chicken trying this method and that. Some succeeded and others failed. What follows is a ‘History of the Trials and Tribulations of an Indie Author in the Virtual World’!
A slight tangent first. Here is a checklist. If you cannot tick off all of these then don’t read any further.
- I have written the best possible book/short-story/script/play, etc., that I possibly can.
- I have had my work professionally edited and proofread at least once (best friends, grannies, etc., do not count!)
- I have the best possible book cover, that has been well researched (i.e., appropriate to my genre).
- I have a blurb that will have potential readers salivating.
- I realise that the hard work is only beginning! [No groaning please]
All of that in order? OK, let’s proceed. Just to be clear, my book is my debut and entirely self-published in July 2015. It is available as a Print on Demand paperback (POD) and ebook, is historical fiction, and so far only on Amazon. I can’t comment on any other platforms as I have not used them yet. I am not going to endorse any particular method but I will tell you what has worked for me.
I probably fell down here at the very first hurdle. I didn’t have a coherent plan or budget, at all. I did read up on it but was so stressed about getting the book up on Amazon on time that I let all of that stuff drift. I didn’t have a strong social media presence either. I only set up my website/blog a few weeks before launch. I joined Twitter a bit late as well and had no clue how to use it well. I did announce my book on my personal Facebook page and I got an overwhelming response from my friends and family (this probably accounted for most of my sales in the first 3 months). I set up a page on FB for the book but then found myself duplicating posts and probably annoying the hell out of people. I have since created a new author page as opposed to a book specific page, ‘cos I plan on writing more books!!
So what should I have done or done better?
- Pre-launch promotion will build up interest in your book. Set up your author website/blog as soon as possible. I use WordPress – it’s free and it’s easy to use. I did purchase my domain name so that I could use www.pamlecky.com – it looks more professional than a long and hard to remember URL.
- If you are launching an ebook on Amazon, you will have the choice of loading it up for pre-order. Do it – I did get a reasonable number of pre-orders, but I didn’t promote it enough!
- Obviously, build up some anticipation on Twitter and Facebook and if you don’t have an author page, create one. I try to keep my personal stuff and publishing stuff separate. Invite your friends to ‘like’ your author page that way they have a choice. I now keep my promotional stuff almost exclusively on my author page.
- Sit down and decide on a marketing budget.
- I made a book trailer with the help of my daughter and promoted it before launch. It is a nice to have, and we had a lot of fun putting it together, but I honestly don’t know if it generates sales. I suspect if you are an established author it might. I was able to make mine very cheaply as my daughter is a bit of a whizz on the tech stuff and had previously made a book trailer as part of a school project (her writing was published before mine, by the way!). The main cost was the purchase of iStock images (between $1-3 each), some video and I also bought a backing track (all very reasonable if you look around). Word of warning – don’t infringe anyone’s copyright. Purchase the licences or don’t do this at all.
- I had business cards printed. Cost me about €20 euro for 200. You can give these to people or ask to leave a few in shops, pin to notice boards wherever you can. Ninja dress-code and stealth advised! The title of my book was long and I was using my maiden name, so the cards were a very handy way of making sure that people searched for the right book when they went online. These definitely generated some sales.
Things I didn’t do but might be worth looking into:
- Amazon and Goodreads ads pre-launch.
- Send a copy of your book to reviewers well before launch – great pre-launch reviews would be worth their weight in gold and if you are going the POD and ebook route, you could add them into the book cover/inside blurbs, etc. before launch.
- Book launch: I didn’t have the funds and the advice out there was not to bother if you are self-publishing and going the POD route in particular. The cost would have been high for me as I would have had to buy the books from Amazon and pay the huge whack of postage they charge from the US (I think it is different if you are resident in the UK as CreateSpace print there). ALSO, the sales would not be recorded as sales, only as purchases by me. (Sales count if you are going out looking for an agent/publisher at a later date). I was told by an industry professional (and open to correction on this) that the definition of a successful book is 2,000 sales in 2 years. Again, this could be for a traditionally published as opposed to self-published book.
Post Book Launch:
These are in no particular order:
- Radio Interview: I was lucky that a friend of mine had a contact with a local radio show that did author interviews. Slightly terrifying to do but actually was OK once you got into it. Did it generate any sales? I really don’t think it did but I have a link to it on my website (looks good if potential agent/published has a peek) and it was great experience for when I go global!!!
- Goodreads Giveaway: You must set yourself up as an author and put up your book details (you will have to have an ISBN). Definitely the most useful promotion I have done. I put up six copies of my book (signed) and ran it for one month. Over 1,000 people entered. I also run a Goodreads Ad for the book that is ticking away in the background. You set your own budget for these, and pay per click. I also found Goodreads support staff very good to deal with as the advertising pages are a little tricky. Over 500 people have added my book to their ‘on the shelf to read’ list – hopefully potential sales. Goodreads is great in that readers can post reviews and ratings, follow you, follow your blog, etc. Just be aware that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.
- Kindle Select: I resisted joining this initially and have to say it works very well. I have now run two countdown deals (ebooks at 99p/99c for a week) and sold about 140 books this way. Your book also goes into Kindle Unlimited where subscribers read your book for free. Amazon pays you a small amount for each page read, out of a global fund. People have read the equivalent of 40 copies of my book and although the income is small it is still getting my book out into reader’s hands. Hopefully if they like it they will remember me and buy the next book.
- I begged for Reviews on Amazon & Goodreads: OK, you are unknown, first book and you desperately need those reviews so swallow your pride and ask – blanket requests for reviews don’t work. Email/text/message people one to one – they will usually respond. It keeps the ball rolling for you. The more reviews that are up the more notice people will take of your book if they come across it in a random search. It also affects how Amazon ranks your book.
- Book Promotion Company: Boy, did I fall for this one. I won’t name the company and I don’t think it really matters which one you use. They will promise you the world. It didn’t work for me. They tweeted (only) about my book a couple of times a day for a week. It cost be $60. I deliberately didn’t do any other promotion that week to see if it worked. It didn’t produce 1 sale. The only good thing from it was that it generated about 70 twitter followers. Two people visited my website that week and they probably weren’t as a result of the promotion. Approach these with extreme caution. I certainly won’t use one again.
- FACEBOOK: I love FB and find it much easier to use than Twitter. Finding writer groups, etc., is a great idea. Not only did I find my editor but I have found groups of authors who specialise in my genre. Most are indie like me and very supportive. As an aside, I have also found some great blogs hosted by these authors that really help with either writing or research. Well worth finding these and contributing – good things will come of it. Best of all was finding FB Twitter Groups. I have found these invaluable for promotion. They are closed groups (sometimes genre specific) that agree to retweet each other’s posts. You agree to 100% reciprocation. I am in a few different ones but there is an Indie specific one. PM me for details.
Facebook ads: I have run two of these. Gained me a lot of likes but did not boost sales. I have now set up a ‘Buy Now’ button on my author page – it’s getting some clicks and may generate some sales. It’s free, so why not do it.
Facebook Promotion of your posts: I only recently discovered that the posts you put up on your author page only reach a certain percentage – that is why you will see ‘do you want to boost this post’ messages. I thought that everyone who liked a page saw the posts – not the case, my friends. I was more than a bit miffed when I discovered this – on average only about 150-200 out of 3,000+ people actually see what I post on my author page.
- Book Competitions: The world isn’t fair, you already know that. Most of the big competitions won’t accept Indie authors. That’s just the way it is. However, there are competitions out there that do. Research and find them. If your book wins an award I imagine it is a huge boost to your promotional opportunities. My book was long-listed for an award and I use that extensively in promotions, added it to the Amazon and Goodreads’ description of the book. It will also go into the promotion for the next book – you see how it works?
- Book Reviewers: I have sent my book to reviewers that I have found through FB/Twitter or blogs. I have never paid for a review and never intend to. Don’t risk it – Amazon will find out and withdraw the review and Lord knows what else. Anyway, isn’t it dodgy? Would you really be happy with a fake review? Lots of reviewers have blogs and the more prestigious the reviewer the better the exposure for you and your work. Be mindful; the Amazon top 100 reviewers are virtually impossible to engage.
- Writing Websites: I had a link to an Irish writing website as the owner also ran the company which did my first structural edit. Through some emailing, I have managed to get two articles published online and they are currently reviewing my book. Well worth a look on the internet to see if there are any you can contact. Again, probably not massive exposure but it all helps.
- National Media: Forgive me while I fall around laughing. In Ireland you have virtually no chance of national coverage unless you are in the know. End of and I don’t intend wasting any more time or money trying to get the national broadcaster or newspapers to review my book (several copies of my poor book lie forlorn in their storage areas or waste bins). If my book ever wins an award, I will have one more go at this, but I won’t lose sleep over it in the meantime.
- Local Press: the local papers are much more amenable to supporting you. I was able to have a large piece put in a Dublin-wide paper. Not sure if it generated any sales but didn’t do any harm and a few people mentioned that they had seen it.
- TWITTER: Grrrrrrh. Can’t make up my mind about it. I find it clunky. Most of my followers are authors or book promoters and guess what they are doing? Yeah, promoting. I could have a rant about automatic DMs but you might be eating your breakfast. Don’t you hate when you follow someone famous and all they do is tweet constantly about their book and never interact. You just know someone is doing it for them. I don’t believe that is what Twitter is about. Interact with me like a normal human being and I will start a conversation – it might go somewhere, we might become friends or not. I am more inclined to look into the work of someone who has the courtesy to ‘talk’ to me (and that goes for FB as well). I’ll leave it there – I think you know what I’m saying. It has its place but don’t become obsessed with it. Social media can suck the life and the hours from you.
- Blogging: Write about the things you love. Write well and you will pull people to your site. Keep it interesting by doing a mix of stuff. I don’t use the blog to directly promote (bar the actual book launch and perhaps some big book news) but the information is there for any visitor to see. Make sure that people can sign-up to follow your blog, can contact you easily (I actually set up a separate gmail account for this as I didn’t want to give out my personal email). Most importantly, set up a Newsletter sign-up. Capture those emails so that when it comes to the next book launch you can dazzle with your amazing cover/blurb and exclusive content.
- BookBub: is supposed to be good for promoting a book deal but notoriously difficult to be accepted. Haven’t tried it yet.
So, you have to ask yourself – what am I trying to achieve? It isn’t just about sales. It is about establishing yourself as a professional writer. Instant success and massive earnings only come to a few. You are building up your profile over time. Write well and the reviews will come. People will notice and recommend your work and this in turn will generate those precious sales.
So what is that little piece of magic I mentioned at the start? Haven’t you guessed?
Your writing, plain and simple!
Historical fiction writer, blogger