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Book Promotion When Time Is Limited — What’s Most Worth Doing?

| Posted in Book Marketing, Social Media |

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A blog reader sent me a note asking what I would do to promote a series like my Emperor’s Edge if I was starting from scratch and had an hour a day to work on the marketing side of things.

I rambled a bit and tried to give a helpful answer, but I wasn’t sure I articulated myself well, because the truth is… enh, there’s not an easy answer or one specific thing you can do to find certain success. Oh, I know what I would do if I were starting from scratch (I recently laid out my plan for launching a pen name in a different genre and getting — I hope — reviews and sales as a new author), but what should you do if you only have a few minutes a day for book promotion?

I’ve seen different things work for different people with having a free/cheapie Book 1 in a series combined with advertising (ideally several sponsorships on high-traffic sites/mailing lists spread over a few days) being the easiest way to make #1 (below) happen. Having a mailing list and encouraging people to sign up as soon as they finish your first book (with a link in the back) is how you get to never having to start over from scratch for the next book or the next series.

But how do you sell those first books in the first place? Especially if you can’t afford advertising or you haven’t been able to get enough reviews to qualify for the most trafficked sites? Or you find, as I have, that there just aren’t that many good sites where you can advertise, and they’ve either booked up and don’t want you or you’ve already pimped your stuff there.

Basically, there are two ways to sell books:

1. Gain visibility on Amazon (and, we can always hope, the other stores) so lots and lots of people find your books while you’re sleeping, eating, and vacationing in Hawaii thanks to your book earnings. We all want this. Some people get it, usually after doing a lot of #2, and building up a mailing list/fan base that helps them launch future releases into the tops of category lists at Amazon.

2. One reader at a time.

#1 is so awesome and profitable and awesome (yeah, I said that twice) that it’s no surprise that’s what we all want. But it’s hard to make it happen when you’re just starting out. Instead you end up on social media sites and blogs and forums, spending hours a day, hoping that you’ll find readers by splattering yourself and pictures/blurbs of your books everywhere. Maybe you get some sales, but you really have no idea why or where they came from, and you’re afraid that if you stop doing all that stuff that you’re calling promotion, your sales will dwindle to nothing at all.

I actually think aiming for one reader at a time is the sanest way to go about building a fan base (you can make yourself crazy reading every success story out there and scheming up ways to gain Amazon fame) and the most sustainable, but there are ways to go about it that are smarter than others. I’m going to give a list of ideas — these are things I’ve done and that have worked, and they’re things that should continue to work no matter how competitive and crazy Amazon gets — but first let me point out one thing (for those who are underwhelmed by this one-reader-at-a-time-thing):

If you acquire one loyal reader a day, that’s 365 people at the end of the year. (We’ll assume others tried your work, but one a day liked it enough to sign up for your newsletter because he/she wants to buy what’s coming out next.)

If you send out a new-release email to 365 loyal readers who go out and buy your new book within the first couple of days, it’s enough to:

  • Sell at least 365 books in the first week! 365 x (3.99 x 0.70 royalty) = $1,019 (this may completely cover the costs of the editing and cover art for many authors, meaning everything after is profit)
  • Get into the Top 20 of a small to medium category on Amazon, at least for a couple of days (who knows — maybe you’ll have a blurb/cover that attracts new eyes and you’ll stick there for a while)
  • Get 20 reviews within the first few weeks your book is out (make sure to ask and don’t be afraid to give out some review copies to your proven readers), thus qualifying your book for a lot of advertising options.

In other words… a reader a day adds up. Before you know it, you could have the kind of following that turns you into one of those visible-at-Amazon-and-selling-books-in-your-sleep authors.

So let’s talk about efficiently finding those readers without spending hours a day on book promotion (seriously, if you’re spending hours a day, you need to apply the 80/20 rule and use some tracking links so you can figure out what’s selling books for you and what isn’t). If your books are good and you’re able to consistently spend an hour a day doing this stuff, you should see results.

4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Find Your Next Reader:

1. Have a free ebook or have a nice long free excerpt on your site — promote this.

It’s not that you can’t sell a full-priced book as a no-name author; it’s that it’s much easier to get someone to check out something for free. If they read it and like it, you get a sale anyway (either of the full-priced book or of the non-free next book in your series).

2. Write a blog post in the same engaging style that you write your fiction in (assuming you’re trying to sell fiction) on a topic that might be interesting/helpful for your potential reader — promote this.

You can start your own blog or ask to do guest posts on other people’s blogs (make sure their blogs get traffic and are places where your readers might hang out). Either way, you want to tailor your blog post so it’s useful to the target audience. You know your genre, so you know what this might look like. If you write fantasy novels with smart/geeky heroines, maybe you’ll want to write a post on the five best geeky heroines in fantasy (mention your stuff and throw in a link to your site/book at the end, but make the focus on characters lots of your readers will already be familiar with, and encourage engagement by asking them what they think).

Note: I write about self-publishing, not the best subject for attracting fantasy readers, but it works to help me sell books anyway because a) some self publishers happen to be fantasy readers and b) the content tends to get tweets and link-backs from the writing community, which ultimately means more traffic from social media and the search engines and more of those fantasy-reading authors finding my site.

3. Join one or two communities or follow blogs where your potential readers hang out and put your free excerpt link in the signature/profile/url space. Then post helpful and/or entertaining comments regularly. 

This kind of thing can be a time sink, so be careful and monitor whether you actually end up getting any traffic (clicks on your link) from those sites (if you install Google Analytics on your personal site, you can see where traffic comes from; if you use a service like bit.ly, you can make trackable links that go other places, such as your book page on Amazon; if you sign up as an Amazon affiliate, you can see which sales of your book come directly from your site/affiliate links — and make a few bucks on the side).

I’d only pick the communities where you’d enjoy spending time even if you didn’t have anything to sell. If I wrote science fiction and loved doing book reviews, I’d find the SF/F people on Goodreads. If I loved forums and wrote steampunk, I might post on a popular steampunk forum. If I enjoyed reading blogs and wrote romance, I might leave comments on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

You get the gist.

4. Join one or two social media sites and put the links to your profiles in the backs of your books.

When it comes to marketing, people talk about social media this and social media that and how awesome-sauce it all is. It can help, but it can be another time sink if you’re not careful. Again, I’d say pick one or two sites that suit you and that you could see yourself hanging out on whether you had a book to sell or not. My main one is Twitter. I was on Twitter before I had any books to sell. Posts have to be short, and that appeals to me. Others like Facebook. Others like Google+. Others like Pinterest.

Pick your favorites and post there regularly. What do you post? Again entertaining/interesting/useful stuff. Which might include links to your excerpt/free book and your blog posts. But which should probably include some other stuff too. Links to other people’s entertaining/interesting/useful stuff.

Any why are you here? So your existing readers can find you (that’s why you’re putting your links in the backs of your books) and so they can easily share your cool stuff (including the occasional self-promotional tidbit) with others. You’re not going to sell piles of books on Twitter, but every now and then, especially if people other than you are sharing your posts, a new reader will find you.

There you go. Four things that can all be done on an hour a day (or less). Writing a blog post is probably the only thing that could take more than an hour, but there’s no rule saying you have to compose it all in a day. With social media, I wouldn’t spend more than a few minutes a day on it. When commenting in other communities, it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to read and contribute something worthwhile.

With a lot of this, the secret is consistency. I’m not all that brilliant at marketing (none of this is utterly creative or going to sell me a bazillion books tomorrow), but I’m there, day in and day out, publishing new books, posting on social media, and scattering blog posts around the web. The little things add up. A reader a day.

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Comments (20)

Good information. How do you know if a blog you want to guest blog on is popular enough to be worth it?

To get an idea, you can get an Alexa (a traffic ranking site) plug-in for your browser. If it’s a one-time think, you can look up the site at Alexa.com too. A post on a site with an Alexa rating above 1 million probably won’t get you many views.

There are also Google PageRank plug-ins that give you an idea of how important Google considers the site (based largely on the number and quality of the links pointing to it). Something with a pagerank of 0 is probably a new site with few links to it.

If you don’t want to bother with this stuff, you can just try to judge by the comments. Are people leaving comments there? Or do most of the posts have zero comments?

I think I’m going to go look at the comments left by people – ratings and reviews on Amazon – who read mainstream novels and romance novels, books which I might like to be grouped with, and see if I get a feeling there for where they get their recommendations.

I know there must be some on Goodreads – but the two times I’ve tried to go create an account have failed (and I don’t want to mess it up permanently), so I’ve given up temporarily.

I have time – all day in principle. What I don’t have is energy, and sorting through massive amounts of data – reviews, blogs, sites – it very difficult, and sucks up the very energy I need to write.

It will be interesting to see what happens. I have a tiny but dedicated bunch of lovely followers, and an even tinier group of people who read the wip every week as I post it, a scene at a time.

Finishing is my first priority – and that means getting all the way to the end of at least Book 2 and partway through the third and final volume before doing much pushing. There’s no point in doing promotion with free books unless you have books for sale for those who want more, is there? Come back in two years isn’t exactly appealing.

Each book is capable of standing on its own, but I’d still rather not do a lot of promotion until the whole story is told.

Thanks for the interesting way you performed triage on your options.

It’s like you read my mind and know exactly what to post. Thanks so much for this–this blog alone probably saved me time. 🙂

Damn — you mean you don’t have the magic answer that will make me a bestseller overnight??

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a thing! But since there isn’t, you have a very good point about one reader a day adding up to 365 in a year. 365 real fans if nothing to sneeze at. Thanks for another helpful post.

I have “join Twitter” on my to-do list for the next couple of weeks (along with “build website”, “wrangle holidaying kids” and various other seemingly incompatible objectives). Oh, and that little thing called writing! At least life is never dull.

Haha, some people seem to think that the bestselling authors really do have some secret and they’re just not sharing it (the bastards!). Thanks for reading, and good luck with the goals (I always have a long list too).

I’ve used twitter as my primary social media. I’ve connected with a few readers there who now buy anything that I publish, but I’m careful to keep the promotional stuff secondary to the general posting of interesting and informational tweets.
I’m excited at the moment because I’ve just secured a Bookbub promo in July for my new Mystery Thriller bundle and am going to combine it with a Kindle Countdown deal. I’m going to see what I can do to get the word out around this big promo to amplify the Bookbub effect..
Anyway, thanks again for your helpful marketing posts.

The Bookbub day will be awesome on its own, but if you can do some other smaller ads on the surrounding days or do some creative Facebook campaigns or something with other authors, you might stick longer. Right now, Amazon doesn’t seem to give much of a long-term boost when a book gets a lot of sales on one day. But if you can sustain it over a few days, then it can give a nice kickstart.

Great post, Lindsay. I love the “one reader a day” advice. It makes promo less intimidating. I notice that you don’t mention Goodreads. It that site helpful for newbies or is it more of an established author site?

Hi Ani, I actually mentioned Goodreads as one of the communities. It’s a big reader/reviewer site, and some authors do well making connections there (especially if they already love to review). There are groups for every niche and forums you can join. You can also do giveaways there if you do paperback versions of your books.

I like the idea of focusing on getting one new reader at a time.

Thank you Lindsay for your great post!
This helps with the overwhelm that we all feel
when trying to get the word out about
our writing.

Love the way you break an overwhelming task down into manageable steps. If I were to add one thing, it would be to make sure the type of writing you’re doing has the potential to do well (financially, that is, if that’s what you’re looking for). Literary fiction is a harder sell than say, genre fiction, and I spent a great deal of time trying to market my MG fiction before realizing the demographic just isn’t there yet. Otherwise, hopefully all your ideas will work, and before we know it, our writing will pay off!

Yes, it’s true that life is just easier if you write in certain categories. I did the MG short stories first, but quickly decided the adult fiction was going to be easier to sell in ebook form, at least for now.

For the first book, I think, doing no promotion is the best promotion.

Lovely thoughts! Thanks for the tips. I tend to get so buried in my limited promotional hours, but hey, don’t we all?

Ooo–follow-up question–what do you mean by “tracking links?” I sort of know vaguely, but . . . not really.

You can use a service like bit.ly (there are lots of them) to see which of your links are getting clicked on. I can also get an idea for how many books are being sold through my site by using Amazon affiliate links and checking on sales reported there.

Thank you! And er, sorry I seem to have commented three times on this one post. I keep referring back to it! 😀

Wonderful blog! Thanks so much for all the great info and thoughtful tips. Congrats on being on track to publish 20 books by the end of the year!

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