Marketing tips for authors

You’ve written a book. You’ve got it all the way through production, either with the help of a traditional publisher or on your own, via self-publishing.

And all that seemed like plenty of effort, did it not? You’d think that you could now lie back in the warm sun of adulation as readers flocked to your books and asked you intense questions about just how you found your inspiration.

And then, you know. Reality.

If you have a traditional publisher and you’re lucky with them and the book, then things really can be like they were in your dreams. Huge retail distribution. Big sales. All that adulation. But even for traditionally published authors, those things are rare. The situation for most of us (and I’m a hybrid author, both traditionally and self-published) is that we see our books – our beautiful, published books – languishing a long way from the happy sunlight at the top of the bestseller charts.

So, what to do? There’s a lot you can do, in fact, and some of the tools are very potent indeed.

So here’s the top dozen things to try. Some are more complex than others. Some cost money. Some are as free and easy as winter rain. So let’s explore. We’ll start with stuff that’s easy, cheap and relatively low in effectiveness … and move up the ladder to stuff that’s harder, but more potent.

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1. Post something on your blog

You have a blog, right? Preferably integrated into your own website that has a domain name of the form yourname.com. If you’re not yet there, well – you need to get there. A decent looking website just is necessary these days. These things can be put together for almost nothing these days, though if you’re serious about your career, I think you’ll do what you need to do to create something of quality.

In any case, use your site to tell a story. Don’t sell at the reader. No one loves to have stuff shoved at them. Your best bet is to tell a story that engages in some way … and then make it unbelievably easy for readers to buy your book if they want to. That means creating easy, obvious links to your Amazon page, at the top, front and middle of your piece.

Need to set up a website? Here’s how.

2. Create author profiles on Amazon and Goodreads

Readers hang out both on Amazon and Goodreads. Both sites want authors to claim their profiles.

Use a photo that feels personal. Write a short bio that feels human and engaged. If you want to reference your favourite authors (ones writing in a similar field to you, of course), then do so.

These things won’t create readers overnight, but they are part of any modern author’s armoury. Basically, you must do them.

Having said that – don’t misdirect your attention either. I have yet to meet a professional author who thinks that being active on Goodreads is a good way to spend time. It isn’t. You need to create an attractive profile there, then leave it. Spending hours engaging with the community will not create sales. Advertising on Goodreads is a simple way to lose money.

Create a good-looking author page following Amazon’s own recipe.

3. Create an author page on Facebook (and connect it to your blog)

You don’t want to mix your personal page with your professional one, so set up a yournameauthor page on Facebook. Maintaining that page as well as your blog will drive you crazy, so make sure that when you post on your blog, that post pops up both on your Facebook author page and on your Goodreads one.

The truth is that probably no one may read your blog much in the first instance – these things take time to grow and even major authors don’t necessarily have huge volumes of site traffic. But readers do congregate on Goodreads and Facebook and they do like to see some personal, engaging material on authors they may happen to stumble across.

So create the material on your blog. Pipe it over – automatically – to those other sites. If you can’t do that by yourself, then pay someone to do it. You’re an author not a tech-expert, so it’s OK to pay others when you need to … and there are cheap or free ways to automate these things, so paying someone to make the connections shouldn’t cost you much.

Read up on more tips for your author page.

4. Open yourself up to Twitter

Yeah, I know. If you like Twitter, you’re already on it. If you’re not, that’s because you hate it and can’t see the point.

And I hate Twitter. I don’t like the zero-attention-span, weirdly formatted, near-impenetrable texts that the damn site is full of.

Also: you cannot sell stuff via Twitter. Yes, this is a post about marketing your work. Yes, I am recommending that you join Twitter. And yes, I have just told you that you cannot sell on Twitter. It’s not just me that thinks that last thing. The digital marketing manager at a major publishing house told me the exact same thing. I’ve also seen data that calls into question the degree to which even a really ‘successful’ Twitter campaign can influence sales. The only real exception is where you are already established enough that you don’t have to sell your book, but you can notify people that it’s there.

All that said, you still need to be on Twitter because numerous people that you may want to connect with (bloggers, other authors, marketing types, industry folk) may not publish an email address, but are publicly and easily available on Twitter.

And if you want to reach those people, you don’t just need to be signed up to the service, you do need to follow some people, and get followed back, just so that you don’t look like the only naked one in the room. It’s a faff, yes, but you’re marketing your books and you can’t ignore Twitter just because you #hateit. And – once you’ve signed up, and got properly started – then start to contact the people that matter.

And remember that conversations on Twitter are like conversations anywhere. You don’t just barge in and shout and try to sell stuff. Be courteous, interested, and – when you have a relationship – you politely enquire if Person X might be interested in your very fine Y. Out of those relationships, come invitations to appear on blogs, to get book reviews, to do Q&As and all the rest of it. There are other ways to reach those people – email works, and there are some great groups on Facebook – but Twitter is still the easiest way to make that first knock on the door.

Need more on getting started? Find out more from these people.

5. Use your ebooks as a platform to sell your ebooks

If you have more than one ebook, then make sure that your ebooks are properly set up to sell each other. That means that in the back of each e-book you have a proper listing of your titles – updated, please, as new books come out. That listing shouldn’t just list the actual titles, you should also include some enticing sales copy and think about including a book cover too. The point is to catch readers when they’ve just finished your book – when they’re still half in love with your character, still giddy with the excitement of your ending – and get them to buy more stuff.

So put that stuff under their noses, and make it very attractive, very engaging and very buyable.

And that’s only step one!

You also, crucially, need to make it unbelievably easy for people to buy the books they’re looking at. That means (for most indies) a simple link to Amazon in your mobi files – or rather three, as you’ll need different links for the .com, .ca, and .co.uk sites.

Traditionally published authors can’t – for complicated reasons to do with their publishers’ contractual situation – place the same easy links to Amazon. So what you need to do is create a kind of “choose your e-store” page. That page will basically just bounce people from your ebook to the reader’s choice of e-store. You can see a fine example of such a page right here. Notice that although that page exists on my own website – harrybingham.com – it’s shorn of all in-site navigation. That is, once you arrive on the ‘choose your estore’ page, there’s absolutely nothing to do except choose your estore and move on. Also – obviously – the links are to your page on the various estores, not just the home page.

Getting your ebook to sell effectively at the end of the book is essential and it’s a free and easy way to make additional sales. The best way to understand what the back end of an ebook should like is to look at an ebook that has been carefully designed to sell an entire series. My own ebooks do just that, like the back of The Dead House. Notice the author’s note, the series listing, those “choose your estore” links, and the multiple email sign-up opportunities.

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6. Get clever with your BISAC codes

Your BISAC codes or ‘browse categories’ tell Amazon where to shelve your book. (Find out more here.) And mostly, you’ll want to shelve it in places that actually collect some traffic – so “Romance/Historical” say, rather than “Family and Friendship”.

But it’s hard to climb far enough up those major categories to really find eyeballs … and one brilliant, if sneaky, little trick is to choose one BISAC code that’s so minor you just don’t need to make many sales to hit that #1 position. And once you have that #1 position, Amazon tags your book with a sweet little #1 bestseller icon … which is a wonderful lure to anyone stumbling across your book.

And, in any case, remember that your BISAC codes are infinitely malleable. If your original choices aren’t working for you, then change them. Mess around and see what works. That’s free and it’s easy. If you’re traditionally published, then you won’t have direct access to these codes, but do ask your publisher what they’re doing, and test their answer. Make sure they have a strategy and are revising it if need be.

7. Get clever with your keywords and subtitles

Try typing something into Amazon now. Just type the first two or three letters of whatever you’re searching for and Amazon will quickly offer you a dropdown list of things it guesses you might be seeking. Sometimes, it’ll offer you the name of an author (‘Harry Bingham’). But often enough it offers you thematic-type searches – things like ‘psychological thriller’ or ‘historical novels’.

Those thematic search terms are great to use as keywords for your book – just make sure they pop up on those Amazon dropdowns, because if they don’t, then no one is searching for them.

And once you’ve chosen your keywords, do shove them into your series titles or subtitles, because use of a keyword with subtitle/series title support always beats an equivalent book which lacks that support.

If you’re self-published, you already know about this and are probably already doing it. If you’re traditionally published, you may well think that this is all complicated stuff and your publishers presumably know their onions. Except they may not do. A huge proportion of traditional publishers have been trained and brought up in a world of bricks and mortar print. Editors who came into the industry because they wanted to edit books may simply not want to deal with the minutiae of keywords and series titles. Results: some huge and supposedly sophisticated firms can be blithering morons when it comes to online visibility.

So ask. Understand the answers. And ask again. Do not let this one get away.

Learn more about keywords.

8. Pricing

So easy, this, but I’ve relegated the matter of price to a long way down this list because unless you have other ingredients of your marketing platform well-set in advance, the impact of a pricing tweak will dissipate far too fast into the cloudless blue.

But once you are happy with your author platform, once you have optimised your ebooks, once you do have your keywords and your BISAC codes and all the rest of your metadata straight, then press the pricing button.

Dropping your price from $4.99 or $2.99 down to $0.99 will give you an immediate strong but relatively short-term boost to pricing. All the same, that boost gets more readers into your series and gives you the chance to make full-price sales of later books.

I do also recommend the use of Amazon’s useful pricing tool, KDP Pricing Support (available via Kindle Direct), locked it would seem in permanent beta. The tool shows you the impact of pricing on both readers and revenues.

You want revenues, of course. That’s your aim. On the other hand, nearly all authors want to grow their readership in the hope of earning even larger revenues down the road, in which case you’ll want to price somewhat to the left of that ‘revenue maximising point’. Dipping down to $0.99 or $2.99 to raise visibility, then jumping back to a higher price point makes great sense. If you live at the lower price levels all the time, you’ll find that you don’t secure any extra kick staying there. You’re better off with a kind of yo-yo strategy.

9. Email lists

If you don’t keep an email list, you need to create one. If you do have one, then you probably know how to use it.

But for a whistle-stop tour of why you need one and how to make one, then here you go.

A. You need your readers’ email addresses so you can contact your customers directly when you have a new product. It’s like when you buy a new dress from an online retailer: they’ll be in touch later to say, ‘Hey, you like dresses. We’ve got some more dresses. How about it?’ That tactic was and is the best marketing tactic ever invented. You’re basically talking to customers who like your stuff and have been ready to buy it in the past. They’re the very first people to go back to when you have more products available to sell.

B. You collect readers email addresses by setting up a ‘Readers’ Club’. People want to be part of a readers’ club attaching to a series or author that they love.

C. You can’t just take stuff (an email address), you must give, too, and what you give has got to be a lot better than one email address. But you’re a writer, yes? And readers are committed to writers. Write a long short story or a short novella and give it away for free to anyone who signs up to your club. The story should be exclusive, for subscribers only. If you sell the thing on Amazon, you’re demeaning the gift, so don’t do it.

D. In terms of techie stuff, you need an email provider – most likely Mailchimp – and a sign-up page. If that sentence frightens you, then pay someone to do the necessary. Your aim is to have a landing page that functions like this one. There’s no in-site navigation, big obvious sign-up buttons, plenty of use of the word ‘free’.

Oh, and don’t ask for an email straight away because that seems grabby. Only ask for an email address in direct response to a customer’s request. Only when a user on my website clicks the “Get my download now” button do I ask for an email address. In other words, let them give the orders. You only ask for the address to fulfil that command.

E. Where do you get your email sign-ups from? Well, yes, from the website, except that realistically the only people who come to your website with the intent to join your Readers’ Club are people who have just read and enjoyed one of your books. The real source of sign-ups is from within the ebooks themselves. I have graphic calls-to-action in the front and back of my ebooks and text-only links underneath and a call to action in my author’s note and a further one in my series listing. That sounds horribly overdone, except that it seems perfectly natural when you have the book in your hand.

And get this: I get about one email sign-up for every five ebooks I sell. That’s a very good ratio, which means I can reach at least 20% of my readers by email whenever I want.

F. How do you use the email list once you’ve got it? Answer: as little as possible. People will just unsubscribe if you blast them with unwanted crap, so keep it very light. I reckon that two emails a year is (in most cases) plenty. One to announce when a book goes up for pre-order. Another to nudge people when that book is published or enjoying a special and temporary price promotion.

G. And, to be clear, the real beauty of the email list is not the fact that you can collect however many hundred sales. It’s that because those sales are densely focused around the time you send the email, you can instantly jump into the bestseller charts, at which point Amazon’s own algorithms will start giving you a ton of visibility – then, consequently, a whole heap of additional sales. The email list isn’t there to sell to the people on the list only, it’s there to multiply your visibility whenever you choose to do it. Lovely!

10. The joy of Facebook

And finally, the simplest way to get sales is the most traditional way of all. Advertising.

Placing ads is not particularly hard or technical or difficult. You simply go into Facebook and click the little down arrow on the right-hand side of the top navigation bar. You’ll get a drop down with ‘Your pages’ at the top. You want to click on ‘Create Ads’ a little further down that list and you’re off.

The things you really, really need to know about Facebook advertising are as follows.

First, Facebook-world distinguishes between Campaigns, Ad-sets, and Ads. The Campaign might include all the ads you use to promote a book. The Ad-sets are defined by budget and audience. The ads themselves are defined by the text and images that you use.

The five great keys of Facebook advertising are:

1. Start with small budgets
£10 a day is fine. When you get a sense of what works, add money cautiously to the ad variant(s) that is/are working. And don’t woosh the budget up from £10 to £100, as that can throw sand in Facebook’s ad gears. Go up in 50% increments, even if you’re impatient. Watch what works – and the key metric here is cost per click. How much does it cost you to send a qualified, interested reader through to your Amazon page?

2. Test, test and test again
Try varying audiences, headlines and either image or ad text. Once you evolve your best audience, your best headline and so on, you can pile your resources in there. And don’t vary everything all at once. You need to be able to compare ads that are basically identical except for one thing changed.

3. Always include an emotional reason to buy
What will your book make the reader feel? What mood do you want to convey? You need to make sure that your image, your text and your headlines are all in sync with that mood.

4. Always include ‘social proof’
People are – rightly – suspicious of ads, because those ads want to take money off the reader. So include ‘proofs of excellence’ from whatever source you can. I have nice reviews from well-known newspapers and bloggers, so I tend to use those. Others will use things like ‘Over fifty-five-star reviews’ or ‘Readers are saying that …’ Whatever you do, make sure that your ad is conveying the idea that other people like this book. That way, no one is dumb for forking out a few dollars for it.

5. Always include a rational reason to buy
People know that they can go to Amazon any time they want to pick up books at full price, so an ad that says, in effect, ‘Here’s just one more full-price book on Amazon’ will struggle to achieve real traction. So discount your book. Slap something on the ad that says, ‘Now only £1.99’ (or similar). Your ad has got to make people feel (i) Oooh, I like the sound of that, and (ii) better get in there now, before the price goes back up.

And – of course – start modestly. Track results. Stick to budgets. And be quick to pull out or pull back if things don’t go the way you want. It’s easy to spend a ton of money on Facebook – and that’s fine only if you’re making two tons of money via Amazon.

So that’s items one to ten on an author’s marketing list. The last two of these tools are extremely potent but do work best if you’ve done all or most of the other things first. Good luck, and happy marketing!

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