A couple of weeks back, I wrote a piece on marketing your books. The gist of that email was that you needed to generate meaningful Amazon book sales through your own means, through the course of a week or a little bit less. If you do that successfully, Amazon’s own marketing bots will spring into action and take over – and, surprise surprise, Amazon’s quite good at selling books.
There’s easily enough empirical evidence to demonstrate the power of this approach. It’s how most (not all) indie authors conduct their affairs. Put simply: it works.
But that advice feels a bit narrow and technocratic. It doesn’t feel as though it has much to do with books. Your approach could well be the same no matter what you wanted to sell on Amazon. Dry cat food, mosaic tiles, novelty slippers, inflatable unicorns.
And maybe too that advice feels remote from the things that marketers normally obsess over: slogans, images, emotional pull. Don’t those things matter? Isn’t that the heart and point of marketing?
Well, OK. Let’s try and knit these things together. Three observations:
One: books are an unusual product category. If you’re selling inflatable unicorns or dry cat food, you probably aren’t bringing out dozens of new products every month – whereas a large publisher is committed to producing thousands of new titles a year. What’s more, in the inflatable unicorn market, when you produce a new style of unicorn, you’re probably retiring some older products at the same time. That’s not true in books-land. The ocean of books you compete with gets larger all the time. Old e-books never die.
Two: when you buy your unicorns from Amazon, you don’t give a horse’s damn about the seller. I mean, yes, you want to know that the product will inflate, will look as pictured, will scatter rainbows, and all the rest. But you have no personal relationship with the seller. If the seller offered one (“Hey Inflatable Fan, Be so kind to sign up to my corporate mail-list so I can advertise you my great unicorns.”), I expect you’d politely decline. Again, it’s not like that with books. Readers like authors; authors like readers. The respect is two way and wholly genuine.
Three: Marketing folks have a reputation for being superficial for a reason. In Banbury, the nearest big town to me, there’s a Mondelez factory. That factory churns out coffee pods, amongst other things, but the multinational itself makes a gazillion different things. Oreos and Toblerone and Philadelphia and Milka and Cote D’Or and Cadbury and Bournvita and very much else. Each of those brands has marketing people earnestly trying to deepen the brand values of Toblerone, or whatever else. But Toblerone isn’t made by smiling Swiss milk-maids. It’s made in giant factories like the one in Banbury. The marketing stuff is just glued on, cynically, to a mass-manufactured industrial product.
You. Books. Readers. How does marketing work in the very unusual product category you inhabit?
The first thing to say is that your marketing work can’t be skin-deep. The opposite.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
- You need a great elevator pitch; and
- That elevator pitch needs to permeate every page of your novel.
If you think of those books that have utterly nailed elevator pitch (for example, Twilight, Harry Potter, Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sherlock Holmes, Wolf Hall), it’s more or less literally true that the elevator pitch is present on every page. That deep promise to the reader is maintained always and everywhere.
Put another way: if your book were chocolate, you really would have to make it using smiling milk-maids. With books there are no factories, no cheating.
Second, your marketing can’t live on the page and nowhere else. The opposite. The book cover needs to embrace your central promise. The title does too. The blurb does. Good lord: your name does. If you were writing sweet romance and your name was Kelly McSavage, I’d suggest changing your name.
And it’s not just things-you-find-on-a-book which matter. It’s your website. It’s your social media presence. It’s the tone of your mailing list. It’s the images on your ads.
What you want to achieve is a perfect integration between the deep promise of the book (“American teen falls in love with vampire”) and every other element that touches readers. I’m not a huge lover of Twilight myself, but that book cover – black background, bare arms, a red apple – contains the whole promise. So does the title. So does everything else.
Your marketing needs to be like that – only, pretty please, with fewer vampires.
And third: you.
You’re not a factory belching out coffee-flavoured smoke in a medium-lovely south Midlands town. You’re a smiling milk-maid. That apple-cheeked, full-skirted, tumble-haired miss skipping down from those flower-strewn pastures: that’s you.
To put the same thing just a wee bit more clearly: you are a core part of your book’s marketing. So if you are writing sweet romance novels, your communications to your readers (via social media, or emails, or the author’s note in the back of your book, or at a festival, or wherever else) needs to be in sync.
If people come to your Twitter feed because they like your sweet romance novels, they don’t want to find you moaning about Brexit, or spreading covid conspiracy chat, or exchanging tips on how to make money at crypto. I’m not saying you can’t do all those excellent things, I’m just saying you can’t do that on your author-Twitter account, or your author Facebook page, or your author mailing list.
Everything has to line up. The elevator pitch. The book itself. The title. The cover. Your digital footprint. Your reader communications. You.
Do that, write well, market effectively on Amazon – and your books will sell.
It’s easy when you know how, right?