The hardest thing in our game: writing a decent book.
The second hardest thing: marketing it.
Big publishers, you might think, have cracked the second of those tasks. That’s what they’re for, after all. They don’t write the books. They don’t print the books. Selling the damn things is what they’re all about.
But most novels lose money, even when sold by Harper Collins, or Penguin Random House, or whoever else. Good books can simply disappear for essentially no reason. Book marketing remains hard, even when you’re Penguin.
And, OK, the rather clickbait-y title of this email might make it sound as though I have solved this last great mystery. And of course, I haven’t. But I can tell you truthfully the one marketing trick which will always work for any well written and well packaged book.
Here it is:
- Find an online platform that can reach almost every reader in the world. You want that platform to know the purchasing habits of those readers, their tastes and preferences. You want that platform to hold your readers’ card and shipping details. You want that platform to be utterly trusted when it comes to e-commerce and delivery times and all that. You want that platform to be best-in-class when it comes to the delivery of e-books and audio-books. And look, I don’t know about you, but I think Amazon might fit the bill.
- Convince Amazon to market the heck out of your book.
- That’s it. You just hand over control to the best in the business.
Amazon doesn’t put ads on the side of buses. It won’t book TV spots to promote your book. But it can:
- Place you on bestseller lists.
- Place you on niche sub-bestseller lists that appeal directly to the most passionate readers in your genre.
- Send emails out to likely buyers.
- Place you on hot new release lists.
- Place you on “also bought” lists.
- Give you best seller icons to distinguish your book from its competitors.
- Give you sales volumes that will lead to a tide of new reviews.
- Give you additional visibility in Kindle Unlimited, if you have signed up to that programme.
Given that Amazon knows pretty much every reader in the English-speaking world, and given that it knows their habits and preferences, and holds their bank card details, if Amazon starts marketing your book, you will make sales. You can’t not.
Remember, the caveat, though. You can’t market rubbish. If your book cover is bad, or your blurb is not interesting, or your actual text is disappointing, Amazon will soon lose interest in any idea of helping you. It can be lured into presenting your book to readers, but if those readers do not and up purchasing the book, Amazon will soon look for better opportunities elsewhere.
But if your book is strong, Amazon can find readers who want a book like yours at the exact time those readers are looking for their next read. There has never been a more powerful way to market books, ever.
So how do you persuade Amazon to put your book at the centre of its marketing activity?
The answer is straightforward. You create enough of a sales platform to pique Amazon’s interest. To put it more precisely, you need to build enough sales over four to seven days to make Amazon think, “Gosh, this book has some real organic sales of its own. Readers are clearly buying it. The volume of sales – and the steadiness of sales – make me think that this book is worth promoting more widely.”
As soon as Amazon is engaged in promoting your book, you can hand over. Your job as a book marketer is to get Amazon working for you. As soon as it is fully engaged, you can ease off without feeling bad.
So your marketing challenge now comes down to this:
- Make sure that your book packaging (the cover, the blurb, the pricing, the look-inside text and all that) is spot on.
- Generating sales, on Amazon, over 4-7 days.
That already seems a narrower and more achievable goal than we started with, right? And there are good, reliable tools for generating sales. For example:
- Book promotion sites, like these. This is the best place to start for newbies – and, actually, it’s just the best place to start.
- Amazon ads. Easy to set up, but they’re hard to scale up – you can’t give yourself a real sales punch with these.
- Facebook ads. Harder to work with, but incredibly powerful. Don’t mess around here, though, without informing yourself first. Anything by Dave Gaughran is reliable. Ditto anything by Nicholas Erik. Ditto anything by Mark Dawson (though you may end up paying a fair bit.)
- Your mailing list. Ultimately, your mailing list will become the single most important engine behind all your sales. But you need to feed your mailing list and organic sales is the best way to do that. When you are starting out, however, you will find that outfits like BookSweeps offer a great way to get started.
- Social media, maybe. If you’re good at it. And you don’t need to be across every platform. The reverse is more likely true. If you like TikTok, then go all in on TikTok and largely ignore everything else. If you like Facebook, then go all in on that. If (like me) you hate all of that nonsense, then ignore it all and don’t feel bad.
You really only need to pick three elements from this list and two of them – promo sites and mailing list – are pretty much compulsory.
And again: remember the main point of this email. You don’t need to market all the time. You just need to market effectively enough for 4-7 days that Amazon gets the message and starts working for you.
That’s it. That’s how to market a book in a way that always works.
And, to be clear, Amazon’s attention will move on. It always does. If your week-long marketing blitz delivers enough sales to engage Amazon’s marketing bots, then you win yourself about a month of Amazon-love in total. You’ll find visibility – and sales – spikes as Amazon gets interested, then gently falls away. A month or two after launch, those heady sales spikes will feel unbearably distant.
But that’s the way it goes. And, in that happy month or two, you can generate easily enough sales to make some money and build up your mailing list for your next launch.
Here endeth the lesson. Good luck. Feed those bots.