(Corrected from the original to reflect correct Amazon ranking. I originally stated my best was 2582, but it was actually 1287 for e-books. The lower ranking included my print edition.)
As many of my readers know, I wrote a novel and published it this past January. Writing it was an arduous task, full of self-doubt, interminable edits, learning to show more and tell less (but sometimes tell because it was the right thing to do), and long days and nights with nothing but my laptop for company. I learned a lot throughout the process and will apply those lessons when I write my next novel, in hopes that the writing of it will go more smoothly.
But, as it turns out, there’s something harder than writing a publishable novel, and that is marketing that novel. Hoo boy. In the approximately 4 months since I published, I have: held a launch party; begged for reviews;, given the book away; set up a GoodReads profile; used free-day listing services; gone on a blog tour;, given more books away; responded to reader emails, comments,and reviews; offered to visit book clubs;, offended some readers with my potty mouth; made some readers angry and made others cry.
What I have learned is this: no one knows the secret to successfully marketing an indie-published book and the only way to figure it out is to try things and keep trying things, then, when something works, keep doing it until it stops working. Oh, and also, keep your fingers in a lot of pies.
For anyone interested in marketing their own books, I’ll tell you what has worked so far:
1. Write a book that people will want to read. Without this, you’ll go nowhere. I almost wrote, “write a good book” but you know what? The books that sell well aren’t always technically good. MY book has some serious technical flaws, for that matter, but it’s compelling and people want to read it (and, for the literarily minded out there, I’m sorry and I promise my next book will be better). But, all the marketing in the world won’t get people to want to read a book that’s not a good read.
2. Have a party for your friends and fans. I had a very fun launch party. I only sold about 30 books that night, but that wasn’t the point – the point was to celebrate the launch milestone and treat my friends to some cake and drinks. Those friends were some of my first reviewers, and I believe I have them to thank for my first small wave of success which then begat my listing on BookBub.
3. Go on a blog tour. I did a blog tour – wasn’t too expensive and it got me some great reviews and exposure. It’s one piece of the marketing puzzle and I think it’s worth doing.
4. List a promotion on BookBub. If they’ll have you, they’re awesome. They don’t take everyone, but I had some good reviews and I was fortunate enough to be chosen by them. My BookBub listing resulted in over 41,000 downloads on my most recent free day. The effects of that cascaded for over a month – the high number of downloads increased my Amazon rank, which made my book more visible in search results, which resulted in more sales. At one point I was at #1287 in paid sales. Out of millions of books on Amazon, 1287 ain’t too bad!
5. Talk about the book. Some of my sales have come from casual conversations: “Oh, you wrote a book? Where can I buy it? Can I get a signed copy?” Do I keep print copies in my car at all times? Why, yes I do. You never know. And you never know when one person who has read your book will tell a friend, who will tell a friend, and so on. I’m not a natural salesperson, so this part is hard for me, but I do it and it pays off.
6. Keep up a social media presence. Again, it’s a piece of the marketing puzzle – you never know when a tweet or Facebook post will prompt someone to check out your book, but if you’re not tweeting and posting it will never happen.
And, here are some things that haven’t worked:
1. Offering to read at book clubs. Oddly enough, this didn’t go anywhere. I contacted the leaders of some Meetup book clubs, offered a book giveaway and to guest speak at a meeting, but only one person got back to me, and they said that she discussed it with the members and they weren’t comfortable with the idea. I kind of felt like when I said, “I’d like to come read at your book club,” they heard, “I’d like to hang out on the perimeter of your kids’ playground, holding a bag of candy and a pair of binoculars.” But, whatever. It was worth a try, but apparently not useful for an unknown writer.
2. Paying other people to figure out your marketing. I spent some money on this, and it turned out that most of the ideas were dead ends, and some were even obsolete. See above about how no one really knows what works yet. The other reason it doesn’t work is that it’s less motivating to do stuff other people tell you to do than it is to implement your own ideas. You may as well come up with your own – just be ready to let go of the bad ideas quickly, and always be willing to try something new.