No matter how you publish your book, you need a promotional strategy. Indies take this for granted, but even if you have a big publishing house behind you they will expect you to do a lot of marketing legwork. Publicity budgets are shrinking. The best way to ensure your book’s success is to take responsibility for it yourself.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Know what’s in it for readers
Think about the books you’ve purchased because the author tweeted something along the lines of “my book is out, click here to buy it!” I’ve purchased a few that way, but only because I knew the author and wanted to support them. If you want to connect with people who don’t already know and love you, give them a reason to care.
Look carefully at your feedback from beta readers, ARC reviews, and critique partners. Are there any common themes? What seems to resonate with people the most? How does your story impact readers’ lives and stir their deepest emotions? These questions will reveal your book’s unique value. Market that value — how your readers will feel better for having read your book — rather the fact that the book exists.
I spent most of 2018 thinking my book promotion was on point: I had a page on my website with links to buy the book, I talked about it in all my online bios, and I’d sent out a big email blast to announce its publication.
Then I conducted my annual reader survey at the beginning of 2019. Almost half the respondents didn’t know about my book.
It can feel uncomfortable to continually push book sales on your followers. We don’t want to seem too pushy. However, as long as selling doesn’t form the cornerstone of your outreach strategy, you’re at greater risk of underdoing it than overdoing it.
Glancing mentions and a link in your social media profiles won’t inspire people to buy your book. Most would-be readers need an explicit call to action — and probably more than one — before they act. Show enthusiasm for your book and its potential benefit to readers (see above). Use this enthusiasm to ask people directly to purchase your book, and do it regularly.
Speak up about your book
Never pass up an opportunity to show enthusiasm about your work. At professional and social events alike, people make small talk by asking What do you do? Don’t downplay your work! Speak confidently about your book. Have a little elevator speech prepared so you can give people a succinct idea of what it’s about. Then have a business card or postcard handy if they ask how they can find out more.
Carry book postcards
As you find opportunities to speak up about your book, you’ll meet people who show interest in it. These people may be prospective readers who would like to purchase it or look for it at the library. They might also be librarians, booksellers, or other influencers who can help expand your platform. Don’t let them forget about you.
Book postcards provide a great way to remind people about your book after you’ve said your goodbyes. Shortly before my book launch last fall I ran into an acquaintance at a local book event. We chatted about my book and I somewhat sheepishly pulled a postcard from my notebook’s back flap. My acquaintance happens to be a producer for a local public radio program. When they saw the postcard they suggested I might be a great fit for an interview. Postcards not only help people remember your book, they give them a tangible piece to pass on to others.
Check out my previous post on book postcards if you need inspiration.
Ask for reviews
Much like asking people to purchase your book, you’re probably not asking for reviews often enough.
I get a lot of emails from readers. I often wish my Goodreads reviews contained half this much effusive praise for my work. If you get feedback this way too, include a friendly comment in your reply — where you first say thank you! — asking if they’d be comfortable sharing their experience in a Goodreads or Amazon review.
If you give a book away for free, tell the recipient you’d appreciate a review on these sites when they’re finished. Do not, however, explicitly ask for reviews in exchange for free books. As of this writing, Amazon will delete reviews that contain language like “I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.” Make it clear that while reviews are appreciated, they are not required (you may even want to mention Amazon’s policy).
Give helpful content away for free
This sounds counterintuitive, but nothing about your content is a zero-sum game. Giving content away won’t decrease readers’ motivation to buy your book. Quite the opposite. In his book Your First 1000 Copies, BookLaunch.com founder Tim Grahl provides several high-profile case studies where authors dramatically increased sales by giving some content away for free.
You have several options for free content: blog posts, email newsletters, short ebooks, printables, and more. Some authors give away the first few chapters of their book to people who subscribe to their email list. What works best for you will depend on your audience and the type of writing you do.
Make real connections with people
Most of these tips have a common thread: relationship-building. The best way to sell books is to create meaningful connections with your audience. Open a two-way communication channel with them. Give away some great content that leaves them eager for more. Make them feel like your friend, not just a potential sales figure. These are the kind of lasting connections that will help you sell not just this book, but all your future books as well.