How to sell your book
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
—John Wanamaker, retail and marketing pioneer
The best (and worst) ways to sell your book
Promotion can be hard, but you can improve your odds by putting more effort and resources into the things most likely to sell your book, and less into the things with low (or no) payback. For self-publishers, with little previous experience and so many options, it’s easy to pick less effective things or, worse, to head down promotional dead ends. So to help you on your way, here’s a quick, prioritised list of things you probably ought to do — and things you should probably avoid.
Essential tools to sell your book
- A great cover
- Optimised book sales page and metadata
- A website (or Facebook business page)
- Samplers (digital)
Highly recommended book promotions
- Build an email list and/or social media presence (eg Facebook or Twitter) — lets influential readers and reviewers connect to you
- An advance reading and reviewer programme — builds momentum in advance of major promotion (here are some tips)
- Author pages on online bookstore and community sites — especially Amazon and Goodreads
- A blog — can be very effective, especially for non-fiction, but it is a big commitment
Worthwhile book promotions
There are many other promotions to add to your plan. Here are some of the most common and, typically, the most effective. If your book appeals to a particular niche, you’ll also look for opportunities to specifically target that niche.
- Publicity campaign — aimed primarily at generating media coverage and helping bookstore ‘sell-in’, this is a mainstay of traditional publishing. If your book will be sold primarily through bookshops — rare for self-published works — this promotion should be elevated to “essential”. For others, it is less effective.
- Amazon KDP Select — a Kindle ebook promotion, best used in conjunction with other promotions
- Pre-orders — you can list your ebook for sale on Amazon and other stores prior to publication, allowing you to build buzz, collect orders, and launch with a bang
- Email advertising — eg ebook ‘daily deal’ emails
- Online advertising — especially Facebook, Amazon, Google but also niche sites such as BookBub and LinkedIn (business/professional).
- First book free — a popular promotion for ebook series
- Giveaways — promotions that give away free copies of your book to generate awareness, buzz and reviews
- A book launch party — you deserve it!
Worthless book promotions
OK, maybe not completely worthless — all of these promotional tools can have some value in a tiny number of cases. But 99 times out of 100, they are wasted time and money for self-publishers.
- Press releases distributed through bulk channels
- Print, TV and radio advertising (expensive, more suited to branding than sales)
- Paid review services (with a couple of exceptions)
‘Traditional’ book marketing
These are the techniques that have served publishers well for decades and if you expect your book to be sold widely through bookstores, they will be an essential part of your marketing.
Traditional book marketing has two connected strands — the bookstore ‘sell-in’ and the publicity campaign.
- The bookstore sell-in starts several months prior to publication. Publishers‘ or distributors’ reps call on bookshop buyers with samples, flyers and a good pitch to (hopefully) ensure there’s stock in-store at launch.
- The publicity campaign also starts prior to publication. It aims to secure book reviews and author interviews in key media (especially radio, TV, newspapers and magazines) to coincide with the launch of the book. For bigger releases, an author tour and bookshop signings are frequently held.
Online book marketing
If your book is sold primarily online (as most self-published books — and all ebooks — are), this is likely to form the core of your marketing. It uses a variety of internet marketing techniques to reach readers, reviewers and ‘influencers’ online.
These techniques are aimed at two key goals:
- Improving ‘discoverability’ — getting your book noticed when readers are searching or browsing for books online
- Creating demand — generating active interest in your book that leads people to seek it out
The main tools in an author’s online marketing toolkit are a website (or similar, such as Facebook business page), metadata and search engine optimisation, social media, email and online advertising. In addition, there are specific techniques aimed at Amazon because of its dominance in online book and ebook sales. See details below of my free online course that explains these.
Traditional campaigns, too, will generally add an online component because the internet is now more important than bookstores as a place where readers discover their next book. It’s also where half or more of books are now sold.
Marketing advice for self-publishers
These days, most authors shoulder the burden of promoting their books, whether they are self-published or traditionally published. You should be sceptical of any offers that seem to deliver success without effort. And you should be wary of companies offering very expensive ‘packages’. The reality is that even experienced publishers set modest initial budgets for promotion because they understand the economics and risks of book publishing. You should too.
So the most important help you can get is great advice and a sound plan before you produce your book. This ensures your limited resources go into the things most likely to work. Set a budget, of both time and money, and resist spending it all at once. Place some bets but hold some time/money back so you can react to what’s working.
A free course in online book marketing
Because it’s so important for authors to be able to take control of their books, I’ve produced a complete, free 50-lesson online course on how to sell your book using online marketing techniques. Take the course or, if you prefer, hire me to get the benefits of this expertise and experience directly.