Get Writing! is an annual conference for writers at all stages in their career, run by the Verulam Writers’ Circle, which is based in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. I was pleased to be invited to run a workshop there called “How to Market Your Own Books” in the very pleasant setting of the University of Hertfordshire.
I’m always pleased to speak at events like this, both because it gives me a chance to attend other sessions at the event (I was glad to make it in time for Catriona Troth and Jane Davis‘s excellent talk about author collaboration), and because I always meet interesting authors, whom I very much enjoy helping. It’s also a great way to discover interesting new books.
Thanks to Jane Davis for the photographs of my own talk featured below.
With just an hour to cover the complex subject of book promotion, I rattled through my notecards fast! Here’s the bullet-point version of what I had to say. If you have any questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to flag them up in a comment and I’ll be glad to reply.
- Book marketing for authors is a big topic – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so do what excites you and what feels right, because if you choose activities you hate, your lack of enthusiasm will show, and do you no favours.
- Paid services are best avoided because their cost is unlikely to be covered by resulting sales of your books, and there are no guarantees with paid PR. (How do I know this? I spent about 10 years working for PR consultancies earlier in my career!) Instead, learn appropriate skills and do it yourself – because the most passionate and knowledgeable marketer of any book is its author. Much of it is common sense.
- Decide your goal – what would you have to achieve to make you feel you’ve achieved it? It’s not necessarily huge sales or worldwide fame. Then aim at what YOU want, not at what you see others doing, or what you think you ought to do.
- Sell yourself – not just your book. Your book is what it is because it’s been written by you. Readers are keen to know about authors and their back stories. There is bound to be interesting and relevant material in your background that will make a good PR story – if you can’t spot it, ask an objective and savvy friend. Or contact me and I’ll help you discover it!
- Marketing begins at home – by which I mean build your confidence and experience on your home territory, where the fact that you’re local is a good starting point. Then broaden your reach further afield. But don’t assume friends and relations will be your best customers and biggest fans – most authors will tell you the same.
- Make sure your book is ready to market. Is it the best it can be? If set down in a bookshop, would it stand out as amateurish or odd? Don’t publish too soon – much better to take the time to get it looking professional and alluring to readers, and making sure it does justice to the time and effort you’ve put into writing it. Don’t be tempted to publish too soon just because you can.
- Use beta readers (who normally don’t charge) as test pilots on your book before you market it – and ideally before you actually publish it. They’ll help you flag up any issues that might prevent it selling or that readers might dislike. You’ll be glad you did. I use beta readers for my own fiction, and I know the books are much better for the experience.
- Get as many book reviews as you can, as they’ll help other readers discover your books and give you quotable marketing collateral for your website, cover copy of your next book, etc. But don’t bother with paid reviews – the ethics are dubious and they can look phony.
- Publish in multiple formats to reach more readers – even if most of your sales are in ebooks, having a paperback is useful for marketing purposes, as it gives you something tangible to show people. Audio books will be the next big thing – in a few years, we’ll all be publishing audio books too.
- Invest in some great promotional materials e.g. bookmarks, cards, posters. It needn’t be expensive – try Vistaprint, other online sources or your local high street print shop. Always carry some bookmarks etc with you – a great way to pass details of your book to people you meet when it crops up in conversation.
- Treat your author website as the focal point and home of all your marketing activities. If you don’t have one, get one quick – WordPress.com sites are free and easy to set up and are a good starting point. That keeps you in control – and readers expect authors to have a website these days and feel shortchanged when they don’t.
- What to include on your website: about the author, about the books, reviews, previews, sample chapters, audio, video, key items in a lively sidebar, social media links, news, events, email sign-up form, web subscription form – plus a call to action on every page!
- A website is never done – evolve it! Start small and manageable, review it monthly and grow it. Always ask yourself whenever doing something book-related “How can I put this on my website?” Keep feeding the beast to gain higher profile and SEO advantages.
- To blog or not to blog? If you do, you’ll boost visibility. Blog about subjects appropriate to what you write, or about anything that takes your fancy – it’s up to you. Make it visually attractive, and every time you add a post, share links on your social media to drive people to it.
- Build a mailing list – that way you can be in touch with anyone who has expressed an interest in your books any time you like, e.g. each time you launch a new one, rather than depending on chance visitors to your site in their own time. MailChimp is a free and easy starting point.
- Social media – authors are expected to have some social media presence, but only engage with those you like, and limit your time spent on them. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest – and many more. Take your pick – and use them in conjunection with your website for maximum impact.
- Be consistent with branding – whatever social media you use, create smart headers, profile photos and bios that match your website.
- Print media – local papers are a diminishing but still useful outlet, as are professional media if you work in a particular sphere, or special interest ones if your books relate to a specific topic. Worth keeping them informed of your news – they’re all news-hungry!
- Broadcast media – equally, local and community radio stations have airtime to fill, and you and your books are a good local story! Consider also approaching specialist programmes to match your interests.
- Online distributors – whoever you publish your books through e.g. Amazon, make sure you use to the full any promotional opportunties such as populating Amazon’s Author Central service in all its different territories. (Here’s mine as an example.)
- Bricks and mortar bookshops and libraries – these are worth tackling, but you need to understand how they operate before approaching them to have the best chance of success. Recommended reading for more info: the handbook Opening Up to Indie Authors, which I co-wrote with Dan Holloway for the Alliance of Independent Authors.
- Launch events are a great way to celebrate your having published a new book, but don’t necessarily expect them to be profitable. Great way to raise your profile locally, though.
- Pricing – one of the joys of being an indie author is that you can set your own prices and vary them to attract more traffic with special offers or even offer occasional freebies.
- Festivals and events – whether big or small, these offer useful opportunities, whether for networking as a delegate/audience member or as a speaker. More on these in the Opening Up book too.
- Special interest groups – a potential extra income stream besides selling your books is to offer talks to any groups relevant to your genre or to writers’ groups or book clubs.
- Join relevant organisations to learn more, share best practice and network for mutual benefit with other authors. Highly recommended: the Alliance of Independent Authors, for which I’m UK Ambassador and whose Author Advice Centre blog I manage. It’s a hugely generous and supportive community, with lots of special offers that can more than cover the cost of annual membership.
- And finally, my two top tips saved till last: (1) Write another book – you gain critical mass for every extra book you publish, with break points reputed to be around 3, 5, 7 etc in the same genre. (2) Diversify – like a farmer, seek income streams from other sources than your main crop – writing non-fiction, journalism, talks, repurpose your blog content to turn it into boooks.
For a more formal (but still very friendly) guide on how to market your own books, check out my handbook for authors, Sell Your Books!, available in paperback and ebook formats, and with excellent reviews.