The world of book promotion and audience building

When it comes to book promotion, I have a decided opinion.

How to promote your book is the wrong question. What you want to do is build a sustainable audience and that takes a lot of time.


I wrote much of what follows as a Reddit post on the self-publishing subreddit a couple years ago. It still applies today.

This is just a broad overview and is not designed to sell “this book” today. Rather, the purpose is to build an audience.


A frequent thing mentioned in the self-publishing Reddit is Amazon ads.  Ads, be it Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc., may garner you a few sales here and there, but I doubt it will be profitable in the long run.

A friend once spent about $1,000 on various ads. These were mostly Amazon ads, but also included some Google Adwords and some Facebook advertising for his book promotion.

“Look, I sold 400 copies of my book. I made $800.” No he didn’t. Amazon is going to get their kickback on the book sales, probably around 30 percent. So he made about $560. He spent $1,000 to make $560.

When I help people with ads, I go a by a five times metric. Your ad should make five times the cost in sales. Spend a grand on Amazon ads, you should make $5,000 in sales. Not many authors, especially self-published authors, can do that.

Then there are book promotion companies. The problem with promotion companies is they will measure success by the wrong metric. They will measure it by clicks and a click does not mean sales. “Look, all these folks clicked on the ad, I can’t help they didn’t buy your book.”

No bueno.

Book Promotion
An ad? No thank you. But I do love me some Ian Rankin. “Book promotion” by ellen forsyth is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

My advice

My advice on book promotion is don’t play the game. Instead, play the long game of audience development.

Here’s a few tips.

1) Set up your author Facebook (or whatever social media you choose to focus on) page. Now set up an ad (or two or three) with the goal of getting people to like your page/follow you on Facebook.

You’ll need to experiment with your targeting so you start to get the right audience. That A/B testing could take a couple weeks but that is OK. Then let your ad run. You can literally set your budget for this ad for $1/day (or more). Starting from zero, spending only $1/day, I’ve built followings for brands of 3,000-5,000 good Facebook followers in a year or less. That’s 3-5K real people interested in the brand – you and your work – for $365ish over the course of a year.

Obviously if you can spend more you’ll build more and build faster. But the consistency and the targeting is absolutely the most important thing here.

Learn about Facebook contests. There are specific rules, but you can easily add quite a lot of followers with a good contest with a couple of good prizes.

Now, as you do this, you must provide good, relevant content. You can’t just “buy me, buy me, buy me.” Share memes. Share other authors’ work. Blog. And be regular. If you can do 3 posts per day, do that. If you can do one per day do that. There is nothing wrong with occasionally using social media to directly engage in book promotion, just don’t be spammy.

Be sure to engage when people comment. Talk to them online. Respond to their requests for information or their comments. Let them know you are a living, breathing human.

Once the list builds, you can start to think about things like bigger contests, paying to boost posts, MAYBE some very specific advertising (you can actually advertise just to your followers, or your followers and their friends, which might be helpful in announcing a new book), etc.

2) Start building an email list. Mail Chimp’s forever free lets you have 2,000 subscribers and you can send 12,000 emails total for FREE. The lowest payment tier, which is, I think, $10/month, has a lot of great things – data tracking, if/then auto responses, etc.

If you start email marketing, don’t go crazy.

A romance writer I know sends out a monthly newsletter that is interesting and fun – and focused on other writers (she does run “ads” of her books in the newsletter). She also sends an email blast when she publishes something new. That’s it. She’s not overwhelming anyone’s inbox.

Here’s the thing. Email marketing is a slow slow build. it takes time to build a good email list. DO NOT BUY OR RENT ONE.

Anywhere and everywhere you can, sign people up. If you attend a conference, a writer’s group, anything and anywhere. Also, online, offer things like a free short story, or a free ebook, or something to entice people.

It is going to take time. However, in the long run you will have sales from a properly built and curated list. The time and effort will pay off and that list will become gold for you.

Remember, 100 people who are into the type of things you write is far more valuable than 10,000 who never read the type of stuff you write.

Some people may shoot this notion down, but I have from several self-published authors who are making a living doing this that their email list is their number one sales tool. They’ve been building the list for years, and have been painstaking about it, but their lists now consist of thousands of people who enjoy their books.

That romance writer now has a list of more than 24,000 subscribers. Every last one of them have had some level of contact with her. They met her at a convention, followed her on Facebook wrote an email, something. It’s taken 20 years to build and the list is curated. You don’t open an email for six months she removes you.

Like I said earlier, she sends out one email a month and it is focused on other writers. She also blasts when she has a new book or story out. That blast is good for 5,000-6,000 immediate sales.

That’s book promotion through audience development, baby.

3) Don’t get mired down. You are a writer, not a marketer. Pick one or two things (and I highly recommend building the email list as one of them) to focus on. If you bite off too much, you won’t do any of it well. Pick one or two things and do them well.

4) Focus on a good book. When I say a good book, I’m speaking of well-edited, well-formatted book with a good cover, a good blurb, etc. This is in addition to a good story. If you have a good book that is easy to read and error free, the good reviews will come. Unfortunately, so will the bad if your book is all hoked up.

The best book promotion is the good book. Nothing beats word of mouth. 

Guest blogging helps (especially in non-fiction I’ve found). Public appearances help. Interviews can help I guess. But as you get into some of these areas, you have to evaluate whether your time is better spent guest blogging or writing your next novel.

Just a few thoughts on book promotion I hope are helpful to self-publishing writers.

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