A little advice for the self-published author

From time to time, I speak with a self-published author who is trying to figure out how to sell their books, usually NOW!

I do some editing and proofreading. I connect some self-published authors with cover designers, and that sort of thing. 

Sometimes, they ask about promoting their books. 

This question, how do I promote my book, tends to result in a very long email, so I decided to repurpose that email into a post. 

My assumptions about the self-published author

These ideas are not always the most conventional advice. You can quibble with some of it or you can flat out disagree with it. However, I base this on these assumptions.

  1. Assumption: Your book is well written, well edited, and has a professional cover. Hire a professional to do these tasks for you.
  2. Assumption: You do not have the money to pay me to promote your book. It’s OK. It just means you’ve got to carry the load more.
  3. Assumption: You are in this for the long-haul. It’s not about promoting today’s book. It is promoting all your books, including the ones still unpublished.

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.

self-published author

Ads, be it Facebook, Google, etc., may garner you a few sales here and there, but I doubt it will be profitable in the long run. The problem with promotion companies is they will measure success by the wrong metric. They will measure it by clicks and that does not mean sales. “Look, all these folks clicked on the ad, I can’t help that they didn’t buy your book.”

Ok. Now what. 

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 or 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 for $365ish over the course of a year.

Obviously if you can spend more you’ll build more and build faster. However, 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 promoting your books, just don’t be spammy. 

Currently, on Twitter, I directly promote my services about once every 10 days. I also have a promotion post pinned to the top. I also share one blog post from my blog daily. But six or seven out of eight shares are other people’s comments, and that doesn’t count the numerous comments on other people’s posts I make every day. 

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. No matter what social media outlet you choose, you will reap what you sow. 

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.

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 genre 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. The time and effort will pay off and that list will be gold for you.

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

Some people may shoot this notion down, but I know 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.

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. Plus, you risk getting distracted. Pick one or two things and do them well.

Focus on a good book

When I say a good book, I’m speaking of well-edited, well-formatted books 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.

Guest blogging helps (especially in non-fiction I’ve found). Public appearances help. Interviews can help I guess. There are a growing number of genre and content specific podcasts that I think would be good to appear on. 

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.