You’ve written a book. You’ve got it all the way through production, either with the help of a traditional publisher or on your own, via self-pub.
And all that seemed like plenty of effort, did it not? You’d think that you could now lie back in the warm sun of adulation as readers flocked to your books and asked you intense questions about just how you found your inspiration.
And then – you know. Reality. If you have a traditional publisher and you’re lucky with them and the book, then things really can be like they were in your dreams. Huge retail distribution. Big sales. All that adulation. But even for traditionally published authors, those things are rare. The situation for most of us (and I’m a hybrid author, both traditionally and self-published) is that we see our books – our beautiful, published books – languishing a long way from the happy sunlight at the top of the bestseller charts.
So. What to do? There’s a lot you can do, in fact, and some of the tools are very potent indeed.
So here’s the top dozen things to try. Some are more complex than others. Some cost money. Some are as free and easy as winter rain. So let’s explore. We’ll start with stuff that’s easy, cheap and relatively low in effectiveness . . . and move up the ladder to stuff that’s harder, but more potent.
Oh, and talking of marketing – my book, The Dead House, is an Amazon Deal of the Week. The folk at CrimeFictionLover say, ‘This is a quite brilliant novel and Griffiths a superb protagonist . . . Only one issue stands out after this novel: why aren’t Harry Bingham’s books number one on every chart?’
Find out what they’re raving about. Ebook just £1.99.
1. Post something on your blog
You have a blog, right? Preferably integrated into your own website that has a domain name of the form yourname.com. If you’re not yet there, well – you need to get there. A decent looking website just is necessary these days. These things can be put together for almost nothing these days, though if you’re serious about your career, I think you’ll do what you need to do to create something of quality.
In any case, use your site to tell a story. Don’t sell at the reader. No one loves to have stuff shoved at them. Your best bet is to tell a story that engages in some way . . . and then make it unbelievably easy for readers to buy your book if they want to. That means creating easy, obvious links to your Amazon page, at the top, front and middle of your piece.
Need to set up a website? Here’s how.
2. Create author profiles on Amazon and Goodreads
Readers hang out both on Amazon and Goodreads. Both sites want authors to claim their profiles. So go claim them.
Use a photo that feels personal. Write a short bio that feels human and engaged. If you want to reference your favourite authors (ones writing in a similar field to you, of course), then do so.
These things won’t create readers overnight, but they are part of any modern author’s armoury. Basically: you have to do them.
Having said that – don’t misdirect your attention either. I have yet to meet a professional author who thinks that being active on Goodreads is a good way to spend time. It isn’t. You need to create an attractive profile there, then leave it. Spending hours engaging with the community will not create sales. Advertising on Goodreads is a simple way to lose money.
Create a nice looking author page following Amazon’s own recipe.
3. Create an author page on Facebook (and connect that blog!)
You don’t want to mix your personal page with your professional one, so set up a yournameauthor page on FB. Maintaining that page as well as your blog will drive you crazy, so make sure that when you post on your blog, that post pops up both on your FB author page and on your Goodreads one.
The truth is that probably no one other than your mum will read your blog much in the first instance – these things take time to grow and even major authors don’t necessarily have huge volumes of site trafffic. But readers DO congregate on Goodreads and Facebook and they DO like to see some personal, engaging material on authors they may happen to stumble across.
So create the material on your blog. Pipe it over – automatically – to those other sites. If you can’t do that by yourself, then pay someone to do it. You’re an author not a tech-expert, so it’s OK to pay others when you need to . . . and there are cheap or free ways to automate these things, so paying someone to make the connections shouldn’t cost you much.
Create that author page. Tips here.
4. Open yourself up to Twitter
Yeah, I know. If you like Twitter, you’re already on it. If you’re not, that’s because you hate it and can’t see the point.
And I’m on your side, really. I hate Twitter. I don’t like the zero-attention-span, weirdly formatted, near-impenetrable texts that the damn site is full of.
Also: you cannot sell stuff via Twitter. Yes, this is a post about marketing your work. Yes, I am recommending that you join Twitter. And yes, I have just told you that you cannot sell on Twitter. It’s not just me that thinks that last thing. The digital marketing manager at a major publishing house told me the exact same thing. I’ve also seen data that calls into question the degree to which even a really ‘successful’ Twitter campaign can actually influence sales. The only real exception is where you are already established enough that you don’t have to sell your book – you just have to notify people that it’s there. You are not in that position (of if you are, I’ve no idea why you’re reading this post), so the Twitter-doesn’t-sell rule definitely applies to you.
All that said, you still need to be on Twitter because numerous people that you may want to connect with (bloggers, other authors, marketing types, industry folk) may not publish an email address but are publicly and easily available on Twitter.
And if you want to reach those people, you don’t just need to be signed up to the service, you do need to follow some people, and get followed back, just so that you don’t look like the only naked one in the room. It’s a faff, yes, but you’re marketing your books and you can’t ignore Twitter just because you #hateit. And – once you’ve signed up, and got properly started – then start to make contact with the people that matter.
And remember that conversations on Twitter are like conversations anywhere. You don’t just barge in and shout and try to sell stuff. You act nice, and interested, and – when you have a relationship – you politely enquire if Person X might be interested in your very fine Y. Out of those relationships, come invitations to appear on blogs, to get book reviews, to do Q&As and all the rest of it. There are other ways to reach those people – email works, and there are some great groups on Facebook – but Twitter is still the easiest way to make that first knock on the door.
Need more on getting started? Find out more from these good people.
5. Use your ebooks as a platform to sell your ebooks
If you have more than one ebook, then for the love of all that is holy make sure that your ebooks are properly set up to sell each other. That means that in the back of each e-book you have a proper listing of your titles – updated, please, as new books come out. That listing shouldn’t just list the actual titles, you should also include some enticing sales copy and think about including a book cover too. The point is to catch readers when they’ve just finished your book – when they’re still half in love with your character, still giddy with the excitement of your ending – and get them to buy more stuff. So put that stuff under their noses, and make it very attractive, very engaging and very buyable.
But that’s only step one!
You also, crucially, need to make it unbelievably easy for people to buy the books they’re looking at. That means (for most indies) a simple link to Amazon in your mobi files – or rather three, as you’ll need different links for the .com, .ca, and .co.uk sites.
Traditionally published authors can’t – for complicated reasons to do with their publishers’ contractual situation – place the same easy links to Amazon. So what you need to do is create a kind of “choose your e-store” page. That page will basically just bounce people from your ebook to the reader’s choice of e-store. You can see a fine example of such a page right here. Notice that although that page exists on my own website – harrybingham.com – it’s shorn of all in-site navigation. That is, once you arrive on the ‘choose your estore’ page, there’s absolutely nothing to do except choose your estore and move on. Also – obviously – the links are to YOUR page on the various estores, not just the home page.
Getting your ebook to sell effectively at the end of the book is absolutely essential – and it’s a free and easy way to make additional sales. The best way to understand what the back end of an ebook should like is to look at an ebook that has been carefully designed to sell an entire series. My own ebooks do just that – and very effective they are too. You can spend just £1.99 to take a look at The Dead House now. Notice the author’s note, the series listing, those “choose your estore” links and the multiple email sign-up opportunities.
6. Get clever with your BISAC codes
Your BISAC codes or ‘browse categories’ tell Amazon where to shelve your book. (FInd out more here.) And mostly, you’ll want to shelve it in places that actually collect some traffic – so “Romance/Historical” say, rather than “Family and Friendship”.
But it’s hard to climb far enough up those major categories to really find eyeballs . . . and one brilliant, if sneaky, little trick is to choose one BISAC code that’s so minor you just don’t need to make many sales to hit that #1 position. And once you have that #1 position, Amazon tags your book with a sweet little #1 bestseller icon . . . which is a wonderful lure to anyone stumbling across your book.
And, in any case, remember that your BISAC codes are infinitely malleable. If your original choices aren’t working for you, then change them. Mess around and see what works. That’s free and it’s easy. If you’re traditionally published, then you won’t have direct access to these codes, but do ask your publisher what they’re doing – and test their answer. Make sure they have a strategy and are revising it if need be. Easier said than done, I know, but these things do make a massive difference.
Did I mention that The Dead House is (a) ‘a quite brilliant novel’ (CrimeFictionLover), (b) an Amazon Deal of the Week, and (c) priced at just £1.99? I think I did.
Go on. Buy it. You know you want to.
7. Get clever with your keywords AND subtitles
Try typing something into Amazon now. Just type the first two or three letters of whatever you’re searching for and Amazon will quickly offer you a dropdown list of things it guesses you might be seeking. Sometimes, it’ll offer you the name of an author (‘Harry Bingham’). Sometimes it’ll suggest titles (‘The Dead House”). But often enough it offers you thematic-type searches – things like ‘psychological thriller’ or ‘historical novels’.
Those thematic search terms are great to use as keywords for your book – just make sure they pop up on those Amazon drop downs, because if they don’t, then no one is searching for them.
And once you’ve chosen your keywords, do shove them into your series titles or subtitles, because use of a keyword with subtitle/series title support always beats an equivalent book which lacks that support.
If you’re self-published, you already know about this and are probably already doing it. If you’re traditionally published, you may well think that this is all complicated stuff and your publishers presumably know their onions. Except they really may not do. A huge proportion of traditional publishers have been trained and brought up in a world of bricks & mortar print. Editors who came into the industry because they wanted to edit books may simply not want to deal with the minutiae of keywords and series titles. Results: some huge and supposedly sophisticated firms can be blithering morons when it comes to online visibility. So ask. Understand the answers. And ask again. Do not let this one get away.
More on keywords here.
So easy this one – but I’ve relegated the matter of price to a long way down this list because unless you have other ingredients of your marketing platform well-set in advance, the impact of a pricing tweak will dissipate far too fast into the cloudless blue.
But once you ARE happy with your author platform, once you HAVE optimised your ebooks, once you DO have your keywords and your BISAC codes and all the rest of your metata straight, then by all means press the pricing button.
Dropping your price from $4.99 or $2.99 down to $0.99 will give you an immediate strong . . . but relatively short term boost to pricing. All the same, that boost gets more readers into your series and gives you the chance to make full-price sales of later books.
I do also recommend the use of Amazon’s useful pricing tool, KDP Pricing Support, locked it would seem in permanent beta. The tool shows you the impact of pricing on both readers and revenues and I’ve included a screenshot of a sample view below. The orange line marks your revenue curve. Note the sharp drop-off at $2.99 and $9.99, which show the plummet down to 35% royalties from the normal 70%. The dotted grey line shows you how readership tumbles as you move up in terms of price. (The line is faint and grey because Amazon wants you to focus on revenues, not chasing readers.)
Now, you do want revenues, of course – that’s your ultimate aim. On the other hand, nearly all authors want to grow their readership in the hope of earning even larger revenues down the road, in which case you’ll want to price somewhat to the left of that ‘revenue maximising point’. Dipping down to $0.99 or $2.99 to raise visibility, then jumping back to a higher price point makes great sense. If you live at the lower price levels all the time, you’ll find that you don’t particularly secure any extra kick by staying there. You’re better off with a kind of yo-yo strategy.
Want more on the pricing tool? It’s available via Kindle Direct.
9. Email lists
If you don’t keep an email list, you need to create one. If you do have one, then you probably know how to use it.
But for a whistle-stop tour of why you need one and how to make one, then here you go.
A) You need your readers’ email addresses so you can contact your customers directly when you have a new product. That’s exactly like when you buy a new dress from an online retailer. Sure as dammit, that retailer will be in touch with you a little bit later, to say, ‘Hey, you like dresses. We’ve got some more dresses. How about it?’ That tactic was and is the best marketing tactic ever invented. You’re basically talking to customers who like your stuff and have been ready to buy it in the past. They’re the very first people to go back to when you have more products available to sell.
B) You collect readers email addresses by setting up a ‘Readers Club’. Please don’t call it a newsletter or an email list or anything of that kind. No one wants those horrible things. People DO want to be part of a readers club attaching to a series or author that they love.
C) You can’t just take stuff (an email address), you have to give stuff too – and what you give has got to be a lot better than one smelly email address. but you’re a writer, OK? And these people are committed readers? So write a long short story or a short novella and give that away for free to anyone who signs up to your club. The story should be totally exclusive. If you sell the thing on Amazon for 99c, you’re demeaning the gift. So don’t do it.
D) In terms of techie stuff, you need an email provider – most likely Mailchimp or Aweber – and a sign up page. If that sentence frightens you, then just pay someone to do the necessary. Your aim is to have a landing page that functions very much like this one – no in-site navigation, big obvious sign up buttons, plenty of use of the word ‘free’.
Oh, and don’t ask for the email straight away – that seems grabby. Only ask for an email address in direct response to a customer’s request. So only when a user on my website clicks the “Get my download now” button do I ask for an email address. In other words: let them give the orders. You only ask for the address as a way to fulfil that command.
E) Where do you get your email sign ups from? Well, yes, from the website . . . except that realistically the only people who come to your website with the intent to join your Readers Club are people who have just read and enjoyed one of your books. So the real source of sign ups is from within the ebooks themselves. I have graphic calls-to-action in the front and back of my ebooks and text-only links underneath and a call to action in my author’s note and a further one in my series listing. That sounds horribly overdone . . . except that it seems perfectly natural when you actually have the book in your hand.
And get this: I get about one email sign up for every five ebooks I sell. That’s a very good ratio, which means I can reach at least 20% of my readers by email whenever I want. (and actually, because I write a series and so my readers have typically read more than one of my novels, my actual ratio is probably a lot better than that!)
Want to see a perfectly presented ebook in action? Find out using my own Amazon Deal of the Week book The Dead House, retailing at a don’t-even-think-about-it £1.99.
F) How do you use the email list once you’ve got it? Answer: as little as possible. People will just unsubscribe if you blast them with unwanted crap. So keep it very light. I reckon that two emails a year is (in most cases) plenty. One to announce when a book goes up for pre-order. Another to nudge people when that book is actually published . . . or is enjoying a very special and temporary price promotion.
G) And to be clear, the real beauty of the email list is not the fact that you can collect however many hundred sales . . . it’s that because those sales are densely focused around the time you send the email, you can instantly jump into the bestseller charts, at which point Amazon’s own algorithms will start giving you a ton of visibility . . . and consequently a whole heap of additional sales. So the email list isn’t there to sell to the people on the list only – it’s there to multiply your visibility whenever you choose to do it. Lovely!
10. The Joy of Facebook
And finally – the simplest way to get sales is the most traditional way of all: by advertising.
Placing ads is really not particularly hard or technical or difficult. You simply go into Facebook and click the little down arrow on the right hand side of the top navigation bar. You’ll get a drop down with ‘your pages’ at the top. You want to click on ‘Create Ads’ a little further down that list and you’re off.
The things you really, really need to know about FB advertising are as follows.
First, FB-world distinguishes between Campaigns, Ad-sets, and Ads. The Campaign might include all the ads you use to promote a particular book. The Ad-sets are defined by budget and audience. The ads themselves are defined by the particular text & images that you use. So for example, I have an FB campaign running at the moment as follows:
Campaign – Support The Dead House, which is an Amazon Deal of the Week. (And priced at just £1.99 – did I mention that? Available here.)
Ad-sets – Four of them. One each for Crime fiction / Detective fiction / Mystery fiction and an audience made up of ‘lookalikes’ to my email list. Interestingly, the crime and detective lists ad-sets seem to work better than the one designed around my actual book readers. Make of that what you will.
Ads – a whole set of variants, but looking something like the ad below.
- Start with small budgets – £10 a day is fine. When you get a sense of what works, add money cautiously to the ad variant(s) that is/are working. And don’t woosh the budget up from £10 to £100, as that can throw sand in Facebook’s ad gears. Go up in 50% increments, even if you’re impatient. Watch what works – and the key metric here is cost per click. How much does it cost you to send a qualified, interested reader through to your Amazon page?
- Test, test and test again. Try varying audiences, headlines and either image or ad text. Once you evolve your best audience, your best headline and so on, you can pile your resources in there. And don’t vary everything all at once. You need to be able to compare ads that are basically identical except for one thing changed.
- Always include an emotional reason to buy. What will your book make the reader feel? What mood do you want to convey? You need to make sure that your image, your text and your headlines are all in sync with that mood.
- Always include ‘social proof’. People are – rightly – suspicious of ads, because those ads want to take money off the reader. So include ‘proofs of excellence’ from whatever source you can. I have nice reviews from well-known newspapers and bloggers, so I tend to use those. Others will use things like ‘Over fifty five-star reviews’ or ‘Readers are saying that . . .’ Whatever you do, make sure that your ad is conveying the idea that other people like this book. That way, no one is dumb for forking out a few dollars for it.
- Always include a rational reason to buy. People know that they can go to Amazon any time they want to pick up books at full price, so an ad that says, in effect, ‘Here’s just one more full-price book on Amazon’ will struggle to achieve real traction. So discount your book. Slap something on the ad that says, ‘Now only £1.99’ (or whatever). Your ad has got to make people feel (i) Oooh, I like the sound of that, and (ii) better get in there now, before the price goes back up.
And – of course – start modestly. Track results. Stick to budgets. And be quick to pull out or pull back if things don’t go the way you want. It’s easy to spend a ton of money on Facebook – and that’s fine only if you’re making two tons of money via Amazon.
So that’s items one to ten on an author’s marketing list. The last two of these tools in particular are extremely potent . . . but do work best if you’ve done all or most of the other things first. Good luck – and happy marketing!
But also – what works for you? What does this piece leave out? And what’s the best piece of marketing advice you’ve ever been given? And would you like to buy my extremely fine The Dead House, by any chance? As I say, it shows you exactly what an ebook should look like in terms of front- and back-end presentation.