A little warning about my perspective on promoting: it’s unconventional, focused on long term results, and operates under the impression that people starting out don’t have the money to sink into buying expensive ad space.
My philosophy: I don’t want to sell as many books as I can; I want to be financially stable for the rest of my life. To do this, I focused on building a strong, solid foundation based on the two common factors almost every financially stable author shares:
- multiple titles
- an extensive, rabid fan base
The biggest hurdle for most people to overcome is to stop viewing their book sale numbers as being the benchmark for success, especially when you’re just starting out.
Long term success in most industries is reliant upon four pillars:
- quality products
- brand loyalty
Writing is no different.
I’ve outlined the first three steps of building a promotion empire. They aren’t easy, and they’re not free.
For Step One, you’ll see some sales but not many. By the middle-to-end of Step Two, you should see things start to take off. At Step Three is when you want to up the ante and do what few other writers do: use the foundation you’ve created online to pull people to you.
Step one: The Foundation
1. There are two things that determine long term success for authors: multiple titles and an extensive rabid fan base. When you have these, you’ll have sustainable sales. How you get there is dependent on your resources, writing, goals, business prowess, and personal preferences.
2. Make a long term plan. I have a two stage marketing plan. Stage one: give everything away for free for a year to build a backlist of titles and a fan base. Stage two: monetize. Simple, straight-forward, and insanely effective. Develop a plan you can execute and include milestones, timelines, and honest evaluations of your ability to meet your goals. Don’t be afraid to adapt.
3. Manage first impressions. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on editing and a cover. Editing doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive; check out eLance.com or find a fanatic English major. For covers, I use Indie Designz, and you can find artists with flexible terms on Deviant Art. Do your research and don’t be afraid to bargain. Remember: you need a quality product to compete with all the other traditional and indie publishers.
4. You need a website. If it’s a free blogspot.com site or you buy your own domain, you must have somewhere where readers can find out more about you and your books. My advice: if you can, buy a domain and go for the cheapest hosting option from HostGator. WordPress has thousands of free templates you can personalize and more importantly – thousands of add-ons you can install to personalize and optimize your site.
5. You need the following online accounts at least: Facebook author’s page, Twitter account, Amazon author’s page, Smashwords / other author’s page, Goodreads, Shelfari, KindleBoards, NookBoards. Spend the time to get to know these sites and their communities.
5. Build relationships. Despite technology, the word-of-mouth, grass roots movement is what will make or break you. When starting out, focus on meaningful exchanges with your readers and contribute to/support the efforts of your fellow authors. Even if you haven’t released a book yet, you can sell YOU. After all, you’re the brand.
A tip: do this with Twitter, too. Don’t just spam people – get to know a few key people in your field (whether book bloggers or fellow authors), and build a relationship at some level. This step takes time, but it pays off for you.
6. GO WHERE THE READERS ARE. It sounds intuitive, but I see more indies make this mistake than anything else. Join Goodreads and Shelfari. Respond to readers on Amazon forums (but don’t pitch your books – Amazon will can you for this!) Invite readers to post comments on your website/blog. You can post a line in every profile (including your Amazon author’s page) saying you welcome feedback on your website. And when someone posts, respond quickly. Visit the blogs of readers and reviewer and leave comments, including links to your website/blog. Participate in a blog challenge and visit others also participating.
7. Join online author support groups. Not the ones where all people do is try to get other indies to buy their books, but author groups where you can discuss technical questions about writing, posting your work on different sites, etc. Examples include Kindle Boards, Indie Writers Unite! on Facebook, self-published groups on Goodreads … there are hundreds. Do a little research, watch how the members interact, and choose 2-3 to join. You want a group with a positive, responsive community of writers.
Step Two: Building Momentum
1. Keep your blog/website current and update at least 2-3 times a week. You want to keep the content fresh and relevant to your pursuit not only to draw in search engines, but readers as well.
2. Reinvest any money you make into your books by building a support team. My team consists of: an editor, graphics artist, IT guy. These are all things I cannot do. As a writer, your time is your most valuable commodity. Find others to fill your weaknesses while you focus on your strengths.
3. Set up a mailing list. The people on your mailing list are your rabid fans: people who will sell you and your books to others. If they take the time to sign up, they’re dedicated to you and your books. Offer them special deals! (Advanced previews of upcoming books, covers, free ebooks, etc.)
4. Give something away for free. You need to have more than one book out for this to be effective. What a lot of folks do: write a short story related to your book/series, and offer it for free to people signing up on your mailing list. Or post it online everywhere you can with links back to our website/blog. We post to about 15 different sites outside of the major eReader libraries, which makes it easier for us to bring in the international crowd as well.
5. Build brand recognition. Establish your online presence (Facebook, twitter, website/blog) from the perspective that you have one chance to leave an impression You want to send a message and you want to be memorable. Visual cues are always good. If it’s a symbol, logo, saying, picture, saying, funky font, color scheme etc. – figure it out, and use it on all your sites.
For example, my website’s logo is the picture of a house with a cross through it on a pink and black camouflage background. You may never know what the heck all that means, but it’s a fun, funky image that you’ll recognize on nearly all of my accounts. We paid $20 on eBay for the design.
6. Do a blog tour, because it exposes you to new audiences who may also be interested in you and your work. My FB group does a Neverending Blog Tour, where interested authors sign up and interview – and are interviewed by – someone new every week. The secondary benefit of blog tours: you get a back-link to your site, which is invaluable when you get to the advanced steps. Book bloggers are also fantastic sources for blog tours.
7. Do a paperback giveaway on Goodreads.com or an ebook giveaway on librarything.com. My first giveaway garnered the interest of over 300 people. My next one: 998. It’s quick and simple exposure.
8. Explore funding ideas to support the team you’re building. Check out Kickstarter.com (for US fundraisers) or indiegogo.com (worldwide). You can also offer autographed books, sell ad space on your site, or create a ‘donate’ button on your website. Also, sign up for Amazon Affiliates and Google Adwords.
9. CONTRIBUTE to the blogs of readers/reviewers and the efforts of other writers. If people like you, they’ll buy your books.
Step Three: Fueling the Fire
1. Invest in search engine optimization. Whether you or an IT-savvy friend has the software or knows the basics, focus on driving people to your website. The two most important tenets of SEO: back links and relevant content on your website. People who type “Lizzy Ford” into Google will find me. I want people who type “free romance novels” into Google to find me, too. We receive over 100 Google referrals a day, because we work daily to optimize our site. That’s potentially 100 new readers a day. For free tips, check out my website. My husband has been posting free articles with SEO tips for authors.
2. Collaborate with other writers. Whether it’s a poetry anthology or short story collection, find a group you’re comfortable with and produce a product. I’m working with my fellow eight authors from the Indie Eclective to produce a Halloween short story collection we plan on releasing for free. Holiday inspired collections are a safe bet, and exposing your work to those of other authors with rabid fans who know and trust those authors will give you instant backing with the new audience.
3. Give something away for free on Amazon. Amazon appears to be the most insulated of the ebook stores. If your books are free elsewhere, the sales don’t seem to transfer over to Amazon. However, if your book is free at Amazon, you’ll see a trickledown effect in that your other books will sell more quickly. You want to wait until you have at least two books out to do this.
4. Become a regular contributor on someone else’s site. I contribute to CuriosityQuills.com, a site featuring info on authors for readers and writing/IT tips for writers, and the Indie Eclective, a site of 9 fantastic indies with a diverse variety of books who share a passion for writing and interacting with readers.
5. Explore new marketing techniques. Start looking for websites with good Google/Alexa rankings and low prices for ad space. We chose two sites (to the tune of $7/monthly) that see a combined 1000+ readers a day going to those sites looking for ebooks. Also, check out Facebook ads or Google or Microsoft ads. The great thing about these three is that you can target the ads based on the demographics of your audience, and you can also set a daily budget for how much you’re willing to pay. All of them offer some sort of incentive for new customers, so if you sign up for one, you can receive between $25-100 free for advertising. Other popular sites that offer paid ad space include Pixel of Ink and Kindle Boards, where you can purchase 24 hour ads.
A note of caution: this is where things can get pricey. Our model has been to steer away from buying ad space for financial reasons. Always evaluate where you spend your money very carefully, as there are also a lot of people out there selling promotional services or ads or link exchanges who can be best described as predatory.
6. Develop some sort of affiliate program to reward those who spread the word about your books and recruit your most trusted rabid fans as your first affiliates.
7. Adapt and experiment. As long as what you want to do supports the goals in your plans, don’t be afraid to try something new or different.
Step Four: ???
I’ll let you know when I get here!