At BookBuzzr, one of the questions that authors often ask is, “What is the best way to market my book?”
This article distills our learning across 15,000 books on Freado – our site for book reviewers and hours of Internet research on discussion forums like this excellent thread on book promotion by the folks at Absolute Write.
Before you move on, there are a few things that you should keep in mind:
1. Make sure that your book is of the highest quality: Is it different from other books in the genre and likely to spark conversations among readers? Is it professionally edited? What about the formatting? Is it comparable to the best books being produced by the big name publishers? Have you tested the title of your book? Does the cover grab the reader from a mile away?
2. Understand that there is an element of chance in this business: By its very nature, publishing is a winner-take-all business. And for every Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey, there are thousands of authors with equal ability toiling away at night while holding a day job. You can influence the outcome but you cannot be sure. It takes time, patience and enormous resources … and it may still not work. So cultivate your inner stoic.
3. Understand that crossing some lines can come back to bite you bad : The temptation to purchase reviews or to bash a competing author’s book has trapped many authors including some big name ones. In general, don’t pay for reviews or indulge in sock puppetry. Don’t wrestle with people who post negative reviews of your book. Err on the side of caution and ask if you are using somebody else’s intellectual property. The Alliance of Independent Authors has a useful checklist and pledge badges that you can put up on your blog or site.
Now let’s look at the three best ways to promote your magnum opus:
1. Engage in Conversations
Engage in conversations that are not necessarily about your book. Show yourself to be smart and insightful. Be helpful. Give without any ulterior motives. And don’t be a pushy, aggressive salesperson.
Readers are deluged with books. And they have a hard time separating the signal from the noise. Too often they are plagued by authors of bad books aggressively pushing their books on them. So if they hear a “buy my book” pitch from you, they will automatically assume that your book must be bad.
You need a way to catch the interest of potential readers without really talking about your book. How do you interest your readers without talking about your book? Simple. Be interesting.
For example, a few years ago, author Jim Hines created a series of photos with him dressed up like the women on fantasy book covers. Take a look at the photoalbum on Flickr or see the embed below to get a taste of Jim’s hilarity.
Jim explains the results of this photoset on the Flickr album description, “This proved to be my most-read blog post, and led to several more photoshoots, not to mention a fundraiser that brought in more than $15,000 for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, two pose-offs with John Scalzi, and a group pose with myself, Pat Rothfuss, Charles Stross, John Scalzi, and Mary Robinette Kowal.”
Or take the example of speculative fiction writer Cat Rambo. She’s been coloring her hair from way before it was fashionable to do so. And she’s worked hard to build up her social capital – she’s edited Fantasy magazine and has served as the Vice President of the Science Fiction Writers of America. So it comes as no surprise that her AMA on Reddit which was timed to tie-in with her debut novel release received a huge amount of participation from readers.
(Image Courtesy: Wikipedia)
If being flamboyant is not your style, you can still participate in the conversation by being helpful. For example, check out the work of Victoria Strauss. She’s co-founded Writers Beware to educate authors about scams. And she has reviewed scores of books on GoodReads, on her blog and at other places. Or see the posts of Lisa L. Spangenberg who provides incredibly useful advice on the Absolute Write blog with no expectation of ‘selling books’.
None of these authors are talking about themselves or their books. Their emphasis is on issues that concern their readers or others in their ecosystem. They are using conversation triggers to stay in front of their audience.
2. Write Many Books
The black swan theory developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster could not have been predicted in advance. Nor could the success of EL James, JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. The publishing business is essentially a positive black-swan business.
Every book you write is a little like buying a lottery ticket.
Yes. Your chances of success are dramatically reduced if you create a sub-standard product. And yes … the more skilled you become at your craft, the greater the chances of success. And yet, it is important to remember that there is only so much that you control with each book that you produce. However, writing more books increases the odds that one of them will be a hit and put you in the consciousness of readers.
Writing more books also helps you hone your craft and produce products of ever-increasing sophistication. And each book you write acts as a small advertisement for you and your other books on Amazon.
You may argue that there are many authors who created just one great book that became a classic or a best seller. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind) and Arundathi Roy (The God of Small Things) come to mind. However, if you look underneath the surface you will see that most of these authors have been prolific writers even though they may be most known for that one book.
One can argue that the authors were prolific as a result of their success and not successful as a result of their prolificity. But as can be seen from the examples of these authors, the act of producing more lifted up their visibility, improved the quality of their writing and increased sales:
John Locke did not even try to start marketing his books until he had finished three of them.
Amanda Hocking wrote 17 novels in her free time and then began self-publishing them as ebooks in April 2010
Joe Konrath’s first nine books got rejected 500 times over a period of 12 years before his tenth book Whisky Sour was released.
The best case scenario is the creation of a virtuous book marketing cycle where the creation of more books leads to more books which in turn leads to increased discoverability.
This evidence of a positive feedback loop in action becomes clear when you see the Amazon page of JA Konrath which lists over 78 products under his name. Each of those products acts as a gateway in to the world of Konrath’s characters and adds to his readership and book sales.
3. Target Power Readers
If you’d like to make the best use of your time and resources, concentrate your marketing efforts on “Power Readers.”
Power readers are those voracious readers who also have a tendency to evangelize their new finds with passion. Think book bloggers, active GoodReads users, Amazon top reviewers and librarians.
But why are power readers important?
Some time ago, while working on the development of a new book marketing product, the BookBuzzr staff interviewed, observed, and surveyed hundreds of readers.
What we learned should come as no surprise to you. Readers are adrift in an ocean of ever-expanding choice. They are now exposed to so many books (many of which are substandard) that they’ve actually come to expect disappointment with each new book they read. They’ve grown wary of picking up new books by unknown authors—even if the books are given to them for free.
When readers do buy books, they tend to exhibit the following purchasing patterns:
1. Readers buy books written by familiar, well-known authors or books that form part of a series.
2. Readers buy books recommended by the mainstream media such as Oprah’s Book Club or the New York Times.
3. Readers buy books recommended by their friends.
4. Readers buy books in physical bookstores—sometimes on impulse.
As for the practice of buying books recommended by friends, it’s important to ask:
“Who was the first recommender?” “Who was the first person who took a chance on the book, read it, liked it, and then shared the word on Goodreads or in person over a coffee?”
These are the Power Readers. They are important because they are the early adopters of a new book.
Many Power Readers are book bloggers. They are usually passionate about a particular interest area. They are open to new authors. And they read both prolifically and quickly.
But here’s the catch. These influencers are already flooded with books. Most of them have a sign on their blogs requesting authors not to submit any books to them. And they are usually stressed by the size of their TBR (to-be-read) pile. So it’s not easy to get your book in front of them.
Power Readers are a very small subset of your audience, but in marketing terms, they are more valuable than regular readers. Authors often mention that in the initial stages of a book’s life, a recommendation or an Amazon review is at least 10 times more valuable than a simple purchase. So, with this in mind, it’s worth putting extra effort into building relationships with these all-important influencers.
Building relationships with Power Readers (some people refer to them as Mavens or Influencers) can be extremely helpful to your bottom line. For example, Amazon best-selling author Rachel Thompson recalls in this blog post on influencer marketing: “It’s worth noting that I met every reviewer and book blogger via social media. One of the Top 10 Amazon reviewers I had interacted with, Tracy Riva, told me she would purchase the book after I uploaded it—she didn’t want any appearance of impropriety. Not only did she give the book five stars, she also included it in her monthly summary for the ‘Midwest Book Review of MustRead Books!’”
If you are looking for power readers, you can try cultivating relationships by visiting their blogs and interacting with them through comments that enrich their blogs. You can also look at some of the power reader aggregator sites. These include sites like NetGalley or Freado (owned by BookBuzzr).
Book Marketing Is a Game of Patience and Perseverance
Book marketing is not difficult. But it does require regular, sustained effort.
Too often we see authors promoting their books in a frenzy of book tours and Kindle specials. And just as quickly, their honeymoon period ends and they go on to say “this stuff does not work!”
The authors who succeed are those who, in the face of failure, rejection and anonymity, have pushed on and persevered.
If you follow these three principles – of participating in conversations, writing more books and targeting power readers – you will eventually find a loyal set of readers. And then, it will be your turn to share with other writers, the lessons that you have learned.