8 Book Marketing Mistakes to Ban in 2017

Book Marketing Mistakes

Since the birth of Reedsy, we’ve had the chance to work with thousands of authors, helping them get their books out there in the most professional possible form — and to sell them.

For many authors, selling a book is even harder than writing it. But whether you’re self- or traditionally published, learning to market and sell your work is a key factor in author success. In this post, our co-founder Ricardo Fayet shares the 8 most common marketing mistakes he’s observed in the past few years. To make sure you aren’t tripped up by these common traps, read on…

1. You’re marketing to everyone

Most of the time, when I ask authors who their book is for, they’ll tell me about their genre: “It’s for teenagers who are into Fantasy,” for example. Or sometimes, I’ll get an age group: “It’s for middle-aged women.” It’s not uncommon to hear “everyone” either.

There are two big problems with this. First, you’re setting unrealistic expectations. Unless you come up with the next Harry Potter, not every teenager will read your book. It’s much more likely that only an infinitesimally small portion of them will.

The second problem is that you’ll be lost when the time comes to market your book. Marketing is mostly about putting your book in front of readers. If your target reader is everyone, what are you going to do? Tell random people on the street about it? Where are you going to place it in the Amazon categories? “Fiction”?

You can spend thousands of dollars on promotion and do everything right marketing-wise, but if your book is not intended for a specific, target market — or if it’s not a fit for the market you’re incorrectly targeting — you won’t sell it.

Note: if you don’t know what a “specific target market” is, here are two good resources on the subject:

Tip: Think about your market before you finish your book. Or more specifically, think about your market after you’ve finished the first draft — but before you’ve started intensive editing. Maybe you set out to write a YA fantasy, but the motifs and characters emerged with more maturity than you expected; can your revisions focus on pushing conflicts, emotional complexity, and world-building toward an adult market? If not, how can you alter some of those motifs and characters to speak to the audience you want to target?

Ancient Greeks implored thinkers to “Know thyself” — and we encourage authors to “Know thy market.”

2. You don’t have a mailing list

If you do a minimum of research on book marketing best practices, the mailing list is the one thing that comes up over and over again. Yet, I’m still amazed at the number of authors who don’t have one.

Consider this: your first book is a blast. You sell 10,000 copies without any marketing (yep, that can happen). Now you want to launch the second one: how are those 10,000 readers going to know about it? Amazon won’t give you their names, not to mention their email addresses…

If you don’t have a mailing list, you just lost 10,000 potential repeat buyers.

And that’s just scratching the surface. A solid mailing list is useful well before you even publish your first book. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this interview with best-selling indie author Nick Stephenson.

Tip: It’s pretty simple: set up your mailing list (the sooner, the better). You’ll need a website first, ideally a good-looking one. Then, create your MailChimp account (or similar) and add a signup form on your website and a link to it in your books.

Once you start gathering subscribers, you’ll need to keep your list engaged and send them regular updates, of course. But that shouldn’t be too hard!

3. You designed your own cover

Authors are renowned for their self-doubt when it comes to their written creations. Which is why I can’t understand how so many of them feel so confident about their cover design abilities.

Without going to the extremes of the Kindle Cover Disasters, Amazon is flooded with amateurish covers. If you design your own cover, you might think it looks great, and some of your friends might think the same, but many people with a genuine design sensibility will instantly recognize it as the work of an amateur. And they just won’t buy the book.

Tip: If you want to become a professional author, you’ll need to work with professional designers, i.e. people whose job it is to design covers. More about how to work with a cover designer in this blog post.

If you insist on creating your cover yourself and wonder if it’s any good, we run regular “Cover Critique” sessions on ReedsyLive. It’s a chance to get free feedback on your existing cover by one of our top artists. Register for the next one here.

Note: Overall, not investing in your product is one of the most common mistakes in marketing. Your book will be competing with traditionally published ones, so it needs to look and read like one. Find out how your book compares to a Big Five published one by taking this fun quiz from IndieReader.

4. You think Amazon categories and keywords are just for decoration

That moment when you upload your manuscript to Amazon and prepare to press the “Publish” button is probably one of the most exciting moments of the whole publishing process. It seems, however, that in the midst of all the excitement, many authors seem to neglect the “categories” and “keywords” fields of the upload form.

Almost every time an author tells me “I don’t get why my book isn’t selling,” I look at their book page on Amazon and find that their categories are wrong. And by that I mean:

  • They only selected one category; or
  • They picked excessively broad categories like “romance” or “thriller”; or
  • They chose a sub-category that does not reflect what their book is about.

Why are categories important? It’s because they’re the primary source of visibility you’ll get from Amazon. If you rise to the top of the charts in a category that gets a lot of traffic, your book will start selling even more, with no action on your part.

Keywords are similar. You can add up to 7 keywords to your book page, and while they don’t show up anywhere after that, they significantly impact where your book shows up in Amazon searches (particularly important when it comes to non-fiction). You need pick keywords that get enough searches to generate sales but are not too competitive so your books can be found in the first search results.

We don’t really have time in this post to delve into the complex world of Amazon categories and keywords. But the bottom line is: this is something you should be thinking about while you revise and refine your book. Can’t find a category for your masterpiece? Careful — you might be writing for a market that doesn’t exist.

Tip: Research Amazon categories in your genre(s) well before you publish, and educate yourself on how the algorithms work. The following resources should help:

5. You’re blogging, and tweeting, and posting on Facebook, and using Goodreads, and running promotions, and…

“I’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work,” authors often tell me. Aside from the fact that there are usually cover, blurb or metadata problems with the book’s page on Amazon, “trying everything” is the exact opposite of what smart marketing is all about.

First, if you’re doing a little bit of everything (all at once), it’s impossible to know which strategy is producing results. Amazon doesn’t tell you where your sales come from, so when you do get a spike, you won’t know what to attribute it to.

More importantly, you’ll be burning yourself out — numbing your creativity — and won’t be doing any of these things well. It’s important to always be testing new ways to promote your book, but if you try more than 1 or 2 at a time, you won’t be able to test them properly.

Tip: Take a look at what other authors in your genre are doing to promote their books to have an idea of the marketing channels that are likely to work best for you. Or, if you’re short on inspiration, take a look at this awesome post by Bookbub that lists 98 book marketing ideas. Pick a couple and test them exhaustively. If they don’t work, test another two. Once you’ve found one or two that work, stick to them and don’t waste your time on other less effective activities.

Note: What I describe here is called the “Bullseye Marketing Framework” and was first introduced by Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg in their book, Traction’. You can watch my interview with Justin here.

6. You’ve dismissed Facebook ads after your boosted post sold nothing

This is just expanding on my previous point, but I see too many authors dismissing Facebook ads after poor “testing”.

Here’s the reality: If you have avoided mistakes #1 through #4 above, in 90% of the cases, Facebook should be a valid avenue for you to successfully advertise your book. I’ve just seen too many examples of authors in countless genres having success with Facebook ads to believe you when you tell me “Sorry, I’ve tried and it doesn’t work.”

Because of Facebook’s unique targeting capabilities, ads can work for nearly every author. However, Facebook is a complex advertising platform and has a pretty steep learning curve. So if you go into it thinking “I’ll just boost my post about my book for $100 and see if it sells something”, you’re bound to be disappointed.

Tip: Educate yourself. Read blog posts from authors who sell through Facebook (you’ll find a perfect one here). Take our free course on the subject (yes, that’s right, free). And take a look at Mark Dawson’s excellent paid course.

Then, armed with knowledge, start running your first few ads with a small budget ($5/day), test ad copy, image and audience, and iterate.

7. You think FREE doesn’t work anymore

One of authors’ preferred procrastination methods is taking to social media to complain how all the things that “used to work” back in the golden days of self-pub don’t work anymore. And perma-free is definitely their favorite victim.

It’s true that everything related to free (perma-free, free promotions, etc.) in the book market is now less effective than it was 4-5 years ago. Everyone uses these promotions, so readers are flooded with free books. Moreover, it’s rumored that Amazon is giving less visibility to free books since the launch of Kindle Unlimited. So why bother with “free” at all?

Well, the key here is that “less effective” doesn’t mean totally ineffective. It has been proven, time and again, that your free book will receive more traffic from Amazon than at $0.99, $2.99, or any other price. Free maximizes your reach. So if the sole purpose of your book is to drive discoverability and act as a hook for the rest of your books, free is still the best way to achieve that.

In the words of Nick Stephenson:

“Selling books is like any other online business, you need two things: traffic, and conversion (turning traffic into customers).

Perma-free is a wonderful way to get traffic because you can get 50x to 100x more downloads on a book if it is free, compared to if it was even 99c. Then, if you’re smart about it, you can find ways to convert that traffic into paying customers.”

Tip: Take a look at how the top indie authors in your genre use free. Do they have perma-frees at the start of their series? Do they give away a book (or several) as a mailing list magnet? Do they run free promotions?

8. You’re trying to do everything on your own

Even if you manage to focus your activities on one or two channels that actually work, there will still be lots of peripheral activities to take care of, marketing wise. You still have to update the website, keep in touch with your readers (whether that’s through social or newsletters), track and analyze your sales, run price promotions, research categories and keywords, etc.

If you have just the one book, that’s fine — you can do all that on your own. Once you start growing your catalog, though, you’ll soon be overwhelmed and struggle to keep your focus. It often takes authors time to recognize that they just can’t do everything on their own, and they wait until things really get out of hand until they decide to trust someone else to handle some of it.

Tip: Once you reach that point in your career, have a think about what you do and don’t want to do, then consider outsourcing the latter to a professional. Depending on what you want the other person to handle, you should hire either:

  • A virtual assistant to take care of all your simple but time-consuming tasks, like filtering your email inbox, answering fans on social media, updating your website and books’ backmatter when you release a new title, etc. More about virtual assistants here.
  • A professional book marketer to help you scale and automate your marketing efforts. Depending on their area of expertise, a marketer can help you set up and run advertising campaigns, build your mailing list, or work with you on the marketing plan for each new title. More about book marketers here.

Which of these traps have you encountered while self-publishing? Or do you disagree, and think that they’re not mistakes at all? Let us know what you think and share your experiences marketing your book in the comments below.

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  • Great tips. Thanks! Especially about the cover design. If I’m self conscious about how my writing looks on paper, how more so would I feel uneasy about someone judging my cover art!

    • Glad you enjoyed the tips! We’re currently preparing a long-form piece on cover design for the Reedsy blog, because we’re seeing too many authors getting it completely wrong… There’s so much bad advice out there, and it can be hard to find the right professional designer for your story and your genre.

  • There’s this misconception that email marketing is outdated. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Opt-in newsletter subscribers want to receive your content and it’s a great way to reach your audience.

    • Completely agree, Kristen! Being able to communicate with your readers in a way that feels more personal (but that you can also accomplish at scale), should not be overlooked.

  • Lots of good points. With no direction in marketing and no email list, I suppose it is bound to be a flop!

    • Absolutely. Thanks for the comment!

  • Rajaratnam Abel

    Thanks for the very practical ideas. Applying them is not going to be easy. You have given the steps to follow.

  • Dainis

    Thanks for the article! Taking a lot with me!
    One only question regarding email providers – is Mailchimp really the best choice? I have heard very good words about their alternatives like Mailerlite (www.mailerlite.com/ ) and Convertkit (https://convertkit.com/ ) – have you tried any of these? For lists more than 2K they’re definitely more cost friendly and in functionality they don’t fall behind.

    • I’ve heard good things about ConvertKit, yes. And about Aweber as well. I personally prefer Mailchimp’s interface, but it’s up to you to make your choice based on UX, price and functionalities. I’m working on a Reedsy Learning course on mailing lists right now and will be comparing the different options in there 🙂