How to Market a Book: 8 Fundamental Steps
It’s an undeniable truth that if you want to be an author these days, you need to know how to market a book. It’s also true that marketing is one of the tasks that will stress authors out the most.
We’ve talked before about the many ways you can go about marketing your book, but today we’re going to break down what exactly book marketing is — and what really drives its success.
At its core, marketing a book is about communicating why people should want to buy your product, and giving them an easy way to do so. Put that way, it doesn’t sound so scary, does it? As with anything else, the complexity is in the details. But if you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed by all there is to do, take a breath and remember to focus on these eight fundamentals of how to market a book.
Step 1: Do your market research
Of course, your writing is your passion project, but by listing your book for sale, you’re also turning it into a product. And while the writing can be as artistic as you like, you’re going to need to focus on the business side as well if you want to reach your audience.
To that end, before you even start writing your book, you should make sure you concretely know what kind of book you want to write, and more importantly: who will want to read it? The answers to these two questions will inform everything about your marketing strategies.
Let’s start with how you can ensure you’re properly acquainted with your chosen genre(s).
Take a minute to browse Amazon as a reader. What kinds of books are selling best in the genres you’re interested in? What do they have in common, not just in content, but in their covers, titles, and book descriptions — and what do they avoid? Is there a niche genre that interests you, that would allow you to gain greater visibility than if you were going against the biggest bestsellers?
And if you’re writing nonfiction, make sure to get a sense of not only the kind of titles you’ll be competing with, but also the content they’re providing. What are their opinions, and how much detail do they go into? How are the books generally organized — are they workbooks, self-help, or in-depth analyses? Write all your observations down, so that you can refer back to them later.
Once you have a sense of what you’d like to write about, it’s time to focus on who reads those genres. Consider the demographics of their average reader: what kind of income level do they have, how quickly do they read books, and what are some of their other common interests?
By doing this, you’re going to start to construct what’s called a “reader avatar” — a stand-in personality that you can refer to when making all your future marketing decisions. Then, whenever you decide to try something new, ask yourself what would be the best way to reach that person. After all, the best marketing strategy is specific; trying to market everyone will mean that you’ll reach no one.
We have a whole course on exactly how to build and use a reader avatar, so sign up for that below if you’d like to know more.
Step 2: Make sure you have the right product for your market
Now that you know what your target readers look like, you’re going to need to deliver a quality product that matches — or better yet, exceeds — their expectations. And when it comes to marketing a book, the first step is, of course…
Write a book that speaks to your audience
Remember that market research you just did? It’s time to put it to work. Every genre and category, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, is going to have its own rules about what sells best and what readers prefer. Look back at your research notes, and ask yourself if you’ve matched the bestsellers in your field when it comes to:
- Tone and overall style
- Structure and story arcs
- Character types
- Popular tropes
- Type and density of information
If there’s anything that’s lacking, now’s the time to shore it up! And if you’re ever not sure whether your work’s on-target, a developmental editor with a background in your genre will be able to assess your marketability and steer you back in the right direction.
Make it pretty
Let’s be honest, people will judge your book by its cover. As such, your cover is one of the most important parts of your marketing package: it will appear everywhere, from Amazon search results, to the ads you buy, to banners that announce your author visits.
A good cover is no simple matter: it needs to be eye-catching, readable at small sizes, and correctly convey a sense of what kind of book is inside. Every genre has its own cover conventions, and matching the feel of the bestsellers in terms of colors, fonts, and overall trends (are they illustrated, do they feature people’s faces, are they stark and simple?) is an easy way to signal to readers that your book will give them what they’re looking for.
That’s a lot to handle, but luckily you don’t need to do it alone if you don’t want to. There are plenty of book cover designers out there to choose from who have spent years perfecting their craft and studying the markets, and who work in a wide range of budgets.
And don't forget about your book's interior! There's a simple answer for that one: the Reedsy Book Editor, a free tool that makes it easy to turn your manuscript into a polished, professional file ready for either ebook or print distribution.
Step 3: Establish your web presence
There’s no getting around it: the world is digital. To have any kind of visibility, you’re going to need a solid internet presence — and there really is no such thing as “too early” to start building it. Here are a few ways for you to get the ball rolling:
Build your author website
To set yourself up for success, the first thing you should do is establish your own author website. This will act as the central source for all things you, allowing you to easily direct people to all your books, your social media accounts, your mailing list, and more. Make sure you keep the design clean and easy to navigate — the point is to make it easy for people to find exactly what they’re looking for, namely: your books. And keep it up to date! Too often, writers neglect their site when they release new titles, resulting in out-dated book lists, and thus, frustrated fans.
You can learn more about how to set up a successful author website in this post.
Set up a mailing list
We truly cannot stress the importance of a mailing list enough. Mailing lists are the number one way to grow and reach your fanbase — yes, even in today’s social-media-saturated world — and neglecting to learn how to use it effectively will only lose you sales. Be sure to set up and nurture your list right from the start. And if you’re ever unsure how best to go about that, our free course will walk you through all you need to know.
Create a reader magnet
Once you have the mailing list, the trick, of course, is convincing people to sign up for it. Which is where reader magnets come in handy.
A reader magnet is something you offer for free to new subscribers. It can be anything from a short story, to a workbook, to a checklist, to a whole book — though it should always be something that ties into the books that you’re trying to sell (for example, a prequel novella to your main series). This lets new readers get a taste of the kind of content you’re offering while rewarding existing fans for their loyalty to you and your work. Reader magnets are the most effective way to grow a mailing list, so be sure to have one ready as soon as you start asking for sign-ups!
Step 4: Learn the secrets of Amazon
Amazon is a kingpin in the publishing world. Even if you decide to "sell wide" and build up your presence across multiple retailers, you'll still be making most of your sales through Amazon. Learn how to use it well and climb the ranks to the right level of visibility, and Amazon will even take over part of your marketing efforts for you (for free!) by automatically suggesting your books to readers in your genre. Interested? Here are a few points you want to keep in mind to maximize your Amazon marketing power.
Build your book page
A strong book page is the cornerstone of your Amazon sales strategy, as this is the time when readers will decide if they’re going to follow through and actually buy your book. To make sure you really capture their interest, you’ll need to optimize your page. This means starting with a book description that will hook readers with a catchy premise, a conflict, or a character they’ll fall in love with; or, for nonfiction, by showcasing your expertise or the burning questions that your book will answer.
You’ll also want to pay careful attention to your categories and keywords to really zero-in on your target readers. The key is to find categories and keywords that are both true to your book, as well as being in the “sweet spot”: not so obscure that nobody is looking for books in them, but not so big that you’re drowned out by all the New York Times bestsellers. After all, you’ll have a far easier time convincing people to buy your book if you draw in the kind of readers who are already looking for what you’ve written.
You can learn more about what it’s like to set up your book page, and how to select the right keywords and categories in our guide to Kindle Direct Publishing.
Consider KDP Select
One important factor all authors must take into account is whether or not they want to participate in Amazon’s KDP Select program. KDP Select offers self-published authors many benefits, including participation in Kindle Unlimited and the ability to easily run price promotions, but it does require a 90-day exclusivity period with Amazon. Our post on the subject breaks down the pros and cons in more detail. Even if you don’t end up enrolling, it’s still an important marketing opportunity that should be carefully considered.
Customize your Amazon Author page
And don’t forget to optimize your Amazon Author Central page. After all, since you’re going to be driving lots of traffic to your book page, you might as well capture some of that interest for yourself as an author and your future work. Include an incentive in your author bio, and you may even be able to build your mailing list straight from Amazon.
Set up pre-orders for a powerful launch
Did you know that the success of a book is typically determined within the first 30 days of its launch? To make sure you start off strong, you’re going to need to start marketing well before the release date. And since you’re already promoting your book, why not take advantage of that early interest and turn it directly into sales?
Pre-orders allow you to climb the sales rank early, propelling you up the charts before you’ve even started. Plus, it’s a chance to adjust your categories, keywords, and book description before launch day, allowing you to find precisely what works. With all this combined, your book is much more likely to have the start — and success — it deserves.
Now that you’re getting some early visibility, it’s time to talk about how to keep that going and really maximize your launch.
Step 5: Start building visibility and getting street cred
By this point, you've got a product that matches the market, and you've set up avenues where people can buy your book and connect with you. Early hype is great, but don’t think you can rest yet! Now it’s time to get out there and really make a name for yourself.
Network with other authors
The first people you can start reaching out to are your greatest allies of all: other writers. Far from being your competition, these people will often become your greatest champions. After all, they know what it’s like, and can offer support and encouragement, as well as become trusted business partners. Newsletter swaps — that is, each of you promoting the other’s sale or new release in your own newsletters — are a great way for both authors to gain exposure with new audiences. Or join together with multiple authors, and you can run a shared sale where each of you put a book on discount (or even available for free), and all promote the whole event at once!
Start landing those reviews — the sooner, the better
Let’s face it, a book with little or no reviews will never be a bestseller, no matter how good it is. Getting customer reviews early is crucial to the success of your book. To that end, you’ll want to focus on two things: getting early copies into the hands of readers, and encouraging your first batch of readers to leave reviews.
In both cases, your mailing list will be essential (see why we stress the importance of it so much?). Reach out to your readers to see if anyone is interested in receiving an Advanced Reader Copy, and encourage them to give you an honest review on release day. Then, once your book is out in the world, remind your readers again of the power that they have to help make this book a success — just by leaving a simple, one-line review on Amazon.
Try new things
There are tons of ways to gain visibility for your book. In fact, we have a whole list of them. The important thing with marketing is to stay flexible and open-minded. Experiment with different tactics; keep what works, and discard what doesn’t quite land for you. And if you ever need a little help, take some courses, or reach out and contact the pros directly. The marketers available at Reedsy are always happy to offer their advice.
Step 6: Become an advertising whiz
The old adage is true: you have to spend money to make money. The days where you could just put your book on Amazon, sit back, and wait for the sales to pour in without an advertising campaign are long gone. Thankfully, there are lots of different advertising options available to authors, but you’ll need to familiarize yourself with them so you know what works — and what doesn’t.
Advertise on Amazon and Facebook
The first things you’re going to want to know how to use are Amazon and Facebook ads. Amazon ads display on both the product page of other books, as well as in the search results when people are browsing. They’re a powerful way to reach people who are already looking to spend money on books, and using them correctly can really boost your sales.
Facebook ads, meanwhile, appear on, well, Facebook. They can be used to sell your book directly, but they’re also a powerful way to advertise your mailing list’s reader magnet to gain more subscribers. Or you can run multiple ads at once, targeting different users, to see what works best for your books.
Reedsy has free courses on both of these powerful advertising venues, so be sure to sign up for your first one today.
Put your books on sale
The other advertising tactic all authors should know is how to run a successful price promotion. By putting your books on sale and running ads through book promotion services such as Bookbub, you’re able to dramatically raise your sales rank on Amazon and increase visibility, which in turn will drive full-price sales and Kindle Unlimited page reads even after your promotion is over! This is especially effective if you “stack” your promotional efforts — advertising across multiple promo services during the length of your sale to create a powerful advertising punch.
Step 7: Leverage and grow your fanbase
Once you’ve started getting fans, it’s time to build on that. Word of mouth is an enormously powerful marketing tool, and a great way to get people enthusiastic enough to share your book with others is to simply be open and available to your readers.
Engage with your audience
There are endless ways to engage with your readers, and the ones that will work best for you will depend on where you build most of your following. For example, are you primarily on Facebook? Start a private Facebook group for your fans to chat. Do you read a lot of indie books? Your Reedsy Discovery feed is a great place to post polls and updates that your readers can respond to. Maybe you focus mainly on building a robust mailing list? End each newsletter with a question that invites reader feedback.
The important thing is to provide them with opportunities to interact, not just with you but with each other as well. The more your readers feel connected, like part of a community, the more they’ll share their enthusiasm with others.
Form street teams
Your most dedicated fans may even be interested in joining your street team. A street team is a group of readers who provide early feedback, leave honest reviews of your new releases, and generally help raise awareness about you and your books. They’re some of your most valuable assets as an author — treat them well, and they may even have your back for years to come.
Step 8: Scale it up
Just because you get some early success, don’t think you can sit back and rest on your laurels. Success drives further success, but only if you work at it. The best marketers stay up to date on all the latest strategies coming onto the scene and aren’t afraid to experiment, which is why we send out weekly newsletters specifically focused on all the best marketing techniques.
But beyond just keeping informed, there are a few last approaches you should be focusing on, to truly maximize and scale your efforts.
Expand your horizons with a series or universe
Here’s a secret: it takes about the same amount of marketing effort to drive sales of a standalone title as it does the first book in a series — but only the first in a series will get you follow-through to books 2, 3, and beyond.
What this means is that if you really want to harness the power of your marketing, you’ll want to seriously look into growing that one book into a series, or even an expanded universe. It’s simple math — if you sell just one book at $3.99, you’re only making $2.79 after Amazon’s cut. But if you hook a reader and they follow through to purchase all five books in your series, now you’ve made $13.96. Scale that up by 1,000 readers, and suddenly you’re looking at almost $14,000! By comparison, a standalone with the same amount of marketing, sold to a thousand readers, will earn you less than $3,000.
And yes, not every reader is guaranteed to buy all the books in your series. But if you’re going to publish ten books anyway, wouldn’t you rather those ten books helped sell each other, rather than having to market ten individual titles from scratch every time? Series are one of the easiest ways to scale your efforts, as they allow you to condense your marketing strategy, freeing up more of your time to write still more books. And the more books you write, the more books you have to sell, and the more you can earn.
Assemble a team of professionals
Keep it up, and eventually, if all goes well, you may even find yourself too successful — with more marketing work to do, and not enough time to do it. Which, if you think about it, isn’t a bad problem to have at all! But if that’s the case, you can easily outsource some of your work to a marketing professional. Marketers can help you brainstorm how to take your business to the next level and lay out exactly what steps you’ll need to take to get there. Meanwhile, a good publicist will spread the word by getting you and your books featured on bigger media outlets and help you craft your “message” to better sell yourself and your work. With hard work and the right people on your team, there’s no reason to think you won’t be able to achieve your dreams. Good luck!
What are the most important tools in your marketing toolbox? Do you have any sure-fire tips to boost your sales rank? Let us know in the comments!