5 Simple Marketing Strategies for First-Time Authors
Brent Jones recently gave up his freelance career as a social media manager to pursue creative writing full-time. At the end of this past February, he published his debut novel, The Fifteenth of June, and in the following month, Brent has been focused on what he knows to be an equally important part of an author's job: marketing. In this article, he shares 5 simple marketing strategies that all first-time authors can (and should!) try, and how his efforts have already started to pay off.
I had the good fortune of hiring Laura Mae Isaacman to edit my book through Reedsy — she worked tirelessly to make my debut release, The Fifteenth of June, as powerful as it could be. But no matter how great a book is, publishing it is only half the battle. For new authors such as myself, it takes a lot of work to market a novel and find our first readers. To quote Amy Collins, author of The Write Way:
“Writing a great book is a basic requirement for simply being allowed a chance to succeed in the marketplace.”
I will be outlining in this post some of the launch strategies I used to market my debut novel.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, and I am not an expert marketer of literary fiction. But there's a lot we can learn from one another, and I hope to start a productive discussion in the comments below.
1. Run a free Kindle promotion
My book — both in paperback and eBook format — is available exclusively through Amazon. I took advantage of their KDP Select program to offer The Fifteenth of June free for three days, from March 6-8, 2017.
The way I see it, there's no better advertising than allowing customers to sample my product. Why spend tons of cash advertising my book when I could save my money and let them read it for free? If my writing doesn't convince a reader to purchase my upcoming releases, nothing will.
So my first marketing initiative was to make my book free, and tell as many people about the promotion as I could. Here are some of the ways I initially reached out to people:
- I listed my freebie in various Facebook groups and on certain subreddits.
- I emailed my friends and family and asked them to check it out.
- I sent the link to thousands of blogging contacts I had on an old mailing list.
But what really worked well was taking advantage of eBook discount sites.
My book was too new and relatively unknown to secure a spot on BookBub — a site that promotes limited-time eBook offers to its millions of email subscribers — so I looked at a number of their competitors. Their fees for promoting my eBook were lower, and their criteria for accepting a new book were not so stringent. I used:
- eBook Soda
- Price Dropped Books
In total, I spent $315 CAD ($225 USD) on these five email blasts, and over the course of my 72-hour free Kindle promotion, I generated 3,649 downloads.
The Fifteenth of June reached #2 in the free literary fiction category on both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca on the first day of the promotion. As of today, I have 11 reviews on Amazon.com (4.8 average), five reviews on Amazon.ca (5.0 average), and 20 ratings on Goodreads (4.1 average) — much better than having zero reviews, which was the case before the promotion.
*Reedsy tip: To learn more about the number one way to increase your book's visibility on Amazon, sign up for the Reedsy Learning course, How to Run a Price Promotion.
2. Donate print copies to libraries and bookstores
While my Kindle freebie was running, I called and emailed local libraries and independent bookstores, offering them free print copies of my book. Most of them agreed to take it.
Getting my book in the hands of independent bookstores (two free copies each) and local libraries (one free copy per branch) — 26 copies in total — cost me about $195 CAD ($140 USD) for printing and shipping.
I also bought some plastic business card holders and asked each independent bookstore if I could leave a small stack of promotional cards by their cash register. Every one of them agreed.
In total, my book can be purchased locally at seven different bookstores and six different libraries.
I've also been booked for four author events at local libraries.
It's tough to measure a return on my investment at this point, but I do believe that getting involved in my community will pay long-term dividends. It also helped me to achieve step three below.
*Reedsy tip: To learn more about the immense potential of getting your book stocked in a library and how self-publishing authors can effectively pitch to librarians, sign up for the Reedsy Learning course, How to Get Your Book into Libraries.
3. Contact local media outlets
Sure, I could have contacted the local press with or without getting my book into libraries and bookstores. But it gave me a new angle: Fort Erie author supports local arts and commerce by donating his debut novel to bookstores and libraries.
I positioned my pitch to local media outlets as an opportunity to discuss the importance of local arts and literacy. And it worked:
snapd Niagara Falls came out to cover my donation to the Niagara Falls Public Library. CogecoTV, the local television station, invited me to appear on their show, What's New? to discuss my book. And I was also interviewed by Niagara This Week, for an article titled, "Fort Erie author pens debut novel."
This step cost me nothing but time, and it gave me some great content to link to on my website, and share on social media. Lastly, the publicity added to my credibility as an author.
4. Reach out to book bloggers
In the week leading up to my Kindle promotion, I scoured the web for reputable book bloggers. They didn't have to have thousands of readers, but they did need to be active on social media, reviewing books in my genre, and accepting new review submissions.
I compiled a list of 108 email addresses, making sure to follow those book bloggers on social media.
I sent a personalized email to each of them while my Kindle promotion was running, politely asking if they would consider reading and reviewing my work. The blogger could take advantage of the free Kindle download, and I would happily send them an EPUB file. Or if he or she happened to live in the United States, I would be willing to send them a free paperback edition.
A total of 10 bloggers agreed to review my book and only four of them requested a paperback, costing me approximately $42 CAD ($30 USD) to print and ship. If those 10 reviews lead to even two Kindle sales each, I’ll have already made a profit.
But even if they don't, those reviews still mean new readers, additional exposure, and backlinks to my website.
At the time I am writing this, no book blogger has published a review just yet — aside from my wife — so I am unable to measure the efficacy of this strategy.
5. Run a giveaway on Goodreads
On the same day I launched my free Kindle promotion, I launched a 12-day giveaway on Goodreads, and 10 lucky people won a print copy of my book. It cost me about $100 CAD ($75 USD) to print and ship those 10 copies — I limited the giveaway to users with mailing addresses in the United States in order to control shipping costs. 685 people entered my giveaway, but more importantly, 300+ users added my book to their to-read shelf. And when a user adds a book to one of his or her shelves, it appears as an update in their feed, meaning their friends on Goodreads can see that they have added my book!
Most of those 10 print copies have been delivered, so it will be interesting to see in the coming weeks how many of those winners read the book, write a review, or recommend it to a friend. One recipient, Denise Levendoski, has already written a glowing review of The Fifteenth of June on Goodreads.
The bottom line?
It's been about a month since I published my book, and I've sold close to 100 copies of my book at regular price, not including revenue generated through the Kindle Unlimited Lending Library.
As far as I'm concerned, I’m off to a great start, considering some of my marketing initiatives, such as reaching out to book bloggers, haven't even begun to pay off. Not to mention that many who downloaded The Fifteenth of June haven't read it yet.
In the meantime, I'm focused on my next novel, which I intend to publish by August. I've heard from other self-published authors that it generally takes four titles to gain some traction. Not true in every case, I suppose, but a fair guideline nonetheless.
It's a tough balancing act — writing and marketing — but both aspects of the job have to be maneuvered in equal measure if we, as writers, hope to be successful author-entrepreneurs.
Have you tried any of Brent's marketing tips? How did they work for you? Or do you have marketing ideas for first-time authors that weren't included in the list? Leave any thoughts, experiences, or questions for Brent in the comments below.