During my first few months as an author, I despaired over the book I was writing. How will I reach people and convince them to read this? Could I pay a publisher to print my book and market it?
In retrospect, not only am I embarrassed that I contemplated such a silly idea but also that I fell into despair.
Despair is an unhelpful emotion. Not to downplay the aggravation and heartache that marketing causes authors—we’ve all felt it—but once we accept marketing as part of the process and press onward, we’ll experience small triumphs that will turn into bigger successes.
Marketing a book is manageable and can actually be fun. In this article, I’ll cover the basics of building a platform and how to efficiently grow an audience.
Your Home Base
An email list is generally considered the best asset an author can have for two reasons:
- It enables you to stay in touch with your audience and release book after book to the same people. Otherwise some readers might buy your debut novel, then forget you exist. At peak performance, my emails have had a 70% open rate, and my average is close to 50%. Moreover, email lists don’t require extensive effort to maintain. Many authors only send out updates once a month.
- You can potentially sell several copies of your book within a short time. A sales spike triggers the algorithms on Amazon and other online stores, telling them your book is popular. This will prompt retailers to display your book high in search results, leading to multiple organic sales and, ultimately, a career. The technicalities of how to accomplish this are beyond my expertise and this article’s scope, but it is important to learn.
When building an email list, keep in mind that quality trumps quantity. Gathering 2,000 avid fans will produce better results than 10,000 people who are only mildly interested in your writing. I’ve heard of people with 3,000 subscribers launching a book to the top 100 on Amazon, which requires about 1,000 sales in one day. Although 3,000 subscribers may still seem intimidating, you can achieve that number relatively quickly.
Expanding Your Email List
There are, of course, 1,001 ways to grow an email list. However, I’m not going to outline all of them. I’ll just share the methods that have worked for me and/or successful authors I follow.
Step One: Create a freebie that a large percentage of people will subscribe to your email list to get. E-books and quizzes (like our Writing Craft Quiz here at Story Embers) can be effective as evergreen offers, because you can drive traffic to them any time. Limited-time offers, such as virtual summits, surveys, giveaways, multi-author boxset launches, and e-courses, are another option. These entail a short-term marketing push and tend to render an even higher volume of signups. (If you have any questions about these offers and how they function, feel free to post a question in the comments.)
Step Two: Form partnerships. An enticing offer is pointless if no one ever hears about it. You can easily extend your reach by connecting with people who have a following and persuading them to share your offer.
A partnership is a relationship where you and another person want to help each other. This individual could be a close friend, a fellow author who has a similar-sized audience and interests, or someone who promotes you in exchange for a commission (in this case you’d need an upsell—research upsells and affiliate marketing if you’re unfamiliar with them).
Here are two tips on how to begin fostering mutually beneficial relationships:
- Interact with people. Comment on their blogs, participate in forum discussions, chat with them at conferences, etc. Get to know them before asking if they’d be willing to team up with you.
- Reciprocate favors, and be creative. I’ve gotten people to pass along surveys just by promising to publicize the results in return. I also once provided a writing lesson to The Young Writers Workshop in exchange for them promoting a free course I was offering on my own platform.
You don’t necessarily need partners to draw traffic, however. Some readers may be so interested in your work that they’ll endorse it even if they hardly know you, although this isn’t especially common. If your novel is about a single mom, bloggers who write about that subject would probably jump at the opportunity to share it.
Step Three (optional): Use paid ads. This can replace or complement Step Two. The catch is that you must have an upsell to cover costs. I haven’t personally attempted this yet (though I hope to soon), but others have succeeded at it, simultaneously earning money and building their email list rapidly.
Converting Your Efforts into Numbers and Sales
Once you know how and where to drive traffic, you need to understand conversions, which constitute half of everything you must focus on in marketing.
Pretend you have a magic wand you can wave and send 1,000 internet users wherever you wish. You decide to transport them to the offer you created to generate email signups. Usually 40% of visitors subscribe, so you gain 400 followers. Hooray! However, this magic wand can only be used once a year (because people won’t normally flood your website every day). By the time the next year rolls around, you’ve improved the page’s design and revamped the sales pitch. Now your page converts at 80%, and you get 800 subscribers.
Small changes equal a huge difference.
Conversions matter whenever you’re trying to amass subscribers or sell a book. You’ll likely want to prepare a landing page for optimum results. I recommend OptimizePress, which I used to build my own landing page. I also encourage you to research conversions on your own. Read articles on the subject and join Facebook groups or forums with other authors to get critiques on your landing pages.
Optimizing your Amazon sales page is beneficial as well. I’ll give you a brief overview:
- Release a stunning book cover. No four-star cover for your masterpiece! It should look as appealing as the bestsellers in your genre. You probably won’t obtain a truly professional cover on Fiverr, but some skilled designers charge under $100.
- Accumulate as many five-star reviews as possible.
- Price your product at the amount customers would expect to pay for similar books (or lower).
- Craft an intriguing synopsis. This is perhaps as vital as your cover, since it’s predominantly the bait that compels a curious buyer to pull out his credit card. I highly recommend How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen, which will coach you through the task.
- Make sure your bio is engaging and your headshot is professional.
I hope I’ve instilled in you an urgency for learning how to convert sales and offers as highly as possible. The internet boasts plenty of resources for you to delve further into the matter, and the small effort it takes could double the effectiveness of all your other efforts.
What’s Holding You Back?
With all the marketing gurus in the world (many of whom are much smarter than I am), you may have heard some of my advice before. But perhaps you’re still stuck. If I may be so bold, the system isn’t the problem. You can be familiar with the best marketing strategies yet fail to make any progress because you’re either overeager or insecure.
No amount of marketing will compensate for a book that’s inferior in quality. At least not in the long run. You can judge whether your manuscript is ready for publication by considering the following:
- Your work has been reviewed and approved by a professional editor or published author you respect.
- You’re proficient at explaining the principles of good writing, and you can analyze almost anything in a novel and identify weaknesses.
- You’ve read 100+ exceptional books like The Great Gatsby, The Ball and the Cross, The Book Thief, The Silmarillion, Mistborn,
- Most complete strangers who read stories similar to yours give your book a positive rating.
Another reason you might not be advancing is because you’re afraid. Shockingly, it’s easy to claim a method doesn’t work when you’ve never tried it or only tried it once. When you begin to view yourself as a professional author, your outlook will change. That’s who you are, but the key is proving your commitment through practical measures. Imagine how you would prepare if you planned to open a successful coffee shop. Now, ask yourself if you’re as dedicated with your author career.
Money is one area where writers treat themselves less than professionally. They’re reluctant to invest in their careers. This is understandable. Many don’t believe they’ll ever earn any income from writing, but of course they can.
Someday I want to create a meme, and on the top will be a composed writer with the caption, “I’ve decided to spend $40,000 and four years pursuing a creative writing degree that will do little to establish my author career. I feel that this is a responsible, safe route.” On the bottom, the same writer will be screaming in abject horror, “You expect me to spend $99 on a writing course? That’s insane!”
Though this is an exaggeration, I’ve sensed this sort of spirit among writers, and I suspect it stems from the fairy-tale dreaminess of believing anything can happen until the moment people take a serious step toward their goals. As long as they can postpone their dreams, they don’t have to be stressed out. As long as they don’t have to head to battle, they’re content to sit and polish their armor, sure that someday the dragon will be defeated. But this will eventually leave them disappointed.
A Final Challenge
This article has covered a lot of ground.
Or has it?
Is ground really covered if you don’t act on what you’ve learned?
Here’s your assignment: choose one tip from this article that fits the stage you’re at—whether developing a professional mindset, optimizing your landing page, creating a highly converting offer, or finding partners—then post your goal in the comments.
Once you’ve accomplished your goal, send me an email! I’d love to hear your success story!
Many moons ago, a series of suspiciously providential events led Daeus to cast his lot among the worldwide community of Christian storytellers. Since then, no reports indicate that he has come back out. Perhaps he is lost among those fine gallivanters forever. Rest in peace, Daeus Lamb.
Daeus dreams impossibly large (which doesn’t bother him a bit) and tends to bite off more than he can chew. Watch this in action as he tries to capture the depths of the fantasy genre on his YouTube channel, or as he seeks to express the meaning of life in just a short novelette. (Psst. It’s a popular little book called God of Manna and you can get it for free here.)