Let me tell you a secret: it’s not that difficult to hit #1 on Amazon with a well-structured book launch if you choose your categories well. I’ve done it dozens of times, and it can take as little as 20 sales to get your orange “bestseller” sticker. It might sound impressive, but it won’t put food on the table. The real trick is to keep your book on the first page of its category, in the top 20 books, for long-term visibility and sustainable income. Plus, Amazon’s recent crackdown of KU scammers means that even legitimate book promotion services can get your book delisted and penalized, as I wrote in this article:
“The Death of Book Promotion.”
But that shouldn’t stop you from attempting the best book launch possible: so here’s a list of book marketing tips, along with a simple 10-step book launch plan you can use to outrank bestselling authors. Keep in mind there is no “perfect” launch and it really depends on the size of your platform (for a new authors with no platform, I would focus on listbuilding, organic traffic and building a following. Obscurity is the real enemy.) Once you’ve built a platform, it’s much easier to launch books and get people to pay for them.
11 Battle-Tested Book Marketing Tips
#1. Remove barriers to resistance (price, design, social trust)
There are two ways to get people to buy: increase desire to overcome resistance, or remove the resistance. If you have hundreds of reviews (or just a few from famous people), a stellar website with amazing design, powerful sales copy, a perfect book cover and you get mentioned on high traffic sites, you may be able to start earning right away. But if you’re starting with none of that and are just putting your book on Amazon, it’s going to be difficult to get anyone to trust you. Make it easier for them to take a risk on your book by lowering the price – or making it free. Great design and reviews help a lot as well, and that’s something you can always be improving. But making a book free or permafree continues to be the single most powerful form of online marketing. It doesn’t have to be your main book – maybe write a prequel or a short novella or something ‘else’ that’s between 10,000 and 20,000 words, and make it free to get people aware of you.
*Many authors avoid this technique because they think it “devalues literature” or “teaches readers not to pay for books.” Don’t let your assumptions about reader behavior dictate how you market your books. I used free and permafree books to build a large platform of fans quickly – now my books stick on Amazon and rank well with zero promotion. If your book isn’t selling, rather than wasting more time or money on one-off tactics, use low pricing or free books + promotions to increase conversions. Free readers are better than NO readers.*
2. Make people like you by being human. Authenticity. Failure. Relatability.
Start with who you are and what you have. Put yourself out there. Tell stories. Blog. Put your real picture up. Reveal yourself. People can’t know and like you if you’re hiding behind a pen name or a brand or business. It’s much easier to build relationships if you’re a person. Videos are amazing for this; after a year of stalling I’m finally pushing through my insecurities and uploading videos to YouTube. It makes me feel vulnerable, but I know it will also let my fans get closer to me (my videos actually have half a million views already – since so few authors are using YouTube, it’s been pretty easy to get ahead).
3. Offer something extra for free to get optins, that’s valuable.
You need to grow your email list. You should always have an offer that will appeal to your target readers. It doesn’t have to be long – a short PDF can often work better than a free book. Research and compile “25 greatest heroines of contemporary dystopian romance” or “30 amazing science fiction inventions that are now a reality.” Think of something that appeals to readers who will enjoy your book. Put it together. It will work better than “join now for updates!” You should have an offer at the back of every book. Check out this list of bad-ass optin bribe ideas.
4. Have a decent website or landing page (important).
I have seen some UGLY author websites. In my estimation, the majority of authors are design impaired. Or perhaps, they have an artistic sense but simply no technical abilities. A blank slate is not what you want. Never give yourself total freedom. Pick a clean, professional WordPress theme, get a simple text logo made on Fiverr.com (or 99designs if you want to spend more). Then leave the rest alone. Your book cover should be the most beautiful thing on your website. Don’t distract or confuse. Present all the information clearly and have specific call to actions (buy buttons). Don’t spend a lot of time messing around with your website to get it how *you* want it. What you like doesn’t matter – all that matters is readers can find the book, and your website steers them towards the action you want them to take. Here’s a list of 99 recommended WordPress themes for authors.
I also have a free video series on setting up an author website at www.authoridentity.com.
5. Build relationships by giving away even more great content in your email autoresponder.
An autoresponder is a pre-written set of emails that are sent out after someone joins your list (like this one).
I’m still figuring them out. I’m not an expert. I get a lot of traffic, and I offer some great stuff for free. By the end of 2014 I had over 10,000 subscribers, but I hadn’t built up a relationship with them. They just wanted the free stuff and didn’t know who I was. At the beginning of 2017 I had about 70,000 subscribers, and I just deleted 30,000 of them. You want people to sign up, but you also need to keep them engaged. Think about what kind of series you can offer (for fiction writers, can you serialize a short story – 5,000 words a week? It may also keep you on task! And when you finish you can publish the book and start again).
You can also send book recommendations, things you’re reading, or anything else that your followers may be interested in. What you don’t want to do is just keep asking them to buy your book. Focus on providing value. I have a video series for setting up Mailchimp that might help you.
6. Write MORE books (it gives you more power).
Most of this stuff isn’t going to work very well if you only have one book. For non-fiction, a book is usually just the platform so you can sell other things (services or high priced classes or speaking engagements). Though I do have some friends making a lot of money with non-fiction books, they have almost 50!
I make about $100 a month from each of my non-fiction books, but about $1000 a month from my fiction. Although I’m still pretty early in my writing career, I know the faster I put out new books, the more money I’ll earn. In order to write faster, I recently built a site for doing writer sprints with other authors. Marketing just one book, however, is an uphill battle. So if you aren’t seeing the results you want, maybe set the first book to permafree and start working on another.
7. Get more traffic (better content on bigger blogs).
The easiest way to get more traffic to your website is to post content on bigger websites with more traffic. Some sites are free to use, like Hubpages or Medium. Others will accept guest posts if you pitch them and the content is good. Focus on appearing on the blogs or websites where your ideal readers are hanging out. Research keywords related to your niche or genre and make a list of the top 25 sites that keep showing up in the search results. Then figure out how you can get published on those sites. (Podcasts are also exploding right now, if you can get interviewed by any).
8. Strategic Partnering to share platforms (see how you can help others).
This is actually my favorite, and probably the most important. Focus on creating a network of authors in your genre or niche. Seek them out. There are probably a hundred self-published authors out there trying to promote books similar to yours (or thousands, more likely). Build a platform or event for them to share and promote their work. Give them the opportunity to gain visibility for their books. You’ll be helping them, and creating a much bigger event/platform, and everybody will drive their own followers to it, resulting in something much bigger that you’ll be able to participate in. Start locally: make a Facebook page called “(Genre) writers of (City).” Then send invites to all the authors you want to connect with. If you can get 50 personal finance authors of Portland Oregon together on a Facebook group, collectively you’d have a lot of clout.
I did this recently by building the YA Author’s Alliance. I also giveaway a package of similar books for each book I launch, and let those authors know about the giveaway.
9. Earn social karma by focusing on helping others.
Never ask for anything until you’ve given something (a promise of future gifts doesn’t work).
Read other author’s books and leave them reviews. You can let them know you’ve reviewed it and enjoyed it. You can let them know you wrote a book as well… but don’t demand a ‘fair trade.’ Go out of your way to shower benevolence on anybody you can help in any small way. Do so consistently and you will build up a tribe of loyal followers and friends.
10. Optimize Amazon to get found (important, but not enough by itself).
The secret to Amazon or any other book sites are these:Research keywords (I use KDPRocket)Find out what people are searching for.See if you can use those search terms in your title or subtitle.Add them into your description also.Bonus points for adding them in bold, or in a checklist.Put your book in very targeted, minor categories.Choose your categories by looking at the top 1st and 20th book in categories where you find books similar to yours. You need to show up on page one of the categories you’re in, so you need a sales rank higher than the 20th book. It will be much easier to show up there if the 20th book has a high sales rank (over 100K for example). It’s better to show up in a category that’s not competitive, than it is to be invisible in a more competitive category. Amazon doesn’t really let you select all its categories, but you can set them by using the right keywords, or contacting customer support. There’s a list of categories here.
11. Create content.
Write the type of articles that would be enjoyed by your readers; post some on your blog and others on bigger sites. You can use the “WordPress title generator” plugin to brainstorm hundreds of powerful blog post titles related to your keyword. Spend an hour and make a list of 100 titles, then write 1 a day for three months. You need a lot of content to start getting traffic. Unless, you just have a powerful optin offer in your site and go straight to guest posting on major sites with lots of traffic. But that means you have to keep writing new content all the time. Write 100 articles for your blog and you’ll get natural traffic coming straight to you for years to come.
I wrote a whole big post about making an author website that attracts readers here.
I built my platform around the idea of evergreen, long-term organic traffic, so I don’t need to pay to access anyone else’s audience and mine finds me naturally – however a lot of authors aren’t interested in blogging and just want the greatest launch possible with the least amount of effort or expense. If that’s you, check out this post: A simple 10-step book launch plan you can easily use to outrank bestselling authors. You can also check out this hour-long presentation on book launches I made for my private community, it’s full of valuable tips you won’t find anywhere else.
I wrote a book called Guerrilla Publishing with some of the more advanced book marketing tactics I discovered while promoting my own books… which resulted in over 24,000 books sold (well past 100K now).
For a limited time, you can grab the book for free and also get an actionable companion workbook.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.