This is the preface to my revised book marketing guide, download the free PDF.
Publish a book with recognizable value…
When authors ask me about innovative ways to market their books, I usually tell them to focus on the basics: make sure their book is good, and it’s something people want to read. Make sure it’s got a nice cover, has been edited and formatted. Make sure the sales page has a killer description that hooks attention and creates desire to read the book, and make sure there are about a dozen reviews on it (positive or negative doesn’t matter so much as long as it’s balanced).
And most authors ignore me and start marketing anyway.
There’s a one-star review of this book on Amazon, and it basically says the author didn’t like my book because I suggest investing some money into making a good product — and because she hasn’t made any money with her books, she feels that’s bad advice. She’s right: if you spend money making your book into a nice product, you aren’t guaranteed to be successful.
But here’s the other thing: if you don’t spend money making your book into a nice product, your chances of failure will be much higher, and you’ll never know if you don’t try. That said, all the tips and suggestions I advocate in this book will cost you hundreds of dollars less than the average publishing costs of the main self-publishing companies. Getting it right doesn’t have to be expensive.
So let me slow down and make sure you understand this: if you have an unprofessional book cover, a mediocre book description, zero reviews, and you are trying to market your book, you are wasting your time and throwing your money away. This step cannot be skipped. You may be tempted to skim down to the “marketing” stuff, because you think “Oh I’ve already done all that, it’s fine. People like my cover. I wrote my description myself and I think it’s pretty good. My mom says she loves my book. What’s next?”
But here’s why it should demand your full consideration: book design is not just making the book pretty. It’s so much more. It’s about doing the research, and figuring out your audience. It’s about knowing what they like and dislike; what they’re reading; what they’re buying and sharing; and using all that data to decide who to present your book to them in a way that seizes interest and triggers their already-established emotional responses.
Because here’s the thing: you’ll never have the opportunity to stand there and talk about your book for 5 minutes. Nobody will listen to you. Nobody cares. If they’re scrolling the internet, half-dazed, stuffed with fried chicken and donuts, phone and one hand and Netflix remote in the other, you don’t have their full-attention. At best you have a tiny fraction. They aren’t listening. They aren’t paying attention. They aren’t deciding. They are reacting, not choosing. Your book cover and hook needs to slap them into awareness. You have to pattern-interrupt. And then, once they’re paying attention and leaning in, you can slow reveals another sentence, then two.
Maybe you can get them to click a link and if the page loads quickly, if the book seems interesting, if there are enough glowing reviews, then they might bookmark the page and come back to it. They might one-click add it to their cart. Or they may heave a sigh of existential ennui and go back to scrolling, and forget all about you and your book (in which case, keep showing up, because a few more subtle interactions may increase the final outcome. Don’t assume the hard no is final, assume it’s a not now but try back later. The rule of thumb in business is, keep following up until they block you.
Packaging is not just about book design. It’s the why.
- Who will read it, and why
- What to entice them with
- How to turn them into real supportive fans
- How to make your book convert profitably
As Ryan Holiday writes in Perennial Seller,
This one thing will make all the difference, and is the recurring theme of this book. You can’t expect people to buy, appreciate or enjoy your book as a favor to you, because you worked hard on it, because you’ve been friends for a long time and you watched their cat once. You have to understand specifically who your audience is and the value that they’ll actually be getting. It’s your job to figure out the value and benefits of your book, not theirs. If they don’t buy it, it’s your fault, not theirs: either they aren’t the right audience or they didn’t see the value because you aren’t communicating it. Luckily, that’s a fixable problem!
Unfortunately, there are very real limitations and challenges to getting it right, which is why we’re going to discuss the process in detail throughout this section.
Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, book cover design can be expensive, and not everyone can afford it. But I’m going to share some tips and resources that will help you get a decent cover, at any price, even if you DIY. Secondly, however, most authors self-sabotage their book design by making predictable, easily avoided mistakes, which have nothing to do with design skills or ability, and everything to do with stubborn opinions about book design that have nothing to do with the market. I will try my best to educate you, but you’re the only person who can choose to listen. In case you don’t believe me, here are a few more quotes from marketing experts:
“When it comes to attracting an audience, the creators who take the time to get their positioning and packaging right — who don’t just go with their first instinct and hope — are the ones who will win.” — Ryan Holiday
“Don’t fix the marketing first; fix your product. Once you’ve got a good product to talk about, the marketing’s going to flow from that.” — Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company’s social media chief
“Make sure that your book is amazing, and professionally edited with a professional cover design. Spend money on this because all the marketing in the world won’t sell a crappy book.” Joanna Penn, How to Market a Book
“It is never the case that people will tell their friends because you want them to, or because you asked them to, or because you worked hard. Give them a why. And that usually involves changing what you offer. Make things better by making better things.” Seth Godin, This is Marketing
First, you need to have a written a book people enjoy reading. Most authors not only fail to do this, but are openly aghast at the idea: their creative ideology offended that anyone suggest something as banal as considering the market.
Second, you need a product that immediately communicates the benefits of the book to the audience who is actively seeking it. You want to remove as much friction as possible. You’ll never have the chance to explain, to defend you choice of cover or title, or how good the book is despite having no reviews.
If you have a great cover, a great blurb, the genre or topic is attractive, timely, in-demand, and the benefits are clear and obvious, and you have enough positive social proof, then you won’t need to “sell” your book. Any kind of consideration about marketing, promotion, visibility, is all a waste of time, because your conversion will be near zero. With a zero-conversion, nothing you do will matter, because zero x zero = zero.
But with a few tweaks and improvements, you may be able to get up to a 1% conversion. Now we’re talking. For every 100 views, we might get a sale. Now it’s just a numbers game: can we afford to reach 100 new readers, for less than the profit we’ll make on that one sale? Most probably, we can’t, at least with advertising, but we could with free strategies like blogging, or join author promotions.
But imagine how much easier things would be if, rather than focusing on getting more views, we focused on increasing conversion up to 5%. 10%. 20%. How much easier and cheaper would it be to stay profitable?
A lot. And that’s the point.
This is an excerpt from my free book marketing guide; download the full book and learn how to launch a bestseller.
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.