This is the preface to my revised book marketing guide, download the free PDF.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have or will soon have a book out on the market, and are exploring ways to turn it into a best-selling powerhouse that will slaughter the competition and pay for your retirement. The indie publishing world is thrilling because of the possible returns, and I hope you and your book do well.
You’re probably searching for things like “book marketing” and “book promotion” so you can learn how to find readers and convince them to buy your book.
But almost everything you read will be wrong.
That’s because marketing in general is dead. Advertising is dead. Selling and convincing people to buy — also dead. The new law of book sales is this: if you’re talking about your book, promoting your book, sharing your book — you’re screwing it all up.
I had a 30-second Twitter conversation recently with Jonathan Gunson (an expert on “Twitter for Authors”) that went like this:
“Authors who constantly ‘shout’ their books on Twitter and Facebook, and do NOTHING ELSE will soon find themselves ignored.”
I mentioned all the author marketing books I’ve been blazing through, looking for actionable tips and resources for this book — many of which are still giving advice that is “Old School.”
“They’re clueless. Authors need to stop presenting and start connecting.”
Old fashioned book marketers and promoters will say you need to hustle, you need to push, you need to keep getting out there day after day to tweet, like, blog, share, chat and do SEO and lots of other complicated stuff. Recently I’ve also been noticing a lot of bestselling authors put out short little ebooks about how THEY sold a ton of books but are light on practical advice.
Most of them sold a lot of books through sheer force of will and constant soap-boxing and pestering everybody they know… but reached their sales goals (and then wrote a book about book marketing!) Unfortunately, while this kind of marketing can work — sometimes these authors were successful despite some very big flaws in their platform and their marketing campaigns, and it’s hard for them to see what actually worked and what was holding them back.
In self-publishing circles, thought-leaders on book marketing are often tragically inexperienced authors who managed to sell a lot of copies, and hence became “experts” — even if their methods aren’t that great. And their tactics are still being copied and recommended, even though marketing has changed drastically, in just the last year alone! When I look on my Twitter or Facebook feeds, I see ninety-nine authors doing it wrong, and only a few doing it right, which means the advice out there for indie authors isn’t good enough.
But beware: discounting or discrediting an indie author just because they haven’t reached critical success with their own books is also reckless. Of all the honest, reliable purveyors of the self-publishing arena I admire and respect, few of them have managed to make their own books successful, (myself included).
This is usually because writing books is hard, and you need a lot of them, and even if they’re very good, the income alone may not be enough to pay the bills, especially when you throw in the associated costs of a rapidly expanding online platform.
Some of the best in the industry have outdated blogs, unpolished platforms, and a scrappy, authentic brand, complete with occasional typos or missteps. Compare this to the polished and pretty, compelling sales copy of services and sites and personal brands that make huge promises: the bigger the profit margin, the more heavily these vanity presses or online schools can target and acquire new students or clients. Beware the vested interest. Ask yourself, who is presenting this information, and what do they have to gain if I believe them? What are they trying to get me to do, and how much will it cost?
I’m adding this caveat, because I know people sometimes look at me or students who have gone through my courses and posted testimonials (as they should!) and pointed out that we don’t seem to be doing that well. Ignoring the fact that some of my students have gone on to hit the USA Today Bestseller’s list, get featured in Oprah Magazine, or sell thousands of copies a month, I think this is usually a case of distorted expectations. Unlike most other self-proclaimed self-publishing, I’ll never promise you Big Results. For me, if you can sell a hundred books to strangers on your first book launch and get 25+ reviews, that’s a huge win: you’ve cleared all of the first hurdles that the majority of authors never get past, because they set their sights higher and flew straight into the sun; seduced and scorched by the false promises of a more expensive service, course or publishing package.
This leaves many indie authors with a huge chip on their shoulders. They’re invested, but their wings are burning. Whatever publishing packages they’ve bought have expired or stopped replying to emails, the book is launched by flailing, instantly swallowed up by the torrent of new titles flooding Amazon.
And although self-publishing is becoming more and more acceptable, there’s still doubt and skepticism in literary circles. If you tell someone you published a book, they might raise one eyebrow and ask, “Did you really publish it, or did you just self-publish?” This makes indie authors feel like screaming into the void, against an apathetic and cruel world, trying to get the word out and give their book a chance. My book is different, they scream. My book is good.
The first step is a shift in awareness. Don’t start off assuming everyone is against you. But also, don’t assume that anybody gives a shit. When you’re talking about your book, what are you really asking?
That they’ll read it? That they’ll enjoy it? Do they even like books like that? How do you know? That they’ll share or promote it for you? Why would they? When was the last time you supported them publicly? What’s in it for them?
You are owed nothing. Creative people often wrongly assume that because they didn’t write their books for money, because they slaved in ignominy for years, suffering for their achievements, the world owes them support. Because they “creating art” and not “selling out” by writing the popular, plebeian junk that stimulates the masses, they expect others will likewise support and promote their contribution without expecting anything else in return.
This misconception allows for dangerously flawed thinking, and unexpectedly reveals the truth of the situation, that they have created something of no value. Because if it had obvious, recognizable value, authors wouldn’t have to scream or plead or beg. In this book, I hope to show you how to make sure you book sells itself and doesn’t need you there defending or explaining it, but it starts with the realization that real marketing begins with the product, and the product depends on the audience.
It’s nobody else’s job to discover the value in your book, or what it will mean to a particular audience. It has to be baked in, pre-heated, so that the mouth-watering aroma gets people’s attention before they’re even consciously aware of it.
And once the product is recognizably attractive and desirable (it looks and feels respectable, professional and sturdy, while also properly satisfying the reader’s expectations and appetite), all you need to do is get it in front of the right people, with the understanding that not everybody will want it (if you wrote a book for “everybody” that’s your first mistake.)
I’m not asking you to think and act small. Just don’t be the loudest voice in the room. Don’t tell people how great your book is. Find a way to connect, to be the story. Be the flame, not the moth. Attract, bond, convert.
Once you’ve got a great product and you know who your audience is, “marketing” is going to be anything that puts your book in front of the right people. There are two ways to do that:
#1 free promotion
#2 paid promotion
It’s actually possible to skip #1 completely, but it’s expensive, and difficult — your conversion (which we’ll discuss at length later) has to be perfect. And while #1 takes more time and effort, it’s also more effective long-term, because it means you’re not just shouting at strangers as they walk by.
This form of marketing is actually pretty easy, and as competition increases, it’s becoming necessary. It involves building trust and getting people to like you.
“Stop presenting and start connecting.”
That’s the new marketing in a nutshell.
You usually do it by providing high quality, free content, solving people’s problems, making them feel good about themselves, getting them involved around a cause they care about, and sharing content they will love (which is rarely, very rarely, ever just YOUR content).
That’s bad news for authors, because we can be selfish creative beings who aren’t very interested in other people’s problems. We may not even like other people that much. We may not really have anything to write about other than the books we are working on.
It’s a little easier for non-fiction authors, because they are probably already in the information-sharing, problem-solving arena. For fiction authors, marketing in this scary, new, touchy-feely way seems backwards and trivial.
But I’m going to teach you how to do it.
Because if you don’t care about your readers enough to figure out what resonates with them, to speak to them about their hopes and dreams, to actively listen and support your peers without just expecting a quid pro quo, you’re going to find your writing career lacks the vibrancy, joy and purpose that makes writing worthwhile.
If you just skim this book and ignore the parts you don’t think suit you, and buy 10 more books on book marketing looking for quick wins and easy book promotion tips that won’t build a long-term author platform, you’re choosing to fail. You’ve got to commit, right now, to building positive relationships with your fans, and not just being another talking head with a microphone and earplugs.
Are you ready to do that? Are you committed to building an author platform that sells a lot of books? Then let’s get started.
What this book is about
As a warning, this guide is meant as a short crash-course. I don’t explore millions of different book promotion options. I also don’t focus heavily on the nuts-and-bolts of book publishing or distribution — you can find that stuff out from other sources. This book is not about publishing, or putting your book up on Amazon or other sites. It’s about selling a lot of books, building an author platform that can support your writing career, and (ideally) making a full-time living.
Instead I lay out the elements of a strategy (or more properly, a “world-view”) that you can count on to sell more books consistently, reliably, with less time and effort. I focus on the few things that really matter. Don’t get distracted by all the people offering to promote and market your book for you; they may be helpful as supplementary efforts, but they won’t overcome your failure to fix the common errors that many indie authors overlook, or deliberately ignore.
It takes a little work, and most of it can’t be outsourced (although you may need professional help with some aspects of your marketing campaign, like editing your sales copy or designing your graphic elements).
Something I’ll stress in this book is that none of the details matter if you haven’t established the basics.
As Dan Poynter (author of The Self-Publishing Manual) says:
The two secrets to book sales are:
1) to produce a good product that has a market
2) to let people know about it
As a full-time editor turned book cover designer, I have almost a decade of experience in producing excellent products. I know that a well-edited, well-formatted book with a brilliant cover will market itself, and everything you do will be a thousand times easier. So while this book isn’t totally focused on publishing/book production, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important: “design” is a magic wand that super-charges your sales, and most indie authors are oblivious.
I’ve made hundreds of videos on DIY book design and book formatting, which have gotten nearly 3 million views on YouTube, and custom-built some low-cost solutions to help indie authors publish, so at the end of each section, I will recommend and share links for those, as well as some additional resources I know will be useful.
But I don’t have any control over the subtle but pivotal factor Dan raised in his point #1: you need to write a book that has a market. Almost all indie authors write a book, and then try to find a market for it or make people read it. If you pour your soul into making your first book a success and it fails anyway, you probably wrote a book with no market — but now you can learn from your mistake and start writing books people want to read.
In Kindle Bestselling Secrets, Derek Doepker lists Bestseller Secret #3:
“Average authors write a book and then ask, ‘How can I make this a bestseller?’ Bestselling authors ask, ‘What book will become a bestseller?’ and then write that book.
This is called by some, starving artist types, “selling out.” By rich, successful authors, it is also called “selling out” as in, “Wow, my first print run of 10,000 copies sold out!” (If you don’t feel comfortable viewing art as the creation of a product that you want to sell for money, then your ideology is prohibiting your success).
Planning for success by writing books that readers want to buy is not a negative thing, it’s merely seeking to add value by caring about your readers. Derek Doepker continues,
To embrace this mindset, I simply switch the question, “how can I get value?” to “how can I give value?” This could mean switching “how can I get more book sales?” to “how can I create a book so valuable that tons of people will naturally want to buy it.”
This is the key to changing your limiting beliefs about art and writing. The idea that inspiration comes from your inner muse, and because you wrote something it’s bound to be successful, is a selfish belief. If you want to be successful in business (and yes, writing and publishing books and making money at it is a business) then you need to focus on giving value to your customers, fulfilling their needs and making them happy.
Interestingly, while this book first came out in 2013, the sentiment of putting customers first is no longer controversial, even among thought leaders in more creative fields.
“Focusing on the money doesn’t cheapen the art; it makes you shift your focus towards providing value.” Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller
“You have to tame your story and domesticate it. You have to render it fit for human consumption. Writerly self-indulgence ends here. Now we must serve the reader.” Steven Pressfield, nobody wants to read your Sh*t
While traditional publishing models were forced to guess about what readers would enjoy and buy, in the post-internet age, creators can create platforms and audiences in order to get instant feedback, in order to make sure they produce work that matters. Yes, it might seem backwards and scary to writers who have spent a life time being told not to worry about the market, that trends and fads can’t be timed, that anybody who writes in order to please an audience is a talentless hack. And I’ll admit it’s still a gray area, and source of frustration, because those authors who DO have a big platform, thousands of fans and are easily putting out high quality books readers love are met with disdain and suspicion that has nothing to do with the quality of their books and everything to do with the outdated, romantic ideology that real artists must suffer and starve in obscurity, and that smart, savvy writers making six-figures writing and sell books must have cheated somehow.
If you’ve already finished the book you’re planning to market, this is one mistake it’s probably too late to fix. If your book has a very small market (due to poor planning), it may never become a bestseller. However, let’s assume your book has a market (even if a very small one) and is a good product (you still have control over this one — a professionally produced book with useful content or a pretty good story can still sell well).
Without changing the content of the book, you can still figure out the value, and make sure it’s being communicated to the right readers. As Seth Godin writes in this is Marketing:
“The first step is to invest a thing worth making, with a story worth telling, and a contribution worth talking about. The second step is to design and build it in a way that a few people will particularly benefit from and care about.”
This stage is so important, it’ll take up approximately 1/3 of this book. But after that, we’ll concentrate on Dan Poynter’s second step, which I know is probably the reason you’re really here: How to let people know about YOUR book, when there are MILLIONS of others.
How to build a loyal tribe of passionate followers who love you and promote everything you do; how to put book marketing on autopilot so you don’t really have to do very much; how to focus on the really big stuff that moves a ton of books, rather than a thousand garbage promotional tweets, and how to get the ball rolling downhill with one big push.
And most importantly, how not to be annoying and piss everybody off and end up sad and alone. Book marketing is about bringing people together, making other people feel good, not trying to get everybody to do you favors. If it’s about you, you’re being selfish. Cut it out. Never ask for favors. Find a way to make it about them.
I don’t believe in the kind of marketing that has you running around doing big signings and radio appearances (unless the book is a non-fiction book meant to bolster your professional image, and you plan to make real money in speaking or other services).
Me personally, that stuff is too much work. I want to do a few simple things online, pay a little bit of money if I have to, and produce a media frenzy and blizzard of Amazon sales that lets my book sell comfortably without actually doing much promoting at all.
Book Marketing is Dead is mostly a response to spammy, annoying book marketing techniques that don’t work anyway, but the majority of authors continue to use. Instead I’m offering something better: connect with real people, build relationships and provide value.
But that’s a lot of work and takes time and effort. A lot of authors don’t want to put in that kind of commitment. They are looking for quick, easy and cheap tricks to sell more books.
In this book I’m going to share everything I’ve learned with you. But the rules are changing quickly, as the shifting sands of social media make traditional marketing strategies nearly obsolete.
I can show you how to do a successful book launch, guarantee sales and reviews, and hit #1 bestseller status… but it’s up to you to take action.
How this book is organized
I hate those books that are obviously a bunch of blog posts taped together with an introduction; or the ones loosely arranged into lots of different sections with no overall narrative. So I’ve done my best to keep things organized and present them in a way that makes sense. I promise not to abandon you or dump a whole bunch of data into a section without commentary.
But it’s also difficult to find an optimal chronological order to the book marketing process. You need to be doing a whole bunch of things, pretty much at the same time. So I have used section headers to try and organize things by topic, but also put them in more or less a logical order with a beginning, middle and end. That said, I’ve revised this book so many times, there is definitely some overlap and repetition. You may notice me saying the same things over and over. As a rule of thumb, the more times I say something, the more important it is. So if you skip over it the first three times, hopefully it’ll sink in by the fourth.
#1 PRODUCT: We’ll begin with the product. The three crucial things you absolutely need to get right, before you do anything else. This will include all the publishing basics you need to make sure you’ve got a bookstore-quality product at a fraction of the cost.
#2 PLATFORM: Then we’ll do some light platform building, and I’ll show you exactly how to get 1000 followers or email subscribers before you launch. This will also help you figure out your audience, connect with authors in your field or genre, and fine-tune your targeting and pitch.
#3 PROMOTION: Launch day! I’ll show you how to organize your best book launch ever, get tons of visibility, and keep your book profitable — even after the infamous “30-day cliff.”
Here’s the good news: done properly, following this 3-tiered book launch strategy should mean less performance anxiety, terror about saying the wrong thing, or emotional burnout. When you whisper into the void, it will whisper back.
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.