Now that everyone has survived the turkey gobbling marathon and the Ritual Airing of Grievances, it’s time to get back to work. Well, except for me.
I’ve had some weird virus for a couple of weeks and I’m still not quite recovered. And seeing as my To-Do List for 2019 would take approximately a year just to read, I’m going to take it easy for another couple of days and make sure I knock this on the head before putting my nose to the Grindstone of Future Riches.
I put up a blog post last week announcing my Book of the Year (for authors) and that was enough to send me back to the sick bed for the rest of the day. Energy levels are hilariously sloth-like right now. On the plus side, my prolonged convalescence impacted my usual Christmas drinking to the point where I have the pristine liver of a pre-teen boy. I should probably give it back but, in my defense, he was barely using it.
I’ve been running this soon-to-be-universally-acclaimed weekly marketing newsletter for a year now, so it seems an appropriate time to pick out the most important emails from the last year, so that we have a common foundation to move on to deeper topics in 2019. It will also act as a handy way for all the new people to catch up — and there has been a lot of those in the last month or so. (Helloooooo!)
BUT THAT SOUNDS BORING, says everyone.
FINE, says I.
What about this: I’ll write a long-ass info-filled email full of actionable marketing takeaways. Let’s call it “How To Sell Books in 2019” or something jazzy like that. And then during that info-filled email I’ll link back to the most important emails of the last year and a bunch of other resources too.
A one-stop-shop for all your marketing needs in this weirdly future-sounding year of 2019.
Well, not quite a one-stop-shop. I wasn't lying about the long-ass part. This guide is so comprehensive that I have to split it over successive emails. This first part is over 2,000 words all on its own! As is often the case, we'll start off more basic before moving to the most advanced topics.
But before we dig into all that good stuff, just make sure that you all are up to speed on the never-sexy-sounding topic of Whitelisting – both to receive my messages, and to ensure that your own readers are getting yours. No point expending all that effort to build up a list if they don’t get your emails! Read more on all that here: All About The Whitelist Express!
OK. Let’s do this thing.
How To Sell Books in 2019
The marketing landscape is constantly changing, and I’m sure lots of you are asking how to sell books in 2019, anxious to change tack, make changes, swear off bad habits, and give those damn books a boost while the year is still shiny and new.
A Marketable Product
Of course, all the foregoing will make a few assumptions. While some enterprising Australian types might have figured out how to sell thin air to the Chinese, that might not be the business model for you to follow. You need something to sell, and your chances of success are infinitely greater if that thing is a series of novels in a genre which is at least moderately popular.
Success is theoretically possible with any kind of book — some lightning bottler will even hit it big with a poetry collection every so often — but you will be making things much more straightforward if you write a novel in a commercial genre, and if that book is part of a series, or one which can at least be presented as such.
So far, so obvious (although if you are struggling with the basics, have yet to publish something, or haven’t yet found your first readers, then check out Let’s Get Digital).
I think most self-publishers these days get that part. The stumbles tend to come with the next steps, and then start piling up. The very first screw-up is one we all make: not putting enough emotional distance between us and the product.
The best perspective to review our product from — i.e. its content, its presentation, as well as how people might discover it — is from the shoes of our readers. I have a whole book on that topic called Strangers to Superfans which I strongly recommend you check out.
I’m continually amazed at the eye-watering sums that people will drop on advertising, but who won’t do the most crucial things to ensure a return on that investment. You need to look at The Reader Journey — the various stages through which a reader will go from being a stranger to you and your work, to becoming the kind of superfan who will do the selling for you. If you audit this process, this journey that readers undergo, you will find so many ways you can optimise each stage and improve conversion at each stage.
Let me put the difference in bald numbers: I hear people talking about conversion rates on advertising of 5%-10% like that’s a good thing. I regularly get 20%-25%. I sometimes get north of 50% on certain targets.
The difference here is real money, people; it’s worth the effort. Map out your Reader Journey. Identify the roadblocks. Watch your conversion rates soar.
Key Resource: Strangers to Superfans
There’s something about the word “platform” which makes people think they need 10,000 Facebook Likes or a massive Instagram following, which can lead them to waste time chasing numbers, or spending unwise amounts of money in some misguided attempt at building something for the future. Let’s dial back the pressure here until you know if such things will be a fruitful use of your time or money and call it an “author presence” instead.
Your author presence can be giant and all-encompassing, or small and perfectly formed. There is no one way or Right Answer here. It all depends on how your like to run your business, and what’s effective for you (and in your particular niche) for finding readers. If Twitter boils your blood or Instagram makes you miserable then skip it. That goes for the more direct promotional aspects too: if Facebook Ads drive you doolally or if AMS turns your brain to soup, then you don’t have to use them.
The only non-negotiable in the world of book marketing is that you have at least one functioning method for finding readers — because books don’t get magically discovered. You must get out there and beat the bushes for readers. And if that idea gives you hives, I promise you’ll hate it approximately a billion times less when you are doing it effectively.
A basic author presence should consist of a website (use Wordpress). This is your Author HQ, on a domain you control, and at minimum it should have some basic information about you and your books, along with links to where they are on sale, and — most important of all — an effective way of collecting readers’ email addresses (use Mailchimp/Mailerlite... unless you know enough to know that your specific needs are better met elsewhere).
Any other presence you have scattered around the web should point back to Author HQ. Your Amazon Author Central Page. Facebook. Twitter, if you are active there. Same goes for Instagram or any other social media platform. You don’t need to be on all these channels — in fact there is a real danger if spreading yourself to thin and wasting precious writing time/focus/mental energy.
I’d say the only must with social media is a Facebook Page where you are, at the very least, passively collecting likes (and preferably deploying the Pixel on your site too). If nothing else, that will allow readers to follow you and contact you there and keep the option open of advertising effectively on Facebook later on down the road, should you desire (which is quite likely).
Key Resource: How To Make A Pretty Facebook Page
I’ll talk about email marketing later on but let me just mention now that you will see a much better sign-up rate to your email list if you offer some kind of incentive to readers — commonly known as a lead magnet or reader magnet.
Typically, this takes the form of a bonus book or short story, often connected to your primary series or world. The most attractive magnet is exclusive content. Something readers can’t get anywhere else. This will really, really drive sign-ups. But it can complicate the choice of what exactly to offer.
Later on in your career you may have full length books gathering dust — such as those pesky standalones — which you can dangle as a reader magnet, but in the beginning it’s much more likely that you will only have a short story or novella to offer. You may even have to write something specific (in fact the very best magnets are often custom-written), and something shorter is more palatable, obviously.
I should note that it doesn’t have to be a story at all. Authors have successfully used other forms of bonus content such as maps or case files. This is another time where it’s great to step into your readers’ shoes and put on your fan hat and imagine what kind of cool things they would really enjoy. And if it’s exclusive, that acts as a real draw.
Stuff like maps — which are unbelievably cool don't get me wrong — end up hugely increasing your file size on Amazon anyway, and those extra delivery fees come out of your royalties, and add up to an eye-watering amount over thousands of sales. (Ask me how I know...) So doling them out to readers as sign-up bonuses, or re-engagement pressies, is a money-shaped win-win.
Getting as many of your core readers on your list as possible, so that you can activate your promo army at launch time, can be such a huge thing for your career. Place a lot of focus on this!
To make the process painless of doling out that reader magnet, use BookFunnel. It's the best in the business and incredibly author-friendly, with great support too.
Resource: Not Sold In Stores — Using Exclusive Content To Turn Your Reader List into Super Fans
OK, so you have your author presence and associated reader-capturing apparatus all set up. But those emails won’t trickle in on their own. Sign-ups will generally be a function of sales — unless you are actively engaging in list-building, which I’ll talk about later — so increasing sales will be the next thing you want to tackle.
I’ve run huge all sorts of marketing campaigns, both for myself and other authors — including some monster launches and giant backlist promos, many of them incredibly complex with lots of moving parts. They all have the same underlying skeleton: you run a price promotion (or multiple price promotions) and then you tell people about them.
There are multiple channels available for getting that message out. Email. Social Media. Websites — both yours and others. Some cost nothing, like hitting your own list (you’re already either on a free plan or paying the costs anyway) or posting to your own blog or website or social channels, and there are also reciprocal, cross-promotional approaches (where you mention an author’s launch or price promo to your audience at some point, and they return the favor during your own promotion).
Free/reciprocal pushes will only get you so far, so you will want to augment that with some paid approaches. Advertising is available for all budgets — there are even some free options — but it’s an incredibly complex area too.
Beginners should focus first on reader sites, where ads can cost as little as $20. Nicholas Erik has a handy list of such promo sites which he keeps regularly updated. Some sites are good for 99c books, some are better for free books, some will handle both quite well.
There is an art to getting the most out of these price promotions, so don’t worry if your first few attempts fail to garner headline-worthy numbers. You will get better at this with practice, and it really is something you must learn by doing.
If you are exclusive with Amazon, it gives you handy tools to run free or 99c promotions (with added benefits like a higher royalty rate on 99c books, and then the benefit of increased income from Kindle Unlimited page reads too).
If you aren’t exclusive with Amazon, you can run these manually (you don’t get that royalty rate, but you can sell your book everywhere, and can often get cheaper clicks from targeting readers outside of Amazon — which are more deal starved and less saturated markets generally).
A BookBub Featured Deal is likely the only site that will deliver truly big numbers though, and those are incredibly hard to get — particularly if you are exclusive to Amazon. If you want to hit those otherwise, you’ll have to tackle at least one of the self-serve ad platforms: Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads, or BookBub Ads.
They are all hugely different from each other and getting to any level of expertise will take time. And money. Which means you need to exercise caution. Be extra sure you have a marketable product. Pushing a standalone with ads is very tricky indeed. And be doubly sure that Reader Journey I spoke about above is in top shape — little improvements throughout can chain together and have a remarkable effect on conversion… and your bottom line.
Resource: Nicholas Erik’s Recommended Promo Sites (Updated)
OK, I better snip it there before anyone has to cancel a lunch appointment or break up with their kids just so they can keep reading.
Next week we get into more advanced stuff: Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub ads, cross-promo, box sets, email swaps, launch strategies, and then tying all these damn things together (where the magic really happens).