As I have published a new book this month, Betrayal, sequel to Flood and second in my Fenland Series, it seems like an opportune moment to talk about marketing books.
Confession at the outset – I’m no expert on marketing. However, like all independent author-publishers, marketing is a task I have had to undertake, so I thought that this month I’d say a little about my experiences.
To be honest, it was the aspect of self-publishing that worried me most. Appearing in public doesn’t worry me. I can stand up in front of an audience and talk. I’ve been doing it all my adult life. Confront me with an audience of students and I can give a lecture or conduct a seminar without a tremor. During the fifteen-year life of Dundee Book Events, which I ran, I chaired over a hundred writers – some extremely distinguished – and didn’t bat an eyelid. But promote myself? Please! Let’s not go there!
Is it a particularly British thing, this shrinking from self-promotion? No, I think it applies to writers of other nationalities, too. As far as our own writing is concerned, we’d rather be sitting in a quiet room and just getting on with it, however happy we are to discuss the writing of others with audiences of readers or students. But I do think there’s a very powerful British taboo against self-promotion.
In some areas talking about one’s books doesn’t present a problem. If you’ve been invited to give a talk about your work to an interested group, that is non-threatening. It isn’t marketing as such. You can explain what set you off in pursuit of a particular idea, what research you did, how you work, how you relate to your characters/plot/setting, what you plan to write next. You can answer the friendly questions from interested readers.
However, marketing involves praising and promoting your books to total strangers. You cannot see their faces. They may be totally hostile to what you are doing. They may think that (Heaven forefend!) you are very conceited to be promoting your work at all.
So it’s a problem. Besides, there are people who are actually trained in this skill. They are employed by publishers as well as other businesses. Though I have heard it whispered that even marketing professionals are not always very sure what works. And they are far too expensive for the average author-publisher to employ. So it is up to us to do our own marketing.
The whole point of marketing is to find readers who will enjoy our books. What can we do? I’ll tell you what I do, and if you have any comments or suggestions, do join in. If you are an author, what marketing do you do? If you are a reader, how do you discover new books and authors? Of course, you may be both!
- When I have a new book coming out, I tell my friends, both personal friends and those I have made round the world via social media. I belong to a number of groups on Facebook, and I post there, sometimes with a “cover reveal” a few days in advance. Most of these are writers’ groups, but writers are almost invariably avid readers too. Many other members are kind enough to “share” or “tweet” the news.
- I have a “new release mailing list”. This is a list of people to whom I send out news when a new book is published or when there is a special offer. If you are interested in joining, you can add your name on the sign up page of my website. This is a quite separate list from my blog subscribers, though some people are on both.
- Generally, I put out a tweet or two. I’m a Twitter novice, so I’m not sure how effective it is. It doesn’t take much time, though keeping to the 140 character limit can be difficult.
- Of course, I have a website. I can add the new book to the Books page and set up sub-pages for the synopsis, excerpt and backstory (usually an historical note). Once reviews start to come in, I can add those to the praise sub-page. I cannot add the new book to the moving slider at the top of the Home page. That has to be updated by my web designers. I’ll mention the new book in that month’s website blog (as at the top here), but that will only appear some time after the new release mailing has gone out.
- Like many author-publishers, I am a member of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors. On Saturdays their blog has a Showcase of new books, so I send in the cover and blurb for the new book in time for the first Saturday after publication.
- As I am a member of the Historical Writers’ Association, I have a presence on their website. It lists an author’s books on the author page and also, usefully, according to century, so – for example – someone looking under sixteenth century will find my Christoval Alvarez series, under seventeenth century the Fenland Series and This Rough Ocean, and under Roman The Testament of Mariam. At the moment the website is being revamped, so my latest books are not there, but it is due to be rolled out any time now.
- Amazon. Well, of course, as soon as the paperback and Kindle editions are published they appear on Amazon worldwide, however the two editions are not always linked, so I send a message reminding them to link the two. That way, if I set up a universal link to the new book, I can use this to direct potential readers to both editions at once. I also go to AuthorCentral at Amazon and update my bibliography, and edit my biographical note if necessary. All of this is then displayed on my Author Page. I also have my Author Page linked to my tweets, so these are displayed there.
- More Amazon. As I’ve become more established I’ve clearly been noticed by Amazon. They now regularly promote my books for me – especially Amazon US. Amazon UK sends out emails including my books (and others) to people who’ve bought my books, and presumably those who have similar interests. They do the same in the US, but they also send out “Ann Swinfen’s New Book” emails, just for the new book alone. When I published Betrayal, Amazon US contacted me with a “by invitation only” proposal. If I wrote a bit about the new book, they would send it out with information on Betrayal to my followers. (I suppose this means people who buy my books.) In addition, as the books sell, they climb the category charts. So, for example, if someone searches on Amazon for Tudor espionage, they will find the Christoval books.
- I’ve chosen to have my ebooks on Amazon KDP Select, which means I can do a brief free offer if I choose. I’ve only done it once, offering the first Christoval book free for a few days when I published the fourth one. It did stimulate interest. And I’ve done three or four Countdown sales, where the price starts low and increases over a short period. Recently I did this for Flood as part of the marketing for the sequel, Betrayal.
- I also have my books on two external services, which each charge a small annual fee. They work rather differently. Readers in the Know gives you a page for your books. You indicate their characteristics, then the site recommends books to readers according to the characteristics they say interest them. You can promote here as well. Recently, Simon Denman, who runs the site, has started doing podcasts as well. His podcast of the opening scene of The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez is here:
- The second site is Self-Publishers’ Showcase, run by Paul Martin. You suggest a short phrase about each book – perhaps taken from a review – and it is used in regular tweets sent out by the Showcase. It also has a website displaying your books, which can be searched by readers. It’s a good idea to change the tweet phrases from time to time or it can get a bit repetitive.
- I’ve recently joined a Facebook group of historical fiction writers where we each put up one tweet each day and retweet each others’ tweets. I’m not sure how well it’s working, but it must be spreading the word, and I’ve certainly gained quite a few new followers. As I said, I’m not really very savvy about Twitter!
So, that’s a dozen things I do. When I was traditionally published I used to hold a launch party for each book, with lots of refreshments, a talk by me, and book sales. It was great fun and a good way to celebrate the arrival of a new book, but in those days the local bookshop handled sales. I remember that with my first book I was the #1 bestseller in Scotland that week – very gratifying! But now I would have to buy in the paperback copies of the book myself and wouldn’t have a shop to display any leftovers afterwards. Just too expensive. Some authors I know have “virtual” launch parties via social media, but it all sounds a bit complicated to me. Particularly since by this point I am already deep in the research for the next book.
Is all the time I spend on marketing worthwhile? Does it lead to increased sales? It’s difficult to establish a clear link between any of these initiatives and actual book sales. What I can say is that by deploying this strategy over the last six months or so I have seen the graph of my sales show a huge increase. So I must be reaching readers.
However, all of this would count for nothing unless as authors we continue to write books that readers want to read. And that is where I am at the moment. I am reading and noting in preparation for the next Christoval Alvarez book. I won’t be giving too much away when I say that these are amongst my resources:
Till next time,