It’s been 8 months since I published my first novel, and in that time I’ve tried a huge number of marketing strategies. I mentioned a few of these in my Year in Review post; basically, I tried selling paperback and ebook copies in every manner I could think of, from contests to giveaways to author talks to free promotions.
Here, I wanted to give some insight into which strategies worked (and I’ll therefore pursue more avidly in the future) and which are not worth doing again. I would love to hear your comments below on any experiences you’ve had with these, or any other marketing suggestions I may have missed.
And without further ado…
Here’s what I won’t do again:
- Spend too much on promotion before the full series is done. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve realized that the real way to make money as a full-time author is to sell series or sets of books, thereby drawing readers through a “funnel” from a free product to an expensive end product. With series of books, this can mean getting readers to try a free prequel or first book in the series, and afterwards offering the later books paid…eventually persuading readers to buy a boxed set of the series. Aside from a few smaller promotions, it doesn’t seem worthwhile investing a huge amount in advertising until the full series is finished.
- Make the book free for its release. When books are newly published on Amazon, they start somewhere in the middle of the rankings, so they have a chance of climbing to the top of their categories and winning that all-important “Amazon Bestseller” button. When you drop the price to free, you lose your rankings, and you may never regain them. For my nonfiction title, College Can Wait, I was at #2 in two of my categories before my free promotion. After that, even with a slew of promotions running, I never made it above #2. Starting the promotions when I was already at #2 would surely have boosted me to the top. Furthermore, new releases are in the running for Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” category, but ONLY within the first few days of their publication. If your free promotion extends past that window, you don’t have a chance at the “Hot New Releases” label.
- Sign up for KDP Select. Okay, that’s a bit drastic–I will probably sign up for KDP Select for the first 3 months of each book’s release, just to take advantage of the 70% royalties you earn when discounting the book as part of a Kindle Countdown. But after receiving a large number of downloads within days of posting my free prequel to Smashwords (which posts books to many other sites, including Barnes & Noble and iApple), I want to experiment with other avenues for selling my work.
- Print physical copies. Again, I probably will print a few copies (no more than 50) for my next YA Fantasy book launch party, but I won’t go to the effort of selling hundreds of print copies again. As satisfying as it is to get your book into bookstores, especially when you manage to sell a few copies, it takes a huge amount of time and effort without generating any longer-term benefit. Whereas selling copies on ebook stores will increase the ranking and visibility of your title, selling in a bookstore is more of a random event, unconnected to past or future success.
- Submit books to bloggers for review. When I first released The Natural Order, I spoke of requesting reviews from bloggers as a successful strategy. But in truth, despite the 20 or 30 bloggers who promised to review the book, only about 4 reviews materialized. And one of them was by a blogger who confessed in her review that she “never finishes books these days,” and whose average rating sat around 1 or 2 stars. I spent many, many hours pursuing the hundreds of bloggers open to reviewing indie titles, with hardly any reviews to show for it. In the future, I’ll ask my newsletter subscribers and friends for a review in exchange for an advance copy. Bloggers are too much effort.
Here’s what I’ll do instead:
- Write more series and interrelated novels, and set up as many “funnels” as possible. As I mentioned above, the best way to establish a full-time writing career is to set up multiple funnels that lead readers from a free book through to an expensive item (namely a boxed set of the series). I am not usually a series writer, and did not intend to write many others after I finished the Natural Order series. However, I will now look at writing tie-ins and sets of related books, to create funnels that will draw readers into pursuing more of my work.
- Put books on multiple platforms. As I mentioned above, I received many downloads (93, at last count) within 2 weeks of posting my free prequel to Smashwords, along with several sales of The Natural Order. I can’t say what the results will be yet, but it seems silly never to pursue other platforms outside of Amazon.
- Make a free hook for each series or set of books. Again, just putting the prequel up for free (with no promotions or mentions to my social network) has already generated many downloads and a few sales of The Natural Order; it’s DEFINITELY a strategy I plan to use more in the future. Within a few hours of the prequel going free on Amazon, I’ve already gotten 24 downloads; that’s a lot more exposure for my books than I could get any other way.
- Publish as many high-quality books as possible each year. The more books you have published, the more chances there are for people to stumble across your work. I’ve already noticed an upswing in sales since publishing two shorter books (the prequel and a nonfiction title). Before those two were out, I never sold copies of The Natural Order except during promotions; now, I sell a copy of something every few days. Of course, the most important part of this all is to gain the interest of your readers, so the quality of my books can’t suffer. I’ll schedule time for multiple revision drafts for each novel prior to publication, and I won’t rush a title that isn’t ready yet.
- Recruit a large, active mailing list. This one is HUGE. Last year I started gathering subscribers without really knowing what I was doing, and I ended up with about 58 subscribers before I’d sent a single newsletter. By the time I figured it out, I realized I had been smart to gather those emails, though some of the subscribers wouldn’t be interested after such a long time had gone by with no word. I’m making a goal this year to send a newsletter every other week, on a set schedule, and I’ll include plenty of benefits for my subscribers. I want anyone who gives me their email to feel like they’ve benefited greatly from it; that way they’ll feel more inclined to step up and help when I need their reviews and downloads.
- Vigorously pursue reviews. I said above that I wasn’t going to ask bloggers for reviews, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give up on getting more reviews. I can email my friends and facebook acquaintances for reviews, and I can give my subscribers incentives for reviewing. I’m aiming to hit 100 reviews on The Natural Order by the end of the year.
- Try out alternative covers. I just went and got my cover for The Natural Order redesigned, and already I’ve seen better results with a round of promotions following the change. I liked my original cover, but the new one is immediately eye-catching. I’ve learned never to settle for something that’s just “good enough.”
- Play around with pre-ordering. I’ve never done this before, but now that I have a cover designed for the Natural Order sequel (be the first to see it here), I want to see if it’s worthwhile putting the book up for pre-order on Amazon.
There it is–my big list of marketing strategies I’ve gathered over the past year. I would love to hear back from you–what has worked for you? What hasn’t? Do you have any advice I should consider?