Hi there, [insert your author name here]. Now that you have written a book and maybe even published it, it’s time to start marketing! Did that sentence make you nervous, or maybe even cringe? You’re not alone. The truth is, book marketing has a marketing problem. Most authors think of book marketing in the wrong way and in the wrong light.
You’re probably one of them. You can go to any writer’s conference, and take classes on craft and even business, but when it comes to things like author platform and marketing, you get a lot of arguments. I was in a panel, mentioned Amazon ads, and a writer turned to me and said this astonishing sentence: “Why would I give Amazon any of my money to market my book?”
I answered one simple way: “Because you want to sell more books and make more money?”
It’s not an unusual statement. Mention Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and others, and you will likely get these responses from a group of authors:
- “I tried those, and they didn’t work.”
- “Paid ads are a waste of money.”
- “Marketing is a time suck. My time is better spent writing.”
- “My friend (co-worker, another author, writer, whoever) got ripped off by [insert ad platform here].”
There are some key errors in this thinking, and inevitably you will have a few authors quietly listening who don’t say a thing. Most of them are full-time writers making a living from their books, and they run paid ads on one platform or another all the time, and they have a positive ROI from them.
You don’t have to believe me. Ask around. Ask authors who are making a living from their writing, and they will quietly, or sometimes with vigor, tell you how they make money from ads, and how vital Facebook ads are to them.
So what is the problem with book marketing? Authors are good at writing but often not good at talking about themselves or their work. They think book marketing is:
- A dirty word. Eww, yuck.
- I could lose money.
- Self-promotion? Yuck.
- Something I don’t want to do.
But book marketing is really:
- A service to your readers.
- A good return on investment, if done properly.
- Another creative outlet.
- A way to stretch and expand your talents.
Why don’t authors see it that way? Here are the reasons why, and some ways to overcome these issues.
Predatory Book Marketing Companies
So this is a touchy subject, and one I touch on probably too briefly in my book Writing as a Business: Production, Distribution, and Marketing, and until I publish another blog post or book on the topic, this explanation will be too brief as well.
Here’s the basic gist: there are companies that know authors want to sell books. Some of them are legitimate in their efforts to help authors, but others are not. They will take your money and you will get few to no results for the money you spent. Because there are so many of these out there, authors are hesitant to put their hard-earned money into any of them. That makes it hard for those companies who are legit to ever get off the ground.
For example, there are companies like BookTweeters, who will promote your book to thousands of Twitter followers. Will this get you sales? Reviews are mixed on places like K-Boards and other author forums. Hit the timing right with the right book, sure, but that’s an anomaly, not a normal outcome. It’s not that the company is a scam or even predatory. It’s because the nature of Twitter means sometimes it works as a sales platform, others it doesn’t.
That brings us to rule #1:
There are no guarantees, but a service that continuously provides authors with great results (like BookBub features) wins over one that doesn’t.
Another factor is cost. If you can reach 50K Twitter followers for $10, it might be worth the investment. If it costs you $100 to reach those same followers? Probably not so much. Also, most authors will tell you that Facebook is much more lucrative than other platforms, except for LinkedIn for some non-fiction platforms. That’s rule #2:
Know your audience. Does this service have the ability to reach them, and proof that they have done so before? If all their testimonials are from romance authors and you write fantasy, it might be they are just not a fit.
There is another rule that follows on quickly after this one though, and it involves one thing: how did you hear about this marketing platform? The best way to hear about marketing services that work and that are also not a scam is to hear about them from other authors who have used them successfully.
The way you don’t want to hear of them? If the platform outreaches you at your email or through a direct message on social media, especially about a book that is not your most recent or seems like a random pick, it’s probably because they are desperate to get authors to use their platform. This could be because they are just starting out, but most often it is not. This is usually a scam. Sometimes the platforms are cheap, which can be a clue on its own. A good service will know the value of their service and charge appropriately.
Examples, you ask?
- BookBub, the holy grail, is expensive but offers proven results.
- AuthorsXP, for building your email list and other tasks, works great. The site looks outdated, but there is a dedicated audience there.
- BookSniffer is an up and comer, and it looks to be a place where authors and readers will connect in a new way.
- BookFunnel and Story Origin for promos and newsletter swaps, a very powerful tool.
- BookSweeps, a great place to promote your giveaways and build your email list.
- BooksGoSocial, a great PR and marketing assist company.
- The trifecta: Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub Ads (different than features) which all work well for paid ads if done properly.
These are all places that have worked in the past and are working now. There are others, but the keys are these:
- Vet the companies you are going to work with. Look for online reviews from other authors.
- Join author communities and ask around. Those authors will share their experiences with you.
- Look at lists from people you trust. There are good authors doing marketing out there, and many will publish annual lists of the best marketing websites with honest reviews.
- Google the company name followed by the word “reviews.” You will find answers.
- Ask about the books they have promoted before. Don’t trust what they tell you. Go to Amazon and look at the book rankings and reviews, and the quality of the cover and blurb. This tells you a lot about the company and the books they promote.
Another way to tell a good book promotional company? If they have an evaluation process for your book and don’t just accept anyone. It shows they care about the titles they promote, and which titles they will promote.
Are there predatory companies out there? Yep. And if you get taken by one, do everyone around you a favor: share your experience. Let others know you got “ripped off” and how. Leave reviews. As an author community, we can make the book marketing world less problematic if we share.
You see, part of the marketing problem with book marketing is that predatory companies give legitimate ones a bad name.
A Lack of Education and Knowledge
Does the above sound like a lot of work? Yep, and sorry, but it is. There is little you can do to get around that. Marketing is a vital part of being an author, and it takes time, money, and effort. That’s part of the marketing problem, too.
First, authors are seldom educated on how important book marketing is to sales numbers. The two items go hand in hand. In most cases, the two have a direct correlation. No marketing equals no sales. As I often say:
“The book that is not marketed never sells.”
Second, authors are seldom educated on the type of marketing they should do, and what works best. What we talked about above is digital marketing, but let’s explore some other methods, and debunk some myths authors often believe.
- You can market your books at conferences. This generally does not work as well as other methods, unless your book is geared towards writer education. Selling your book to other authors is similar to selling ice to Arctic foxes. You will sell some, but they are not your audience.
- You can and should market your books to bookstores and libraries. The print book is not dead, in fact far from it. Even in 2020, physical book sales have dipped with bookstores and libraries not open, but they have not vanished, and likely never will.
- You should have two primary things: your own website and an email list. These should be your focus. Everything else flows through them.
Here is the problem: many authors don’t know what to do with their email list or website. These are the most misused tools in the author’s arsenal.
Second, authors often go on social media and befriend other authors, follow them, and the like. That is great for community, but not for selling books. I saw an author recently ask on their Facebook feed (not their professional page, mistake #1) if “anyone on here buys books from Facebook ads.” Most of their friends, being authors, said “no.” What that author does not understand is that Facebook targets book ads to people who do buy books from Facebook ads, and there are specific reasons for this.
Those reasons are a separate blog post for another time, but the point, in this case, is that book marketing is given a bad name because authors understand very little about it, and while some platforms endeavor to educate them, most do not. In short, the marketing platforms do little marketing to educate and entice authors to market with them. They just expect them to “figure it out.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.
The Scary Stories of Other Authors
Ask a room full of authors about their book marketing experiences and you will get three horror stories to one good one. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons. One is that people are much more open to complaining than to praise a service. The second is a bit more complex, and some things we will address in a moment.
What it comes down to is the above section, expanded. Authors have little education and understanding when it comes to book marketing. So they “try” something without understanding the necessary ingredients, and it fails.
Let’s take a practical, real-world example. Let’s say you go to bake a cake, but without a recipe. First, you wouldn’t assemble all of your ingredients on a counter, just look at them, and say, “This doesn’t look a thing like a cake.” Assuming you know what a good cake looks like, you would be right. The ingredients, not assembled, don’t look like a good cake.
But when it comes to marketing, many authors don’t even understand what a “cake” or a good marketing plan, looks like. They are trying to make the cake without a recipe, but also without knowing what the final product should look like.
Second, if you don’t know how to blend the ingredients, even if you know what a good cake looks like, and it what proportions, your cake may not look or taste good at all unless you just get lucky. Too much salt, too much sugar, not enough flour or too much, and you will either create a brick or a runny mess, and it might taste awful.
If at the end of this you said, “Cake baking doesn’t work for me, and it’s just not worth it,” some other people who have never tried making their own cakes or also failed might say the same thing.
But somewhere in the room, a baker and successful cake maker understand that cake baking does work, you’ve just botched your efforts. Good baking takes practice.
So does good book marketing. It takes the right ingredients, like professional graphics, correct targeting, a good landing page, and more to make the recipe right. Too much or too little of something or the wrong mix, or one substandard ingredient, and the whole thing goes bad.
Because book marketing did not work for someone else, you need to know WHY it did not work for them. It may not be the fault of Facebook or Amazon, but rather a fault of the wrong recipe. But those book marketing failures continue to be spread as if they are gospel.
The marketing issue for book marketing is those narratives are not entirely accurate.
The Time Factor
Okay, let’s get real for a second. Vetting companies takes time. So does educating yourself about ads and ad platforms. And so does learning the right recipe for you, because it is different for everyone. So the next thing authors will say is:
I don’t have time for marketing.
It may even be true. In many cases, the author may have a day job, kids, dogs, a family. Making time is hard, and when it comes to that time, writing comes ahead of marketing. It’s understandable, and if you feel this way, you are far from alone.
This brings us to something I have talked about before: there is a difference between wanting to sell a lot of books in order to make money and maybe eventually do this for a living and just writing for the love of it. That difference is really where time comes into play.
When I first started with this gig, I worked a day job, had kids, and knew only one way to get enough time to do everything I thought I needed to do: give up sleep, and often weekends. And guess what? I still do the same things from time to time, minus the day job.
Being a full-time writer is a full-time job, sometimes and then some. You will never “have time” for everything you want and need to do. You have to make time.
On the flip side, self-care is all-important and often neglected. So you also need to reasonably pace yourself. For some authors that means they will never do this full time, and that is perfectly okay. Or it may take them longer to get to the place where they can kiss their day job goodbye.
I often get pushback when I talk about this, so I won’t go any further. I’ll just say this: you must balance things and if you want to sell books, you must find time to market them. There is no shortcut or substitute for time. Sure, you can get someone to do it for you, but you will have to pay them, and that makes it much harder to make your books profitable.
Lack of Financial Investment (For Several Reasons)
Alright, so this is where the rubber hits the road for many authors. Besides time, they will make the following statement:
I don’t have money for book marketing.
I get that too. I started out with kids at home and a day job, and finding money to market was hard at best, impossible at worst. There are a lot of factors at play here.
- You may need the support of your spouse or partner. It can be even tougher if you don’t have one.
- The extra time you put into the day job or jobs for money will cut into the time you can spend writing, learning about marketing, and actually marketing your work.
- Life gets in the way. Emergency car repairs, home repairs, and even paying for a vacation can get in the way of a book marketing budget.
With no desire to look too closely at anyone’s finances, I can offer you some suggestions. First, if you have to, create a savings account for marketing. You may not be able to market now, but you will be able to when you have the money. Second, save all of your royalty money toward marketing. Even if it is a small amount, use it to reinvest in yourself and your books. Third, explore free or low-cost marketing efforts first. Start small and build from there.
Finally, if you can, get a BookBub deal or something like it and take your earnings from a big event and a large number of one time sales, and reinvest that in ads. Several author friends started this way, with a big bunch of cash at first that they slowly invested in education and ads to develop a book marketing budget.
And that’s the key. Eventually, you need to get to the point where you have a marketing budget for your books, and then you can really start to tweak your strategy.
Book marketing has a marketing problem because authors fail to understand the cost, but also what brings us to our next point: they fail to have a plan or a budget at all.
No Planning or Poor Planning
“So what’s your business plan?” someone asks an author.
“Well, I don’t have a business, per se. I just wrote a book.”
Wrong answer. You have written a book, yes, but if you want to sell that book too, you are a small business owner. You have a product to sell, just like any other small business. This means you also need a marketing plan and the above-mentioned budget. Don’t have one? You might want to ask yourself why you are publishing a book.
Because if you want people to read your work, the way they do that is by buying it. And to buy it, they need to know it exists. Which means you need to market it. Marketing is not a dirty word, instead, it is simply how you let your existing readers and new readers know that your book is available and where.
If you don’t have a plan for how to do that, you are just expecting it to happen accidentally or by some kind of magic. Both are rare to the point of being pretty non-existent. Remember when some teacher first said to you in junior high or high school that failing to plan was the same as planning to fail? They were right.
The choice is yours though. You can make a plan, one which includes all the things we have talked about so far, or you don’t. The results you get will be proportional to the amount of planning you put in. It really is that simple.
The reason book marketing has a marketing problem is that authors do not like to plan and they don’t want to put the business work into their writing business (in some cases) while in others they want to do the work, but don’t know how, and have no idea where to start.
To sell books you need a business plan and some kind of marketing plan and strategy. Otherwise, you’re just counting on luck to get you where you want to go.
Here’s the meat of the issue. Most of the above all flow from fear: we as humans naturally fear the unknown. We don’t know enough about book marketing as authors, and what we do know, or at least what we are told is bad. And there is no universal marketing program working to change that impression.
As a result, many authors freeze and do nothing. The reaction is perfectly natural, and if you have been victim to it, congratulations. Welcome to the club.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Authors don’t have to be afraid of book marketing. It doesn’t have to be scary or repulsive. We can talk about genuine ethical and human ways to connect with your readers. We can solve the marketing problem book marketing has.
So there is a lot of information here, and yet this guide is still not complete. There are many other factors related to book marketing, and we cannot possibly address all of the marketing issues it has in one single post or document. But we can come to some conclusions:
Book marketing is necessary to sell books and connect with readers.
It can be done well, ethically, on a budget, and without undue risk. Note that I say “undue risk” here, as risk is always a factor, but you can mitigate it quite a bit.
Risk and fear are conquered by education. Knowledge wins every time.
The time and money needed to learn and execute marketing can be found through thorough planning, and the right strategy will generate revenue and time that can be reinvested in your work.
Book marketing has a marketing problem. It’s caused in part by a fractured industry with no clear plan of educating and reassuring authors with results-based education and case studies. But it’s also caused by the “It didn’t work for me” author crowd that decries every effort and slams platforms based on incomplete and misplaced efforts.
Meantime, the platforms do little to counter this impression. Resources are out there, but hard to find and decipher, and good information abounds with the bad.
The solution is to work together as author groups and collective minds. We can solve the problem of book marketing having a bad name and a marketing problem. Because certainly, no one else is doing it for us. And tell your friends about the benefits of book marketing. Because word of mouth is still the best advertising.
Troy is a freelance writer, author, and blogger who lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho with the love of his life and three very talented dogs.
Passionate about writing dark psychological thrillers, he is an avid cyclist, skier, hiker, all-around outdoorsman, and a terrible beginning golfer.