Guide to self-publishing, part 3: marketing


mark 2So, what do you need to market your book? Step one – a great novel, for sure, with a brilliant cover. If you don’t have that, you’ll only get so far, no matter how hard you push. People need to like it.

Step two – you need reviews (before your book comes out) and finally, step three – you need to direct people to buy your book. Easy, huh?

Step one in this series covered the planning aspects of your self-pubbed process and step two covered how to set up your author platform (because it needs to be established before you get your book out there). In step three, we’ll be looking at how the marketing element might be easier than you think, if you do everything in the correct order.*

Since I self-published my book five months’ ago I’ve learnt that there are now thousands of companies/services that have sprung up to ask for my money to promote my book. You need to spend money to make money, right? Well, to a point. Some of these services seem rather cool, but maybe more in idea than actual returns, e.g. I love the idea of Bublish, which lets you send out little book bubbles (extracts) of your books through social media. I just don’t think that you’ll sell anything much through social media directly and who wants to get constant tweets or blog posts about buying someone’s book without offering anything else? Moreover, for all the good services out there, there’s a ton of shit that costs a fortune.

The most well-known saying about marketing is “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” often attributed to John Wanamaker, a 19th century department store owner and early marketing pioneer. But don’t mistake this as a reason to market your book randomly; it’s just too time-consuming and ultimately worthless. You need a plan.

So, the thing I’ve discovered is that no one will buy your book if no one else has read it! People say that the goal is for about 100 reviews on Amazon before you start running promotions and then people might buy it, but remember that people will choose to leave their reviews wherever they want to (not where you want them to). You have to be fine with this, but it will mean it takes time to build up your Amazon reviews (and goodreads may move more quickly).

So, your marketing strategy needs to be in two halves; getting reviews first, then a little advertising. This is a long post, but bear with me; it’s a big topic and an even bigger job of work! Make sure you get it right…

A) To get reviews:

I’d advise giving your book away for free as much as possible to get the first 100 reviews. That’s obviously going to be a few hundred copies, maybe more, but I’m talking e-versions, ideally. You haven’t lost anything (money or respect) and you have everything to gain (reviews, goodwill, a following, an audience). Remember if you’re selling your book on Amazon, it can’t be listed as permanently free on another site (because Amazon has to price match and will ultimately bring your price down to zero), so you will need to give your book away directly to the reader or by running competitions. This also outlaws any service such as noisetrade, where people download your book and pay what they think it deserves.

1) Definitely use goodreads as much as they’ll allow (without being labelled a spammer) by joining Read to Review mailing lists. This will get you started. (You can also give away hard copies if you can afford it). Remember to use goodreads as a reader first and foremost; make friends and talk books, then people will gravitate towards your book by themselves. This has happened for me.

2) Definitely set up giveaways on Library Thing and Book Likes. Make sure these run for 2 weeks or so and I’d suggest giving away the maximum of 100 on each. I’ve had some really great reviews from these users. You can also repeat the same giveaways as often as you like, although you obviously see diminishing returns.

3) If you can afford it, you might use netgalley (about $400 for six months), which claims to have a 25% review rate (better than average). It’s very expensive and I’m not sure about the return yet – I’m still only two months into using it – only 26 reviews so far and only half of those on Amazon – but over 400 people have asked to read the book. You are also allowed to contact the people after they’ve downloaded the book to remind them to review. Some book bloggers are able to get your book listed for one month on netgalley as part of a (much cheaper) promotional deal, which might be worth considering if you don’t want to fork out for the rest.

4) You can encourage reviews by putting all or part of your book on wattpad or widbook – great if you have other books to direct fans to buy and it might help to build a fan base.

5) There are a few sites where you can list your book, specifically to ask for reviews. Storycartel is a review website that I liked the look of, but it charges $30 to list your book and I only got about 4 reviews – so not a great return. Inkspand is another where you pay for reviewers, but I think they offer one or two free reviews, which I used.

6) There are a few sites that you can put your book on for people to find but that I don’t update very often. I’m still working out their relevance and would be interested to hear if you use different ones. There are probably tons more: iAuthor, booklife, Book Goodies, Book Daily, Booklover’s Daily, etc. where you list your book. These have very expensive advertising offers that you can use to promote your book, but as I haven’t used them, I’d be keen to hear of their value to you.

7) Take all the freebies/trials that you can and see what works for you. I took an AMC (author marketing club) trial for 3 months that was reasonably useful. They have a very slick tool that lets you find email addresses of the top reviewers on Amazon of similar books to your own. You can then send them direct emails to ask for reviews. It sounds great but most reviewers didn’t reply and I only found one reviewer through this route. Similarly, I took a free Bublish upgrade to check it out. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

8) Set up giveaways yourself. Rafflecopter will let you run really professional giveaways on your facebook page. It’s also a great way to link people into your social media sites as you can ask that they follow you in order to win a copy of your book. BookDaily ran a blog on how to get the most out of Rafflecopter here.

9) You can search for book bloggers through the various lists online and approach them directly. This is very laborious work but it does get returns. Many of my author interviews were from this method and I gave away a lot of books. Indeed, a great means of exposure can be getting guest posts on other people’s blogs, such as author interviews, extracts, character posts, etc. It helps if you have a space for other people’s posts on your own blog – most book bloggers are writers too and you can do a sort of trade. Make sure you are professional in your approach; this template might help.

10) You can organise a blog tour (I have a separate post on how to do this successfully) to gain overall exposure and give away copies or you can organise a Review Only book blog tour. The costs and efficacy of these can vary wildly, so read my separate post.

11) BookBaby ran an article detailing where it was possible to get reviews for self-published books. Their list included: Digital Book TodayKirkusSelf-Publishing ReviewIndieReader.comIndie B.R.A.G.PW Select (Publisher’s Weekly)Blue Ink ReviewThe Indie Reviewer List — (not a review site itself, but a great resource with links and contacts for book reviewers and blogs that highlight self-published literature) and Book Blogger Directory — (similarly, a “comprehensive listing of book blogs”).

I’ll be updating this list as and when I find new sites (I’ll also make corrections).

B) Promotions

Once, you have your reviews on goodreads and Amazon, I’d start promoting. There are tons of daily email alerts that you can pay to list your book on, if it’s at a reduced price (this is a great way to advertise). It isn’t always the easiest thing to reduce your book price (particularly if you go with third-party companies such as BookBaby, who cannot guarantee a specific advertising date) so research this option thoroughly before you decide on a publishing route. I think KDP (Amazon’s Kindle publishing programme) offers a certain number of days at a reduced price per year.

By far the best promotional outlet is BookBub, which no one can get onto but has a very high distribution. They have very specific qualifications (high ratings, bargain price for a very short time) and BookGorilla is next.

Once you’ve approached these two, move down the list to this next group. They all have different costs and policies (a set number of 5* reviews, for instance) and include Sweet Free Books, EReader News Today, Riffle, Choosy Bookworm, eBookLister, The EReader Cafe, Bargain Booksy, Reading Deals, PeopleReads, The Fussy Librarian. These are what I used and I’ll be updating my figures for these as I get them in.

Some others are DailyCheapReads, or UK version, Daily Free EBooks (UK), Pixel of Ink, EBook Bargains UK, Digital Book Today, Indie Book Bargains (UK), Best EBooks Free, FreeBooksy, eBooksHabit, Pixelscroll, eBooks Habit and Booktastik.

There are a few more marketing opportunities listed on here. I checked them out; they didn’t seem right for me, but they might be for you.

If your book is free, Bibliocrunch ran a great article listing loads of places you can post your book.

N.B. Don’t get hung up on where you are in Amazon’s ranking; these can rise and fall very quickly. It might give you a day of false “hurrahs” and jumping up and down but the real test is longevity – how long you’re hanging around the top spots. This is far more likely if you start your promotions with lots of reviews.

Again, I’ll be updating this section, as and when.

 C) Maximise your opportunities

Finally, you need to make sure that you’re making the most of everything that you have. If you’ve worked very hard to build up a large list of subscribers on your website, then now is the ideal time to email them with your book news! Lots of people specifically state that this is by far the most effective way to market your book (see Tim Grahl’s book here).

It’s also worth mentioning a little something about etiquette. You’re asking people to do quite a lot on your behalf. You might be giving your book away for free (and you think it’s amazing, right?) but people have busy lives and it takes a lot of time to read and review a book:

1) Make sure you’re professional about contacting people to ask for reviews. I’ve written a separate blog post on this, but use a proper template, check out reviewer’s availability and address them in an individual email by their name (no bulk emails). Anything else and it makes it much harder for the rest of us to get reviews as we come along behind you.

2) Make every email count. Make sure your email has a signature with all your contact details so people can find you easily (you wouldn’t believe the requests I get from people for author interviews with no links to their blog). Ask them to put your book on goodreads as one that they’re currently reading, so they do some marketing for you. Get them to sign up to being contacted again – either to read your next book or to subscribe to a newsletter, etc. Don’t waste any opportunity.

3) The general rule should be to behave as if you’re working in an office with the same kind of etiquette. If you’ve never worked in an office, and are unsure how to behave, make-believe! You’re a writer, after all. Someone once reminded me that you should conduct all your emails as if you’re on the phone (for the most part). When would you ever just put the phone down without saying bye or launch straight into what you want without any background or explanation first? It’s just plain rude.

So, that’s it! Good luck! Any comments/opinions/additions, please leave them below.


This is part iii in a four-part series on self-publishing:

1. Preparation

2. Your author platform

3. Marketing tools

4. Strategy & Timeline

*N.B. All this stuff is learned from the roll-out of my first book rather than achieved. It’s what I intend to do with the next one. That means, I won’t know the actual impact of this marketing plan ’til about a year’s time. I’ll get back to you… so feel free to ignore me until then, ha ha!

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