Every author wants to know the best way to promote a book. And when you’re an indie or self-published author, identifying the best practices is even more critical. So, I’m going to offer my #1 top tip to getting your book marketing efforts off on the right foot. What you find may surprise you.
Three “Givens” Before You Bother Promoting Your Book
Let’s begin by stating some assumptions or “givens” for the advice I’m about to give you.
First, that your book is in the best shape it can possibly be. That means you’ve taken the time to learn and perfect your writing skills in your chosen genre. You’ve gotten objective feedback from others (and by objective, I mean from people who are neither related to you nor inclined to avoid hurting your feelings). And, if budget allows, you’ve had your draft edited by a professional book editor at various levels (developmental, copyediting, and proofreading).
Second, that your packaging is in the best shape it can be. When it comes to publishing a book, “packaging” includes the obvious like your cover art and interior layout (print) or formatting (ebooks). It also includes not-so-obvious elements such as:
- price for each edition
- cover copy/online book description
- author photo and bio
- BISAC codes or categories selected
[Check out this experiment in which four book covers were redone professionally and tested against the originals to see which got more click-throughs. Guess what happened?]
And third, this article assumes that you are a relatively new author with a small or nonexistent following. This last part matters because the best way to promote a book from an established bestselling author or even a new author with a strong following is not going to be the best way to promote a book from someone who is still growing an audience. In this article, I’m talking to the latter.
If the first two “givens” aren’t true for you, then take a deep breath and re-evaluate. What do you really want to get out of this publishing experience? If you’re doing this for fun, to check an item off your bucket list, or generally don’t have high expectations, then you can get away with skimping on the above. But if you’re serious about publishing success—which I’m defining here as selling books and building an audience—you must have items one and two in place.
The Secret to Book Marketing Success
So, given these factors, you’re about to publish your book or your book is already out there. You’re waiting, hoping, for eager readers to discover it. And you’re wondering, what’s the best way to promote a book?
Here’s a secret: The number one key to success in today’s book marketplace is online book reviews. So, the best way to promote a book is to focus on getting as many positive reviews as quickly as possible.
But, you may be thinking, don’t I need to sell books to get reviews? Shouldn’t I focus on how to generate sales?
I know it may seem counterintuitive. But here’s the thing: If you’re a new or relatively new author without a large mailing list, your first goal is not to generate sales but to generate reader reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads. And there are two very good reasons why.
Why Reviews Matter More Than Sales (At First)
Let me be crystal clear here: In the long run, positive reviews won’t pay your bills. But again, for most new independent authors, your best long-term sales results actually start with an effort to get reviews. And while review-building strategies can overlap with sales strategies, they are not entirely the same. I’ll talk more about that in my follow-up post, but for now, let’s return to the reasons why reviews matter more than sales in the beginning of your book publishing journey.
For one thing, most of the best book promotion tools out there now require authors to have a certain number of positive reviews on these sites to even use the tool. Also, once a book reaches a certain number of reviews, Amazon’s mysterious algorithm kicks in to start promoting the book more aggressively. For example, it may start showing up in direct marketing emails to readers or highlighted in various ways on the site. (Some sources suggest it takes as little as 15 and as many as 50 before you really see support from the retailer.)
Moreover, even if you’re successfully driving traffic to your sales page, you’ll likely lose the sale if you don’t have more than a handful of positive reviews. Today’s shoppers rely heavily on user reviews when choosing books and other products, too. This is especially true, though, when shopping books from unknown authors or those who lack the endorsement of a recognized gatekeeper (aka book publisher). Just think about your own purchasing habits—when comparing two similar books, one with 5 reviews and one with 56, I bet I can guess which one you’ll buy.
So, while you certainly can just focus on getting as many sales as possible when you launch your book, that’s a painful uphill battle for most of you. If you shift your focus instead to generating positive reviews—again, just at first—you’ll see more sales come more easily later on. And since the best way to promote a book is the way that ultimately creates a steady flow of sales, working on getting those 4- and 5-star reviews is going to give you the best results overall.
How Many Reviews Do I Need to Sell More Books?
I suggest 25 reviews (4- and 5-star reviews, so your average rating remains high) as a good first benchmark. It’s not an overwhelming number but it can feel like a stretch when you’re just starting out. (I mean, seriously, why is it so hard to get your friends and family to post reviews?!). More importantly, you’ll qualify for many excellent book promotion tools and start getting noticed by Amazon’s engine. I’ve had a few clients notice that their books showed up on Amazon marketing emails around 15-20 reviews, so 25 seems like a solid goal with real benefits.
Once you hit your first benchmark, though, don’t stop. Choose your next benchmark and make a plan to get there even while you start implementing a plan for increased sales. An ideal book marketing strategy includes ongoing efforts to build up reviews and sales. All givens being satisfied, the more positive reviews you accumulate, the more books you’ll sell. It’s not direct math as in X number of reviews = Y number of sales. Still, it’s a simple correlation that’s held true for thousands of authors.
So, how do you get more book reviews online? I’m glad you asked! Next time, I’ll share my top tips and a list of tools for doing exactly that. In the meantime, it would be really helpful for our readers if you shared some of your most effective methods for getting reviews in the Comments below. Maybe I’ll include your recommendations in the Ultimate Guide I’m assembling!
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.