Marketing books is one of the most essential parts of the publishing process—and also, frequently, one of the most frustrating. The nightmare scenario for any author is to spend months creating a book, only to have it go completely unnoticed by reviewers and readers.
The last decade has been arguably the most tumultuous in the history of the publishing industry, due in no small part to the advent of ebooks and the accompanying rise in self-publishing. The newfound ease with which anyone can become a published author means that any book published today faces competition from a million new releases every single year. In some ways, marketing books has never been more difficult.
Yet in other ways, it’s never been easier. That’s because alongside the rise of self-publishing have come countless new ways for books to find their audiences. So, don’t lose hope! Instead, take advantage of these five important concepts for developing and executing your book marketing plan.
Whether you’re working with a traditional publisher or going it alone, you are responsible for building your author platform, the heart of all your book marketing efforts. The best time to start: yesterday! It’s not uncommon for savvy authors to begin these activities a full year or more before a book launch.
What does that mean? Well, first, you need a website. If you’re not web savvy, don’t worry. These days you have your pick of affordable platforms that can help you build a pro-looking website with relatively little knowledge required. Here’s a good breakdown of options: Top 5 Platforms for Easily Creating Your Author Website.
You should also have an author page on Facebook, and probably a Twitter account as well, and whatever other forms of social media that will help you reach your audience where they hang out the most. For example, if you’re targeting a business audience, you’ll definitely want to use LinkedIn. Modern readers expect authors to be accessible, and by setting up your online presence early, you can begin building a readership that anticipates the release of your book well in advance. As your book launch draws closer, be sure your book is also visible on Amazon and Goodreads—the latter can be a particularly effective resource in drawing the attention of readers.
And that brings us to our next tip…
Know Your Message
“What will this book do for me?” is the question to keep in mind for every potential reader.
When they’re in buying mode, the average book browser is not interested in the book’s history, your source of inspiration, or what led you to write it. They’re all about the content.
This means it’s essential for you to convey the essential message or premise of your book in a short paragraph that takes less than 30 seconds for someone to grasp. This message should be properly tailored to the target audience and be unique in regards to the competition. In other words, you must speak directly to the intended buyer of your book.
Know Your Audience
Who is your intended audience? And how should your book be categorized so that your audience can find it?
If you can’t answer these questions, you’re going to have a very difficult time selling your book to readers—or, before that, to agents and publishers, if you’re pursuing traditional publishing. The world is filled with more than 7 billion wildly different human beings, and it’s hard to grab the attention of any of them if you don’t know what subset of readers you’re looking for.
To be sure, this is easier for some books than others. If you’ve written a work of prescriptive nonfiction about teaching children how to swim, then you know you’re looking for parents and/or teachers and instructors who work with children in elementary schools and summer camps. Your readers are probably also interested in swimming. On the other hand, if you’ve written a work of literary fiction about a boy who comes of age working in his uncle’s garage, your readership may be less obvious. Is the book intended for teenagers (YA) or adults? Is an interest in cars relevant? Is there a way to narrow down your readership beyond those who enjoy well-written and contemplative drama? Even when the answers are unclear, it’s very important to take the time to try and figure them out. If you don’t know who your readers are, you won’t know how to find them.
Once you’ve identified your intended audience, effectively marketing a book to them means making it as easy as possible for them to discover it. Here are three key resources to help you make your book more visible to the right potential readers:
1) BISAC: Begin by exploring BISAC Subject Headings as defined by the Book Industry Study Group. BISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications, an industry standard for book categorization. Click on the category that best defines your book and it will bring up a list of subcategories, each accompanied by an alphanumeric code consisting of 9 characters. Many retail outlets require publishers to use BISAC Subject Headings when submitting books for listing or sale, so defining this will help you when you get to the distribution stage while also helping you narrow down your target audience.
2) Amazon: Next, set aside some time to dig into the categories and subcategories on Amazon. These will not match the BISAC categories, but there is some overlap, and defining where your book falls here is important if you’re planning to make it available on Amazon. To do this, check the categories that appear halfway down on the left-hand panel on the Books at Amazon page, under the Books heading. Then, click on the categories most relevant to your book to open the subcategories listings. Be sure to explore and familiarize yourself with different categories and not pigeon-hole your book too quickly. As of this writing, Amazon allows you to select two categories as well as seven keywords that can be strategically used to direct searching readers to your book. Additionally, you can check out Amazon’s advice for Selecting Browsing Categories and Author Alchemy’s How to Write an Author Profile on Amazon.
3) Goodreads: Finally, check out the genres on Goodreads, which each bring up subgenres much like Amazon’s. Part book database and part social media platform, Goodreads is used by millions of readers to find book recommendations, read reviews, make wish lists, track their reading, keep up with what friends are reading, and acquire books. With 55 million members, it’s the largest site in the world dedicated to readers! While Goodreads doesn’t directly sell books, they link listings to sellers including Audible, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Abebooks, Book Depository, Indigo, Half, Alibris, Better World Books, IndieBound, and of course, Amazon (among these, IndieBound is fantastic resource dedicated to empowering independent, local booksellers, an especially worthy effort when you’re an indie author).
Learn Marketing Strategies
Successful marketers understand how consumers find products. But more importantly, they learn the tools and concepts that will enable them to take advantage of that information. This includes a focus on the following three fundamentals of book marketing online:
- Presenting the Right Message: Ensuring, basically, that your marketing approach answers readers’ question of “what will this book do for me?”
- Using Effective Calls to Action (CTA): Interacting with readers where they hang out online by asking questions and encouraging them to take specific actions, like asking for a review and linking to a particular review site, or asking them to post using a certain hashtag on Twitter.
- Employing Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Using phrasing consistent with internet searches to drive readers toward your website and your book. If SEO is new to you, check out the Beginners Guide to SEO.
These basics help ensure that readers discover and become engaged with you and your writing. The more you know, the more likely this becomes.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help When Marketing Books
The world is filled with aspiring authors, and many of them are struggling with the same questions as you. That’s why articles like this one exist, not to mention any number of websites, blogs, and books filled with ideas for marketing your writing.
But you need not rely purely on such resources. You can also rely on people. Freelance book marketers and publicists typically have years of experience helping other people’s writing find its audience, and if you know that you find marketing particularly difficult—just like writing itself, marketing is both a talent and skill, and something at which some will struggle more than others—then it’s not a bad idea to hire someone to guide you and your book through the process for a period of at least three months.
After all, “self-publishing” doesn’t really mean doing it all on your own. It just means managing the process, and part of managing is bringing on the editors, layout artists, cover artists, and marketers you need to give your book the best chance of success. And if you’re working with a publisher, they’re sure to expect you to participate in their book marketing plans, plus have some ideas of your own.
Book promotion is not an exact science, but if you prepare, and if you do everything you can to get your book out there, it doesn’t have to be intimidating. And if you want to be successful as an author, you need to treat the task of marketing with as much importance as you do writing and publishing.
Remember: Your readers are out there, waiting to discover what you have to offer. It’s up to you to find them.