Seven Ways to Market Your Self-Published Novel
Congratulations! You’ve published your first novel (or maybe your second or your third) and now you’re ready to market it.
This can be a daunting moment. I think all of us secretly hope that our novel will be miraculously discovered and recognised as the masterpiece it truly is … but we know that isn’t going to happen without some sort of marketing.
The good news – especially if the very idea of marketing makes you shudder – is that there’s no single “right” way to let the world know about your book. There are lots of different techniques you might try, depending on the type of book you’ve written, and the type of author you are.
I’m focusing on self-published novelists in this post. Many of these suggestions will work just fine for traditionally published authors too, but as a self-publisher, you have full control over things like the price of your book – and carte blanche to market in any way you see fit.
I’ve also kept this list short: seven ideas rather than the 50+ you might find on some sites. I’ve come across some huge lists of marketing ideas for novelists … but often I end up feeling that most of the ideas aren’t necessarily all that workable or impactful.
While there are an almost unlimited number of things you could do to promote your novel, in this post, I’m going to focus on seven very common ones:
#1: Radio and/or TV Interviews
For some authors, this is what comes to mind when they think of marketing: getting onto local radio, or even onto a local TV station, to talk about their novel.
While that’s possible, and a perfectly reasonable thing to aim for you if you’d like to do it, don’t rely on mainstream media to deliver sales. (It can, of course, be a great way to build your credibility and brand.) Joanna Penn has written frankly about the disappointing lack of sales she saw as a result of being on TV and in the national press:
Many authors spend a lot of money hiring publicists to get them into this kind of media, but in my experience, it doesn’t sell books directly because there is no clickable buy link. It takes a lot of effort to get from glimmer of interest on the TV to going online to buy the book. Sky News even got the book title wrong!
I’ve seen no spike at all in book sales or website traffic because of these appearances. I’ve been on TV and in national press before, and there was no spike then either.
In online writing-related groups and forums though, I have seen some authors mention radio, in particular, as being fairly accessible and giving them at least a modest sales boost … so if you have a novel that might go down well on local radio (one set in your area, for instance), then it could be worth a try.
Book Promotion: Making the Most of Local Radio Opportunities, Debbie Young, Self Publishing Advice (from ALLi)
This post from Debbie Young rounds up the experience of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) members when being interviewed on local radio. There are lots of excellent, practical tips in here, as well as plenty of reassurance if you’re feeling nervous at the idea of being on radio.
#2: Blog Tours or Guest Posting
This is another fairly common first route into marketing for new self-publishing authors. You may have seen posts from other novelists on “blog tours” or “blog book tours” around different blogs, or you may have come across some of the many individuals and companies that organise such tours.
My own experience of doing a blog tour, back in 2012 for Lycopolis, wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for! I sold a handful of novels as a result of my posts – but I spent about an hour writing each post, for a very small return on my time.
Again, I’ve heard other authors say similar things about blog tours: they might be effective for selling non-fiction, but they’re not necessarily a great way to promote a novel. As Dianne Greenlay puts it in Reaching Readers: Lessons Learned From Blog Tours:
All [eight] of the authors saw a large increase in Twitter followers (up to 400 new ones; some of my new followers are STILL tweeting about my books) and FB likes (100-200). A few of us got reviews, all got feedback on our blurbs and covers, but most saw only modest, if any, increase in sales, with the exception of one author who reported enough sales to boost her book well into the top 100 ranking area in several categories. This author also ran a free promotion immediately after the tour and had over 97,000 downloads.
As with traditional media, though, you might find they’re a good way to get your name out there and build your brand.
Gain Exposure With an Online Blog Tour: 50+ Book Blog Tour Sites with Comparisons, CJ McDaniel, Adazing
This post explains briefly what blog tours are, and gives a list of tour sites – with prices and genres. These sites arrange a blog tour for you, contacting bloggers and also (if you pay for it!) running giveaways / competitions.
#3: Reaching Out to Book Bloggers
“Book bloggers” are, as you might guess, bloggers who write about books. They are generally open to receiving books to review (though do check they’re happy with a digital copy – and with self-published work; most are).
Many book bloggers have quite a backlog of books to get through, and they won’t necessarily be able to read everything they’re sent. If they do review your book, though, they’ll normally publish a review on Amazon and on Goodreads as well as on their own blog – improving your presence there.
The Indie Reviewers List from the Indie View is a very handy resource for finding book bloggers: you can see at a glance what genres the various reviewers do or don’t accept. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking for book bloggers to approach. Check their sites carefully too, though, as they may have more details there about the genres / types of book they want, and about whether they’re currently open for submissions.
These two practical, straightforward posts give lots of excellent tips about approaching book bloggers. Some of the advice might seem a little basic – but it doesn’t hurt to know that you’re already thinking along the right lines.
#4: Blogging and Social Media
I’ve lumped these in together as they have similar features for authors marketing their own fiction. Both can be seen as an “easy” or “free” way to market … but starting your own blog, or building a following on social media, can be a huge amount of work.
Wherever you’re posting content, you can’t simply promote your book. Even posting free excerpts from it isn’t likely to get you far. You’ll need to write posts that connect with your potential readers.
Joanna Penn does this very well with her blog on JFPenn.com, where she writes very readable articles about strange and sometimes macabre things in interesting places around the world (“14 Weird And Wonderful Places To See In Spain”, for instance, or “12 Of The World’s Best Anatomical Museums”): this ties in well with the dark thriller nature of her fiction, and with the international locations used.
Blogging isn’t going to bring you an audience overnight, though, especially if you’re a fiction author. As Jane Friedman explains in How to Start Blogging: A Definitive Guide for Authors:
Fiction writers can have successful blogs as well, especially if they’re able to focus on a specific topic, theme, or subgenre—in other words, a particular cohort of readers. But I find it most difficult for unpublished novelists to gain traction with an author blog; only after the novelist has built a name for herself does a blog readership tend to develop. With nonfiction authors, the opposite is the case: blogging can help build a platform that leads to a book deal.
Is Blogging a Good Use of Your Writing Time?, Debbie Young, Self Publishing Advice (from ALLi)
This is another great round-up post from ALLi, featuring lots of members’ stories about why blogging has been worthwhile for them (though not necessarily in terms of book sales). There are some good tips in here, too.
#5: Paying for Advertising on Facebook or Amazon
Paid advertising can be a good shortcut if you don’t have a lot of time … though keep in mind that wherever you advertise, you’ll have to spend some time (possibly quite a lot!) getting to grips both with the technicalities of it, and with the art of crafting good ad copy.
Like any other advertising platform, the AMS platform comes with its own challenges and learning curve. And like any other platform, success largely depends on data analysis and iteration.
Some authors feel quite uneasy at the idea of advertising, either because it feels overly commercial, or because it involves handing over money! If you can get advertising working well for you and your books, though, you’re investing money in order to make more – and frankly, if you could pay $10 to make $20 back, why wouldn’t you?
With advertising, though, you do need to be prepared to for your ads to be unprofitable initially, so make sure you’re only spending money that you can afford to lose. You’ll also need to be comfortable with analysing the data from your ads: Brian Meeks’ book Mastering Amazon Ads is great on this. Once you’ve read the book, you’ll also want to join his very helpful and active Facebook group, Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide – Beta Group.)
Advertising For Authors With Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
This podcast interview (with full transcript) explains how to use Facebook and Amazon ads effectively, with lots of concrete tips about things like finding keywords and how to know if you’re actually making any profit. Mark Dawson has a (huge, pricy!) course about running ads, and really knows his stuff, so this podcast is well worth a listen or read.
#6: Paying for Advertising on an Email List
Before Facebook and Amazon ads were really part of the self-publishing scene, authors advertised through email lists – and of course many still do. This can be a great way to give your novel a big boost in sales, though it does come at a price.
The largest and most popular of the email lists is BookBub: you have to submit your novel and hope they’ll give you a slot (and a lot of people get rejected time and time again). It costs a lot to advertise on BookBub, especially if you write in a popular genre. A $0.99 thriller, for instance, will cost you $588 to advertise.
There are plenty of cheaper email lists around (you can find a list of them on the Self Publishing Review blog here) – so you may want to try these first while you fine-tune your blurb and gather more reviews for your novels.
Promoting Your Self-Publishing Book With BookBub, Eva Melusine Thieme
This detailed article explains how BookBub works, and gives tips on how to at least make your money back if you do get accepted (BookBub only accept 10 – 20% of submissions).
#7: Using Your Own Email List
I’m sure you’ll have come across the advice to build an email list of readers. It’s excellent advice, and of course marketing to your own dedicated fans will always be more effective than promoting your novel to the masses.
Collecting readers’ email addresses isn’t as difficult or intimidating as many people think. There are a ton of people out there who would love to find out about your next book, but simply don’t know how to go about it. Your job is to make it easy for them, give them a reason to trust you with their email, and then honour that relationship.
The big drawback here, though, is that it’s hard to build your email list when you don’t yet have many (or any!) readers. Many authors will give away a freebie, like a novella or even a whole novel, to new subscribers – but this is also tricky if you’ve only written one or two novels.
I’d see your own email list, then, as something to use in conjunction with at least one of the other methods – at least until you have a few hundred or even a few thousand subscribers.
How To Grow Your Fiction Email List Subscribers. My Own Case Study, Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
Although this post dates from 2015, it’s packed with information that’s still useful and relevant. If you’re just getting started with creating your own email list, this is a good place to begin: Joanna includes examples of how she uses an ad in the front (not just the back!) of her ebooks to encourage people to join her email list.
Finally, whichever method you choose, do make sure you set aside time for marketing, as well as for writing more fiction.
I know how hard this can be! Back in June 2016, I reviewed five books about book marketing and I have to confess that I’ve only made sporadic process in marketing my novels since then. I have, at least, brought out the third novel in my Lycopolis trilogy, and got a short story and a novella nearly ready to go as freebies – so hopefully by the end of 2018, I’ll have plenty of marketing progress to share with you.
This year, I’m making time to market by setting aside couple of focused hours each week (7 am – 9 am on a Sunday morning). If, like me, you can only spend a couple of hours on marketing each week, you may need to accept it’ll take a while to see progress … but even small steps add up.
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I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.