“Writing is a business, and a business needs to be promoted, or it will fail.”
Your finished manuscript is in your hands! How good does that feel? All those endless hours of solitude writing your novel, and now it is ready to launch to the world. It may be your first step into publishing, or you have several books under your belt, but your story won’t be read if your readers don’t know it’s out there. It is crucial to allocate time to market and sell your books. Whether you are self-publishing for the first time or an established author working with a traditional publisher, it is essential to explore marketing methods and be inspired to develop your own ideas.
When I wrote my first novel (Coffee Tea the Gypsy & Me), I couldn’t find a publisher, and after zillions of rejections, I decided to self-publish. I knew nothing about the process and learnt rapidly. Uploading the manuscript to Amazon KDP on a wet bank holiday weekend, I sat at my desk for the next three days and watched the book rise through the charts until a week later, it had reached #3 in Women’s Fiction. I worked vigorously to push the book in front of anyone I could think of via social media and researched and contacted local connections to the story’s setting. The response was positive, although I remember an outraged tweet from the late Carole Blake, literary agent, who cuttingly told me off for approaching her without an introduction. Hey ho. I know now what I didn’t know then.
I didn’t enjoy selling myself in this way and suffered from imposter syndrome, but a friend told me to think of my author profile as a product and sell ‘Caroline James’. It was good advice and took any personal feelings out of the method.
Times are different now, and the market is flooded with books, with a conservative estimate of 49 million books on Amazon alone. Anyone who dreams of writing a novel can now publish in this vibrant market. They say cream rises to the top, and your book may be of the highest quality, but how will it sell if no one knows anything about it? Unless you are the luckiest author whose work miraculously finds an audience, you need to do some work. Remember, anyone on a best-seller list has worked tirelessly to be there. Marketing and selling my books could take as much time as writing. It is time-consuming but shouldn’t take over, and if you aim to enjoy it, it can be just as pleasurable as you see sales figures increase. Best of all, your bank balance rises too!
Here are a few tips that I learned that I hope may inspire you when you are considering how to market and sell your book. Try them out and find out what works most effectively for you and not waste valuable writing time.
‘A brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.’ Jeff Bezos
Branding is how you package and present your image and books to the public. It should be consistent throughout – on your website, social media pages, business cards, stationery and printed materials. Be compatible with colour and fonts, considering the genre in which you write. I write romantic comedy, so I lean towards pinks and pastels.
Invest in a professional headshot. Sharing your image is important; it builds an emotional connection with your readers.
Get out and about
When I first started writing, I went to many literary festivals and bookish events. I listened to successful authors and talked to fellow attendees. I took prolific notes and immersed myself in the craft. I mention this only to say that being in an environment that I yearned to belong to made me hungrier to succeed.
When I published my first book, I had postcards made and distributed wherever I went (and still do). I remember seeing a lady reading in a hotel foyer, and I discreetly place a postcard nearby. Years later, she emailed me and said that she had been on holiday from South Africa and had downloaded the book and recommended my books from that day on.
Postcards and book marks
You can create your own marketing images to use on social media by using design apps such as Canva or Book Brush and there are many free image sites such as Pexels that provide good quality photos for your use. Never ever use a photograph that isn’t royalty free. A colleague of mine got a huge shock when Getty Images presented him with an invoice for £12k because he’d used a photograph on his website without their permission.
A teddy bear worked well as a promotional tool when I launched The Best Boomerville Hotel. I created Boomerville Bertie Bear and took photos of him on his travels.
I hosted #giveaways for a ‘Bertie’ on social media and in my newsletters then asked the recipients to post photos with the bear. It was so successful that Bertie even had his own Instagram account. It became sublime marketing that really helped booked sales.
Build a social media profile.
I dislike social media because it easily distracts me, so I have to discipline myself and get on with the important business of marketing my product, ‘Caroline James’.
Decide what social media is best for you. Facebook and Twitter currently work best for me, but I have Instagram and TikTok accounts too. Begin by following authors you like and book bloggers etc. and share, retweet and interact. Join online Facebook groups such as Book Connectors or The Friendly Book Community but be selective and really get involved to build your own platform of followers.
Facebook: Consider starting your own Facebook group and offer free reads, giveaways and ARC copies of your new book. I have author friends who have many followers in their groups or their own ‘street team’ who are hugely supportive by sharing the author’s news on their own profiles, especially when publication day comes around.
Create a business Facebook page. Mine is Caroline James Author. This enables you to promote your books. Facebook will not allow this on your own personal page.
Help others, and they will help you.
Help other authors by sharing posts, retweeting, liking etc. Read their books and shout about them with a review.
Be visible on social media. Post regularly. If you don’t have time, you can schedule posts in advance on Facebook in the professional dashboard on your page.
Twitter: Engage with hashtags on Twitter such as #AuthorChat #WritingCommunity #WritersLife #WritingTips and check out the daily trends and add them to your tweets, e.g. #MondayMotivation #WednesdayWisdom #FridayFeeling
Collaborate and engage. If someone comments on your post, make sure you reply. Reciprocate and respond. Your posts shouldn’t all be about you. Be complimentary; make someone’s day. What goes around comes around.
Pin a tweet with your book links to enable anyone looking out for your books to find them easily. Refresh the pinned tweet regularly to make retweeting easy for returning visitors.
Instagram: Create posts that are appropriate to your brand so visitors can easily see the theme of your books. This will build a network of followers interested in books and writing who may well buy your books.
Keep up to date
Ensure that anything on your website and book pages (Amazon Author Central page etc.) is up to date. Visitors should see that you have a new book out or that you are appearing at a particular event.
Create a newsletter following
Newsletters are a great way of keeping in touch with your readers. It can be hard to build a database of subscribers, to begin with, so remember to have a sign-up link on your social media and website.
Mailchimp can be used to send out newsletters and is free for up to 2k subscribers on your list. Keep it newsy and interesting – don’t hard sell your books unless it is a new publication. For example, I get favourable mail from readers who have tried a recipe I posted, but the recipe came from a novel I’ve written. Sublimely place your book into the newsletter.
If you’re stuck for ideas, content for newsletters might include interviewing other authors, posting writing tips, location stories and photos that inspired one of your novels, and books that you have read and enjoyed.
When your novel is published, you need as much promotion as possible. Consider using a professional online book tour organiser such as Rachel Gilbey or TLC who will collate several book bloggers each day for the length of the tour to review or host your book on their blogs and share on social media. An online book tour will introduce your book to a larger audience within your target market. In the early days of online book tours, this method worked well, I tend to think the market is flooded with book tours now, but I still find them worthwhile.
Online book tour for THE SPA BREAK
With a paperback, ask your local bookshop to host you for a signing and promote it on your social media. I did a highly successful series of book signings at several Waterstones with my novel The Best Boomerville Hotel. The stores are keen to host you as you help sell books therefore reaching their sales targets on that day. During the signing, be proactive, talk to people, giveaway bookmarks etc., and engage.
I do not like public speaking. I have never had the need to stand in front of an audience and give a talk, but nowadays, I do it all the time. Why? It sells books.
It all began with a chat with my sister, who loved cruising. ‘It’s not for me!’ I dismissed her enthusiasm only to be told I should try before I buy, and as I’d had such an exciting life, why not become a cruise ship guest speaker?
I was horrified at the thought yet curious. So, I trained with a speaker coach and then interviewed with an agency, Peel Talent. To my amazement, they loved my talk, and within months I found myself on a free cruise (partner included) around the Mediterranean, and my books sold well at the end of each talk.
Boomerville Bertie goes cruising
I interviewed with the Lancashire Federation of Women’s Institutes and became an approved speaker on their register. I now have to turn down talks as there are so many requests. The WI ladies are incredible. They are my target audience and prolific readers of my books. I get paid for the talk and sell lots of books. Win win!
Register with a speaker agency. SpeakerNet is free. You’d be surprised where your bookings come from!
I still shake with nerves before standing in front of an audience in a room, whether 30 or 300. But know your stuff and strut out there. Knowledge is confidence. Talks are an excellent way of promoting yourself, and I highly recommend it. But remember – you need to entertain, leave your audience with a memory, and inform and make them laugh.
“Don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with your marketing.” — Mike Volpe
This isn’t an exhaustive list of ideas to help you with marketing but will hopefully inspire you to think out of the box when wondering about the best way to sell your books. But don’t forget, if you really hate marketing yourself and have the funds, you can always invest in a PR company to assist.