17 Published Authors Share Their Book Marketing Top Tips and Biggest Blunders
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Whether traditionally or self-published, book marketing is every author's number one need-to-know. I asked these fiction and non-fiction authors to share their experiences.
Mary Anne Yarde
Start a blog. Never underestimate the power of a blog. Blogging is a great author platform for introducing potential readers to your work and, best of all, it is free! Use tools such as Triberr to help you reach a very large audience.
Marketing can sometimes be very hit and miss. There is a great deal of trial and error to it, and what works for one book will not necessarily work for another. My most significant marketing error was running an Amazon Ad without really understanding what I was doing. It cost me a lot of money. Lesson learnt!
Be present on Twitter and engage with your audience. Be conscious of who they are, and be aware that this may change. I bill myself as writing YA due to the age of my characters, but to my knowledge no teens have actually read my work and it's actually very popular with adults. It does extremely well on kindle unlimited, where I make most of my royalties. Ask people questions, learn from their preferences, and partake in #SelfPromoSaturday! (I nearly always get a few sales with a very simple pitch: slow-burn Beauty and the Beast, anyone?)
I haven't made—or at least, I hope I haven't—made any huge blunders in marketing, although I will say I haven't found Amazon Ads particularly useful and I've heard from other authors that they haven't found this option great at boosting sales. I think my biggest would be not joining twitter until after I published my book. I couldn't drum up any interest beforehand and as such, it took a while for sales to pick up.
The best marketing tip from my own experience is to have strong self-belief and feel passionate about your work. You cannot be timid or bashful about self-promoting yourself.
My main aim was to be exposed to all media channels if possible. Think about what your book has to offer and focus on one aspect that could be a good hook. It was perfect timing to share my book with the world as the ‘Greta Generation’ had just been born.
The next thing I knew, I was invited on Sky news live, then BBC Radio London on the Jo Good Show and also Radio Jackie, to discuss my view on how we can create environmental awareness in a thought provoking and heartfelt way together with underlying positive messaging.
Once I had a good amount of reviews from social media influencers, magazines and newspapers, I then approached the relevant bookshops; a good example is Waterstones in Covent Garden where I did my first ever book reading. I almost cried I was so overwhelmed with happiness at fulfilling a personal goal.
You must keep pushing yourself at all times to break new ground. In the last few months, I have put myself forward for children’s festivals and was selected to go to Dubai for the Sharjah Children’s reading festival (Apr 2020) and the Barnes Literary Festival in June 2020. Sadly, these events have cancelled due to Covid-19.
From that moment on I was full of determination and emailed nearby schools where I live and ones near Covent Garden. I have been on many author visits to nurseries and schools. This experience has helped me gain the confidence I needed to fulfil this dream.
Not facing my fear of public speaking in advance. Had I taken early opportunities at reading in front of an audience, for example at local schools, nurseries and playgroups before the publication of book, I may have been further along my career path now, but it’s a personal journey that can only be created by you as the author. I have evolved every time I have stood up in front of a crowd.
Prior to this experience, I was full of anxiety from nerves, but now I am full of excitement and exhilaration to confidently perform my interactive storytelling in front of a whole school of 180 children. The writing world is tough. People however are just people and want to meet a genuine, passionate author, someone who can inspire them but above all to connect with a person that they can relate to.
Marketing is pretty clearly the biggest challenge authors face, from both how-to and expenditure standpoints. I can’t say I’ve been outrageously successful at it.
The best thing I did locally when I launched my first mystery novel, Adam’s Witness, was hire a publicist. She landed eight media interviews for me (amazing, really) and the book sold very well at my main retailer, making its bestseller list for several weeks. Her fee was very reasonable and I definitely more than “made it back.” Publicists have credibility we don’t as first-time authors. That being said, I’m in a slightly different position than many are, having been a journalist here for a long time. I think there was some name recognition. Unfortunately, the following two books have not done as well. Adam’s Witness remains my best seller. (Book four was just launched, so I can’t comment on that yet.) I’ve also had some success via Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy with all three books. They always drive page sales on KU, and a few book sales, after a promotion.
Augh! I’ve made so many errors I can’t count them all. One thing I tried was to stop spending money on marketing. I attempted to “go free” on social media. I’m here to tell you this does not work except, perhaps, for the genius in the crowd. Twitter, for example, is a fabulous place to interact with other authors. I’ve sold a few books there, received several reviews and attracted some editing work (I’m also a copy/line editor) which is all great, but it won’t send you up the charts. In my experience, funds must be spent to generate sales. And aye, there’s the rub when you’re on a very tight budget. As most indies are.
Thomas J Eyre
Top Tip: My biggest marketing success came with The British FrontLine. The book is in Kindle Unlimited and I used Amazon Ads to promote it. By using low cost bids to pick up searched, but under-represented keywords, I was able to increase my sales, which were further enhanced by running a countdown promotion timed to coincide with a Bookbub ad campaign throughout the five-day promotion period.
The results did take a little time to come through because a lot of the Bookbub buyers got them through KU and then stashed them in their libraries to read later. It was only after a few weeks that those results started to filter through that I saw the profit from the Bookbub ads.
Biggest Blunder: In terms of my biggest blunder that came with Amazon Ads. I actually left the suggested bids as Amazon suggested, with the option for them to bid up above the suggested bid. After I set the ads in motion not much happened for about a week, then I started to see an increase in sales. When I checked my Ads dashboard I realised that it had cost me $60 to make $15, so beware when you run Amazon ads, keep a close eye on them cos Amazon isn't afraid to spend your money if you get it wrong.
My top success to date is Portents of Chaos, the first book of my fantasy series, The Drinnglennin Chronicles. I submitted it in manuscript form in the 2019 BookLife Prize contest, where it received an 8.5/10 very favorable review, from which I took extracts to help promote the book. I had a launch team of over 100 supporters, and rallied friends and family to purchase Portents on the day of the launch and it ranked on Amazon’s Hot New Releases in four categories for nearly a month. I have a strong presence on social media—Facebook and Twitter, especially, and I am active on Instagram and LinkedIn as well. I am rapid-releasing all four books of the series in the first half of this year. I also entered the beautiful cover of Portents in the AllAuthor Cover of the Month contest, and it was finalist in 3rd place out of hundreds of entries. Combined, these strategies helped me earn three-figures in the first month after release.
I’m still new at the game, but I suspect my biggest blunders may be:
not releasing A Realm at Stake, the second book of the series, within 30 days of the first
not starting advertising from the get-go.
To date, Realm has not had as many sales and page reads as I’d hoped. I’m currently playing catch-up re: promotion by taking several courses on Amazon Ads from Kindlepreneur and Reedsy, (both free), and plan to kick off my first campaign following the release of Bindings of Peril, the third book of The DC, soon.
Barry S. Brunswick
So, my top tip would be to get a good website. Not because you'll necessarily sell lots of books off it, but there, unlike Amazon, Twitter, Facebook or whatever, you own the platform. It's your mother ship and everything else runs from there based around the brand you have created. You run your own PR and can share your content and brand with the world in your own way. As another note, I would say, you need a good one, that talks to and answers your customers problems. If your site is only about writing, you aren't really talking to them. The site is for them, not a soap box or self-trumpet-blowing platform. So, a good site that talks to your readers.
Do not put out a badly edited book. If you suck at editing, you need to pay one. There is no other business you would start without the correct funding and expect it to work, so if you can't afford it wait until you can. That is detrimental to you, your brand and the entire industry. My first book was proof read but not edited, as a result I was losing readers in the early pages for them never to return, even though it's a great story. It has since been edited and only needed a tweak in the opening hook. I lost early momentum and, as in any business, when you get momentum, keep momentum, or it's hard to get it going again.
Marian L Thorpe
The genre is hard to define: it’s often listed under historical fantasy, but as there is no magic, I prefer to call it ‘historical fiction of an alternate world’. There’s another reason for this: finding my correct audience through accurate branding was my biggest positive marketing strategy: that has turned out largely to be readers of historical fiction over 50, both male and female. In the last couple of years, I’ve concentrated almost entirely on increasing my visibility in this market: blogging about the history that informs my world; submitting the books to review sites that specialize in historical fiction; focusing my Twitter and Facebook accounts on early-medieval and Roman-empire history, and promoting the works of authors whose work is set in the same historic period. A bonus is that this keeps me well-informed in the current research of this period, which will add depth to the remaining books in the series.
My biggest blunder was to hire a company to promote my book to bloggers: not a specific blog tour manager (that’s worked well) but, in retrospect, just to spam book review bloggers with my books and see who offered to review. Fewer than a dozen did, and none of them reviewed the books in the end: they had no commitment to do so, after all. I didn’t put the time and effort into checking the company’s credentials or realize there was no performance guarantee.
My top success to date has been with my first novel, The Cherries. I arranged for a professionally organised book blog tour, which had three main benefits:
A number of honest reviews for the novel.
The bloggers all have their own following, who are avid readers, so you get good exposure to that base.
It gives the opportunity for regular updates to post about on social media over a number of days or weeks, helping build interest and momentum. I’ve since repeated it with my second book, The Wild Roses, and have been very happy with the results. It’s important to emphasise it’s not a magic bullet and may not hugely increase your sales in the short term but provides you with medium- and long-term benefits.
My biggest blunder? So many! It has to be overestimating the conversion rate of paid advertising on Facebook, etc. It’s extremely easy to get interaction, particularly if you have some nice graphics or a book trailer, but it’s much harder to convert them into concrete sales. It’s a slow, frustrating, iterative process and it’s easy to push too hard too soon and waste money.
Chocolate Can Kill qualifies as my best seller with well over 50,000 copies sold, although A Clue for Adrianna and Luna Lake Cabins – The First Year come in close seconds, each beginning a successful romance series.
Chocolate was a Malice Domestic Contest finalist, so I took a leap of faith when I opened @AAPublishingLLC and published it myself, with only small Facebook and Twitter accounts to get me started. Still, by interacting with my friends and followers, Chocolate reached #1 on the Barnes & Noble website within 8 weeks, and the same in its category on Amazon shortly thereafter. A great cover and a well-written blurb contributed as well.
Since then, I consider the inclusion of a NOTE: Want more Annie Acorn? The author suggests you try her (Insert name of next book in series, plus one or two other books/genres available) at the end of each book published as my best tool beyond Twitter. At this point, the reader has just enjoyed a thorough example of my work, and I believe in striking while the iron’s hot. A complete listing of all my published works also appears after this note.
Because I read voraciously, had tons of ideas, and did technical writing, I assumed I would have no problem producing a novel. BIG MISTAKE!
Words flew onto the page for me. They were the wrong words, though, and I had no idea how to fix them.
I took a writing course and learned nothing. I joined a writing group, where I was the only one trying to improve my work.
Finally, I realized I needed to learn how to edit because, only then, would I recognize my errors and be able to fix them. Eagerly, I turned to two things – books on editing and the works of authors I loved to read. Both proved valuable.
With the knowledge gleaned from editing books covering all types of editing, I reread many of my favorites, treating them as textbooks.
How did they draw me into their stories and make their characters three-dimensional? Oh, look! This writer made scenes come alive by mentioning scents and aromas. This one described bits of colors. That one inserted an odd item resting on a desk or table.
Merging my new editing skills with my favorites’ tricks, I could now write a story worth reading.
Luanne G. Smith
I should preface this by saying that I didn't do a lot of the active marketing myself for The Vine Witch when it came out. However, that doesn't mean I didn't pay attention to what others did on my behalf. I'm published with 47North, the fantasy imprint at Amazon Publishing, and there are a couple of things their marketing department does especially well, but first and foremost, yeah, they have an email list. And while theirs is millions of customers long, what they do with that list would work for anyone. Besides alerting potential readers about a book's publication, one of the key things Amazon does is follow-up by email to ask for reviews after purchase. It has become the mantra for most authors that the more reviews you have, the more your book gets noticed by prospective buyers on their site. If so, a polite request via email to subscribers might be the nudge some readers need to go leave that review. In my experience, only about one to two percent of readers actually leave a review, so it might take a little proactive effort to see those start to build.
As for blunders, I haven't really run into any major marketing disappointments. One thing I did do on my own that ended up just sort of mediocre was hosting a giveaway on social media. And, actually, giveaways can work great. They draw attention to your book, build your social media following, and can help add subscribers to that all-important newsletter/email list. But I didn't want the giveaway to get too big because I was stretched for time, so I only allowed people to enter for a few hours. Which, yeah, kind of defeated the point of having people get the word out about the book and hopefully build excitement for a couple of days instead of an afternoon.
E. J. Dawson
One of the best things you can do to promote your book is get reviews, which is also the hardest thing to do, especially on a budget. I find one of the easiest ways of getting reviews is to make sure you have a pre-launch plan that includes ARC (advance reader copy) giveaways. This is how I got early reviews for Queen of Spades: Awakening. I got several reviews before the launch, and I was able to use them in social media pictures. Just taking great tag-lines from these early reviews, as well as the high ratings, helped push the book’s marketability up. The other great thing about this is that if it’s your first release, this is a good way to give you the confidence you need to market your book. It’s a daunting experience, even for those of us who’ve done it more than once, but having those early reviews not only helps marketing, it eases your conscious about whether you’ve written a good book.
Not being patient. I was so keen to get new books out that I wasn’t giving some of my earlier work the time it needed. I pushed everyone, especially myself, too hard on a really big project. For the first few projects you intend to publish, especially if it’s self-published, stand-alone books are the way to go. I know you may have a great series, but once you find a reader who likes your work, they’ll want more. If you don’t have it ready, they might forget about you or lose interest.
There are a couple of ways to deal with this:
save a few titles to release at once
release every six months or so
have discounts on previous works before a new release
but most of all, don’t sacrifice speed for quality, readers will pick up on that quickly, and will lead to negative reviews.
It’s a bit of a balancing act to get quality across to quantity, but you can’t be in this industry to make a quick buck, you have to be prepared to work at it for years. Trust me though, it’s worth it in the long run.
My most recent release, A Thief’s Debt, is currently receiving fantastic reviews and has been one of my most successful launches so far. A combination of marketing strategies helped me get the book in front of readers while also building my audience. While Instagram and Twitter were great for drumming up excitement based on the cover, offering an exclusive sneak peek into the story for newsletter subscribers increased signs ups and drove dedicated reviewers to become part of my ARC team and share their excitement with other readers.
For new authors, finding a community to be a member of and grow with can be intimidating. So, I relied heavily on platforms like StoryOrigin to get my latest release included in newsletters and group promotions. By combining multiple outreach strategies and utilizing resources that were already at my disposal, I was able to increase my reach.
My biggest marketing blunder was not marketing at all! When I released my first book, I went in blind and knew next to nothing about the promotion and networking new, independent, authors need in order to get their books in front of readers. As a self-published author, it seems as though fifty percent of your job is writing while the other is building relationships and getting the word out. Learning to time cover reveals, sneak previews, and ads is just as important as finding the right cover designer and editor and that’s something I continue to learn.
The funny part of my answer for this listicle is that I genuinely followed everything I outlined in my book. So, I'm going to provide my top three favorite book launch tips that helped this book soar into the #1 best-seller lists on Amazon.
Book promotion newsletters — This one is tricky, because you either need to have your Amazon purchase link available a couple of weeks (or a few weeks) in advance of launch week before applying for these, or you need to apply for these after you launch (if you can't get an Amazon purchase link until later on). Essentially, you're paying a book promotion newsletter company to promote your e-book for you at a discounted price to their thousands of subscribers. The best book promotion newsletters, for me, are Fussy Librarian, Open Road Integrated Media, and Book Gorilla.
Email newsletter — The email newsletter is so important to the success of a launch that it received its own chapter (or commandment) in my book. But here's the thing: It takes months (okay, fine, years) to build a loyal list of subscribers. You have to be patient. You have to provide high value. You have to treat each subscriber like a VIP. You cannot sell, sell, sell on your newsletter. You must give, give, give. Then when it's time to launch, your subscribers are just dying to get that purchase link!
Three-step Amazon formula — I teach classes on this, but Amazon is a beast, yes? So, we must tame this beast and make it work for us, not against us. In my three-step formula for Amazon success, I push for:
a captivating cover
an enticing blurb
I believe in high-quality self-published books, and nothing less. If you have a professional and captivating cover, an intriguing and enticing blurb, and positive reviews that reassure the potential reader you're going to provide them value (meaning: encouragement, education, or entertainment), then you'll see success when you launch.
Due to some back-and-forth on cover design, I didn't get to order my author copies until a little too late in the game. I was speaking at a conference on October 19, 2019, just five days before launch, and I had advertised that everyone could get my book before it released. But Amazon got behind and changed their shipping date for my author copies; thus, I had no books to sell at the conference. I had called them several times, and they were super sweet, but there was literally nothing they could do. That was hard! So, make sure you order your author copies from Amazon KDP waaaaay in advance if you have an event like a book signing or conference.
Maggie Gilewicz, PhD
I think the biggest success in terms of spreading the message about my new book was organising a Twitter Book Launch Party.
In my few months being active on Twitter, I noticed, members of the writing community would be organizing these parties, for whatever reason, where they would tag friends and ask those friends to tag their friends etc. So, one day, I thought, why not organize a Twitter party like this on the day of my book launch. I first announced the date and time to everyone in a Twitter post and asked everyone to let their friends know. On the day, I wrote a post announcing it was my book launch party, I shared a link to Amazon and asked people to invite their friends to come along by tagging them. The party went on for 24 hours. I spent nearly 20 hours there getting to know people (two bottles of wine were consumed in the meantime). It was retweeted 174 times. The total of 1,546 people interacted with the Tweet, according to the stats. It attracted a lot of attention both to my book and to my Twitter account.
I can’t speak of a blunder, really. But I do regret I didn’t ask more people to read my manuscript and write their reviews and that I didn’t do it way earlier. Let me explain. I figured I could ask members of the writing community to read my manuscript and write reviews a month before my book launch. So on the day, the ones who read and wrote the reviews, posted theirs on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk which means I had about 10 five-star reviews and two four-star reviews on the day of my book launch.
Generally, I’d say, the less you try to sell your book and, instead, engage with the community by being authentic and genuinely interested and supportive, the more people will be drawn to you. Many people bought my book because they enjoyed my posts, even though they were not into self-help at all, they bought it because something I was saying/doing on Twitter resonated with them and that, not me directly selling my book was what led them to my book.
David P. Perlmutter
From all my books I guess it has to be the book-to-movie, Wrong Place Wrong Time, which has been a #1 BESTSELLER in categories across the Amazon world. It is currently #1 in two categories in Australia and in the top 10 in the U.K. and top 100 in other countries. The book is being made into a movie with filming planned for later this year, subject to the darn coronavirus. We have many top actors and actresses casted already, so we are all raring to go. I am always on my social media platforms, which of course is so important to get your work out to the world. I also support many authors and feature their books on my blog which has around 300 books featured and over 300k page views. I did a post on Linkedln with an image of many paperback copies of Wrong Place Wrong Time and asked people to guess how many to win a signed copy. This post went viral and had over 70k views, over 35k comments and 5k likes. I actually wrote a marketing book about this!
I guess my biggest marketing blunder was spending a few quid on various ads and book sites, which to be honest was a waste of money. The only person who can really promote your books is YOU!
The best continuing benefits for me have been via book bloggers. Readers respond best to personal recommendations, and who better to recommend a book than someone who blogs about them? A busy blog might have hundreds or thousands of followers. The day the blogger’s review appears, sales spike. Over time, a trickle continues via search engines and other bloggers who discover and recommend the book.
I’ve found that the best way to increase sales for a short time is to lower the price and let everyone know via social media and my website. I pin a tweet to my Twitter profile, share and pin on the top of my Facebook author page, and advertise in Facebook groups.
I haven’t been wowed by most paid promotions. They produce a temporary surge in sales, but I’m more interested in lasting results. Exception: The Fussy Librarian. Their prices are reasonable, and the benefits for me have been good. In addition to an email newsletter that goes out every day, Fussy features promoted books on their website: bargain e-books for up to thirty days, and free e-books for up to fourteen days (less if they are free for only a day or two). Even if you don’t plan to use Fussy for promotion, I recommend that you search their site for new reads or sign up for their newsletter.
Freebies might work for a longer series, but in my opinion, they devalue an author’s work. My Kindle contains hundreds of free books. Which do I read first? The ones I paid for.
My biggest marketing blunder was relying on reviews and word-of-mouth only. Book sales slowed, which affected Amazon ranking, which made the book less attractive for buyers, which slowed sales further … You see where this is going? Even a few minutes a day spent on promotion makes a difference.
I saved a critical marketing prerequisite for last: quality. Nobody wants to read a book filled with typos or formatting inconsistencies. If you don’t provide quality, readers will remember your name and avoid everything you publish.
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