There’s no question that most authors dislike marketing with a passion. They would rather focus on writing than promoting their works. After all, they argue, you’re a writer, not a marketer, right?
If you share this attitude, how likely are you to achieve success? Is it possible at all to focus on writing and still make a living from your books?
In today’s post, I’ll give you my perspective based on my success as a non-fiction author of self-help/psychology books. All of my titles have been Amazon bestsellers at some point, while some of them are long-term bestsellers, consistently selling at least a few copies a day.
As an author who dislikes self-promotion, I’ve done relatively little marketing. The two biggest things I did marketing-wise were reaching out to potential reviewers, utilizing KDP Select (when it still made sense for non-fiction), and booking ads on book promo sites (the process I explained here).
The much less sexy part is that I’d released about 50 titles before finally stumbling upon a genre and approach that worked for me. This leads us to the first, most important point we have to discuss before talking about marketing…
Whenever a group of authors talk about quantity vs quality in releasing books, someone undoubtedly mentions the authors who self-published one or two books and became well-known authors. The reasoning follows that since these people have achieved it, other authors can do it, too.
Well, buddy, that’s surely motivating, but the hard truth will serve you much better. These authors are outliers, exceptions to the rule, just like young billionaire entrepreneurs are exceptions to the rule that you’re not likely to become a self-made billionaire in your 20’s. Your chances of repeating their success are so low it doesn’t even make sense to talk about it, let alone use it as a good example to follow.
Instead of thinking about the authors who seem to have appeared out of nowhere and achieved wild success, focus on the ones who are like you – starting from nothing, with a dream to become full-time authors in a reasonable time frame (say, one or two years if you focus on it).
The key behind the success of these people – whether they have huge marketing budgets or not (usually not) – is pure consistency and perseverance. They build their success in the least glamorous way by doing the same things over and over again until they gain momentum.
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When you’ve written several dozen books, you can’t help but become a better writer. This lets you jump over the first big hurdle on your journey toward being a full-time author – a lack of good writing skills.
As I said earlier, I’d released over 50 different works under different names and in different genres (including fiction and non-fiction) before I found something that worked for me. It all sharpened my writing skills and helped me learn about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
Perhaps it will take you less than 50 titles to figure it out, or maybe it will take you longer. However, as long as you keep tweaking things until they work, you’ll most certainly reach the point when you start making more than a few hundred bucks from a single book.
Once you release several books under the same name, you’ll undoubtedly garner some following. This becomes the foundation of your marketing.
Achieving success in self-publishing without doing any kind of marketing is impossible. However, it doesn’t mean you have to become a full-time marketer. You can’t do without some kind of marketing, but you can do without most self-promotional activities authors hate the most.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s divide marketing activities into two groups – passive marketing and active marketing.
Passive marketing is everything dealing with your book itself and getting sales without investing much of your time. Active marketing is everything dealing with selling your book, particularly everything that’s time-consuming.
Examples of passive marketing activities include:
Examples of active marketing activities include:
Passive marketing is the most crucial part of your marketing plan. If your product (book) sucks, no amount of active marketing will help you become a bestselling author.
While you can technically push a mediocre product and make some sales, you won’t achieve long-term success with this approach.
Let’s assume you already have a high-quality book. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure you aren’t deluding yourself:
If you neglect any of these three issues, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of becoming a bestselling author. I emphasize it in every article because it’s THE most important, make-or-break issue.
Self-publishing is a product-based business mostly fueled by word of mouth. The most important thing you can do to generate positive word of mouth is to create the best product possible. Active marketing can help you achieve better results, but it can’t stand on its own legs without the help of passive marketing.
There are three requisites to be successful without active marketing:
Releasing new books often is the biggest “secret” behind the success of self-published authors. Look at the most successful independent authors (skip the outliers, focus on the midlist), and you’ll see catalogs of 10+ books released consistently every few months or every few weeks (plus possibly dozens more under different pen names).
Even if you follow the tips in our article about increasing your chances of a long-term bestseller, your income will still decrease with each month you don’t release a new title. All successful midlist authors release new works at least every few months.
Self-publishing is not a pure numbers game, but if you can maintain high quality and release often, you have an edge over most authors. Each book is a new shot at reaching more readers. You are five times less likely to achieve success if you release two books a year in comparison to an author who releases ten books a year, all things (most importantly, quality) being equal.
If you can’t imagine yourself writing on average at least 1,000 words a day, don’t expect to have an easy time achieving your self-publishing goals.
If you hook a reader with the first book in a series, it’s pretty much guaranteed she will buy the second and the third book (or more) in your series. Consequently, you can double or triple your average transaction value – each person buying your first book in a series can generate three sales for you instead of just one when selling a single novel.
Non-fiction authors can’t usually use the same strategy (non-fiction series are more difficult to pull off and rare when compared to fiction series), but they can make sure that all of their books are related to each other to increase the chances of getting repeat buyers. You can mention your other titles once or twice in your non-fiction book to nudge your reader to purchase your other works.
Readers of hot genres like romance are known as voracious and happy to give a self-published author a chance. Each month they read dozens of books, most often for $10 a month thanks to their Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Many of these readers have no problem checking new authors that have just popped up on Amazon lists. They don’t lose anything by borrowing your book, except for investing a few minutes of their time to find out if they’ve stumbled upon a good read.
When you write in a popular genre like romance (erotica is another good example), it’s almost guaranteed you’ll get at least a dozen or so sales with no effort at all.
Not everything is lost for non-fiction authors. It’s difficult to achieve any kind of lasting success with no marketing if you write a book about breeding Bengal cats. However, if you pick a popular niche solving problems many people have (usually related to health, wealth, and money), your chances of success are much higher, because you have a starving crowd looking for a solution.
An alternative route is to write in an obscure niche with relatively little earnings potential, but a small group of people eagerly awaiting a consistent author.
If you write erotic romance serials with billionaires, you have a huge competition that makes it difficult to stand out. If you write, say, horror erotica, it’s a small audience in comparison to the billionaire erotic romance serials genre. It’s much easier to become visible and possibly become the “go to” author in this subgenre.
The trade-off you have to accept is a much smaller market and a much smaller potential (four figures a month instead of up to six figures in the case of popular genres).
An additional requirement, though not mandatory, mostly reserved for fiction authors selling their works for $2.99, is to enroll your book in KDP Select. Letting your readers borrow your books makes it easier to increase the visibility of your book and generate a substantial readership quickly.
I’m not a fan of KDP Select for non-fiction. Non-fiction should be generally priced at $3.99+, which makes it uneconomical to replace the $2.80+ profit on a regular sale with less than a dollar for a borrow.
If there’s one type of marketing you can’t do without, it’s email marketing. If you’re not building your list, you’re not building a business, period.
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A list of clients (in your case, people who’ve bought your book/s) is the most valuable asset you can ever have. Nothing can replace it – not your Facebook fan page, not your Twitter following, not your rankings on Amazon. All of them can be lost overnight, because you don’t control them.
Email marketing is the perfect marketing strategy for time-poor and money-poor authors, because it takes little time and money to set it up and little to maintain it.
There are three basic techniques you should use in order to make the most with little work:
A lead magnet, or a freebie to convince your readers to join your list, is the most important aspect of building your list. A valuable freebie can double or triple your conversion rate to levels unheard of among most authors.
My opt-in pages get a 70-80% conversion rate because I offer a full-length book for free (which I sell on Amazon for $3.99). A person doesn’t need a lot of convincing to sign up if she can get a complimentary copy for merely giving me her email address.
If you’re a fiction author, you can offer a short story, a novelette, or even a full-length novel.
If you don’t offer a great lead magnet, or don’t offer a lead magnet at all (why?), don’t expect to build your list quickly. A valuable freebie to join your list is necessary if you’re serious about self-publishing.
Use a reputable email marketing service like AWeber or Mailchimp to make sure your readers can easily sign up or unsubscribe from your list. Choosing a cheap provider can dramatically reduce your delivery rate, so don’t skimp on it.
If you have no idea how to design an effective opt-in page, don’t do it. Use existing tools like LeadPages instead. Their professional templates are proven to work.
If LeadPages is too expensive for you (it’s a monthly/yearly fee), consider setting up your own website and buying OptimizePress (it’s a one-off payment). For the lowest cost possible, you can use Mailchimp and link directly to their opt-in page, though it’s not as effective and attractive as a well-designed opt-in page.
Once you set up your opt-in page, mention it in your book twice – in the beginning of the book and at the end of it. For best results, put it on a separate page explaining why a person who’s about to read your book or who’s just finished it should join your list (your freebie should do the heavy lifting here).
The more value you provide to your list, the happier they will be to receive more emails from you. If you only email your subscribers whenever you release a new book, you’re severely limiting the effectiveness of email marketing, which is all about building a relationship. You don’t build a relationship by constantly selling, do you?
All of my readers receive a 12-part email sequence from me sharing brief, interesting emails. I also regularly send them free copies of my books in exchange for honest reviews, and offer giveaways. Guess how easy it is to turn someone into a huge fan if they win a $50 gift card from you.
A final disclaimer: email marketing is not a silver bullet that will magically turn you into a bestselling author. It takes time to build a high-quality list (think months and years, not weeks), and you can only develop it by consistently releasing new works (which ties in with the previously discussed requisites to be successful without active marketing).
There are a lot of myths concerning “essential” marketing activities for authors. From my perspective, there are three common self-promotional activities you can ignore.
When one author sends out an email to buyers of his books and another posts a tweet to his followers, who’s going to make more sales? Let me rephrase this question – who on Twitter is going to care that one of the hundreds of guys he’s following has just published a new book? Who’s even going to notice it?
I use no social media at all, instead choosing to interact with my readers through my email list. I can’t think of a single reason to start using social media if I can instead appear in the most precious (and least cluttered) place of my readers – their inbox.
Can social media help you become more successful? Probably. Is it necessary to achieve success? Not at all. Social media feeds are cluttered enough. At best, you can expect a fraction of your readers’ attention. What’s the point of investing hours into your social properties when you can’t reach most of your followers, and the ones who you can reach pay little attention?
Posting articles on influential blogs can indeed help you make more sales of your non-fiction book, but it’s going to take more than one or two posts (each one usually taking hours to write) to see a difference in your sales.
As long as you’re fine with investing dozens of hours in exchange for a few dozen sales, by all means, continue guest posting. If you’d rather save your time, you can get similar results by lowering your price to $0.99 and promoting your book on book promo sites like BargainBooksy or BuckBooks (which takes minutes, not dozens of hours).
While podcasts and interviews can definitely be a part of your marketing efforts, in general they aren’t worth the time spent preparing for them. People listen to podcasts usually when they’re busy doing something else – driving, taking a walk, exercising.
Few (if any) people listen to podcasts at home, ready to search for your book online and buy it the moment they hear about it. If anything, they immediately forget your name and the title of your book right after they finish listening.
As for interviews and general media attention, unless the article is on a huge site, features you exclusively, and hyperlinks to your book (news sites notoriously don’t use hyperlinks), it won’t make much of a difference, either.
I recently answered eight questions for a journalist writing an article for a seemingly huge website with over 500k Twitter followers.
When the article went live, neither I nor the other authors contributing to the article had hyperlinks to our books. Needless to say, it had no effect whatsoever on my sales.
If you believe anyone will bother copying and pasting the title of your book to buy it after reading such an article, you’re gravely mistaken. I would have received better results spending two minutes crafting an email to my subscribers and letting them know about my other books they might not have discovered yet.
Now, you might be wondering “how the heck am I supposed to make sales when no one knows about me?” The answer is pretty simple – that’s why you publish on Amazon and other big retailers.
They give you their distribution system and access to their customers, you give them your product and a percentage of each sale. Your job is to maximize this benefit by generating the first sales (to increase the initial visibility) and building your own list (to make each new launch bigger and more effective at attracting new readers).
As long as you’re not writing in an extremely obscure niche, you’ll get at least a few organic sales by just publishing a book on Amazon. The reason why you don’t necessarily need to “put yourself out there” is due to the nature of today’s world.
Getting sales from word of mouth has never been easier than before, and it has never been easier to ruin a business with a bad product. All of us have access to some kind of a platform to either evangelize someone’s product or discourage others from buying it.
You never know what kind of a following your reader has. One person can talk about your book to a few of her friends, post about it repeatedly to her huge following on social media (which is different than an author promoting his books), or write a blog post about it. It’s the quality of your product that’s going to determine how many copies it’s going to sell, not your ability to do a hard sell like a used car salesman.
There’s no point in saying that self-promotion is useless and unnecessary for everyone, though. You have to take into account additional opportunities self-promotional activities can generate as well as their speed of bringing results when compared to not using them.
A huge marketing campaign designed and executed over a year or two can help you launch your first book as a big bestseller. On the other hand, investing one or two years into perfecting your craft without relying on big launches can also generate similar results – if not better, due to the accumulated power of positive word of mouth.
Using tactics shared in posts like “How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books – Real-World Case Studies” can definitely help you, though not using them doesn’t mean you’ll never make a million selling e-books.
When you focus on the most important kind of marketing – writing great books and generating positive word of mouth (tip: email marketing is the key here) – sooner or later you’ll join the ranks of the most successful full-time authors.
You don’t have to become a pushy self-promoter spending more time marketing than writing if you want to become a successful author. Just take care of the basics and be consistent.