Friday, 4 September 2015

Marketing: What I've learned!

I've been published for over two and a half years (if you count my first book, which is currently out of print). So I frequently get asked questions by new writers about how to market their books. I'm definitely not an expert, and the first rule of marketing is that nobody knows what works. ;) But I know I've picked up some things, and let's face it, I've made every mistake possible. It's like when people ask me for careers' advice... (Er, "Don't do what I did"? :P) But I thought this'd be helpful to share, so here are some of the things I've learned.

Be professional. 

If you have a shiny professional website and/or blog, you'll look like a professional before you sell a single copy. The same goes for the books themselves--never skimp on editing and cover design. I have zero graphic design skills and like most writers, I never spot all the issues in my own work, so the majority of my publishing budget goes on editing and cover art costs. Meanwhile, tweet and post on social media as if you have a dozen fans eagerly awaiting your release--not the same as spam, which I'll get to in a second...

Please, please don't spam. 

Direct Messages to strangers on Twitter will turn people off buying your book, and some people--like me--will automatically unfollow. I can no longer find genuine messages in my DM folder because of all the "buy my book" auto-DMs. Please don't!

If you're promoting, keep it interesting. 

Okay, that's kind of vague... Some people advise you not to use scheduled promo tweets, for example, but I've actually found them to work--if targeted right. Don't just say, "buy my book", because when everyone's tweeting the same thing, it just turns into white noise. Quote a review, mention the genre/category, or tell me something cool (the "unique selling point"). In the past, I've bought books because the authors' "promotional" tweets are hilarious (see Chuck Wendig's Twitter and blog, for example), or they mention something that catches my attention (anything with dragons, a cool magic system or multiple worlds, for example. But that might just be me. :P). You don't just want to sound like a promo-machine, but a person.

Be generous.

If it's your first time publishing, reach out and fellow writers will be happy to help--with everything from answering questions to promoting. Cross-promoting with other authors is a great way to build relationships. The KBoards forum is great for indie authors, and there are lots of groups like the Waiting on 2016 group (for MG/YA/NA books coming out in 2016) open to new members (indie or traditional).

The best way to build reviews is to contact book bloggers in your genre asking for a review in exchange for an advance e-copy of your book. Be sure to research their genre preferences and write a personalised request. Book bloggers are some of the hardest-working people out there, and might well become your biggest fans!

Be ruthless when it comes to protecting your time--and money! 

Marketing can not only be a time-suck, it can lure you into paying for things you don't need. You can actually do most things yourself, without paying someone else to do it for you.

Okay, it's time for some honesty here. I was not sensible with this when I first published. With Darkness Watching, as an example, I:
  • Booked three release blitzes with different tour companies.
  • Booked a cover reveal, review tour and review feature with Xpresso Tours.
  • Spent an unknown number of hours emailing over 300 bloggers asking for reviews.
  • Took part in over a dozen giveaways and Facebook events and gave away 200+ free copies.
  • Paid for various other services (e.g. Goodreads advertising)
None of this was reflected in sales. (Ouch.)

Let's compare with Adamant...
  • Lola's Blog Tours organised a cover reveal/pre-order promotion six weeks before release.
  • I organised the release day book blitz and sent out review copies myself. (Note: I already had a small group of interested readers from my other series, but I was still starting from scratch in a new genre.) I emailed a select number of bloggers, as well as people who'd enjoyed my first book.
  • I put the second book in the series up for pre-order the day before the first book released.
  • I took part in a multi-author book promotion a month after the release, dropping the price to 99 cents.
  • I also dropped Adamant's price the week Nemesis (Alliance, #2) released.
I spent much less time and money promoting Adamant, yet sold a lot more copies. Part of that was luck, and having a slightly bigger following than I did with DW. I'd also used trial and error with my first book to figure out what doesn't work. For instance, blog tours are great exposure, but cost at least $60-200. Personally, I've never sold enough copies during a tour to justify the expense, and writing interviews and guest posts cuts into my novel-writing time. Now I'm mostly indie publishing, I've had to cut my marketing budget down in order to cover editing and cover design costs.

Money management isn't my strongest point, admittedly, but there are so many publishing costs that sneak up on you, like web hosting, ordering proofs and paperbacks, posting giveaway prizes, swag, and the main one: advertising.

Here's my general rule: if the time and/or money isn't worth it, I don't do it.

Time is just as important as money, especially if you work freelance, like me. For instance, I rarely write short stories and novellas, because they take me just as long as novels do, but don't sell well/at all. I've written a couple of short stories for my newsletter subscribers, and I'd love to be able to do more--but I just haven't had enough response to justify spending time on that when I could be working on novel-length fiction. I'm a freelancer with a busy schedule. If something isn't working, I have to reshuffle my priorities.

Unfortunately, that also applies to releases, which is where Creativity and Business sometimes go head to head. For instance, I mentioned I cancelled my first MG series because of poor sales. I literally couldn't afford to publish sequels, even though I got the rights back from my ex-publisher. I have another MG fantasy I absolutely love, but given my past sales in the category, I just can't justify the costs of publishing it.

With DW, on the other hand, I had a publisher and a planned series. I wouldn't advise quitting a series over disappointing initial sales, though I was extremely lucky to have a publisher to shoulder the costs of the Darkworld series. My advice would be: publish Books 2 and 3, market the hell out of the first book (maybe setting the price to 99c or free), and if sales still aren't picking up and you have a 10-book epic planned... well, if it were me, I'd have to put it aside. Because of this, I'm only planning trilogies for now, except for the Darkworld and Alliance series (and they're subject to reshuffling, too).

Now, as I plan next year's release schedule, guess which projects get priority? The ones readers want. If readers ask for something, it goes straight to the top of the list--literally. I track book sales on spreadsheets, and I have a Scrivener document for marketing, where I'll plan future promotions and make notes on what worked and what didn't. And I schedule my releases based on two things: time and reader enthusiasm. For instance, my next series is pre-drafted and has received an enthusiastic response from readers so far. For this reason, I'm launching the first book early next year with a big promo push.

So, what marketing works for me? 99c sales, freebies, newsletters, some advertising and cross-promotion.

Currently, DW sells better than Adamant... because of a BookBub ad in May that catapulted it to the top of the Amazon charts. So DW actually has a much wider appeal, despite its initial low sales: it just took that extra push. BookBub is incredible, but is also extremely competitive and expensive for certain genres. DW took eighteen months and 50+ reviews to get in! (Another reason why reviews are so important.)

Here's what I do to promote:
  • I keep my website updated, and stick to a limited number of social media accounts--my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. I also use Tumblr and Pinterest, but more casually. I don't actually do a lot of direct promotion, but posting semi-regularly helps. Even if it's about my stubborn manuscript. :P
  • Personally, I feel a little tacky using scheduled tweets, but they do actually work sometimes, especially during sales or promotions. (I recommend Buffer App because you can see which tweets got the most clicks, but Tweetdeck scheduling works, too.)
  • I run a street team for my most dedicated fans, who get first look at everything from covers to blurbs.
  • I send out a newsletter if I have something to share. For example, this year:
January - Adamant’s cover and blurb, and an early chance to sign up for e-ARCs.
February - Sneak peek at the first chapter of Adamant.
March - Adamant release day, and early cover reveal for Nemesis, subscriber-only giveaway.
April - Adamant 99c promotion, Blogoversary giveaway.
May - Free short story, which I now offer to all new subscribers for free. DW 99c sale.
June - Nemesis published, Adamant reduced to 99c.
July - Early cover reveal for Delinquent: An Alliance Novella, early review opportunity.
August - Delinquent published. Early news about my next series.
September - Cover reveals for Demon Heart and Collision. Subscriber-only giveaway.
  • With new releases, I offer the chance to sign up for advance copies-first my street team, then my newsletter, then I'll post about it on my blog and social media. I keep a list of reviewers who've enjoyed my books and reliably post reviews, so I can contact them again about future releases. 
  • I don't do much advance promotion. Big publishers promote their books up to six months in advance, because they get longer pre-orders. The only reason I did a cover reveal for Adamant was because it was up for pre-order on all platforms, so there was a chance of making sales (which I did). However, I'm doing Twitter chats and cross-promotion with the #WO2016 group this year, which should help build buzz for my next series in 2016.
  • I do pre-orders, but I'm still experimenting with this. I find 2-4 weeks in advance is better than the full 3 months (the maximum allowed by Amazon), unless there's a huge audience waiting to buy the book.
  • If I'm doing a blog promotion, I'll organise it myself. I only do this for the first book in a series, and I send a HTML blog post to participants. along with review copies to anyone who signed up for one. I've worked with some wonderful blog tour organisers over the past two years, but I have a very limited marketing budget, which almost exclusively goes on advertising now.
  • Each time I plan a 99c sale on the first in one of my series, I'll sign up to as many free promotion sites as I can, then pick a limited number of paid ones. Aside from Bookbub, sites I can recommend are: Ereader News Today, Book Barbarian (for fantasy and SF), Fussy Librarian, BuckBooks. (These are all sites I've used and actually made back the money spent on promotion--not always a guarantee, unfortunately!)

So here's my final tip... research.

Hear about a new site? A new opportunity? Research. Anyone can call themselves an "expert" or set up a tour or publicity company and charge for anything from promotions to reviews (please, please don't pay for any reviews. It's against Amazon's Terms of Service, for one thing, and there are hundreds of bloggers who'll happily review for free). I get multiple emails a day from people offering me the "secret" to marketing, or begging me to submit to their site. I'm automatically sceptical, because I've been burned by so-called-professionals in the past. Be extremely wary, especially for anything that charges money. I say the same thing about editing services, but most professional editors and proofreaders, like me, provide a sample edit first. For marketers and tour companies, look for testimonials from other authors to prove their services actually led to sales. To quote Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance.

Recommended resources - the Writer's Cafe is one of the best places to find answers to almost every question. - Susan's blog is another great resource, as is her Indie Author Survival Guide. For more experienced writers, her new book, For Love or Money, is invaluable! - Lindsay Buroker's blog is also packed with useful information.


  1. All great information, thanks for that! I've got it bookmarked, I need all the help I can get.

    1. Yay! Glad I could help. :)

    2. Super informative, Emma! Thanks for sharing this!

    3. No problem! I'm glad it's helpful. :)

  2. This was AWESOME! (marketing is my Achilles' heel...)

    1. Glad it's helpful! I learned a lot through trial and error, but I hoped it'll be useful. :)

  3. Ooh, so much great advice! I have to see if I can apply some of these tips to my webcomic marketing. And gosh, I am so with you on those spammy DMs. How in the world do authors ever think that's a smart thing to do?!

  4. All excellent advice. I wish there was some magic formula we could use for marketing, but we just have to learn what works for us by trying.

  5. This is fabulous, Emma! My IWSG post for last week was about this very topic. I didn't know about the Waiting on 2016 Group. My first YA novel will be released in the fall of 2016. I'd love to check this out. I'll be honest, I'm really nervous about marketing, but you've made some very helpful suggestions. I really love your advice about tweets and making them unique and intriguing. I'm thinking that if I do that with any promotion avenue I choose I'll be more successful with it.