Marketing. It's almost a dirty word in the writing world. We all wish the feat of just getting our book out there was enough. Write it and they will come, right?
There are millions of self-published books out there. That's not to discourage you - there are also billions of readers wanting books too! But it's a reality check. If you just chuck your book out there with no plan, it will sink like a stone and never be seen.
But marketing your book - even just a little bit - will change that, and isn't actually as complicated as most people believe.
It's just that most people haven't been taught what marketing actually involves. We mostly see other self-published authors bemoaning how hard it is, and how we all wish we could just retreat to our writing caves and get on with the creative stuff in peace!
But the problem isn't how hard marketing is - it's not a snap, it does take work, but it's not as hard as most people think it is. And it's not that you have to be an extrovert to make it work. You really don't.
It's that this aversion to marketing among writers has lead us all to false beliefs and faulty practices that would never fly in any other business, and yet persist in the publishing world for some reason.
And so the majority of authors just end up making all to common mistakes and no headway - and so the myth of successful book marketing being a unicorn of luck and extroversion persists.
It's not so. Let's take a look at these common mistakes. Avoid these, and you're halfway there already.
The basic premise of marketing your book is: meet your reader where they're at!
Make use of the benefits of self-publishing. We get stuck in the traditional model of publishing and try to replicate the marketing that happens there - but while we don't have the big budgets, we do have a lot more flexibility and freedom as indies and self-publishers. There are no middle men between us and our readers - so make the most of that!
Readers are looking for books! Unlike a lot of businesses, you don't have to convince them they need the product you're selling. They already want to read! You just have to position your book in their way and make sure it lets them know it's the book they're looking for!
So in the pursuit of getting your books into the hands of readers, here's where you might be going wrong:
Mistake #1: Trying to target everyone
I get it. You've written a book. You want the whole world to know about it - but you've got to get real here. The whole world probably doesn't want to read your book.
But there are people who do. So who are they? Do you know? Like really know? Have a super clear idea of who your readers are?
For any other business, target market and customer avatars are one of the very first parts of creating a business plan. But for some reason, this part gets glossed over a lot in self publishing.
Maybe because we think a reader base is too diverse. It's a bit different to selling a product to solve a specific problem, and knowing exactly who has that problem. The people who read a certain kind of book don't necessarily have the same kind of job or come from the same background.
But you CAN still narrow in on a targeted audience for your books too.
First, don't think so broad. When it comes to getting clear on your target reader, don't try to think of everyone who might read your book. You've narrowed in from everyone in the whole world, good - but take it even further!
Who are the superfans? What do the people that would not only read your book, but who absolutely LOVE this kind of book, have in common with each other? (Even if you don't have actual readers yet - who will they be? Write and market for them, and the wider fringes of readers will be caught in your net too.
(Make your superfans happy, and they'll do a lot of your marketing for you too!)
Mistake #2: Waiting until the book is published to start marketing
I see this kind of post all too often in writer's groups: "My book is out... now how do I get people to read it?"
You know the saying - the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.
It's the same with marketing your books. It's never too early to start building a platform. This could be a some combination of blog, email list, Instagram, TikTok, FB page or group. (You don't have to do all of them.)
But remember that audience you got super clear about in step one?
Knowing them will help you know exactly where they are, what they like, and what they're looking for online. Meet them where they're at and give them what they're looking for!
The value of platform building before you publish is especially true for non-fiction - it's true for all books, but extra extra true for non-fiction. You could theoretically sell your fiction book to a cold audience through ads and no other social media. That will be a lot harder for non-fiction, because people need to know and trust you as an authority before they'll take a chance on you.
So start giving value now!
What do they need? How can you help them? Start helping your audience now! And start collecting their email addresses, for goodness sake.
For fiction, what are they entertained by? What inspires them? What intrigues them? Put that out there, even if your book is still in draft form.
Start sharing and promoting other author's novels. The great thing about fiction is that readers always want more. So by promoting other authors and other books (in your genre, you're building a community that will come back to benefit you once you do publish.
Mistake #3: Trying to FOMO your way to the top.
You see other authors talk about Booktok or how AMS ads skyrocketed sales overnight. And so you're scrambling all over the place, even though you have only half built an email form for sign ups, are trying Facebook ads without knowing what you're doing, post sporadically on Instagram when you can figure out something to say...
And you feel like none of it's working. But you can't stop, because if you aren't EVERYWHERE then you'll never get found, right?
Don't let the fear of missing out on "THE" marketing channel torpedo all your efforts into nothing.
You are far better off doing one or two things well, than spreading yourself paper thin trying to be everywhere, and doing all of it in a very mediocre way.
Pick one or two main channels to focus on. This should ALWAYS include an email list. At the very least, somewhere on your website for people to sign up, and links in the back of your books. Even better if you can give them value and nurture them, but we will get into that another time.
But then master one thing, before you add in more. Master Instagram before you add in Twitter or TikTok.
Take a course on Facebook ads and give that a proper go before trying to add in other channels.
Remember step 1, again? You know where your audience is - meet them where they're at, and get really good at connecting with them there. Stop looking around at what every other author is doing, and connect with your readers!
Mistake #4: Treating other Authors like the competition
You don't need to do this all alone. Get to know other authors and writers in your genre, and support each other! You can do cross promotions and newsletter swaps, promote each other's new releases, collaborate on giveaways that build your followings and email lists.
You don't need to treat other authors like they're your competition, even if they write similar books to you. Actually, especially if they write similar books to you! Because their readers will most likely love your books too, and vice versa.
(This may be a bit different for non-fiction, as non-fiction is often connected to a niche or wider business where it may not always serve you to collaborate with someone offering the exact same services as you. But there are still complementary people, authors, or business you could collaborate with the benefit all of you.)
Don't be afraid to share the love.
Mistake #5: Forgetting your book is a product and you are a brand
Self publishing is a small business. You've got to treat it like one. Create an experience and a strong brand around you and your books, and it will make you stand out, and do some much of the marketing heavy lifting for you.
Your writing, your online presence, your books, should all fit that brand. Create a consistent, predictable atmosphere, an experience, around what you write.
Think of Stephen King - say that name, and you know what kind of book to expect. So fans hardly even have to know what the next book is about, they're probably just going to buy it.
Make every encounter with you and your books - your website, your social media, your book covers - all reinforce the brand.
Get clear on your audience - especially for Instagram. Download the One Page Clarity Map inside the Free VIP vault.
Get the free Clarity Map to get clear on your reader and audience for instagram, plus many more free resources for authors!
Mistake #6: Getting too creative
Sometimes authors think that in order to stand out, they have to do something totally original. You want to stand out from the crowd, right?
But in reality, being too original can actually work against you.
If your book doesn't fit within the tropes of your genre, if your book cover is too conceptual and doesn't include the cues of your genre, if you do something super artistic and out of the box with your website or social media - it's not impossible to sell still, but you are giving yourself a lot more work. A lot!
Because you've got to create a readership for your book, rather than just appealing to existing readerships already looking for your kind of book.
Think - if a romance reader is out looking for sweet western romance, there are cues and tropes they will be looking for and expecting. If your cover doesn't hit those cues, or if your book shuns the tropes - or god forbid, doesn't have a HEA - you will have an impossible time getting readers.
You aren't going to be standing alongside them explaining your abstract cover choices. They just won't notice you.
And they won't give you a chance to explain why you wasted their time on a story that wasn't what they were expecting.
They'll just move on. (Or worse, set fire to your reviews.)
Don't shun the tropes and trends in your genre or niche. At best, it's confusing and will leave your book without a solid market, and at worst it's condescending to your readers, trying to tell them you know better than what they're asking for.
You need to be recognisable to your readers, or they will pass right by you in favour of the book that is sending the right signals.
- Know what your audience expects.
- Make sure your book and its packaging (cover etc.) hits the must-have elements.
- And only then put your creative spin on it
Mistake #7: Throwing spaghetti at the wall.
This is a bit like the FOMO of step 3. But even if you've narrowed in on one or two channels, you'll never master them if you just keep throwing stuff out there with no strategy.
Learn how the platform works and what readers want from you there.
Then go in with a plan:
- How often are you going to post/send emails?
- What topics will you post about?
- What is your brand message and feel - what do you want readers to feel and experience whenever they encounter you? How are you giving them that experience?
- What books are you promoting? Tease them and entice readers.
Create a plan, and build it around key dates, like your next book release - so everything creates a journey for your reader leading them right to your book.
Mistake #8: Giving up too easily
Taking small, consistent efforts will have a compounding effect.
But if you try things in fits and starts - throwing everything at one thing, then switching tracks when that doesn't work immediately - not only will you lose the compounding effects, but you will convince yourself marketing is impossible, and you will be on a fast track to burnout.
You're in this for the long-game. Set some goals and have a clear idea of what constitutes success or failure of your marketing efforts.
This will evolve over time as you get to know what to expect from different kinds of marketing. But start small and give them time to build.
"Failure" by the way, is not a signal to throw in the towel - it's just a message that you need to get more clarity, or tweak your approach, or learn a little bit more. Give it time, and learn from it, before deciding that it's not for you and moving on to something else.
“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett
Mistake #9: Overcomplicating it
It's inevitable, you're learning a bunch of new skills to self publish successfully, so you're going to feel overwhelmed sometimes. (Often!)
With a to do list a longer than the fifth Harry Potter book, it can be easy to lose of sight of what you're even trying to achieve.
So remember to regularly bring it back to the basics:
- Who are you?
- Who are your readers?
- What do your readers love about you and your books?
- Give them more of that.
That's the basics of it. It's not rocket science. It's not magic. Connect with your readers. Give them what they're looking for. That's basically it.
The rest is detail. Learn that detail when you can. When you're feeling overwhelmed, put the detail aside and just keep it simple.
And get back to writing something, because a strangely common mistake authors can make is...
Mistake #10: Forgetting to Write!
POV: You got so caught up in marketing your first book - that it's 2 years later and you realise your forgot to write another one!
I've said it before, I'll say it again. The best way to sell your last book, is to write the next one!
All marketing efforts become exponentially more effective when you have more books out. Because you can point readers to one book, and there will be organic onflow to your other books too. Especially for series, but also for standalones if they are in the same genre.
So don't get so obsessed with marketing one book, that you stop prioritising time to write. This is what readers want most from you!
And that's why you got into this in the first place - because you want to write books! So, like, don't forget to do that part....
So how do you feel? Don't get overwhelmed.
What's the one biggest mistake you think is making an impact on your marketing right now? And what is the one little step you could take today to start turning that around? (Hint: if you want to market on Instagram, start with the One Page Content Clarity Map above!)
And if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, make a cup of tea and come on over to the FB group so I can give you a pep talk and remind you just how awesome you are, and how worth it is to figure this stuff out!
One step at a time!