Let's Sell Your First Book
Let’s Sell Your First Book!
Marketing 101 for Brand-New Authors
Copyright 2018 by Amrita Chowdhury
Amrita Chowdhury asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
You can visit the author’s website at https://amritac.com
This is a work of nonfiction. Every effort has been made to ensure that the content provided on this website is accurate and helpful for our readers at publishing time. However, this is not an exhaustive treatment of the subjects. No liability is assumed for losses or damages due to the information provided. You are responsible for your own choices, actions, and results. You should consult your attorney for your specific publishing and disclaimer questions and needs.
Introduction: What This Book is Not
Chapter 1: Before You Start Writing
1.1 Identifying an audience for your work
1.2 Building Your Platform
a. Social Media Channels
b. Set up a Blog
c. Web Forums and Groups
Chapter 2: While You Are Writing
2.1 Stretching Your Platform
a. More Social Media Channels
b. The Email Newsletter
c. Interviews and Book Reviews
2.2 Spreading Your Work
a. Submitting Your Work to Literary Magazines
b. Anthologies and Chapbooks
c. Guest Blogging
Chapter 3: After You Finish Writing
3.1 Preparing to Publish
a. Beta Readers & Reviewers
b. On Editing
c. Cover Design & Formatting
d. Set up a Website
e. Build Your Media Kit
3.2 Spreading the Word
a. Even More Social Media Channels
b. Send out Your ARCs
c. Blurbs & Reviews
d. Promotions, Pre-Orders & Giveaways
e. Book Trailer
3.3 After You Publish
a. Social Media Ads
b. Book Signings & Readings
c. Talks, Lectures & Conferences
d. Virtual Book Tours & Getting Reviewed
e. Ranking & Distribution
To Sum Up
What This Book is not
This book is not going to teach you how to be a writer.
It will not help you develop your characters or help you with your plot or teach you how to write dialogue.
It is also not a guidebook to help you figure out if you want to go for traditional publishing or self-publishing.
It has zero tips on getting over Writers’ Block.
After reading this book, you will not learn how to self-edit your manuscript.
Still here? Great! Now let’s talk about how this book can actually help you.
Why is another book marketing guide required?
I didn’t think it was, to be honest. When I started working in the industry almost six years ago, taking up editing and book cover designing work, I would constantly be answering the same questions over and over, that authors would ask me:
How many books do you think I’m going to sell? Can you review my cover and suggest changes? I don’t like the cover, will the publisher change it? Is that in my contract? What other books are like mine? Is high fantasy a popular genre right now? Should I write for myself or for the market? Does this query letter grab your attention? Will my publisher set me up with book signings across the country?
And then came self-publishing authors with crucial questions, almost all of them with respect to marketing:
Which platforms are great to self-publish on? Who will buy my book? How do I build my author platform? Who are my “audience”? Where do I find them? Do I need a blog? How will being active on social media help me when I’m not even a published author? How much do I have to spend on marketing? How do I get more reviews on Amazon? How do I get reviewed by bloggers? How to increase my rank on Amazon? Why are my books not selling? I’m an indie author; will Barnes & Noble let me host book signings in their stores? How much should I be spending on self-publishing?
Helping my clients and answering these questions was always a pleasure. But at the same time, I couldn’t help wonder why, in spite of all the information available over the internet and in spite of all the countless marketing guides that we see on Amazon, most authors are still struggling within the industry.
I went through the most popular guides on book marketing and asked my clients about the books they had read. And with the exception of one or two books, the problem with the rest was pretty clear: every guide presented information in a way that would either underwhelm or overwhelm any newbie writer.
There were those that only listed marketing ideas with short descriptions of each idea, followed by one or two linked resources. These “list of ideas” books are far from exhaustive, and give no actionable blueprint for a new author to follow. Which strategies should be followed when and how? What steps to take and what points to keep in mind? None of that were included.
On the other end of the spectrum were book marketing guides that bundled a whole lot of industry insights and strategies and jargon in one package --- charts, bookselling algorithms of online sellers, practices popular with professional PR agents, website coding and development, and other similar points. And that had made a few authors I know, put away those guides forever.
Of course, there are quite a few writers who have been very happy with some of the guide books out there and I agree with them. Some titles --- I will list them in the resource list at the end of this chapter --- are actually useful and give clear insights into the industry that even newbie authors will find helpful.
In order to fill the gap created by the rest, the idea of Let’s Sell Your First Book came about: a guide that would put together actionable strategies one by one according to how and what to do when.
Who is this book for?
For the sake of popularity, I want to say, “For all authors.” But that’s not true.
This book is primarily for authors who are:
Thinking about writing a book
In the process of writing their first book
Have already written their first and now querying for agents or traditional indie publishers
Have already written the first book and looking to self-publish
Have recently had a book traditionally published
Have recently hit the proverbial “Publish” button with Createspace, KDM, Draft2Digital, Lulu, Kobo, iBooks, Ingramspark, Blurb etc.
Over the last few years, competition in the book publishing industry has turned into an extremely tough game. With more and more authors choosing to opt for self-publishing against the authors supported by publishing houses, it is easy for the voice of a brand-new writer to get lost in all the noise. Bowker reported a 21% increase in self-published ISBNs (not titles) from 2014 to 2015.*
Self-publishing is an extremely popular choice, especially among sci-fi, fantasy, YA, horror and romance writers, not only because it gives writers a way to bypass the rigid standards of traditional publishing gatekeepers; but also because the entire process from start to end is under the complete control of the writers themselves. Needless, to say the profit margins, in most prominent cases, for writers on selling said self-published books are much higher than royalties received by those who choose to go the traditional way.
* Report by US-ISBN Agency Bowker - www.publishingperspectives.com/2016/09/bowker-isbn-self-published-us/
On the other hand, traditional publishing has its own pros. It is undoubtedly the kind of validation most writers look for, a confirmation that a group of industry professionals deem their writing as publishable. The bigger publishing houses have their own editors, designers, marketers who take care of everything that goes behind selling a book on multiple platforms.
Traditionally, these publishing houses are responsible for getting your book into the shops and libraries and have them listed on book-selling websites. Book-selling is an art, and the big publishing houses have mastered it.
Curiously, as I keep talking to first-time writers looking to publish, two general scenarios keep popping up most often:
New authors go into writing a book and choose the traditional publishing way, because they are under the impression that the publishers bear the full responsibility of marketing their books.
On the flip-side, if they choose self-publishing, they end up thinking that just by processing the book through the self-publishing platforms is enough to sell a bucket-load of books.
Unfortunately, for new writers, neither scenario is that black and white. In both cases, selling any book requires extensive marketing groundwork by the author.
In Scenario 1, long gone are the days when a writer would send off the final manuscript to the publishers and then sit twiddling their thumbs, while the publishers pulled their magic --- the common belief being that it’s entirely the publisher’s job to do the marketing. Well, while it is still a publisher’s job to market the book as thoroughly as possible, Indie publishers, the bigger publishing houses and even the Big Six, are more interested in how much marketing work a new writer is willing to put in or has already put into the book, unless of course, you’re Margaret Atwood or George R.R. Martin. A fresh new writer, who has worked hard in building an audience around their work, makes it easier for publishers to market and target their sales. In which case chances of the book becoming a best-seller is much higher than if the writer is a completely unknown entity. Here, the marketing process is collaboration.
Scenario 2, obviously dictates that the writer does every bit of marketing, from A to Z, all by themselves. But here, it is often observed that the actual groundwork or audience-building or exercises to gain recognition, often starts after the book has been written or even after the book has been published. This leads to mediocre book sales, expensive PR costs and disappointment. Due to the nature of the publishing industry and the behavioural patterns of consumers, it is practically impossible to pinpoint the average rate of book sales from a new author. Even more so for self-publishing writers. Your focuses, hence, should be on producing a professionally finished product that will sell better than other books in its genre, to market it to the right audience at the right price point through the right outlets.
A good point to remember is a lesson that’s taught in most business schools --- The 4 P’s of Marketing.
Product, Price, Place, Promotion.
While this book won’t be talking about Product, we are going to try and simplify this further with respect to the last 3 P’s. Unless you are a 100% sure that you’re the next J. K. Rowling or the next Neil Gaiman, in order to sell anything more than 1000 books in a year or ever (an arbitrary number in every sense, really), you need to focus on three things:
- Good Writing. Write the best book you can. Ensure the story has a great hook and a smooth structure that readers find easy to follow. Make sure your characters evoke strong emotions in your readers’ minds. Exercise control over the language. Rewrite till the plot is free of holes. And most definitely get an editor. Whether you spend your own money to do it or wait for a publisher to get you one, a good editor is invaluable to your book. The biggest mistake a new author can do is not having an editor work with them on the manuscript. No amount of marketing will sell a book that’s not the best version of itself.
- A Solid Marketing Plan. Establishing your own unique writer’s platform. Finding your audience, general or niche, people who would love to read your work. Gaining momentum on social media and being an active member of the writer’s community. Doing your research and placing your product at the right price, in the middle of the right place, a marketing plan will sell your book, even before it’s on the shelf. This is another one of those points that new writers ignore, believing that their writing will carry the sales of their books.
- A Great Book Cover. That old, dried up cliché that’s not that dried up --- people do judge a book by its cover. At least the majority of them do. They always have and always will. If you’re art-wise inclined or have sufficient experience in graphic designing, you can still think of designing your own cover art. If not, again, get a professional. You’ll be out a couple of hundred quid, but the results are going to be far more profitable for you. And then there’s the blurb, which needs to be catchy, with a clear hook, clear and intriguing, all at the same time. A combination of the above two will ensure a great book cover.
The aim of Let’s Sell Your First Book is simple --- to help with #2 above. This book will take you through the stages of writing and lay out a clear marketing plan appropriate to that stage. It has been especially fine-tuned for first-time writers looking to write and sell their first book, without getting caught up in all the madness and industry jargon.
Things to keep in mind:
- Having a plan. Always a good idea and a must in this case. Think about what kind of marketing you require – the long term kind, where you build your platform and reputation in order to achieve a full-time living out of writing, or would you just prefer short-term marketing, where you only market one book at a time with the aim of selling as many books through optimised listings, post-production strategies and paid promotions. Keep in mind that long-term goals will cover everything, while short-term goals will mostly leave out the “building an author platform” part of it.
- Nonfiction vs. fiction. There are differences between marketing the two different types. For nonfiction authors, there’s very little option but to have a platform they use to share their expertise. On the other hand, fiction writers do have the option to just focus on short-term goals.
- Marketing budget. Having a budget at the start, before your book is published, is essential. You need to know where your money will go and how much, otherwise you’ll end spending more and not for good reason. For authors who are traditionally represented, this budget will only include marketing. However, authors who are looking to self-publish, will have to include the cost of editing, book cover design, website hosting and design, along with marketing.
- Editors and designers. A professional editor and a professional book cover designer will prove more valuable than you think. I will always recommend investing in this, even to seasoned writers.
- Not everyone will buy your book. Hence, don’t write for everyone. And don’t try and sell it everyone either. It is essential that you identify your ideal reader early on, maybe even before you start writing. 50 Shades of Grey sold more than a million copies because of the right audience and the size of the audience pool, whereas a Pulitzer Prize Winner has sold way less because of the same reasons. Write the best book you can.
- Spending on PR. PR professionals can be good or bad or completely unsuitable for you. But they are almost always expensive. Try your best at establishing your platform and getting word out on your own. Hiring a PR professional shouldn’t be your first choice or only choice.
Attitude to marketing.
Many first-time authors express an aversion to marketing. There are a multitude of reasons for that --- being introverted, thinking that “I’m a writer, my job is to write” or feeling that self-promotion is a sign of either arrogance or desperation.
This attitude to marketing is not going to help your sales. You may as well give way your books for free without expecting any kind of compensation or recognition.
As I’ve said before, it doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or getting traditionally published, marketing is definitely going to be majorly under your own scope.
Author and all-round publishing superstar, Joanna Penn, suggests a shift in mind-set. She says:
“Ask most authors about book marketing and they will roll their eyes. Let’s face it; we are authors because we love to write, most often alone in our rooms or inside our heads in a cafe. We want someone else to handle the marketing. But times have changed, and at some point, you will have to get involved. Marketing will be a lot more easier and more fun if you start by changing your mind-set...Marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it. Marketing doesn’t have to be scammy or sucky, or forcibly ramming your book down people’s throats in real life or on social media.”
Book Marketing Guides that actually help:
- Your First 1000 Copies : The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Tim Grahl
- How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn
- Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin (not specific to book marketing, but still an invaluable resource from the master himself)
For further research on book sales, Lincoln Michel, editor of Electric Lit, wrote a brilliant piece that every aspiring author should check out:
- Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask)