I’m not sure if my clients realize it, but as an editor for a publishing house, I get paid when my authors get paid. Like an agent, I don’t get paid until my authors do–then I receive a small percentage of the book’s sales. So, as nice as I am, it behooves me to help my authors with marketing. Mostly, I help because I get to know them from reading their work and having conversations, and I genuinely WANT to see them succeed. Their book baby becomes our book baby in a way, and I want to see that work go as far as it can. That’s what this whole blog is about–helping authors be successful.
*At the publishing house, marketing is not my department, so I can’t do anything for you (or on your behalf), but there are things you, as the author, can and should do to market yourselves. Read on.
Since this post is directed to my clients, it follows the assumption that you are currently in the editing process and about to release a book in the next year. These strategies work for indie authors as well. I recommend starting as soon as you can. If you don’t have a cover yet, make a place marker that says “Coming soon.” Then have a cover reveal party later. (My clients don’t have to worry about this one. Unless they want to promote early.) But traditional or indie, it’s never too early to start making friends and followers, and learn what’s worked for some and what’s worked for none. You are always welcome to “friend” or “follow” me @haskinauthor on Twitter and Instagram, and I hope you all find something helpful here.
So let’s get started.
Step One: First, you need to get social media accounts. I know, I know. If you don’t already have them, it’s annoying and scary and you’re unsure and unconfident, until you know what you’re doing. But YOU are an author, danggit! You’re going to have FANS one day. So put on your big kid underpants and create author profiles. Make sure you use the same handle on each. It can be anything, but I mostly see some variation on @Suziewriter or @authorPiggleston.
Use the social media sites to network now and grow your number of followers with other authors, they will support you. But also keep on the lookout for readers of your genre, follow all you can, just don’t spam them with relentless self-advertising. (A good rule of thumb is to interact with others for 80% of your posts, and self-promote with the remaining 20%) Then, when your book comes out, you will have a platform to sell on. I suggest joining writing groups and/or genre reading groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to learn what other authors are doing, but remember–don’t only target other writers. You aren’t selling to them. What you want to find is a community of READERS in your genre.
Personally, I have author pages on: Facebook (author page), Instagram (where I post book memes and free ads), LinkedIn (networking mostly), and Twitter (networking, finding readers, and ads). I have to bite the bullet and make some TikTok videos because that’s where the teens–my audience–are. Not quite excited, but it’s got to be done.
[Update 8/1/20: I did join TikTok and put on my Official Video Book Trailer which lasts one minute–TikTok’s limit for videos–and then put all the teen bookish hashtags on it, and went out to follow anyone who said they were a teen reader of fantasy romance. And you know what? 752 people liked my video. So I used Canva for free and made several videos with my cover and a quote and some moving background, you can add music on Canva, too. And I now have several videos and friends. It wasn’t as hard as I thought, and I haven’t had to share a single video of myself talking yet. I know it’s coming, but maybe I’ll let them wonder for awhile… Point is: it wasn’t as hard as my fear made it out to be. Get out there and do what you can. There’s no right or wrong place to be. It’s what works for you–but you don’t know till you try it!]
The entire literary world is on Twitter. Hang out and follow people–just retweet things you like to start with. People will return the favor. Several times a year, you can join #pitch events and pitch your new, unpublished story premise to an agent and get priority over the slushpile. Network by following the #writingcommunity–and other hashtags.
Follow readers on Instagram and always use lots of hashtags with your posts, you can have up to thirty (Check out #bookstagram). Take a picture of your writing space, your planning board, your notes on a napkin, your cute mug of coffee, or pretty teacup, make sure your book cover is strategically placed in many of them, or all of them. But I don’t suggest overwhelming your audience. Focus on connecting and following readers of your genre to broaden your audience, if you have a bunch of bookish posts, they’ll likely follow back. When they get to your page, this is where variation in your posts is either attractive or spammy.
You can make free ads as well by using www.Canva.com and/or www.bookbrush.com Make an ad in the right size, download it to your phone or computer, then post it on Instagram with your selling links in the description, along with thirty hashtags. I’m totally serious.
Use the free “magic tool” on www.allauthor.com to download png files of your book covers in various positions (will work for a place holder, too). Then use those covers in your Canva ads. Your marketing will mainly be online, so knowing social media is essential. If you need to go slowly or learn it, now is the time.
Step Two: Here is the most important thing… Trust me.
The #1 best marketing tool you have is your cover.
It is the pretty picture that will catch the reader’s eye and hopefully stir up enough curiosity to click the thumbnail and read the description (which had better hook them, or you’ve lost the sale.) If you have any say in the cover, you need to make sure you have the right one for your book and your genre. How do I know what the right one looks like? First, go to the page on Amazon with the top 50 books in your category. Make sure your cover fits with theirs. Not necessarily a copy of theirs, but use the elements that they are all using. (This is not a place where you want to stand out necessarily, but you want to fit in, to join the “in” crowd so to speak. When you are obviously a book that looks like you belong with the popular, best-selling books, you must be one too, by association. That will help your sales. Readers are often more interested in getting more of what they already know they like.) People always used to tell me this, but I had no clue what they meant, by be exactly like them, but not. Let me try to explain…
For example: YA fantasy covers used to have either a girl in a pretty dress, or an up-close face, but they have changed, and now they have a dark background, with an object lit from above and some kind of scrolly or detailed background. For a second example, I looked at paranormal and urban fiction covers for another author recently, and noticed they have dark covers, heavily shadowed figures, mostly in combinations of contrasting blues and yellows. A couple were simply green, and a few were red and black. Most had either white lettering–or a lighter color than the background–and fonts with some character.
When you are looking at the top 20 in your category, take note of the similarities between the top-selling books. You want to fit right in. When a lover of your genre sees your cover, it should tell them quickly: age group and genre. And if it looks like one of the best sellers, it must be good, right? click. You’re one step closer to a sale.
Step Three: This is something to really think about before publishing… Amazon considers your title and subtitle when looking for keywords to know where to place your book, so think about how well your title represents your genre. My first book, The Key of F, is a YA fantasy romance, but Amazon kept putting me under musical keys and F# keys, etc. Once Amazon realized it was an actual KEY, I started getting linked in with “key and lock” and “key fob” types of things. But it never brings up fantasy or romance. Because nothing about The Key of F screams fantasy OR romance. Make sure your title matches your genre.
No one counsels you on your title unless you’re being published by the Top 5 or their imprints, so ask around–get a general consensus. Is this the right title for my book? Ask the people who’ve read it. It’s better to know now, than to figure it out later. I thought about changing my title to: The Key of Blood Mages, but then I discovered I would lose all my current reviews, and I’m not keen on that. Amazon removes enough on their own.*
*Beware not to link your author account on Facebook to your Amazon account, because they share info, and if Amazon even thinks you’re friends with someone who’s reviewed your book, they will consider it a biased review and take it down. I lost many that way. Same goes for family members and friends on your personal Facebook page. Yes, you need two. I also have two Instagram pages. (Goodreads is also owned by Amazon, so don’t accept “friend” requests from your readers and/or reviewers, because Amazon will remove their reviews.)
Step Four: The next thing you want to do is give attention to your blurb. The publisher will most likely use your back cover copy as your sales description, so it becomes your blurb. Take some extra time on this. Look at other blurbs. Make it interesting. Hook the reader into saying, “I have 5,003 books in my TBR, but I need to read this one right now!” Use keywords so Amazon knows where to show your book. Here is a formula for writing your blurb:
Sales copy formula ala Brian Cohen (This is for your sales description on Amazon):
1. Headline/hook phrase (movie poster line)
2. Synopsis (what it’s about)
3. Selling paragraph (their emotional benefit)
4. Call to action
~First, make up your movie poster line. That one phrase synopsis meant to hook the reader into reading the rest of the description. (Know your conflicts and consequences)
~Write the synopsis portion
For the first paragraph:
Sentence 1. Your protagonist’s state of being
Sentence 2. Build up to the inciting incident or midpoint
Sentence 3. How the inciting incident or midpoint impacts your character emotionally (Don’t just summarize the plot, tell us how it impacts the characters.
Sentence 1. Character’s new state of being
Sentence 2. Build up to the conflict/cliffhanger (what they want & what’s in their way)
Hint at how Acts 3 and 4 will impact the characters emotionally.
- Write the selling paragraph:
What is it and why will I like it?
- Call to action:
What should I do now? (Buy now! or Click here to start the adventure! Etc.)
One mistake, one choice, one moment … can change everything.
She could have left it alone. She could have let Keron grab his tools and fight the Rowdies–she could have let him die–but she hid his weapons.
Because only Fale knew what the future held and so far, her visions hadn’t been wrong.
Now, her guardian has disappeared, and Fale finds herself being hunted with the hot crush who turned her down three years ago.
She can fight, and so can her crush, but when they find themselves backed into a corner, they run. Hidden by a group of mages who knew her parents, Fale and Keron search for the answers to who hunts them, and what they want. Unable to deny a growing attraction for each other, romance blooms under pressure.
Even more shocking, the mages tell Fale she was born centuries ago … as someone else. Beyond astonished, and full of apprehension, Fale wants more answers, but the more she finds, the less she wants to know.
Her options are narrowing each day they live in hiding. Can she push forward, accept the magic, and win? Will she embrace her new future, or run from it?
If you like fast-paced adventures, dark, dangerous societies, and romance that makes you gasp, you’ll love Jenn Haskin’s wicked action-meets-fantasy series beginning with The Key of F.
★ Click now for your copy to discover Fale’s secret identity, what she can do, and root for a heroine who grows in power over the series to become a strong female lead in her own right.
(That’s for my book The Key of F) Did you notice all the keywords? Fast-paced adventure, dark dangerous societies, strong female lead, mages, visions, hot crush, growing attraction, romance blooms … and my subtitle is: YA fantasy romance. All those keywords help Amazon place my book, and the better you’re placed, the more readers see your book. See, the reader goes to their favorite genre and starts at #1 on page one. They scan until they find the cover that catches their eye. If it’s in the first row of five books, they’re done. No more looking, they’ve found a book to read. If you are anywhere but the first page, your chances of getting clicked just get slimmer and slimmer. So follow all these directions. It’s not as hard as it sounds, but it is a little time-consuming.
Step Five: The next important step is to make sure you have a baseline of 10 reviews. You need at least that many before any marketing efforts start to pay off. So, offer your free book to reviewers. You can use an ARC, which is an Advanced Reader Copy, if your book isn’t released yet. These manuscripts can still have a few forgivable mistakes as they are in the editing phase and it shouldn’t affect the reviewer’s rating. Line up people who read your genre.
DO NOT simply spam your friends and family to buy and review your book. Besides being creepy, or becoming THAT author, there’s a very good reason why you shouldn’t beg everyone you know to buy your book. Besides Amazon removing their reviews, it confuses the algorithm, and then Amazon won’t show your book at all. See, if Grandma faithfully reads rom-coms, your dad reads all mysteries, and your mom buys cookbooks and women’s fiction, but your book is YA (young adult), and they all buy a copy and review, Amazon won’t know where to list you. Should your book go with Grandma’s rom-coms in front of the romance crowd, or Dad’s mysteries? The algorithm won’t know where to show your book to readers … so it won’t.
You will want the readers of your ARC to post their reviews on Amazon to be counted. Everyone counts Amazon reviews as the definitive number of reviews you have. Some ads require you to have 10 (Amazon) reviews, some require fewer reviews, but an average rating of 3.5 or 4 stars. If the reader cannot/will not leave an Amazon review, you can add it as an editorial review on Amazon Central. (More on that later.) But it won’t be counted in your number of reviews. Give the advanced-copy reader your publishing date and ask if they’d like a reminder when you release. Then schedule an email to send to your reviewers when your book launches, with the link, and remind them to stop by and leave you their review.
You cannot have a contest for reviewers, because Amazon reviews may not be incentivized in any way. (Goodreads reviews don’t have this caveat, but they don’t count in your number of reviews, either.) The Amazon reviewer must give their review in exchange for the book, nothing else. But you can give out free copies to reviewers, they aren’t required to pay for them. It is always better to have a “verified purchase” review, meaning the reviewer purchased the book, but if you aren’t getting organic reviews, don’t worry about it, keep sending out free copies for reviews.
There are some free sites that you can join, like Booksprout or Bookfunnel where you can upload free copies of your book for reviewers to choose and review. I’ve only had a handful of reviews from this (that I know of), but they are reviews from people who chose my book and not random blogs or strangers I’ve begged for a read. Lol. That’s how it feels sometimes.
[Update 8/1/20: Beware, I have discovered that if your book is enrolled in KDP Select (Kindle Unlimited for the readers), you may not send out free copies of your book. Amazon can block your account if you are giving out more than 10% of your book for free. So if you are in KDP Select, you will have to by codes for your book to give out to reviewers. Which I would ONLY do if the review was guaranteed. Make sure that your samples and book magnets are only 10% of your book.]
About 2-3 of every 10 people who are asked, will commit to leaving a review. About 1-2 people out of the 8-10 who agree to leave a review will actually do so. It’s a numbers game. So you need to make sure you are asking a LOT of people, in your genre. (There’s nothing worse than getting a three-star review because it wasn’t the reader’s preferred genre. And that’s my fault for begging a review from someone who didn’t read my genre.) You’ll find a lot of book reviewers on social media, so hit up readers on Twitter and Goodreads (yes, I’m there, too)–make a quick ad on Canva that offers a free ARC in exchange for a review, and post it online.
Look up (Google) book reviewers in your genre. I recently looked up “teen book influencers” and got a relatively recent list of influential teen bloggers that I messaged individually, asking for reviews. Be sure to compliment, but be sincere, and follow their submission guidelines. A form letter with an intro, the book description, cover, series information, publisher information, etc. can be used, if you personalize each one and send them separately. Make sure to tell them why you chose them for the review.
*Update, of the thirty-five YA reviewers I contacted, two asked for my book. It happens. More may contact me later, but I’m moving on the next group.
Step Six: The ads I’ve found that make the most profit for your money are Bookbub and AMS (Amazon ads). Some authors have luck with Facebook ads, but it depends on where your audience hangs out. If they’re all on FB, check out their ads, but do your research first. Take an online class. I also recommend you take a free online course about AMS ad learning before you attempt doing it yourself. I spent $700 in ONE MONTH on Amazon ads because someone tried to give me good advice, and though they meant well, they didn’t know what they were talking about. Bid low and create many ads. I have other posts that take you step by step through the ad process.*
Step Seven: Your small publisher will enter seven keywords for you when they make your Amazon account, and they will select your first two categories. If you do your research ahead of time and find marketable keywords for your book, make sure you tell your publisher. They are happy to let you do this work. You are their investment. Not everyone knows this, but you can actually be listed in up to ten categories! No joke. Nothing scammy or dishonest. That way, you can be broad in some categories and very niche in others, and see where you rank the best.
How to rank in ten categories: Once your book is in pre-order stage, you can log onto www.AmazonCentral.com with your Amazon password. There you can claim your book. On the “book” page, at the bottom, is a link that says “contact us.” Follow the links to contact Amazon about your categories, and send them an email with the ten categories you choose for your book. That’s it. This will take some prep work. I suggest going down the list of categories on Amazon and writing down every one that your book would fit in. You will notice that some of the categories are doubled, or found a different way. These niche categories are smaller and not as competitive. So where your YA dystopian book might rank low in:
Kindle ebooks> Teen & Young adult> Scifi & Fantasy> Scifi> Dystopian
You may rank really high in:
Kindle ebooks> Teen & Young adult> Romance> Scifi & Dystopian
That’s because the second category string is a niche category. I didn’t go straight to Scifi as the big category. I went through romance. Now, if there’s not a drop of romance in your YA dystopian, I’ll have to check you for a fever, but in that case, you wouldn’t want to go through romance for the niche category, because it will tick people off if they got the book thinking it’s one thing and find it’s another. So stay true to your book, but don’t just go for the obvious categories first.
Step Eight: If you have the first chapter of the next book ready, especially indies, I suggest you add it to the back matter of your book. Those authors see 20% increase in sales on the following book.
(Back matter would be your Acknowledgements, and About the Author pages, plus an excerpt from an upcoming work. Front matter would be your Dedication, Maps, and Table of Contents.)
Why is all this little stuff important?
I hear your skepticism and I understand. This stuff sounds piddly, and not worth the time. When I was with my first publisher, my book was hardly selling, and my bestseller’s rank was about seven-million-something. I knew I needed to get my book ranked higher to be seen. So I dedicated a year to learning about marketing and understanding these basics. But when I told my publisher I wanted to change covers, descriptions, keywords, categories, and back matter, he nearly laughed in my face (or email–lol). The publisher said, “Technically I own the book. If I thought any of that would do any good, I’d change it. But it won’t make a difference, so I’m not wasting my time.”
My thought was, They aren’t NOT buying the book based on the contents. They don’t even know what it says. They just aren’t attracted enough to the cover and description. So I paid $2,000 to get my rights back, and I made the changes myself. The difference was night and day. Now, I generally rank within the first 3 pages of search results without any advertising. When I do run an ad campaign, I can appear on the first page of results in every listed category for each book. Those “little” wastes of your time make a huge difference when they’re all added up. Trust me.
[Update 8/1/20: When you are in KDP Select, your book is essentially “free” to readers, hence you aren’t technically selling anything, so you cannot be considered a bestseller. You actually show up in a different ranking pool. I discovered this when my books stayed #1 New Releases for more than a month, but never made bestseller status–which isn’t a permanent ribbon, either. You can have it, and then lose it, and have it again.]
Step Nine: Now, having a publisher creates some difficulty because without your sales information, it’s difficult to know if an ad campaign is working, but you can watch your Amazon Bestsellers Rank. The lower it is, the more you’re selling. I always try to keep my Amazon Bestsellers Rank below one million and below 500,000 if I can, and I’m happy. However, for you indie authors, keeping track of your sales and page reads will tell you what to keep up and what to drop.
If you are a client and you have any trouble with these things or need more specific instructions on how to do something, just email me and we’ll figure it out. If you are not a client, you are still free to use the contact page with your request and I will help if I can. My work comes first, but I’m happy to help!
Step Ten: Last thing, I know you have a publisher, but check out www.Creativeindie.com and www.kindlepreneur.com. If you are an indie author, you must check out these guys. And for keywords and categories, Dave Chesson’s Publisher Rocket tool is totally worth it (that’s my affiliate link, so if you click here and buy, I get a pat on the head or something). Both sites have a ton of free marketing help and ideas.
The point is to work smarter, not harder–
to find the 20% of work that yields 80% of results.
If I come up with more to add, I’ll come back. But I hope it wasn’t too confusing, and gave you some ideas on where to go from here. These things aren’t a sum total of what you need to do, but they are so important. Your book needs these things to be a success. It will take some time to accomplish all these tasks, but you WILL see a difference with these changes. My latest books were #1 New Releases for at least a month because of these details. (That was great for marketing!)
The other thing you will hear over and over as you learn marketing, is that the next best piece of marketing is another book. It’s true. When you release a new book, it only helps the previous books. You will find, if you’re writing a series, that you are constantly pushing the first book–especially if they must be read in order. If they can be read in any order, you’ll have an easier time marketing them separately. But don’t despair, if your readers love the first book, they will likely continue to see what happens. I always pimp the first book in my trilogy because they must be read in order to make sense. Unfortunately, I see fewer sales than if I market all my books, but I don’t want to confuse the readers. It’s up to you, though.
Keep in mind, if you don’t have a great book, nothing you do will help sell the rest of your series. It might get your first book bought, but it won’t get you repeat customers. Leading readers to your book is a marketing artform, getting them to buy is a formula, but once they get there, make sure you have a book that will knock their socks off. If you are indie and you spent the last year learning about writing and editing and marketing, you can easily go back and re-edit your book(s) and publish a new edition, or just upload the new mansucript for the edition you are on. It’s simple. And if it makes readers happy, you’ll have success.
Just remember, they aren’t NOT choosing your book because it’s a bad book. Your lack of success may not have anything to do with the quality of your book. The readers MUST connect with your cover and be drawn in by your sales copy to buy. If that’s not happening, follow the instructions on this page to the detail. Then let me know if/how it worked for you. I’d love to know. And if you found something that worked great for you, let me know that, too. It’s all about helping each other. Until next weekend–