Have you heard that you should be giving something away for free so that readers will give you their email addresses, but you’re not sure what to give?
You don’t want to proverbially let them milk the cow for free without ever buying it.
Or maybe you only have one book so far or don’t have a series, so you can’t let the first edition go for free.
How do you decide what to give away to help ensure that the people who subscribe will be the ones most likely to buy your book?
If you had these thoughts or questions, you’re not alone. Here’s my take on the subject.
I look at reader magnet freebies like I do free samples at the grocery store. Let’s say there’s a new faux noodle out that claims it tastes just like real, white pasta with the same nutritional value as whole grain varieties, but contains a fraction of the calories. (If we’re going to dream, might as well dream big.) I’ve had the tofu noodles and used zucchini in my spiralizer. So I’m skeptical. Luckily, the grocery store is giving out free samples of the new miracle noodle today. I try it. Then, I either decide it’s just another trick and pass, or their claims are actually true, so I stock up.
Try to look at your writing the same way. A reader sees your book, and it looks promising, but they aren’t sure. They’ve never heard of you and they’ve fallen for this before. Offering them a free sample will help them decide if they want to buy or pass.
If you have just one book, I recommend giving away a short story you’ve written in the same genre or at least one as similar to your book as possible. If you’re not a short story writer, you can give away the first few chapters. However, make sure you’re clear that they are just the first chapters and not the entire book so you don’t anger them.
Once you have more than one book, seriously consider giving the first book away for free as your reader magnet, especially if it’s the first in a series or in the same genre. Even if it isn’t, it will still give the reader an idea of your writing style.
Above all, when deciding on the freebie to offer in book marketing, think “free sample.” What can you provide that will give a potential reader a good idea of your writing style, story telling ability, etc?
Especially if you’re in the early stages of your author career, think of the this as more of a long time process. If they get your freebie and like it, they are more likely to buy your next title(s) when you send them that email telling them it’s available.
For the past couple of months, I have been going to a gym. I have always been a walker and I know the importance of strength training, but I’ve never been able to sustain the discipline needed to complete workouts at home. I have hand weights, a weight bench, and dozens of workout DVDs, so you’d think that would be convenient and I would do it, but I didn’t. And when I did get to a workout, I always quit when the weights started to get heavy.
It wasn’t until last week that I started going to regular classes that start at 7 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Because this is no ordinary gym; this gym is smart. They set you up with one coach who you meet with individually for 12-18 sessions (I did 12 over about 6 weeks) at a time convenient to you.
They knew throwing me into a 7 a.m. class wouldn’t work.
So I met with my coach around vacation and meeting schedules about two days per week at 2 in the afternoon. She eased me into working out starting where I was, somehow challenging me enough so that there were times I thought I might die but at the same time making sure I was successful so I built confidence that I could do it. Then she said, “I think you’ve got the fundamentals down. Why don’t you just try this one class?” At 7 a.m.! I rarely see that time of day. I agreed, got up on time, got to class, and survived. Last week on Wednesday was my first “regular” attendance. The night before, I didn’t get to sleep until after 3 a.m., but I didn’t let myself cancel. I made myself go anyway; again I was challenged but I did it.
I couldn’t believe it when this past weekend, I was actually looking forward to going to class again the following Monday. (Those endorphins must be kicking in or something.) I didn’t jump up out of bed or anything, but still…
I have heard for years that one needs other people to be successful, and I didn’t want to believe them. My success (so far) has been in having a coach. I finally decided to try to give a fitness coach a try when I finally admitted how much other people have helped me in my business life.
So, what’s this got to do with book marketing?
Well, like exercise, book marketing is really practicing skills and developing habits. If you’re having trouble doing your marketing, maybe it’s time for some help, like a class or a coach (coincidentally, I can help – just contact me). If you’re starting a new habit, don’t just jump into the proverbial 7 a.m. class, but work up to it.
Also, you will still feel a certain degree of resistance and will probably have to force yourself to do the book marketing you plan to do and sometimes step out of your comfort zone, but you will be more motivated if you make it as convenient as possible. Do what challenges you but also makes you feel accomplished or successful. Keep the logistics convenient. If you hate to travel, don’t schedule far-flung out-of-town appearances. The gym I go to is less than 10 minutes away. Finally, make sure the timing works. I’m really tempted to sleep instead of going to the gym, but getting done at 8 a.m. does leave my whole day open for productive writing and work.
Do you have any ideas to make book marketing more pleasing, convenient, or easier so you’re motivated to do it more? If so, please comment.
Craig Hart has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including three thrillers and a coming-of-age story in the past three years. Craig describes his marketing plan as “a crazy combination of scribbled notes and scattered post-its,” so not formal, though he does plan writing goals and targeted promotional spots for the next two or three months. Since Kindle Press published his first book in 2015, everything surrounding marketing his books has changed. He said, “I once had a highly idealistic view of writing and the writing life. You know the drill: starving artist suffering for art’s sake. Over the years, though, I’ve come to realize that for writing, beyond merely being a hobby, to support its own weight, it must justify its existence. Namely, become economically feasible. Again, if someone is doing it as a hobby, that’s fine. There are much worse ways to pass a quiet evening at home. But for me that wasn’t—isn’t—enough. I want writing to play an ever-more important role in my life. And to make that happen, I realized (and I’m somewhat embarrassed at how long it took me to come around to this) that I had to begin treating writing like a business.”
Marketing books is Craig’s least-favorite part of the writing life; he said it’s become easier but he didn’t think he’d ever enjoy selling himself or his work. How basic marketing books can be surprised Craig. He said, “I viewed marketing as a combination of clever taglines and big league contacts and advertising. And it can be all those things. But at its most basic, marketing is just about relationships. Building relationships with readers, writers, and professionals in the field is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of any good business plan. And it’s no different in writing. In fact, it may be truer in writing than anywhere else. After all, there are few products more personal than a stack of pages with someone’s words written on them.” He’s found word-of-mouth to be his most successful book marketing strategy, though “getting that ball rolling is the hard part. Networking can help, however, and making contacts wherever you can. My best opportunities have come through meeting people and creating relationships.”
Craig has spent a fair amount of money on paid advertising with mixed results, including Facebook, Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), Google, and free/discounted book listing websites. “I’ve been a bit disappointed with Facebook ads, although I know some have used them successfully. The same goes for AMS. With those platforms, it can take a lot of money to figure out what works and stay in until you begin turning a profit, assuming you do. Not many authors I know have the ready cash to pour into testing the algorithms, so their usefulness is suspect. I’ve had moderate success with some of the websites, but I would urge anyone to do a bit of research. A ton of sites offer promos, but only a handful can deliver.”
Craig uses social media more to make connections and plan events than to actually sell books. He had used Facebook and Twitter more, but has found there are better uses for his book marketing time, especially with changing algorithms that require advertisers to pay to get their content seen.
When asked what advice he’d give to other authors starting or planning to soon start marketing their books, Craig said, “First, be prepared to do just that: sell and market. It’s a common misconception that writing the book was the hard part and now you just wait for the money to roll in. With thousands of books published weekly, it can be insanely difficult to be noticed by anyone. My single best piece of advice would be to network. Get to know the writers in your area, search out book events, talk to people, make connections, start relationships. Not only will this serve as a support system in the dark times, but will also breed opportunities for selling your books and building your brand.”
Serenity (2016): A bullet slams into a wall just past Shelby’s head. A drug dealer offers him $10,000 for information regarding his dead sister. The local sheriff has Shelby in his sights. It’s just another day in the small town of Serenity.
Serenity Stalked (2017): A cold-blooded killer has blazed a trail of dead bodies across the country, with no one to stand in his way…until he starts killing on Shelby Alexander’s home turf: the small Michigan town of Serenity.
Serenity Avenged (2017): A ruthless crime boss…a mansion with a chilling secret…a young man faced with the biggest decision of his life.
Becoming Moon (2015, Kindle Press): Becoming Moon is a coming-of-age story about a young man struggling to be himself amid pressure from a repressive family.
I have been doing signings, readings, and presentations for several years now, and I’ve had by far the best results when what I was peddling had some sort of connection to the location where I appeared. I’ve noticed that attendees gravitate toward other authors’ books with local connections as well. This has been particularly true at author fairs and other mass-signing type events.
I have a couple of theories for why this is the case. I think, except for the rare voracious, super-passionate reader and authors, the general reading public doesn’t care so much about local authors. They’re more interested in the household names and those authors whose books appear at the top of the best-seller lists. So when they go to a mass book/author fair, they are going to be looking for some connection for making a purchase. Unless you happen to be a local author who has one of those household names, the connection is going to be a geographic connection. Since the attendee is likely to be a resident of the location hosting an event, your book about or taking place in or near that locale will probably fare better than your general thrillers, romances, etc.
Another reason book fair attendees look for some sort of connection, of which the geographic is going to most easily satisfy, is there are just too many books available. They want to purchase a book but aren’t able to purchase them all, so they gravitate towards books in which they again feel some connection. If you’re a relatively unknown author (which most of us are), you need something to hook in potential buyers when there’s so much competition. Having a book where readers can say, “Hey, I’ve been there,” foots the bill.
My first four books (two poetry, two novels) have no particular geographic connection. The two poetry books have no geographic identity, one novel is set in a generic unnamed Illinois town, and the third is based in Camanche, Iowa, but with no strong sense of that place. My fifth book, a novel, takes place in Camanche, Iowa, and the story is set off by an actual event, a tornado that occurred on June 3, 1860. I’ve had the most success, by far, with this book because Camanche is only about 1/2 hour away from where I currently live. It’s done really well at Camanche and Clinton County author fairs and other events.
My most recent book is a poetry book with pieces written while hiking northwest Illinois and east Iowa State Parks. It is too early to tell how well it’s going to do, but I know it’s local chances are greater, so much so that I’m focusing on local marketing rather than online. I was able to get it for sale at the Quad Cities Convention & Visitor Bureau gift shops, the first book I’ve even tried to get offered for sale there because I know that visitors most likely aren’t interested in local authors’ books, but they may be interested in books about the area their visiting. We’ll see.
Do you have any thoughts or experience with selling geographic-focused books in person? If so, I’d love to hear about them, so please comment.
When I surveyed a group of authors late last year, the number one thing respondents said was holding them back (a full third) was getting started in planning their book marketing. So I’ve created a mini-course guiding you through three simple things you can do to start planning your book marketing.
Thank you to Mary Davidsaver for this guest blog post about how she’s approached marketing her first book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill.
Mary Davidsaver, in her own words:
My book came out last summer and I had the opportunity to schedule its launch over the two days of Bishop Hill’s Ag Days weekend. I was the fortunate beneficiary of all the publicity that came with a major event weekend for a town that’s been promoting itself as a tourist destination for decades. It has suffered through a downturn in visitation, but it still was a great boost for me. Having my book available in Bishop Hill shops was always in the marketing plan, and I have my book placed in two.
I was also fortunate in that I had another well-publicized book release at the Midwest Writing Center in Davenport, [Iowa,] before its move to Rock Island[, Illinois].
Those events and sales through Amazon pretty much took me through the end of 2016 in pretty good shape for sales numbers.
Marketing is necessary, but it’s definitely out of my comfort zone. I have to be in it for the long game, and it’s an ongoing effort to stay focused. But the New Year has begun and this is where the heavy lifting of my marketing plan begins.
My marketing plan began as a one-page proposal I drafted for my 2015 pitch to MWC Press. It was basically a brainstorming session of everything I’d learned from having my own craft-based business, from marketing workshops I’d attended through the Midwest Writing Center, and a lot of “Why not try this?” ideas.
Out of the 17 items I had on my original list, I can check off ten as used in one way or another. I have: made personal appearances, published press releases, networked with the QC Convention & Visitors Bureau, consigned books in Bishop Hill shops, created a Facebook author page, created a Goodreads author page, created a Kindle book, updated my mailing list, entered contests, and followed what other authors have done. Can I do more with these? Yes, of course.
I’ve had the best results with press coverage with my old hometown newspaper. I haven’t paid for any advertising yet. My major expenses so far have been for travel, my Davenport release, and giving away books for review and goodwill.
The surprise income has been from a couple of panels I’ve been on. It was nice to get paid and the exposure to public speaking was very beneficial. I think the timing of the panels was perfect for my interview for Scribble on WVIK. I had intended to send out a query for that radio show, but a sudden cancellation and a friendly referral came through for me. I was prepared and able to help Don Wooten and Roald Tweet make it a good show.
I’m following one piece of advice about not overextending my personal resources. I’m focusing my social media use with the Facebook author page first—Goodreads, second. Those will be ongoing projects that entail growing visitation by using contests.
And speaking of contests, one of my New Year’s resolutions has been to make an effort to enter as many writing contests as I can find that seem appropriate for me. The costs will be spread out over monthly budgets. The Total Funds for Writers website, the paid version of Funds for Writers, has been a major asset.
I feel that I’m still in the early stages of implementing my marketing plan. I need to work with what I have and be on the lookout for anything new that might help me.
Next year at this time I’ll have a better sense of what worked for me and what didn’t. Right now I have to be open to all opportunities.
My best advice about marketing is to be open to anything that will promote your book and you as an author. Look for local resources and workshops. Remain flexible. New things and ideas will open up. Try to push yourself outside the usual comfort zone.
Clouds Over Bishop Hill was published by MWC Press, an imprint of the Midwest Writing Center, in August, 2016. It is my first book.
Brief synopsis: A reckless driver sends recent college grad, Shelley Anderson, off the road and into the mysterious past of folk artist Olof Krans. Drafted into searching for Krans’s last portrait, her only clues are an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscience. How dangerous will it be to find a lost treasure?
I’ve kept my website simple, only one page, for now. I found Weebly.com easy to use and I haven’t begun paying for any extras yet.
Mary Davidsaver is a retired jewelry designer who has written for local newspapers since 2007. She is a member of the Midwest Writing Center who has won two Iron Pen first place awards. In 2013, she was the first local writer to win the Great River Writer’s Retreat Contest. She has published her first novel with MWC Press.
I have something controversial to tell you. You are not required to market your books. Book marketing is a choice, and you are entitled to choose to not do it. You most likely won’t sell a lot of books, but if that’s not what you’re after as a writer, that’s okay.
When you think about marketing your books or yourself as a “marketer,” what thoughts come into your mind, and what feelings come into your body? Do you feel like a sleazy used car salesperson (and no, not everyone in used car sales is sleazy)? Do you think only already rich and famous people can sell books? Do you have doubts about whether or not your book is even good enough to deserve to be sold?
These thoughts and feelings are called limiting beliefs.
And they work against you by giving you an excuse to resist starting or continuing to market your books.
It’s just your ego’s way of protecting you.
From feeling threatened, or unloved, or out of control. It’s okay to have these feelings. Anyone who’s being honest with themselves and others has had limiting beliefs surrounding marketing their books.
The difference between the ones who market their books and the ones that let these thoughts and feelings cripple them is a matter of releasing. Laura Leigh Clarke of Prosperity QM (prosperityqm.com) can teach you, in detail, about releasing limiting beliefs (and all kinds of other emotional baggage), but for you as a book marketer, it’s essentially a matter of acknowledging you have those beliefs, visualizing letting them go (or symbolically by writing them on a piece of paper and destroying it), and then doing what you need to do to market your books anyway.
Of course, like I said, this is all assuming that you want to market your books. So first, it’s best to examine your goals for your books and define what success looks like for you as an author. If it’s to win a certain award or simply to just keep writing, you may actually need to do very little marketing. If your definition of success is to be listed as a New York Times bestseller or sell a million books, you’re likely going to need to do some book marketing. Unless your book marketing plan is to rely on luck, and maybe fate, which is entirely your choice.
Limiting beliefs are just one aspect of mindset.
Keeping other things in mind and developing a healthy attitude toward book marketing are also part of it.
You are not like a sleazy used car salesperson; you are simply an author letting readers know about a book in which they might be interested in reading. There is no one-size-fits-all, magic formula, silver bullet, or other get-rich-quick cliché in book marketing. It all needs to be tailored to what makes sense for your author goals, success definition, readers, book, and available time and finances. You can never know for sure if a certain marketing tactic is going to work until you try it, but if you believe it’s not going to work, it won’t.
Give up any sense of entitlement.
Forget about whining that you shouldn’t have to market your books. The truth is that everyone has to market their books. Even those celebrities had to become celebrities before they had an audience scrambling to buy their books. Rid your vocabulary of “if only”; if only I could do this, then I could sell a million books (or accomplish your definition of success).
Marketing a book is not easy. But it can be less painful, and dare I say it, even fun and satisfying, if you develop a healthy book marketing mindset. So let go of those limiting beliefs and tell your fears and doubts, “Thank you, but I think I’ll try it anyway.”
Karen Nortman is the author of seven titles in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries Series and two titles in the Time Travel Trailer Series, all published between 2012 and 2016.
Karen began writing the campground mysteries because she thought the cozy mysteries would be a good complement to the camping environment, and there weren’t any at the time she started writing them. She said, “About 8-9 million households in American own some kind of RV–and that doesn’t count tent campers. When people camp, even if they have TV, often they don’t have much reception, so my plan was to write short, light mysteries that could be read in a weekend, with a cast of retirees and occasional mishaps typical of campgrounds.”
Karen hasn’t had any formal marketing plans as she’d rather be writing, but she has gradually built up a readership. She finds book marketing a necessary chore and difficult. This attitude hasn’t changed since publishing her first book, though her marketing efforts have adapted over the years. At first, Karen thought she would be able to tell people about her books through RV’ing forums, but that didn’t work out. So she now takes advantage of her camping-related niche by distributing postcards with recipes on one side and information about her books on the other. “I give out two or three books in each campground we stay in. I also leave copies in exchange libraries in campgrounds. For me, word of mouth is still the best advertising. I once received an email from a man in Australia that he heard about my books in an Australian campground!”
Karen offers her first book in e-book form for $.99, which includes a note at the end offering the second title free to anyone who signs up for her email list. She said, “I send out a newsletter to that list about once a month with news about books I have coming out, when one of my books will be free, and any awards I may have won. I also tell people what I’m reading and occasionally give away $5 Amazon gift certificates. A few people unsubscribe as soon as they have their free book, but it’s a pretty small percentage.” She rounds out her marketing efforts by offering a free day or two a month for most of her books, which are in the Kindle Select program. Then, she posts on RV Facebook pages about the free books. “The free days usually boost sales and help with reviews.” She stated she hasn’t used Twitter as much as she should.
Karen has avoided paid advertising for the most part, though she did buy an ad in Outdoor Iowa once, but thought she got few sales from it. She also ran an ad on a camping website, but couldn’t evaluate her results well since the sales are through Amazon.
When asked what advice she’d give to other authors starting or planning to market their books, Karen said, “Don’t be discouraged–it’s a slow building process. Take advantage of local venues and writer’s workshops. It has been tremendously beneficial to me to exchange ideas with other authors. Especially if you are self-published, enter your books in contests and submit them to review sites. Some are quite expensive, but there are many that are free or charge a reasonable fee. Five of my books have been IndieBRAG medallion honorees. You can only submit one book at a time and it takes about six months for results, but I feel it helps with credibility.” On writing in general, she shared, “I think it’s important to provide readers with as many formats as you can. E-books are the easiest and certainly are my biggest sellers. But paperbacks are important for those without e-readers, book signings, craft shows, etc. Just this year I have finally gotten six of my books on Audible and they have done better than I expected.”
Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small by Nick Westergaard is directly applicable to book marketing. What’s a smaller business than an author trying to sell his or her books? Often authors have a pretty good handle on talking to bookstores and libraries, getting appearances, holding signings, etc.. They may have varying degrees of success, but they at least know the concept well. However, they are often at a loss of how best to market their books online. Get Scrappy will not give you specific tactics on how to market your books online, but it will give you actionable steps about how-to clarify your overall strategy and goals in that effort.
Though all three of the book’s sections can be applied to book marketing, I happened to have my most “aha” moments while reading the first section: “Smart Steps You Can’t Skip.” It helps you get into a healthy mindset and think about the foundation of marketing and your goals; particularly, your brand’s goals. It then offers a way, using the classic, who, what, when, where, etc. to create your “marketing map,” helping you decide on which objective you should focus. If your objective is market research for writing your books, you can ask questions of your readers, having them vote on the next book cover or a subplot they’d like to see incorporated. Knowing why you’re using digital to market your book (objective) and knowing who you’re trying to reach (readers), will help you decide what to do to market your book.
The end of part one gives the basics of the current and most-used online marketing platforms. Nick purposely doesn’t explain how all of the available platforms work to reinforce his advice of avoiding being distracted by “shiny new things” As in other industries, there are always these shiny new things popping up to help you market your books. Chapter three helps you decide which shiny new thing to try and which to let go, giving you a framework for evaluating shiny new things that may pop up after Get Scrappy’s publication.
Part two provides advice to help you do more with less. As an author with a likely tiny marketing budgeting, doing more with less is essential. This naturally leads into part three which helps you decide how to do more with less by simplifying your efforts, including by connecting your online marketing to your offline.
Get Scrappy is more than just a book to read, it’s more of a marketing movement, a new way to approach marketing. It’s essentially a new way to think about marketing, including book marketing.
Erik Therme has authored two mysteries: Mortom was originally self-published and then was acquired by Thomas & Mercer Publishing in 2015, and Resthaven was a 2016 Kindle Scout winner published through Kindle Press.
While Erik doesn’t use a formal marketing plan, he does keep organized: “I use a spreadsheet (of information) to make sure I don’t overlook anything when I release a new book. The spreadsheet contains everything from bloggers, promotional websites, to paid advertising opportunities.” His focus with marketing his first mystery, Mortom, was to build his fan base, which has helped him in marketing Resthaven. He said, “Now that I have a core group in place, they do a fantastic job of sharing my books with other readers, who then do the same. The great thing is that once you’ve hooked a reader with one book, they’re usually loyal to you for everything you write.”
Erik describes marketing as a necessary evil, but clarifies, “I’m OK with that.” He learned early on that even with a publisher, only big author names like Stephen King or John Grisham don’t need to extensively market their own work to be successful, but, Erik said, “Fortunately for me, I don’t mind the marketing process, as I view it as yet another way to be creative.” In fact, Erik has been surprised by how addictive book marketing has become for him. “After the release of Mortom, I spent the next six months doing nothing but promotion, and I neglected to do any new writing. The irony (as I’ve come to learn) is that the best marketing an author can do is to write more books, because each new book reaches new readers, which brings more fans into the fold. It’s definitely a challenge to find a balance between promoting and writing.”
Social media has been a big help to Erik in marketing his books, though he’s also done everything from hanging flyers on telephone poles, his least effective strategy, to handing out and leaving bookmarks at random places, “forgetting” copies in places like hotel lobbies when he travels, and donating copies to libraries through their return book slots. He describes Facebook as being “instrumental” in helping him market his books. He clarified, “That said, smart authors use Facebook to connect with people and develop relationships—not just as a platform to repeatedly shout BUY MY BOOK! That doesn’t work.” The least effective social media outlet for Erik has been Twitter, though he admits, “I struggle to share ‘quality’ content with my Tweets, and that could be part of the problem.”
Erik has used paid promotional websites to advertise his books when they launched, with widely varying results. “It can often be a crap shoot, but it’s another good way to reach new readers. The most important thing is to set a budget, as fees can range anywhere from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars.”
When asked what advice he’d give to other authors starting or planning to soon start marketing their books, Erik said, “Connect with as many authors as you can. Most are friendly and generous with their time and advice, and many are happy to share your work with their own fans. Following authors on social media is also a great way to see how they promote their work, and many times I’ve discovered author events that I never knew existed. Lastly, reviews (in my opinion) are incredibly important to a book’s success. Mortom has been released for over a year, and I still work hard to find readers to review the book.” On writing in general, he shared, “A writer writes first and foremost because they love to write. Most of us aren’t in this for the money. But if you are serious about making a go of it, you have to treat your writing like a business to be successful.”