In 2021, I had never written anything, much less marketed a book.
Somehow, I finished my first book and sold a few copies (to people other than family and friends).
I’m not an expert in publishing or marketing (or writing).
This article outlines my experience marketing my first book (self-published).
I wrote my first book in a few months one winter (I sat frozen at my writing desk – the furious typing warmed me up). I then had someone edit the manuscript, as I didn’t trust myself as a first-time author.
For those who are writing or have written a book – Congratulations! Many people say they want to write a book, but completing one takes perseverance.
I wrote my first book in a time of great personal difficulty. I had limited funds so I had to research free book marketing ideas and get creative.
I learned a lot. Here’s the lowdown…
Writing a Book – Reality Check
My Book Marketing Strategy – Goals, Resources, Audience & Strategy
What Else Can You Do
Podcasts (My first experience)
Guest Posts & Interviews
Writing a Book – Reality Check
When I was looking to promote my book, the reality of the task struck me almost immediately – the costs to self-publish and then market the book would probably exceed any sales I might make (especially in the short to medium term).
Some of the costs you might incur when self-publishing are –
- Cover Art
- Professional Editing
- Professional Typesetting/Formatting
- Advertising & Marketing
I will acknowledge at this point that Amazon and other platforms offer wonderful self-publishing services for new (and established) authors to publish (when there was previously little chance).
I’m not going to lie – watching authors supported by publishers who organise or fund the cover design, book promotion tours, appearances, advertising, collaborations, editing, printing, distributing etc., was disheartening (to say the least).
Something that also struck me was the number of personal accounts from self-published authors I read stating ‘it used to be easier’ (than today) to make book sales, perhaps due to increasing competition on Amazon etc.
But I was proud I had even started a book, let alone completed it and published it in the circumstances I was facing. So, I focused on the small efforts I could make alone.
I had an additional barrier to marketing my book – I wrote my first book under a pen name, so I could not use my face and name to promote the book (nor could I rely on family and friends to kick off the sales).
Nevertheless, I didn’t let barriers stop me from learning a lot (and achieving a little success).
My Book Marketing Strategy
Before deciding on a strategy, I needed to assess my situation and goals.
There are optimal strategies, and then there are achievable strategies.
Due to certain constraints, I was only able to consider the latter.
I concluded that the strategy would be determined by my:
- Goal/s as an author
- Personal Resources (time, effort)
- Network and Contacts
My goal was to raise awareness. I had time (but not much focus due to circumstances), almost no money, and no contacts!
So, not exactly the best place to launch a best-seller!
The next question was WHO and WHERE is my audience?
Ask yourself who will buy and read your book and where will that audience be found (Aside from family and friends).
I determined there were the following categories –
1. People who READ
2. People interested in the TOPIC of your book
3. People interested in YOU
Who your ultimate audience will be may not always be known at the start of marketing (I assume publishers are aware of this, though). You may learn more about this as you go on your marketing journey. There will be trial and error.
In my case, all three were relevant, but the sales came from people interested in ME. I’ll outline how that came about below.
My Instagram Marketing Experience
As mentioned, my goal was to (maybe) sell a few books, but
the main aim was to help someone in need and raise awareness.
My resources, money and contacts were limited.
All this determined the direction of my promotional efforts.
My strategy, therefore, was to start a free marketing effort via social media.
I was not well-versed in social media when I began marketing. I started with Instagram, as it is a relatively user-friendly platform
Often, authors or publishers build up interest in their books before they publish – I did not do this in my case. I started with zero followers AFTER publishing.
It took a few months of posting and commenting on other posts to make my first book sale.
My initial idea was to start by following book clubs. I found the interaction on these channels was low (on Instagram, anyway).
After a few months, when people got to know me and my story, I started making sales.
I had found a “tribe” based on the theme of my book.
I usually did not tell other people on Instagram about my book. I made genuine comments on their posts and made a ‘relationship.’
I sold 15 books in approx four months on Instagram.
Now, this may not sound earth-shattering, however, this cost nothing other than time. And I did not devote significant time to promotions. I believe I would have sold many more copies if I had continued my efforts.
One thing to note – I am not good at asking for reviews (see below).
The encouraging development at the start was that I received dozens of messages from readers and compiled over 20 pages of unsolicited compliments via DMs, requests for autographs, requests to appear in bookstore appearances and requests to quote my book – just from a handful of sales! The reaction was from members of the public on Instagram from around the world – people I didn’t know before.
Just posting on Instagram is unlikely to yield many results – you need to interact and be interested in other people.
If people feel you are genuine and not just trying to sell your book, you will get a good response (eventually).
A word about reviews
There’s no doubt (good) reviews can assist book sales for authors.
If others have read a book, it makes it appear more popular. (Although I read reviews from some million-dollar-selling authors, the reviews did not sound like the book was well-written or well-received. Reviews do not always indicate quality – success is often due to great PR!).
It’s hard work to get reviews. This is especially so when you don’t have time to follow up. (And, depending on the topic, people may not want to acknowledge your work and attach their name to it publically).
But I found, without some serious pushing – People don’t review. Even when you ask, and they say yes!! It’s a challenge.
Someone I know joined a Facebook author group, and they all review each other’s work. They received hundreds of reviews from this avenue.
This boost can be helpful, but if you read the reviews, some are not necessarily genuine, and they all say similar things because they are reviewing out of obligation. Still, it does look good with hundreds of reviews next to your name!
I did not ask people for reviews. I received private validation for my book and many encouraging messages. But, that does not assist my book sales too much – unless those people passed on my book to others through word of mouth. I did not reach many people, but I did help a few and achieved my goal.
It’s interesting to note that you need to put in a sustained effort – My book sales stopped when I reduced my Instagram comments and posting.(Note – I also occasionally submit my manuscript to publishers and literary agents – with the slimmest hope that one of them will read it!).
What Else Can You Do
There are a few more great ways to spread the word about your new book that is free of cost – Be a podcast guest or write a guest post on a website.
As I wrote my first book under a pen name, I could not publically promote it with my picture (you could conceivably do audio podcast interviews under your pen name if you wanted).
For my second book, however, I used my name. I was lucky to bag a spot on one of India’s most popular podcasts, with well over 1 million downloads, featuring celebrities, authors, actors and many intriguing guests with stories to tell.
Co-founder & Editor of menPsyche and womenPsyche, Jennifer Richardson, appears on the popular podcast The Mohua Show
This podcast opportunity came about from Instagram!
If you can talk (which I can – too much), then podcasts are one of the most effective, free ways to market yourself and your book.
Another free way to gain exposure for your writing is to approach people with websites that accept guest posts.
(Here is an example we recently published for an author on our partner publication – menPsyche).
I also completed several interviews with author-run publications.
Of course, plenty of paid marketing options exist for those with the budget.
Paid ads on Google or Social Media, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, are available.
There is also ‘vanity’ publishing, where you collaborate with a publisher or book distributor to pay some of the costs of book production and marketing, and they assist with part of the process.
There seem to be some people who do not like this idea. Given the complexity of some marketing options, especially for non-tech people, I am not opposed to this if you have the money.
One Last Tip…
For those interested in being a full-time author, I watched Bethany Atazadeh on YouTube.
She gives good insights into how to earn by writing, marketing your books and being a full-time author.
Bethany shows her earnings, launch plans, and the whole process of marketing her new releases.
Her genre is different to mine, however, I found her information extremely useful.
If I had the time and resources, I would follow her advice!!
I wish you all good luck on your book marketing journey – let me know how you go!