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Book Marketing Strategies: A Guide for Indie Authors

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Have you ever met an author who doesn’t want to sell more books? Even the authors who claim they don’t care much about book sales secretly wish they were selling more books. Most authors aim to get as many readers as possible to buy their books—which can prove to be more challenging than writing the book in the first place.

Whether stereotypical fact or fiction, many writers prefer the intimate, one-on-one relationship with their keyboard over marketing or promoting their book. Whether that describes you is beside the point. Your success as an author is in your own hands and marketing your books is no different. Having a solid book marketing strategy is key.

Why Do Authors Need Book Marketing Strategies?

There is a lot of advice online about how to market your books.

There’s so much advice that it can be hard to decide what to do, when to do it, or how on earth we’re going to heed it all.

And there is so much we could do—except we have no idea if it's even right for us and our book. 

Some people present certain book marketing activities as absolute musts, for every author, no matter what. Some of these activities—for example, Amazon ads—are so complicated they require a technical instruction book for how to read and respond to the data.

As authors, we’re faced with a swirling hodgepodge of options, learning, best practices, and preferences. The only way to get a handle on which of the gazillion possible things to do, and what is right for you and your book, is to craft your own marketing strategy.

What’s a Book Marketing Strategy?

A good book marketing strategy will help you connect the big-picture dots and lay out a plan of action that aligns with your purpose for writing the book. It will help you make the best decisions about what to do and when.

Here’s a look at the table of contents for a good book marketing strategy.

Section one of your strategy, what I call the ‘groundwork,’ contains the things you cannot do without if you want to achieve your goals. These are your objectives, your target reader and audience, and your market scan.

Section two covers the activities, or tactics, and is where you decide what makes sense for you and your book.

Section three is the rubber hitting the road. You see what needs to be done now, soon, or later, who you need to engage, and you set up to track what’s working and how well.

Section 1 of Your Strategy: The Groundwork

The “groundwork” starts with your objectives, which are the pillars for everything you plan and do related to the marketing of your book.

It’s your why, your goals, your dreams, all wrapped up into an action-focused package. Your objectives are unique to you and each book you write.

Is your objective to support yourself and make a living with your writing? To create a marketing hook that drives potential clients and customers to your business? Or simply to tell that important story so family and friends can learn from it? Each of these objectives require a different marketing approach. No sense taking on marketing activities that don’t help you get where you want to go.

What’s the same, regardless of the specific objectives, is the categories those objectives fall into: awareness, engagement, and book sales.

Let’s compare Sheila and Joe. Sheila’s is a business book. Joe’s is a family history memoir. Their overall marketing objectives are different, but their objectives still fall into the categories of awareness, engagement, and book sales.

If you fail to nail your objectives before you begin to work on the rest of your book marketing strategy, you risk including too many irrelevant tactics or not enough of the right ones. And you’ll have a harder time achieving the objectives you set.

Your Target Audience

Your target audience includes your ideal reader as well as relevant influencers: those people or organizations that can help you reach more readers.

  • Your reader is who you’ve written your book for. You want to have a clear understanding of who your ideal reader is before you even start writing. (If you’ve already finished your manuscript and you’re just thinking about your reader now, this is a case of better late than never.) Your reader is a person you can name and describe who will benefit from your book and its solutions to their biggest problems.
  • Influencers are those who represent a route to your reader. They occupy a position of influence and offer a way to access multiple readers. They’re not necessarily going to be a reader, per se, nor are they necessarily going to buy your book. Think members of the media, podcasters with a large following, teachers who might recommend the book to their students, counsellors and coaches who might recommend the book to their clients, and conference organizers responsible for building the content of their programs and hiring speakers.

Your Market Scan

Looking at both the market and the environment helps orient you to the broader forces at work on your readers. It’s about more than who your readers are or where you’re going to find them.

The market scan looks at what is happening externally that relates to the genre, subject, or focus of your book and explores why readers will want to buy your book.

In a market scan you’ll look at how books in your genre are selling, who the successfully-selling authors are, where your genre stacks up in overall book sales, and what formats sell best and worst in your genre. It’s also where you’ll take a look at the broader environment to see what is happening in the world relative to your genre and the subject areas within your book.

1.     Who are your competitors and what are they doing?

Determining your comp titles can give you ideas and information on everything from cover design, including what that tells you about what readers seem to prefer (checking sales rank), to titles, pricing, categories, endorsements and reviews. 

2.     What’s going on with industry, economic, and retail data?

Researching retail data related to the overall book publishing industry, your book’s genre, key subject-matter areas, and socio-economic details related to your target audience will help you understand the industry and economic environment into which you are launching your book. Sources like Statista for US books sales and publishing industry data and, depending on the genre, you might head over to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) website, check Statistics Canada, and try to find aggregated sales figures for trade and self-published books across all genres.

3.     What’s happening in the broader environment?

The “environment” is the socio-economic climate into which you want to release your book. What can you learn from news stories related to the main topics of your book? Or governmental statements or initiatives that might be related to your subject area? What economic factors and social, technological, or leisure trends might affect the people you want to be buying your book, and how might this change your approach?

  • If you’ve written a science fiction book that includes mention of biometric technology, you could research what’s currently happening with the technology and consider what that tells you about who’s interested in the subject and what some of the issues are.  
  • If you’re writing a book about addiction, you could research how many people are struggling with addiction, how society and the media treat addiction-related themes like the opioid crisis, or perhaps identify which celebrities have gone public about their own struggles with addiction.

Section 2: Messages and Methods

Your message is all about what you’re going to say, and your methods are the products that will help you say it.

You know you have something to say, or you wouldn’t have written your book, right? Now it’s time to decide what you’re going to use your voice to say as you market your book: these become your ‘messages.’ 

Note I said “decide.” You’ll know by now I’m a fan of planning for success.

If you fail to plan your messages and methods, you may find yourself churning out social media messages, guest articles, or other content without any direction or purpose—and without knowing if you can expect real benefits.

So, articulating a summary of your messages and the methods you’ll use to disseminate them lets you focus on those pieces of content that are going to be most helpful in achieving your objectives. In other words, this section of your book marketing strategy becomes your content roadmap.

Decide on Your Web Presence

You need a web presence because successful selling means being visible. Depending on your genre and your network, social media platforms alone might be sufficient. But this will rarely be the case. Many authors rely solely on the fact their book is on Amazon and consider that this is web presence enough. It isn’t, at least not if you want to build your business through your book or build your author career. 

Web presence can include a self-managed author website that you own, a web page on your publishing partner’s site, or simply your LinkedIn, Facebook, or Amazon author page. Your web presence can be one of the “methods” you can use to leverage your messages and build awareness of you and your books with your reader and influencer audiences.

Decide on Your Author Photo

Your author photo is going to be a key element for your messages: most of what you share as you promote your book should include a professional author photo.

Many indie authors struggle with this. They’re shy, or modest, or frugal, and don’t want to hire a professional photographer “just” for their author photo. I encourage you to think differently.

You have an audience of readers in mind and you want those readers to connect with your book. Whether it’s your memoir, a self-help book, business book, professional development book, an award-worthy piece of journalistic nonfiction, or any one of the sub-genres of fiction, your readers are going to want to connect with you.

I’m talking about a feeling of connection. Reading your words is one part of it. Seeing the eyes and face of the author whose words they have just spent eight to ten hours reading is another level altogether.

This acknowledgement that the reader wants to connect with you is a valuable two-way street. Do you want readers to look for and buy every other book you have written or will write? Do you want them to hire you for coaching or other services, or to purchase the suite of products you’ve written about after they read your book? If the answer is yes, then you definitely want to include a professional-quality author photo.

Decide on Your Social Media

I call social media YOS: Your Own Stuff, meaning your online profiles and platforms. This includes LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, Amazon Author Central, and Pinterest. You’ll see some of these platforms might overlap with your overall web presence.

Your social media footprint is a foundational element in your marketing toolkit. It is instrumental in helping you build your author platform, book speaking engagements, and grow brand awareness.

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How do you figure out the right social media approach for you and what do you include about this in your book marketing strategy?  You want to find out where your readers and your influencers are on social media. Are they on LinkedIn but not Pinterest? Or do they rock the Twitter-verse? It might be that different segments of your audiences are on different platforms. You want to be where they are.

Decide on PR, Email, and Launch Activities

Decisions on your public relations, email marketing, and book launch activities will round out the Messages and Methods section of your book marketing strategy.

  • If you’re going to embark on a public relations initiative, you need to come up with something edgy enough to attract media attention.
  • If you’re going to use email marketing, you need a lead magnet (or freebie or giveaway), an email system provider, and a series of nurturing emails.
  • If you’re going to plan one or more book launches or signings, you need to consider where, when, and who to invite.
  • You’ll also want to make decisions on promotional products (are you going to have bookmarks designed and printed?) and paid advertising.

All of these decisions need to be made before you begin writing the content (messages) that you’ll use with any of these methods.

Section 3: Mechanics

This is where the rubber hits the road and you’re (nearly) ready to start doing. You’ll create your tactical marketing timeline and build out the action steps, so you have a clear map to follow.

The tactical timeline is one of the magical pieces of the marketing strategy. (Ok, I’m a nerd.) It includes all your planned activities plotted on a timeline or calendar, so you know what you need to do and when. Creating a tactical timeline will allow you to create space in your brain so you’ll be ready to take action. It lets you see when you might be overloaded and what you might be able to shift when you need to create some space.

You’ll build your contact lists for everything from who you’ll seek endorsements from, to media personalities and outlets you’ll contact, to who you’ll invite to your book signing. You’ll also set up tracking for your measurement and metrics, so you know what’s working and what to tweak.

Time to Get Started

By adopting this approach to your book marketing strategy, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the challenge of volume: so much that it is possible to do. You’ll cut through the clutter by aligning what you will actually do with the objectives you want to achieve with your marketing. It’s the best way to choose the marketing activities that are right for you and your book. And it’s the best way to ensure you can indeed sell more books.


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Boni Wagner-Stafford

Boni Wagner-Stafford is author of One Million Readers: The Definitive Guide to a Nonfiction Book Marketing Strategy that Saves Time, Money, and Sells More Books. She’s a writer, ghostwriter, and editor specializing in nonfiction. She is also co-founder of Ingenium Books, where she coaches nonfiction authors writing in the genres of business, self-help, personal development, memoir, and journalistic nonfiction. As an award-winning former Canadian journalist (under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray), Boni covered politics, government, social and economic policy, health care, and organized crime. She also held senior management roles in government where she led teams responsible for media relations, issues management, and strategic communications planning. As an entrepreneur, Boni has muddied her hands with one-page strategic plans, cash flow forecasts, development of purpose and core values, franchise structures, sales targets, and marketing strategy. She has lived in more than fifty towns and cities in Canada, Mexico, and France, currently residing in La Paz, Mexico.