The pattern is as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. A new marketing tool or tactic comes along, and a few early adopters have noticeable success with it. More authors try it and may find it works for them, too. But eventually, the new idea becomes old and ineffective—and the trend is deemed to be “over.” Everyone starts looking for the next new thing that will work when marketing their book.
I have a publicist friend who counsels her authors to “keep their eyes on their own paper.” She gets frustrated when her clients keep referring to what their author-friends are doing, who are worried they’ll get left behind or miss an opportunity. Instead of focusing on the agreed-upon book marketing and publicity strategy, they’re tempted to shift the playbook midstream.
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new marketing tools and tactics. It’s smart to keep an eye on market trends and changes that affect how books reach readers. But experimentation is just one facet of a long-term, book marketing strategy.
Some authors’ book marketing is a surface, tactics-driven approach. It doesn’t go beyond a series of one-off efforts that get measured only by the bump in sales. That type of book marketing can burn you out fast—it amps up anxiety and tends to undercut a consistent approach over a series of weeks, months, and years.
While you can learn a lot from watching other authors in your genre—especially strong comparable authors—you also have to take into consideration if they’ve been playing the market longer than you and what advantages (or disadvantages) they have that you don’t.
For example, I can very successfully sell my self-published book by simply mentioning it in strategic places on my website because I have a high-traffic blog. I don’t have to run price promotions or do giveaways. I can rely on selling to the audience I already reach and be satisfied. But these tactics would not work for another author unless they had a similar blog content strategy.
Here’s another example: Let’s say you’re intrigued by a new opportunity to advertise your books through an online retailer. There are many things that could dramatically affect the viability of this tactic, even if you’ve seen it succeed for other authors:
- Your book description. If it’s not been thoroughly tested and known to appeal to your target audience, the ad will fail.
- Your book cover. Again, if it doesn’t match genre expectations of the audience you’re targeting, the ad will fail.
- Your reviews and ratings. Do you have enough positive reviews to make a favorable impression?
- Your pricing. Are you targeting an audience that is only willing to pay discount prices, or one that’s happy to pay more? Does your pricing match the expectations of the audience?
- Your other books. If you only have one book to sell, your advertising will rarely be as profitable as if you have several—so that if the ad works, and a purchase is made, the next book can be purchased immediately.
Whether it’s advertising or some other tactic (price promotions, giveaways, review collecting), it's only ever one piece of a larger book marketing strategy. And that strategy needs a solid foundation built on at least three things:
- Knowledge of the genre or market you’re playing in—trends, audience behaviors, reader expectations. This knowledge guides how you design your books, brand yourself, and position your work.
- An understanding of the audience you want to reach or expand. This helps you write marketing copy and better pitch your work for a stronger appeal to the reader (in addition to improving the books themselves).
- An honest assessment of the strengths and resources you can bring to bear on the situation at your career stage.
Your strategy is also driven by how many books you have on the market and how much other related content you have to generate new customer leads as part of a long-term marketing push.
What I typically advise new authors is to study successful authors in their own genre in order to increase their self-publishing IQ surrounding the market, the target audience, and what factors may play a role in better appealing to that audience. But don’t assume you can steal successful authors’ tactics without adjusting for how you and your books are unique.