In the original draft of my book I had a fairly long story from my life talking about a calling I don't possess: sales. It took me two tries to learn this. The first time was when I started a small business selling hand-painted, high-end children's furniture and murals. I did a great job and my stuff was definitely comparable with the market, but I could not for the life of me sell it. I closed up shop after a few months. Years later I got sucked in at a Mary Kay party. Yes, I sold Mary Kay. The fact that that is weird should have been a warning. But I love their skincare and figured in a state like Texas, this was a given.
Now that I am self-publishing, I am having to face my weakness. Self-promotion, it turns out, is basically sales by another name. I know that in the traditional world, authors are still responsible for a large part of their promotions these days. But in self-publishing, it's all you.
Here are a few tips I have picked up along the way and my evaluation of how I like/don't like them and feel like they are/are not working for me.
Start with Your Base Group of Supportive Friends and Family.
I have a small-ish group of really close friends and family members that I know are happy to promote for me. I send them emails before I announce that the books are online, and often provide free copies to them. Generally, giving them an email with all the information needed to pass on is helpful, so that they can copy and paste the links and info to their friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, or other places.
Pros/Cons: The great thing is that these people probably love you no matter what they think about your book. The hard thing is that you feel kind of like a turd emailing these people over and over. I know that some of my really supportive people are really active and then some aren't. Or, at least, they aren't active in the time frame or ways that I would hope they would be, and you can't do much about this. You don't want to harras them and don't want to take advantage.
Tips: Giving a very concise but information-packed email is key. You want them to be able to easily pass on the information to their friends and social media sites. Be specific with how they can help and encourage them to promote how and when you'd like. Follow up with thanks and updates and good news, but don't drive away your friends and family with daily emails. These are, however, the people you can be up front and honest with, so do share openly with them. Consider them the front line of your campaign. Realize that they all might not support in the same way, but be gracious for what they can offer.
Use Social Media. Then Use It Some More.
If you are not on Facebook and Twitter (especially) or other sites like Google+, you are going to be fighting and uphill battle. Especially if your book is an ebook--you will need great online promotion. Familiarize yourself with these tools and then use them. Each site is different in the ways you promote. I generally stick to Facebook and Twitter, but I also pin my book covers to Pinterest and occasionally post on Google+, when I remember it. Clearly, my main thrust is my blog, so I spend lots of time there. But I don't write daily on my blog about the book (though I do have permanent buttons and links all over it) and I do post daily on Twitter and Facebook.
Pros/Cons: This can be time consuming and if you don't like social media, annoying. I happen to love it and could spend way too much time there, so I don't mind. The thing is that you may not always get return on your investment. I used the Google shortener for my links to the book and then I could track who followed the link I used for Facebook and who used the one for Twitter. This helped me see who was coming from what source and maybe what the best source was for my time and links. Really, you shouldn't think of pros and cons here, but just realize this is a must.
Tips: For Twitter, I started connecting with other authors and bloggers kind of similar to me, or that I respected. I not only followed them, but I scrolled through their followers and followed some of the people who were interested in them. Often people will follow back, at least for a day or two to see what you're up to. I have found that by doing this, and by interacting with others (by retweeting and replying), my following has doubled in the last few weeks. The downside is that I still get more hits on my Facebook links. Those are my real life friends; Twitter is mostly cyberfriends. So it has been a great place to connect, but may not (yet) give me the return that Facebook does. You can also use hashtags like #amwriting #indie #selfpub #ebook to attract attention for people searching in those areas. Funny story: this week I tweeted something to Vanilla Ice, who has a DIY show now, and he responded by Favoriting my tweet and following me. So I am now being followed by Vanilla Ice. Boiii! (This will likely not, however, have any impact on my sales.)
Facebook might work best if you have a page, not just a personal site. Then you can push your book on both. (Though this can be annoying for those that like your page and also are friends on your profile.) It's great to have those likes and to connect your page to your blog and everywhere else. People will want to interact to some degree with the author. Facebook gives you that option. Creating an event for your book release might also be a great option for Facebook, as then you can invite all your friends in one bunch and have links available in case people don't see the info from you in their news feed. Of course, I tend to not see or ignore events, so this might not be the best. There are any number of ways to use social media, so start using it before you release and build up your fan base and your contacts.
Send Out Advance Copies for Review.
Blogs are another great way to connect. I have a handful of people I'd call friends that I've never met and only connected with through blogging. When you have connections to people with a great social media presence, whether a blog or a large Twitter following, consider sending them an advance copy (or just a copy) that they can review and help you promote.
Pros/Cons: You may send out free books and not have people promote. Or, people might not like your book and give bad reviews. I often take the approach of sending out no-strings-attached copies to people I am connected with who have not said they definitely will promote. But I hope they will. Personally, a no-strings-attached kind of option feels most comfortable for me, but you might want to consider only giving out free copies if people first agree to write a review. By searching, you can find bloggers who might be in your field or write a lot of reviews.
Tips: Do what feels comfortable to you. Don't give away too many free copies, but don't be afraid to give out copies--you need to give to get back sometimes.
Don't Underestimate Amazon Reviews.
This is something I am still figuring out, but apparently, reviews on Amazon are key. I recently had Make Him Room promoted by a site I did not know simply because I had 31 reviews, 27 of which were 5-star. For those that haven't read your book, a lot of reviews are key in sales. This can also get you on a list of best-reviewed books on Amazon. The more lists you can get on, the more visibility you'll have.
Pros/Cons: I find that no matter what, people don't get around to reviews quickly. I don't like hounding people, so getting this done is a chore for me.
Tips: Make sure your front line knows how important this is, and perhaps give advance copies so they can post reviews as soon as the book is up so that the first few days, you already have reviews. I also read that you can check the list of top reviewers on Amazon and try to get them to read and review. Having these top reviewers review your book can make a difference and get you some Amazon cred.
Make Use of the KDP Free Promotions.
If you sign up with the KDP Select program, you can choose five days in the first three months to offer your book for free. While it's true that giving things away will not get you money, it does get you some great visibility on Amazon, which can often translate into great sales. For Make Him Room, I opened with a paid day, then had three free days and went back to $2.99. I sold 30-something books the first day for money, 8 thousand on the free days, and then 250 in the following week.
Pros/Cons: The pro is the increased visibility. You might not be able to break the top 100 paid books, but I found on the second day that I broke into the top 100 free books. Often people trolling Amazon find books this way, and the free and paid lists are side-by-side, so people will see you free book at #33 right next to the paid #33 spot--a place that might be hard to reach. The downside--watching your sales and imagining the money you would be making if those were paid. I am shocked by how many people will download a book for free that they will not download for $2.99. I'm cheap, but the way people view ebooks is often beyond even my frugal standards.
Tips: One reason this works so well is that there are tons of couponing and discounting sites--some sites dedicated wholly to free books. Which means that you can submit your book or it might be discovered on its own without you doing any work at all. Some sites will only promote well-reviewed books, so this is where reviews come in handy. Also make a list beforehand of the sites that accept submissions and submit your book for the free promotion days. You may want to make sure you hit sites that have a following that might be interested in your book. Money Saving Mom is a great site for me, mostly because it has a huge following and the writer is a christian, so my first two books fit right into her brand.
Label Your Book Well.
When you first put your book online, choose great categories. I chose to put Make Him Room up before There Is No Small Call because of timing, but also because there was a smaller pool of Christmas books. Finding a niche for your book that might be smaller and easier to tackle on those best-selling lists helps you get visibility. I had some great success with Make Him Room and topped several charts during that time.
Pros/Cons: I don't really see cons here. Except I don't know that you can change these, so label well.
Tips: You have a few categories to choose from, so choose the best fits, but if you can find a smaller niche category that also describes your book, you might gain better visibility. Research ahead of time so that you can find the very best categories that will describe your book and help your book get seen.
Have a Mailing List.
There are lots of options for this. I am currently using MailChimp, which is free as long as you don't send more than a certain number of emails a month. People probably don't want a ton of emails from you anyway, so it works both ways. You can't track as well with this, but you can see who opens the emails, which is helpful.
Pros/Cons: There aren't a ton of cons to this--it is one more thing to do and, if you haven't noticed, there are a lot of things to do. My list is mostly non-friends and non-family, so this gets the word out to people whose emails you don't have already. I do have some friends and family on there, so a con is that some of them might get multiple emails if I send a campaign to personal contacts as well.
Tips: Research these before you join. Don't pay for a mailing list before you have to, but realize if you get bigger, you'll want to pay for the better features and tracking. Put signups for your mailing list everywhere to get the most people and ask your friends and family to get their friends to sign up. Don't spam people. Only send letters when you have something important to say.
Offer a Contest or Giveaway.
You can find a creative way to give people incentives to sign up for your mailing list or snag your book. Offer a giveaway on your blog or through Twitter for people who spread the word. If you are doing free promotional days, this may not work, or you may just have to time it correctly.
Pros/Cons: Again, this is a way of giving away work that you could get paid for. The pro is that it might get people talking and spreading the word that otherwise would not.
Tips: Time this around any other free promotions you might do. Make sure you get the most bang for your buck, which means ask people to do something like post a Tweet or share on their blog or Facebook page for an entry.
Pay for Ads.
I haven't done this, really, but have considered it, so if you have tried this, let me know how it works. I think there are a few key ways to use a little money and make it go a long way.
Pros/Cons: It costs money. You may or may not get it back, but there is no guarantee. You may be able to reach a whole new audience, which is a good thing.
Tips: Find like minds and creative ways to spend. Many blogs that I read and follow have sponsor or ad spaces available. These range from $10/month to hundreds a month. If you go this route, make sure that the blog or site is like-minded--you want to attract those readers, so see who they are. Also check or ask for the stats. How many unique hits do they get a day? A month? Does the blog have a post where they highlight the sponsors, or do the ads just sit there in the sideline? Facebook even offers a way for you to promote a post. I'm not sure what this does, but I know someone promoted Make Him Room for me (who was it? Tell me!) and I kept seeing it pop up in my feed and sidebar even weeks later. This might be a great option if you have loads of Facebook friends. Make sure that if you are spending your money, that you are wise about where you might get the most return.
Overall, I feel a little wearied from promotion. This is not the most fun part for me--I'd love to just write and then have my book sell like hotcakes. Hotcakes, as it turns out, are elusive creatures and require a lot of work or some kind of crazy good luck. I'm not sure exactly why, but so far There Is No Small Call has not sold as well or had the response that Make Him Room did. Maybe people love Christmas? Maybe people are already burnt out from promoting my stuff? I don't like to feel like I'm begging or annoying people, and at this point, it's beginning to feel like both when I post or email about the book.
I think something important to remember in this process is that people do expect this. They know that you are selling something and that it's important, so they expect the emails and the posts. I get this sense that I'm being very annoying and want to back off. But the reality is that you need to find the balance between communicating and promoting and shoving something down people's throats. You want to be the talk around the water cooler, but not in the Tobias Funke way. (Arrested Development reference there.)
Any other tips or tricks you can think of? Love to hear them in the posts. Oh, yeah, I think I'm supposed to remind you to buy my new book. In case you hadn't heard about it. :)