He also writes a weekly newsletter on freelancing, creativity and critical thought called The Sunday Dispatches, where he originally shared this honest advice on marketing for self-published authors and entrepreneurs.
Marketing tools for your self-published book
The advice you see on blogs telling you how to get people to buy your book is all pretty much awful. Guaranteed in 5 easy steps!
This isn’t because of bad intentions or even some sort of trickery, it’s just that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to generating sales for your book.
You can achieve success—however you define success—by doing practically anything that goes with or even against current advice online for self-published book marketing. The “self” in self-publishing means you’ve got the reins.
Save the silver bullets for werewolves (especially if you’re writing a book about werewolves). If there was a silver bullet, everyone would be doing that one thing, and it would get so watered down that it would become completely ineffective.
Tactics that game the system also tend to stop being able to game the system fairly quickly. So by the time you’re reading about it, it’s already too late to use it.
And keep in mind, if you simply try every piece of advice out there on marketing your book, you’re going to spread yourself way too thin to be effective.
Marketing your self-published book involves a lot of focused work, typically as much work as it took to write the book in the first place. And there are no guarantees. But without marketing your book, no one beyond your friends and family will read it.
The good news, if you’re still with me (and I hope you are), is that the best person to market your book is you. You know the book inside and out, you know your own story, and you know your audience.
I’ve always approached book marketing as experiments. I try something that may or may not work, and if it does, great! If it doesn’t, then I don’t try it again. I’ve given away llamas, run contests simply because it was Thursday, launched books in every platform that would have me, and tried so many things even my own head spins a little.
I’ve sold, given away, bundled, and sold the foreign rights to my books to the tune of almost 100,000 copies. I’m no Stephenie Meyer (probably because none of my books have werewolves), but for a self-published guy who knew nothing about the industry when I started, I’ve done alright.
For every book I’ve written, I’ve tried at least a handful of new ideas to get it to the right people. Mostly though, I’ve learned that as long as I’m having fun marketing the books I write, and enjoy trying weird and interesting ideas, then I’m happy to keep going.
Base your marketing plan on your intentions
The way you market your book should be based on two things: your values and the intentions for the book. If something feels slimy or inauthentic, don’t do it. You should never let a bit of exposure trump your values. Short-term gains that feel wrong seldom result in long-term growth as an author. They can also decrease your social capital.
The intentions for your book can really be anything—credibility and status in your industry, increased bookings for speaking, consulting or projects, building your brand, further educating your audience with a new point of view on a subject they care about. Your book, your intentions. And however odd—because anyone can write a book now—books are still a strong signal that you’re an expert on a topic or in a field.
If your intention is to sell a million copies or get on a best-seller list, that’s more the result of many things going right, since it’s really out of your control. Plus, most of the time, you’re just going to be disappointed with that for a goal. Only a handful of books sell a million copies or get on the NYT or WSJ lists. And you don’t need either to make money or build credibility (or even to have fun with your book).
A few of my books are “best-sellers” and it was really just a result of trying lots of things that slowly pushed sales higher. It’s a war of attrition on experimenting, failing, learning, and continually pushing for more exposure and connections.
Your intentions also have to match the content and message of your book. For example, if you write a book about American Condors (which are EPIC, seriously), your intention can’t really be to get more gigs speaking on the web design circuit. Or, if your book is about a super specific topic that relates to a teeny-weeny group of people, it’ll never be a massive best-seller (but can definitely become a phenom in that small group).
It’s all about them, not you
Once you’ve got an intention, move onto your audience. Who are they? Why will they care? Where do they currently get their information from?
If you don’t know who your audience is, consider this:
- 1Why did you write the book?
- 2What do you want people to get from it?
- 3Why would those people be motivated to get information from your book?
From there, think about what motivations people would have in common who would find that end result of your book valuable.
An audience of “everyone” is typically too big to grasp or connect with. Where does “everyone” get their information? There’s no single source. What motivates “everyone” to learn something? There’s no single motivation. What does “everyone” care about? There’s no single topic.
You get the idea… “Everyone” is not your audience.
Your audience is a specific set of people with specific motivations and values. They’re much easier to reach and connect with than everyone.
Your audience is probably awesome, but they are also self-serving and need to know what’s in it for them (it’s just human nature). What are they going to learn that can’t be found anywhere else? How will they benefit from this knowledge? How can they apply that knowledge to better their lives, careers, or wallets? They’re putting both their money and their time into the book, so they need to be sure it’s worth both. Even free books have a large investment of someone’s time.