After publishing my first ebook in October 2011—a short story that once upon a time won a contest—I used the same digital marketing techniques I used to use for my clients when I consulted for small businesses and nonprofits. (Yep—in my former life, I was a web designer and digital marketing person.) When I put together plans for my clients, I always used the same formula, and I always got the same great results. I soon realized that with ebooks and physical books, it’s a totally different game. There is no formula, and as soon as you find something that works, it’s bound to stop working. You have to be agile: adaptable and willing to try new things.
I’ve learned some things along the way, though, and …
Your Strongest Tool is Your Email Newsletter
Everyone says this, to the point where you almost get tired of hearing it, but it’s true. I use my newsletter to send exclusive updates to my core “tribe”—my biggest supporters. These are the people who have been rooting me on since before I even knew I wanted to be a novelist for a living.
I’ve found that the best way to build up my email list is to promise exclusive updates and content… and then deliver. The worst thing you can do is send everyone on your newsletter a free copy of your latest ebook and then turn around and also give it away to all of your Facebook fans. Think of your newsletter as a VIP fan club. These people have given you a valuable piece of information, something people don’t like to give away for fear of being spammed or having their inbox clogged up with useless crap. Remember this every time you sit down to write them an email, and treat them with respect.
Tweet to People, Not at Them
This goes for Facebook, Google+, and every other social media outlet. Scheduling a bunch of posts in advance encouraging people to buy may get you a few sales at first, but eventually they’ll annoy people, and soon after they will become white noise. Save your promotional tweets for special deals and announcements that will catch your followers’ eyes.
A Cover Design is Worth a Thousand Words
Your book’s cover is one of the first things potential readers will notice when they arrive on your retail landing page (i.e., the Amazon/BN/Kobo/etc page for your book). Think of it as the sign that will draw customers into your restaurant; it must look professional, be legible from the road, and paint a picture of what people can expect once they come in.
I am a big advocate of designing your own cover if you have the skill and time, but I’ve also come to realize that if you can afford to hire someone to do it for you, you will receive better results and will have more time to write. Even if a graphic designer is too far out of your budget, you can always purchase a pre-made cover.
Learn How to Use SEO
Many authors are intimidated by the words “search engine optimization.” It reeks of a skill that is highly specialized and too time-consuming to learn. While there is definitely a lot to it, and you can definitely get super in-depth if you choose to, basic SEO for authors is simply taking the time to add categories and tags to your books’ landing pages. Most retailers let you choose categories or genres for your book, and some also allow you to add additional tags. Judy Croome wrote an excellent post on tagging for beginners.
These concepts should also apply to your books’ pages on your website. You should be including those same key phrases in the copy of those pages.
Make Your Work Available Everywhere
Many people advise to stay exclusive—such as with Amazon’s KDP Select program—but I’ve found that I’ve done better since branching out. As a reader, I find it frustrating when the book I want is only available at one retailer. If, for example, your reader loves iTunes and doesn’t want to sign up for a whole new account just to buy your book on Barnes & Noble, you’re missing out on that sale. By making your book available across BN, Amazon, iTunes, and more retailers, you’re making yourself more accessible to potential readers, and making it easier for people to get their hands on your book.
This can be time-consuming on your part, but if you have a solid native file and organize your work flow properly—I use iWork Pages to write and edit, then create a .doc for Smashwords and an .epub for everywhere else—you’ll be able to streamline this process. There are a lot of guides on formatting ebooks. I use Smashwords’ style guide as a starting point, then test in iBooks and family members’ e-readers.
Get Down with Goodreads
Maybe it’s because I was an avid user of Goodreads before I started selling ebooks, but I’ve gotten a lot out of minimal use of the site as an author. I’ve found that as long as you set up pages for your books and link to them on your website’s landing pages, people tend to rate and review almost automatically. (It doesn’t hurt to ask nicely, though.) Check out my landing page for Sade on the Wall and how I linked to the book’s Goodreads page.
Goodreads also offers widgets that automatically allow people to add your book to their shelves.
They also allow you to add your book’s ISBN, ASIN, and other information. They even automatically link to the different retailers it’s available at (and you can also tweak the settings as necessary). My favorite option, though, is the discussion boards at the bottom of every book’s page. You can start topics to talk about the book, update readers with information, and more. It’s like a special forum just for your book.
Goodreads also allows you to run giveaways for print copies of your book. If you have the budget, you can also advertise your book on the GR website.
Branch Out of the Digital Box
I think most authors are reclusive by nature. Digital marketing makes it easy for us to hide and avoid social situations. While I love the internet and am grateful for the opportunity it has given me in seizing my own career, I strongly believe that authors—especially indie authors—should create a presence in their community. It’s proven that people connect better with people they feel like they know. Social media lets us interact from across the world, but nothing beats a face to face meeting. Plus, let’s face it: it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. By being agile and having more than one honeypot, you’re guaranteeing a long term career.
Most independent book stores will be more than happy to offer you a space to sign your books, and most small businesses would have no problem with you leaving a small stack of business cards on their counter (just make sure you ask first). If you don’t have any indie book stores in your area, some big box stores feature local authors. It doesn’t hurt to ask! Another great place to connect with readers is your library.
What marketing lessons have you learned? Did you learn anything the hard way?