HOW TO MARKET YOUR (SELF-PUBLISHED) BOOK: INVALUABLE ADVICE FROM A SUCCESSFUL PRACTITIONER
Updated: Jul 6, 2019
Claire Stibbe is the prolific author of gripping crime thrillers, police procedurals and, latterly psychological thrillers. An award-winning, self-published novelist, she is my twin sister and, like me, a fulltime writer! I met up with her on Skype, and it was both a joy and a revelation to hear her thoughts on building a great platform and engaging in great promotion – two of the six aspects of what I call the hexagon of success for budding writers.
Claire, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about marketing and promoting your own books?
The first and most important thing is obviously to build your platform. This includes the following things:
a) Engaging in social media. Promote your books on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
b) Building a Website. Create your own website as an author. Sell your product there.
c) Write and publish a blog. Use your website or a dedicated blog site if you prefer (Wordpress) to do this and post a blog once a month. Don’t just blog about your own books; blog about other authors’ books too. If you review their books favourably and courteously, they’ll do the same for you. It’s about paying it forward.
d) Use Reader Groups. Facebook, The Book Club, all provide reader groups where you can get your writing known. Send reviewers in those groups an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of your book in an ePub file, mobi file, or PDF. Receive as many reviews as you can, even before you publish and start marketing properly.
How do you rate Twitter as a platform for authors?
Twitter is the best for me because it’s free. There are certain things that you need to do well if you’re going to use Twitter as an author.
a) Build an excellent Twitter profile picture including a high-res, clear photo of your latest book. Don’t put too much in that picture. It’s a bit like your book cover. Your eye needs to be drawn straight to the most important thing, which is your book.
b) Make sure the links to your books are effective. You can only cram 280 characters into a tweet so make sure your book-links to Amazon are shortened. You can do this using Bitly (a link shortening service) and ow.ly (through Hootsuite), etc. Make sure your links work! Readers only click once.
c) If you feel extra creative, you can provide a great sticky mashup for your tweet (e.g. PRINCESS BRIDE+FRIED GREEN TOMATOES) which will give your audience a ‘feel’ for your book. Then provide an eye-catching short description of your book that attracts people to it. You can do either or both. I suggest you take courses and classes so that you learn how to do this well.
d) Be wise about when and how much you tweet. Post tweets at least once a day and choose the right times of the day. The morning and evening commute times are optimum. Then there’s lunch breaks too. You can schedule these using Hootsuite and other platforms (Tweetdeck). While Facebook is a great place for me to excite my readers, I make more sales on Twitter. Others may disagree, but it’s the best, in my opinion.
e) Another key thing I’ve learned is this: always retweet those who retweet your tweets. That’s the way to get followers. It’s like a mutual appreciation society! This does mean you might be in danger of promoting books you haven’t had time to filter or approve in terms of quality, or content. Maybe go into the author’s profile. If you find that they’re interested in things that you’re not, then you can hold off retweeting. They should include hashtags in their tweets that reveal what their genre is.
f) Another key is to use hashtags well. If I put #thriller at the end of my tweet, that tells everyone what kind (or genre) of book I’ve written and am promoting. Do your research on finding the hashtags that are important for your genre.
What do you use to create physical marketing tools?
I use Vistaprint to make all my marketing materials. I use it to design and print bookmarks and postcards of my new book. On the back, I provide a brief description of my book, tell people where they can find and buy a copy, and include what some readers and reviewers have been saying about it. I think it’s important to use these in the way you would a press release or a sales sheet. Go to your local bookstore and ask a manager, “Would you like these bookmarks? Would you consider putting them in your books?” Don’t put them into other peoples’ books without asking. It doesn’t go down well. In addition, ask, “Could I leave these postcards on your front desk?” So, in summary, think about where you could leave these postcards and bookmarks. You can leave them all over the place but be strategic; put them in places that are relevant to your genre. A friend of mine, her husband is a trucker who puts my postcards and bookmarks at truck stops across the USA. If you have links on your postcards and bookmarks to an audible version of your book, this is a winner, in my case because truckers can then listen to the book as they drive. Think about who you can ask to do this for you. You can make sales this way. It’s a good way of marketing your book and it’s not that expensive.
You have nearly 6000 followers on Twitter. That’s a great platform. How did you build this?
I have chosen a time that works for me when I can use social media. While I’m watching TV in the evenings, that’s when I post Tweets, or Instagram and Facebook posts. You can relax while doing this because even though you’re putting some thought into how you’re wanting to communicate and what you want to say, compared to the writing process, it’s quite a mindless activity and you can easily do it while you relax.
How important are writing groups?
I would encourage all authors to participate in writing groups. Online and also in your area. Writers are readers too and they are likely to be some of the best people in terms of buying your books. Follow all the people that you’re interested in and who are writing the same kind of books that you want to write. Blog about these authors. Join blogger groups. There’s a lot of stuff an author needs to do in addition to their writing and it does take time, effort and persistence. You also have to be discerning. There are people out there who are advertising things you certainly wouldn’t want to advertise.
How do you maximize the potential of Amazon?
Getting your book noticed on Amazon is a challenge. There are three things I recommend:
One, Amazon ads. Do classes on these; this is quite complicated but do it. Mark Dawson does excellent classes. It’s a cost-per-click process so make sure you know what you’re doing.
Two, Choose the right key words and category words. When you promote your book, don’t use the biggest category. I write thrillers. Thriller is a huge genre, so I don’t use that as a category or keyword when I upload my book and identify my genre and subject matter. You need to be a bit more niche, or specific. Choose a less competitive subgenre. My novel, Into the Silent Sea, I’ve identified as a “beach thriller,” not just a thriller. “Long Island murders” is one of my keyword categories. When you get this specific, drilling down to very precise genres and topics, these are more likely to show up in these smaller categories on Amazon. And you’re more likely to get a BEST SELLER tag from Amazon in these smaller sub genres than in the much larger categories that tend to be very vague.
Three, reviews. You don’t need too many reviews to promote your book, (Bookbub will consider no reviews if they’re promoting a new release) but for authors who accumulate over fifty reviews for their books and more, Amazon will automatically promote these on some of their lists. Since Amazon is an ever changing beast, this may have changed. However, it doesn’t matter if these reviews are good or bad. Amazon likes a healthy mixture of both. You can’t help troll-like behaviour and reviewers giving you the occasional one-star reviews. There are others who don’t know how to use the reviewing process, even though it’s extremely easy. Try and get as many reviews as you can. Send as many advance copies to people on your email newsletter (which you need to build up too).
What about resources like Bookbub?
This is the best thing I’ve found for marketing my books, but it is expensive. This is a FREE book club that readers can join which gives them a heads up through emails about all the new books that are coming out and when your favourite authors are discounting their books. As an author to promote on Bookbub, it’s not cheap. Bookbub is the Rolls Royce of all promoters. It has well over 3M subscribers. There are cheaper competitors, but their subscriber lists are not as large.
About once every three or four months, I’ll discount one of my books, submit to Bookbub and hope to be accepted for all territories. The cost for crime fiction is well over $1000 - it’s one of the three most expensive genres (romance, psychological thrillers, and suspense coming in at anywhere between $780 and $1,000). Just a heads-up: Bookbub reserves the right to change your chosen genre, if they accept your book, to one they feel will sell better. And Bookbub is a territory-based platform, so it’s more expensive the more territories you target (especially the USA market). On Bookbub, I offered my first crime novel, The Ninth Hour for free, and my second novel for 99 cents. The day Bookbub sent out its email to readers, The Ninth Hour was downloaded 125,000 times and I made $3000 on sales for the second book. Over the course of that month, I made a further $1,800. So, I more than recouped my costs. It’s not for everyone, and like I say, there are cheaper options with fewer subscribers. ENT (Ereader News Today) for instance is my second favourite. For my psychological thriller, it cost me around $45.
What about physical marketing?
The best marketing is face-to-face and then word-of-mouth. Join book clubs in your area and then you’ll find out the book fairs that are taking place. In the USA you’ll need a business license but it allows you to hire a table and promote your paperbacks. Always stand, engage your audience and keep talking. Sell your book to one person, and others will come and listen in. Show how you are qualified to write your book either by your academic successes or your experiences. Do face-to-face marketing wherever you can.
Enter competitions for awards. Readers may enter your book into local and regional competitions for awards, or you can submit them yourself. If you become a finalist, that’s a great confidence booster and a good marketing kicker. When you win, you can legitimately and honestly say you’re an “Award-winning Author.”
How do you find good marketing kickers?
It’s a real skill and authors have a real problem with this. They find it very difficult to come up with great one liners or loglines to promote their books. If you’re one of these, look at your reviews. You’ll find something – a phrase, sentence, paragraph – that you can use. Pitch yourself and your book in two or three lines so you can use it either on social media or in actual conversations face-to-face with interested or potential readers. Don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Be humble. Be truthful. You are likely to attract more interest if you’re honest and authentic. This is true for when you’re talking with literary agents and publishers, not just readers.
Do you have any other great marketing ideas?
Don’t forget to arrange a blog tour for your new book when it’s published. You can create a lot of interest through these tours. The goal of a blog tour is to develop a “buzz” around your new title. You can either do this yourself or find a genre-relevant blog tour coordinator to organize the tour for you. Each “stop” on your blog tour will tweet your book, as well as provide links to the blog and review they’ve done about your book, up to three times per day. This all helps to get the word out.
Claire, thank you very much for sharing this invaluable and insightful advice on creating a great platform and engaging in great promotion for your book. You’ve saved many of our readers a considerable amount of time and energy. That’s very generous and kind.
You’re very welcome.