Every author thinks about marketing his or her book. But those thoughts are usually centered on a post-launch scenario. And that’s a mistake. While you will certainly spend a lot of time marketing your book after it’s released, if you haven’t done the initial groundwork, it will be harder than it needs to be.
If you’ve just started a project, or better yet, have a seed of a book idea, now’s the time to start thinking about your marketing. Here are five ways you can get started.
“Who reads books like these? Men? Women? Both? What are their ages, incomes, and other interests? Where are they found online? Which social networks do they use? What sort of ancillary media—blog posts, articles, stories, videos, podcasts—can I create once I finish my book to generate interest and sales?”
1. Get to know your future audience
A competitive analysis is always a must when writing a book, and what better time to do the research than before you’ve exerted time and effort writing a book that may already be in the market. Sure, it probably won’t be exactly the same. But you want your book to stand out, and research can help ensure that it does. Once you’ve determined under which genre your book idea falls, you’ll want to understand that genre completely. You likely already read books in your genre voraciously—that will come in handy when determining theme or story gaps in the market. But you also need to know who the other authors are, and which of their books have been successful.
Orna Ross, author and founder of ALLi, thinks there are some specific questions you can ask to determine your book’s place, including “Who reads books like these? Men? Women? Both? What are their ages, incomes, and other interests? Where are they found online? Which social networks do they use? What sort of ancillary media—blog posts, articles, stories, videos, podcasts—can I create once I finish my book to generate interest and sales?”
You also want to have a grasp on failed efforts. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does. You’ll want to avoid repeating the mistakes of others, and you may find a sweet spot where your book fits in.
2. Pre-think your price—and your book format
While notoriety and being considered an expert in your genre and field are often at the top of author wish lists, making sure you make some moneyor at least cover your costs is always a consideration. And in order to plan for potential profits, you need to know what book formats are popular in your genre. How many pages do the most successful books in your category have? What is the font size most often used? Are the books hardcover or softcover? Spending time answering the above questions will help you determine the book size, format, and word count required to fit comfortably alongside other books in the genre.
Writers often begin a book project by, well, writing. And while that can be a great—and obvious—first step, it may not be the most prudent one. If profit is of interest, setting targets to write to will make all the difference. You want to ensure you consider the most common formats and page counts that your future audience is accustomed to. In order to calculate the potential retail price and possible earnings per book, run through various scenarios of book size, format, and page count and compare the results. These choices will affect not only the book you write, but your bottom line.
3. Create buzz about you—and your future book
The best way to spread the word these days is via the internet, and there are loads of ways for you to get your name out there and create some much-needed buzz.
For starters, build a website, create a solid author bio (for inclusion on your site and for others to use when they feature you and your book), and get a professional headshot taken. Consider blogging, even if only intermittently, on your site. John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, blogged about his book consistently until the recent launch of the movie adaptation. In doing so, he kept his audience engaged and gave his fan base a reason to head to the theatre. Make sure to comment on new book releases in your genre and talk about character development in your own work. Review books in your field on Amazon.com. Attend conferences (for example, Comic Con is a must if comics and graphic novels are your bag) and join local writing groups. Sign up for HARO, a site dedicated to helping reporters find expert sources within limited time frames.
And don’t forget to use social media to insert yourself into the conversation. Set up social media pages for yourself as soon as possible for whichever networks are relevant to you and your genre. If you’re a designer, Pinterest boards may be most effective. If you’re working on Young Adult fiction, make sure you have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and actively seek engagement. Since you’ll need to spend most of your time writing, consider focusing on one main platform and duplicating your posts across your other accounts.
Make sure to follow successful authors in your genre, and study the lists of whom they follow and who follows them. This is where you will likely find your audience. Once you start following peers and fans, you’ll want to engage in social conversations. This includes replying to relevant tweets and Facebook posts, as well as linking to solid stories that your social audience will find interesting and engaging.
If you’re writing a cookbook and come across a story you want to share (maybe an article about the changing spices in fusion recipes), check the currently trending topics for something relevant to your story and associate your post or tweet with that topic. Most of all, be accessible. Find common ground, and learn about—and connect with—your audience as much as possible.
Polly Courtney, author and commentator, suggests you “think about what you want to portray with your book, then apply that to everything you do as an author. Once readers engage with your brand, they’ll read your books and, if you’ve got all the elements of your brand aligned, they’ll then want to engage more, and then read your next book, and the next.”
4. Wordsmith your way to the top
If you’re embarking on a book project, hopefully you’ve already got some writing chops. But you’ll also need to a keyword expert in order to optimize your book’s title, description, and the website you use to promote the book. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important way to ensure discoverability once you’ve been published. Self-publishing successes such as Joanna Penn, Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, and Amanda Hocking are all savvy in this marketing discipline. In order to get started, come up with the main keywords for your book.
For instance, if you’re writing a cookbook with cake recipes, your keywords might be: Cake, cakes, birthday cakes, chocolate cake, cake ideas, simple cakes, sweets, frosting. (You get the idea.) Next, you’ll want to use Google’s AdWords tool to do some keyword research. Aside from finding searchable words and phrases that completely match with your book’s title and topic, you’ll also want to find which searched words and phrases can help get your future book’s title to land on the first few pages of a search. Next, you’ll also want to look at Amazon’s keyword. Using our cake cookbook example, you would type “cake” in Amazon’s search field and then see what populates in the drop down menu. Gather this data and until you come up with a winning book title that both accurately indicates what your book is about, and also finds its way into organic searches. The same goes for your book’s description. Optimizing word choice is key.
5. Develop a peer-to-peer network
The best support you’ll ever receive is from other writers in your community. Authors who have completed books in your genre, and those who have been through the same process of trying to get a book project off the ground are invaluable sources of information. Plus, they can be helpful in spreading the word once your book has launched.
Members of your network can write blurbs for your book, as well as review it on Amazon within 48 hours of launch (a critical success determinant referenced by Guy Kawasaki in Ape). Create a pitch list—a group of bloggers, writers, and journalists who you can contact and, ideally, develop relationships with before the book is finished. The goal? To have the perfect list of people to contact once your book has launched.
Of course you’ll send out the standard press release about your book, but that’s not where it ends. You’ll want to pitch articles and blog posts in your genre or area of expertise to get your name out there. Hayley Radford, Co-Founder and Director of Marketing at Authoright, can’t stress the need for these connections enough.
“A website with a small but devoted readership that represents your demographic entirely can be valuable. Say yes to everything you can because it won’t be a waste of time, it will be an important piece of the marketing puzzle, building up fan base one review at a time. By being generous with your time, by writing and sharing new writing you can win people over. Today, the media marketplace is about social, free content and immediate access, so keep these principles in mind when you’re marketing your work.”
You’ll also want to attend events and go to local schools and bookshops to offer readings. You’ll want to guest blog, appear on popular podcasts, and offer to speak at relevant conferences. Over time, these relationships will become invaluable for marketing, sales, and future projects. Good luck, and remember: It’s never too early to start the marketing cycle.