I've seen writers online trying various marketing tactics to sell their books. Some look successful while others leave me scratching my head. Then there are the genuinely good authors who appear to know what they're doing but for some strange reason aren't garnering the attention they deserve. I can only imagine how disappointing it must be to do all that work and not see anything come of it. If you fall into any of these categories, don't give up! You probably just need to tweak your approach.
For many writers, selling a book is harder than writing it. No matter if you traditionally publish or self-publish, there's no escape from the marketing efforts it takes to sell enough copies to see a return on your investment, let alone the sales it takes to profit from it. Here are 10 common mistakes authors make when marketing their stories.
1. You designed your own cover
Image credit: Kindlecoverdisasters on Tumblr Accessed: 10/1/20
Designing the cover of your book is one of the most exciting parts of publishing. It's a chance to be creative, but also it's typically the first time it really dawns on you as a writer that your dream is coming true. With the emotions involved, our first instinct is to design the cover ourselves. We're the only ones who truly know our stories and therefore are the most qualified person to create a cover for it right?
Nope! Sorry, it just isn't true. While we know the story best, most of us didn't go to design school. We also didn't earn a marketing degree with a specialty in publishing and sales. It's best in this case to invest your money in a professional, and I'll tell you why.
Your cover is your reader's first impression. Whether it encourages them to buy or discourages them means that your book's best chance at a purchase comes from what is on the book jacket. This means that way more goes into the process then you might think. Professionals know what readers find most attractive, how to manipulate the visuals to give them the best advantage, and what works within a specific niche. When you make the cover yourself, it may satisfy your needs and your family may like it too. But that doesn't mean it's what's best for your book. Your customers will immediately recognize the difference between a handmade cover and one designed by a professional.
If you still insist on creating your own cover, that's okay! You can actually get your cover design reviewed by a professional for free on Reedsyblog. They host “Cover Critique” sessions on ReedsyLive where you can get free feedback from a top cover artist. Register for the next one here.
2. You're marketing to everyone
You may think that casting a wide net when it comes to book marketing is a good thing. It means more people are looking at your work, which equates to more buyers.
Again, sorry to disappoint but that's often not the case. You're actually doing yourself a disservice by keeping your target audience vague. It's not enough to say "everyone", "middle-aged men", or even "teenage girls who like romance". Instead of being concise with your marketing goals, you're only setting yourself up for disappointment.
Unless you get exceptionally lucky and pen the next Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or The Lord of The Rings series, you probably won't be seeing all the teenagers in the world reading your book. That's the inevitability of writing a novel, so with that in mind, it's time to get more specific.
The biggest benefit of aiming for an ideal audience is that you will know exactly how your book will need to be marketed. Your money will be much more well-spent if you focus on a specific audience within a specific niche. It means that all your hard work will meet the buyers who will actually be buying your book rather than throwing dollars away trying to attract the attention of every potential book buyer out there who at the end of the day, may or may not be interested in what you're writing.
If you aren't sure how to find your ideal reader, here are some resources that can help you:
The Myth of the Everyreader by Rebecca Heyman
How to Identify a Target Audience for Your Book in 3 Steps by the Reedsy Team
3. You don't have a mailing list
Image taken from Writing It Wells homepage
Also known as an email list, a mailing list is the most valuable resource you have as a writer. Allow me to demonstrate:
Say you launched your book. It was a huge success (despite the fact that you didn't use any marketing), selling 5,000 copies. Now that that project has wound down, you want to launch your second book with the same results two months from now. Only...you have absolutely no idea how to reach the people who bought your book the first time. You forgot to have them join your email list, Amazon won't release any customer information, and now you're stuck praying for a miracle.
Unfortunate bit of luck, but one that could have been entirely prevented with a little more foresight. If you don't have those 5,000 people on your email list, you've just lost 5,000 potential repeat buyers. Your readers now have no way of being notified that a second novel is being released or any other updates associated with it.
Mailing lists have many benefits even before publication. Why Every Writer Needs an Email List by Jeff Goins makes understanding the process easy in his article. He explains what it is, why you need it, and what you can use it for.
**Pro Tip: Once you set up your author website using Wix, Wordpress, or another hosting site setting up your email list is easy. There are plenty of email services out there such as MailChimp or Convertkit (my personal favorite) that will give you the tools you need to manage your emails and subscribers. From there you can create a popup light box to advertise your subscription on your website for people to sign up. Using a free incentive here always helps! Once you have your list, maintain it by sending out frequent updates and newsletters.
4. You're everywhere all the time
You may think you need to be everywhere at once in order to get the word out about your book. Quite frankly, this is a toxic myth. The truth is that when you're trying to manage several social media accounts, a website, your book writing, promotional and marketing details, a blog, and everything else under the sun it's easy to get overwhelmed and then start making mistakes that will haunt you and your author business later.
When you're doing the world but not seeing any payoffs, it's because something you're doing isn't working the way it should. If this sounds familiar, take a deep breath and a step back. Smart marketing is about trying new strategies and seeing what works- one campaign at a time. If you run two campaigns at the same time, you won't be able to tell which one was successful and which was simply mediocre. Amazon won't specify where your sales are coming from, meaning that if you don't know which strategy works you won't be able to repeat it in the future with the same results.
The most immediate side-affect is burn-out. Doing it all is exhausting! It means there's less creativity to go around and for a writer that's a dangerous place to be. Best to stick with one new strategy at a time so you conserve some energy and can gauge the effectiveness appropriately. Once you've found what works and what doesn't, build up a repertoire of one or two strategies that produce high level results and stick to those.
5. You think FREE doesn't work anymore
Never underestimate the power of a freebie. Though it's true that five years ago this tactic was far more potent, it still holds a strong emotional pull on would-be readers. Nowadays everyone releases free copies of their books. In some cases visibility for free books is often downplayed in favor of certain programs like Amazon's Kindle Unlimited. If you're asking yourself how your book is supposed to compete with that, consider this:
FREE still gets a reader buying books. It may not be the crazy rush of the past, but it still draws attention and it will lead to more attention then any other price-point on the Amazon marketplace. The biggest advantage here is that it maximizes your reach. If you have a book you want to use as bait to draw in traffic to purchase another book later on, make it free! You'll gain more from giving it away then you would otherwise.
6. You're not doing video
Many writers grit their teeth and adamantly refuse to do videos (myself being one of them). We're writers after all, and the stage fright is real. But even I can't deny that videos are one of the most effective marketing tools in this day and age. Not to mention that they're easy to make and high quality material is available with the click of a smart phone button. Editing services are also more affordable (or free in some cases). Which begs the question: If you're an author, why aren't you making the most of this opportunity?
The number one reason why you should get on board with videos is because this is the type of media that social media sites are pushing for most. We all are aware that Facebook and Instagram changed their algorithms and since then the opportunity for organic growth through posts and content alone has gone down. This means that it doesn't matter how much you post or how good your material is. These sites aren't going to promote it to the full extent they could, which in turn means you won't be gaining the visibility you need. However, there is one exception- you guessed it- videos.
If you're currently promoting a book, check out Lumen 5's video maker they have several different pricing plans to suit your needs (including a free one). You can make an awesome promotional video for your novel and then share it on social media. Studies have shown that videos attract more attention then traditional posts so this is an excellent, low-effort option. Plus, it's fun!
7. You're only targeting interest-based audiences
Facebook Ads can be a tricky marketing tool to navigate. These days it seems like every author online is using them, driving the price up and creating competition in the marketplace. While this can be difficult to overcome, the secret is to be smarter about it. The problem here is that since everyone is running ads the same way, readers are getting bombarded with advertising spam. Thus they either ignore or pick and choose which ads they like. Meaning the chances of them picking yours is slim.
Typically authors approach advertising like this: Find a popular author in their niche, target their fans, select Kindle as an additional interest, and write some "fans of __ will also like__" blurb.
What you need to do is remove yourself from the competition. How do you do that? By creating custom and lookalike audiences (audiences that share similar interests and behaviors with your target audience). Meaning they're only audiences you can access. The first way to do this is to import your mailing list subscribers. If you're fortunate enough to have a sizeable list, you can then create a lookalike audience off of that (about 5,000 subscribers or more).
Another underrated tool is Facebook's Pixel. It's a business tool that Facebook offers that tracks visitors to your website and then let's you retarget them based on the URLs they visited. Once installed to your website, it essentially gives you a deeper understanding of who visited your subscriptions page but didn't sign up, who visited each of your website pages, and who actually bought something from you. With this information you can then create lookalike audiences.
Want to learn more about lookalike audiences? Check out these resources:
8. You're not using Amazon categories/keywords
Uploading your manuscript into Amazon can be the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) experience. Often when we're focused on the big moment we forget the details like using our categories and keyword sections on the upload form or we rush through them thinking we can come back and fix them later, only later never happens.
If you're not getting the visibility you thought you'd be getting, check this section first. This is the most important aspect of Amazon publishing because it determines how much visibility you'll get when you first publish. If you rise to the top of your category it leads to more traffic and more sales with minimum effort on your part. Typically your categories and keywords are wrong, meaning:
You only selected one category
You picked excessively broad categories like “mystery” or “fantasy”
You chose a sub-category that does not reflect what their book is about (i.e. you wrote a paranormal romance but chose to file it under horror and mystery)
Keywords don't show up anywhere other than on your book page, but they matter because they impact where your book shows up in Amazon searches. They're increasingly important for non-fiction writers, but all writers should be aware of them.
**Pro tip: Pick keywords that are popular enough to generate sales but not ones that are too competitive. You want your books to be found in search results, not buried in the pile. Not sure what keywords you should pick? Do the research before your publishing date and study how the algorithm works.
Here's some extra guidance on this topic:
9. You stopped using Facebook Ads after your first attempt
Facebook ads are a great way for an author to earn revenue off their books. Issues arise because there's a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding how to properly use them. While it's possible for every writer to make the most of its unique features, many writers fall short of success because they get frustrated when they don't see immediate results. Like many other book selling strategies, it's a long-term plan. You can't expect to invest a small sum and see overnight sales. While that's a nice thought, it's realistically not how it works. Like all other tactics, this one requires research before you dive in. Read blog posts from authors who have actually used this strategy and made it work for them.
Here are some to help you get started:
10. You're trying to do everything on your own
Writing is such a solitary sport that often we forget that marketing a book is not. This is especially true when it comes to Indie authors, who have more freedom in their choices while they work towards publication.
Many writers don't think about the full extent of responsibilities that comes with publishing before they actually publish. While you make pick one or two marketing strategies to work with, there is still a lot of general upkeep and promotion that needs doing on the side to make everything run smoothly. You have to update your author site, keep in touch with your readers, track and analyze sales, run price promotions, research categories and keywords, run ad promotions, etc.
This may be manageable when you publish your first book but once you start expanding you'll have to consider that you'll probably be overwhelmed pretty quickly. This is something that's good to plan for in advance because many writers don't realize that this is a bi-product until they're waist deep and can no longer keep up.
This is when you have to take a step back and start outsourcing help. Think about what it is you really want and don't want. Be honest with yourself and truly consider how much you can do without sacrificing your day job, your family time, or your self care. Once you know where the boundary is, consider outsourcing to a professional. Depending on what you'd like handled, there are two types to take a look at:
A virtual assistant will take care of all your small time-consuming tasks, like filtering your email inbox, answering fans on social media, updating your website and books’ backmatter when you release a new title, etc.
A professional book marketer will scale and automate your marketing tasks. Depending on their area of expertise, a marketer can help you set up and run advertising campaigns, build your mailing list, or work with you on the marketing strategy for each new title.
If you've made any of the following mistakes, it's okay! The path of authorhood is one of trial and error, making mistakes, and finding the smartest solution for the issues that pop up along the way. By fixing these 10 mistakes you can help ensure your book's marketing will improve and will begin seeing your results change over time.
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