This post is mostly for authors – a look at that great and ongoing mystery, how the bloody hell you market a book.
You’ve written it, you’ve had it published, held it in your hands and it’s real. Congratulations! But that was the easy bit. Now comes the real challenge – getting the bloody thing out there.
If you self-published or went with an independent, you’re going to be putting in the hard yards yourself. If you went with a mainstream publisher, you’re probably still going to be putting in the hard yards, unless you’re Kate Atkinson or Marian Keyes.
I wrote a travel book. For months I believed it would be easier to market than a piece of fiction. Less competition. More of a mark to be made in your geographical market. Maybe even some support from the place it’s set.
Hah! Boy, am I ever hoisted on my own petard. This shit is just as hard as marketing YA or vampire romance or any other crowded genre.
Writing was a walk in the park compared to the hustling I’ve been doing since publication. Books don’t just sell themselves, you’ve got to put them in front of people. They say buyers need to see something up to seven times before the experience that ‘Gruen moment’ and decide to buy. That’s a lot of touchpoints.
Here’s how I’ve been trying to create them. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, just a retelling of blood, sweat and tears and a search for the right channels. I’m making this stuff up as I go along. If you’ve got more to add, I’d love you to leave a comment and I’ll keep developing this piece so it’s a better, fuller, longer guide.
Because it’s not like any of us have got other shit to do (like writing a sequel).
Some of these points work better for a travel book, and some might work for all books. See how you go.
Media in the place you come from
I’m from Lancashire. And the ‘Lancashire lass finds herself a long way from home and writes a book about it’ angle has worked well. I’ve had an article in Lancashire Life magazine which I wrote myself, and in the Lancashire Evenings Post newspaper.
If you’re not used to pitching freelance articles, here’s how it can be done. I emailed the Post, pitching the idea. (You keep pitches brief and very much to the point. Google how to pitch for more tips – mainly get your hook up there front and central.) A reporter emailed back with some questions, I answered them, she produced a lovely piece. Massive resulting spike in sales? Well no, this is a local newspaper, but it probably got a bit of attention and I had something nice to post on my Facebook page.
I probably should have followed up with some Facebook advertising to target readers in Lancashire right after the article appeared – that second touchpoint. But I’m too mean to spend any of my substantial (not) royalties on advertising.
Magazines about rural life
I’ve written about moving to the country, so I’ve emailed magazines featuring rural Australia, and the editor of Australian Country emailed back and asked for a review copy. I need a few more to do the same – but I haven’t worked up a comprehensive list yet, so more work to do.
Country Style would be the top pick of this category. The Books Editor Annabel Lawson is pretty elusive in terms of contact details, and she only covers four books per issue. It’s going to be a tall order getting picked for those. However, worth a try. So I emailed the editor Victoria Carey, who emailed back the same day and asked for a paperback review copy, which I put in the post with a lovely, humble letter. Fingers crossed.
How do you find editors’ email addresses? Lots of googling and canny figuring out, and you really can’t depend on your email getting to them unless you have their direct address. Here’s a great article by freelance journalist Lindy Alexander with loads of tips on how to reach editors, how to find their details, and how to approach them.
Tasmania, which is where my book is set, is a hot travel destination. The population is 800 thousand, and yearly the island is visited by another 1.3million. It’s the reason I called my book Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania. Keywords. I wanted anybody travelling to Tasmania and searching for books about it to see mine in the search results. Is it working? No idea. But the book is sitting in the right categories, and maybe that’s more important.
Given Tasmania’s reputation, you’d have thought travel magazines were keen to review books about it, especially entertaining, feel-good, lighthearted, laugh-out-loud books. So I emailed Australian Traveller, Delicious, Luxury Travel Magazine, Destinations, Holidays for Couples, and Vacations and Travel magazine with the offer of a review copy. Only the editor of Delicious has gotten back to me, with good luck wishes and to let me know she only really reviews cook books with a strong destination connection. I might need to try harder here, follow up very succinctly, or try different mags with a different angle.
I’m a lady and I do ladies’ things. It seems sensible to try and get the book reviewed as a great lady’s read. Especially as some ladies’ mags have mind bloggling circulation. Looking at my Excel holdover tool, where I keep my marketing strategy, I see that I haven’t made nearly enough effort in this area and need to get onto it. What have I been doing? Oh yes, writing content for clients in order to try and earn an actual living. And doing ladies’ things.
Bloggers and influencers
Are book bloggers just reading each other’s blogs or are readers reading them as well? Well I think it’s a little of both. Whatever the case, it’s a world full of dedicated book-lovers who are a delight to engage with.
I had a blog tour organised by Anne Cater of Random Books Through My Letterbox, a service for authors. Fourteen book bloggers read my book, posted their reviews on their own blogs, then tweeted about it. I spent a lot of time on Twitter that fortnight.
This creates a lot of excitement about your book and gives it visibility. A lot of the bloggers posted their reviews of my book on Amazon as well as their blogs, which kick started my reviews and made the book look healthy online. It was inexpensive, a huge morale boost, gave me the sense that people were enjoying the book and it was worth keeping going. Resulted in sales? Gotta hope so.
Natalie Fergie, whose novel The Sewing Machine has gone gangbusters, organised her own blog tour. So there’s probably something in it. I don’t know. Should I be continuing to retweet their reviews now, weeks after the events? Dunno! Probably! (An answer to this question would be appreciated by anyone in the know!)
I suspect this might be a rich vein for people writing travel books, or any book strongly set in a destination, but I haven’t tapped into it properly yet. I’ve had one travel blogger review my book. She writes an international travel blog – Mapping Megan – but happens to live here in Tasmania. We met at a tourism do, and perhaps that personal encounter helped when I approached her. She read my book in e-book format so it cost me nothing to send it to her, wrote a smashing review, posted it and tweeted about it, in a round-up of ‘kick-ass women writers’.
Did it result in sales? I think it might have. Plus I’m now a kick-ass author. I still see that tweet circulating occasionally, weeks later. And she’s just sent me a direct message via Instagram with a pic she took of my book after finding it in a shop I didn’t know was stocking it. That lady’s in my inner sanctum for sure.
Are there bloggers in your genre? Hunt those people down! And note to self – get onto this!
They say if you’re running any sort of tourism operation you need to market to your visitors ‘in market, not in destination’. In other words, you need to track them down where they live – Sydney, Melbourne, Montreal, London. They’re sitting right there with a cuppa browsing the internet and looking for that travel book which will give them a peek into that foreign part of the world they’ve got an itch to visit or learn more about.
I’ve been reckoning on finding these via Facebook advertising. I’ve done a little and think I had a small sales spike. What I don’t know is whether the income from sales was worth what I paid Facebook. No idea how to go there.
In the case of a travel book or memoir, visitors ‘in destination’ are a rich market as well. They’re already here in the place you’re writing about, and are now looking for souvenirs. Books are the perfect ‘suitcase souvenir’ – they’re light, appealing, they’re of the place, they should have a beautiful front cover that says ‘buy me I’m lovely’ and they’re eminently pack-able.
If you’ve written a historical memoir, maybe it’s a case of searching out discussion forums online and joining them? You’re up against the problem of rules about self-promotion, but if you enjoy your genre you probably don’t mind joining in general chat about it. To be honest, I’m finding this a very long-winded means of marketing but I’m trudging onward.
I’m still figuring this out, so comment if you know more. There appear to be multiple groups inviting indie and self-published authors to blast their feed with multiple posts promoting our books. And I see authors who use these repeatedly. I wonder whether it works?
To my mind perhaps more usefully, there’s would seem to be Facebook groups to suit readers of every persuasion. For me the most relevant is a very active and authentic group called We Love Memoirs. Rich ground to plunder, you might think. Wrong. There’s strictly no self-promotion. No posting links to your page, blog, book sales pages, and no mentioning your book. Unless somebody else mentions it, in which case you should post blushy emojis and self-effacing thank you comments.
Every so often they have promotional parties, and different rules apply. There’s one comign up and I’ll be offering a freebie e-book to anybody who can answer a question I’ll set, the answer found in the ‘look inside’ section on Amazon. Here’s my question:
‘On arrival in the great land of adventure, we planned on living a boho life filled with surfing, ponchos and vegetarian food – in which alternative lifestyle mecca on the east coast?’
My cunning hope is that the question will entice people to read the ‘Look inside’ bit to find the answer, and what they read there will entice them to buy the book.
Whatever genre you’ve written, I figure if you join a group of other people who genuinely love that genre, you might come across other people who love it too, and enjoy chatting. There are great book recommendations to be had in the We Love Memoirs group, and heaps of fun if you generate a post that gets lots of discussion. You never know, you might pick up a few readers along the way. If not, it’s been a pleasant sojourn.
Your own blog
If you’ve got a blog, you can have a sidebar on it with some discreet advertising for your book. And if you’ve got all that set up, you should be posting regularly (don’t worry, I’m not either). Then you should be getting on Twitter and tweeting like crazy using keywords, hashtags and posting links to that post. That draws people to your blog to read it, where they catch a glimpse of your book again.
If you’ve got helpful ‘How to’ posts, like this one is attempting to be, or discussion posts about something topical, like this one on whether Colm Toibin is any better than Marian Keyes, or this one about whether men and women choose books differently, then you’ve got links you can tweet repeatedly without any shame – they’re good, rich content, not spam, and they should do that job of drawing people to your blog, and discreetly advertising your book time and again.
Does posting links to your blog result in sales? Definite yes for me at least once; I posted a link to this article on literary fiction versus commercial fiction in a Facebook forum, and somebody posted a comment saying they’d read the post and liked my writing style so much they had immediately bought my book. Dream result! What’s more they’re a blogger and have promised to post a review once they’re done. Now they just have to like it…
On the other hand, that’s a shitload of a lot of work for one sale.
Don’t forget about tools like Buffer which allow you to schedule a whole heap of tweets. Set your schedule to post daily at the same time, or every couple of days, and then try to tweet other stuff in between so your twitter feed doesn’t start looking all spammy. You can also buffer Instagram posts, and you can do that using Buffer on your PC, so you don’t have to do lots of writing on your phone using one finger.
This is where you are a guest on somebody’s blog, or they’re a guest on yours. The author answers questions about themselves and their book(s), or maybe they write a post which is published on someone else’s blog.
Sometimes bloggers are looking for authors to write about and they offer up this opportunity, you’ll see it happening on Facebook forums like Book Connectors. Check out whether they’ve got a good following. But keep in mind that whatever their following is, it’s still a chance to mutually support each other. You both benefit and will probably both do some promoting and linking back to the post, so you’re both in the spotlight. So if you have the time, why not go for it. This is a quick and easy way to generate rich, original content that a lot of readers will enjoy.
I’m exploring this right now. I’ve chosen a couple of authors, Nicola May who is a self-published best seller, and Natalie Fergie who is published by Unbound like me and whose book The Sewing Machine we have all watched go gangbusters. I’d like to know what their secret is, and you probably would too, right? So I’ve pitched to both of them that I’ll post a piece along the lines of ‘What makes a best seller sell?’ featuring each of them. We’ll keep it quick and easy in Q&A format.
They’ve said yes, because it’s a post featuring them and that’s potentially good marketing. I write profiles about people in my freelance journalism and am confident I can write good questions which generate an interesting piece, and make great reading for both those authors’ fans. It’s a win for us both, because I’ve got something interesting to post on my blog, the authors will be posting links for their readers as well – and all those people visit my blog and see that discreet advertising for my book.
Bricks n Mortar stockists
Bookshops and other outlets
Tasmanian books are well supported in Tasmania and the local bookshops have been amazingly supportive. It’s a much harder fight in the UK. I know many authors who have been brushed off by their local bookshops, and I suspect that if you’re writing fiction it doesn’t matter where you’re from, the competition is tough, and there’s heaps of it.
Tasmanian bookshops are stocking mine because it’s a Tasmanian book. And hopefully because it’s funny, witty, and a frank insight into rural living that gets great reviews. I don’t care what the reason is, as long as it’s on their shelves.
If your book is a travel book or in any way about the place you live, your neighbourhood, your city, your island, your Italian feifdom, bookshops in that area should be a strong outlet for you. Keep trying.
With visitor centres, you have to try even harder. The people who run these are quite possibly not interested in books. They’re just doing a job. In the case of Tasmania, some of them are passionate about the place, and some not so much.
These guys stock books and gifts and I’ve found they’re often as keen as bookshops to support local authors. The trouble is getting in touch with them. In my neck of the woods they rely on the distributor Black Gum for their ideas and stock. I’m not with Black Gum. That means I have to make an individual approach. And newsagencies, by and large, don’t have websites and contact pages. Sometimes they have Facebook pages, and sometimes they just have listings online in those services that nobody uses. I’ve sent messages to a few who had contacted details, and I’ve messaged others on Facebook.
May as well shout into my toilet bowl.
Then again, one of my local newsagencies contacted me through Messenger after seeing Apple Island Wife on the tourism Facebook group I help run for the Greater Tamar Valley Region, and ordered twelve. Let’s hear it for regional businesses supporting one another.
Whatever your genre, you do need to keep the faith. If you’ve had your book published by an indie publisher, if you’ve had it professionally edited, and the cover professionally designed, you’ve got a sales-worthy product. I know some self-published authors who take the trouble to get these professional services for their writing, and they’ve got sales-worthy products too. (Listen to me with my big opinions, you might say – but I back myself as a reader, and there is a lot of tosh out there. That’s partly what makes this so difficult).
There is a shitload to do in marketing a book. It’s tricky prioritising. You’ve just got to keep at it. Nuff said.
Fiona Stocker is the author of Apple Island Wife, a travel book about moving to five acres, on a hunch, set in Tasmania. Published by the UK based independent publisher Unbound, it is now widely available in paperback and e-book. You can find it nestling comfortably alongside Bill Bryson on Amazon UK, Australia and USA, and everywhere else you buy your books.