Marketing for Independent Authors, Part 1

Today I’d like to share what I’ve learned about marketing a novel. I’ve chosen not to go the traditional publishing route, where you’re dependent on the publisher to market for you. As an independent author (a.k.a. “self-published”), I am entirely responsible for marketing my work.

First of all, attitude: many people consider marketing as some kind of evil thing, something to avoid. And sure enough, I don’t like pushy salesmen, or intrusive ads, or commercials that try to get me to buy something I didn’t need or want. But what we’re trying to do here is more correctly defined as enhancing “discoverability”. To find people who would be interested in your product, and let them know about your product. As a hitherto-unknown author, I want people who are interested in this kind of novel to know it’s available. I really don’t want to sell it to people who don’t care for science fiction, or even this particular sub-genre. That can lead to negative reviews.

First of all, a good cover is essential, not because it will induce people to buy the book, but because it is the first level of rejection. When most people are looking through Amazon for something to read, and they’ve searched for a particular category, they end up scrolling through a list of books with thumbnail images of the covers. A cover that doesn’t interest the searcher, or doesn’t match his/her idea of what this kind of book should look like, will mean they won’t click to discover anything else. You can have a great blurb and great reviews, but if readers don’t get past the cover, you’re done.

If they click on the cover, the next thing they do is read your blurb, which is a short summary of the book (you can see my first attempt at that here). It needs to be short enough to ensure they read it, and enough of a tease without giving away the plot. If that interests them, they may try a free sample of the first couple chapters.

Reviews are the next key, especially for an unknown author. Readers like to be assured that at least someone else thought the book was good. So it’s important to get a good number of reviews (hopefully good reviews, but that should come if you’ve written a quality book, which is really the first step anyway). But how do you get the first reviews, before you sell any? It’s almost a chicken-and-egg situation. The answer is Advanced Review Copies (ARC) before launch, and “selling” the book for free after launch (for a short period).

An ARC is a pre-publication copy that the author distributes to various people (maybe friends, or other contacts willing to look at a new author’s work). The author then asks them to provide honest reviews on Amazon. Amazon has rules about biased reviews, and you have to be careful about that, since they have become especially zealous about removing reviews they consider biased, or if you require a review in exchange for a free or discounted book.

After launch, making your book temporarily free will tend to increase the number of sales. Of course, this doesn’t make the author any money, but it should lead to more reviews, and more importantly, to get you noticed by Amazon. If you can spike sales during a short-time sale (even free sales), and climb the rankings in your sub-genre, Amazon will start including your book in their own marketing, for free. You may also be able to sign your book up for Kindle Unlimited, where the voracious binge-readers dwell.

So here’s a general outline for the launch:

  1. Provide advance copies to associates to read, a couple weeks before the launch.
  2. A few days before launch, remind people of the launch date, and that the book will be free for a short time.
  3. Launch the book on Amazon, with a price (say, $3.99 for the e-book).  Provide a hardcopy version, via Amazon’s print-on-demand service, called Kindle Direct Publishing, which will necessarily be priced higher and therefore make your e-book look like a bargain.
  4. Immediately have a sale where the price is reduced to $0.00 for a few days.
  5. Tell your associates to go to Amazon right away and “buy” the book for free, and post their reviews.
  6. Monitor sales, and hopefully you have sufficient sales and reviews to engage the Amazon marketing engine.
  7. Turn off the sale (it probably goes off automatically as preset), and return to the normal price.

There’s more to it, but that’s enough for now.  I’ll follow up with a second post on this topic on Wednesday.

Author: RickAAllenSF

Semi-retired engineer, now a SF author. Recently moved to Colorado Springs, where I work in front of a window looking out at Pikes Peak.

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