From 2018—2019, the novelist Ellie Marney wrote a monthly advice column for Australian Self Publisher. Below, we have reprinted the first instalment in the ‘Self-publishing essentials with Ellie Marney: promotion, marketing and all that jazz’ series, in which she writes about the importance of marketing, as well as showing you how to come up with a marketing plan.
Writer, publisher, promoter
So you’ve written a book, gone through the tricky process of prepping it for publication, and then released it out into the world. Congratulations! That is hard work, and you did it. But you want people to read your book, right? And maybe you’d like to see some sales too, so you can recoup the costs of publishing. That’s where promotion and marketing come in.
This is the part that most authors loathe. They’d like to think that the beauty of their words and the originality of their story will draw readers like an enticing aroma, and sales will come tumbling in.
The reality is … not like that. As of the time of writing this article, more than one million titles were self-published last year in the US alone. There are now more than five million Kindle ebooks just on Amazon. That’s a lot of books. The chances of people finding your book in that sea of pages are almost infinitesimal, unless you do some work to put it in front of readers’ eyeballs.
Maybe you only wrote the book for friends and family—that’s fine, and you may have already achieved your aims if your friends and family have their copies. But if you wrote it for a wider audience, you need to market it. If you didn’t want to attract readers for your book, you could have left it in a drawer and saved yourself the production costs.
As a self-published author, you’re not just the book’s writer. You’re its sales and public relations (PR) department too. And that’s not such a bad thing. Remember this: no one is as invested in selling your book as you are. No sales representative knows your book so well or understands who it might appeal to—or has a personal financial stake in making sure it sells. As a self-published author, you also have some unique advantages for marketing, which we’ll discuss soon, but first …
Promoting vs marketing
The first thing to remember is that there’s a difference between promotion and marketing. These terms are often lumped in together, but in reality they are different parts of the chain.
‘Marketing’ is an umbrella term that includes promotion—in fact, most business gurus talk about the ‘4Ps’ of marketing: product, price, placement and promotion. A marketing plan looks at every aspect of a book as a saleable item, from its target audience and where it’s sold, to the quality of the book itself, its sale price, and who it’s advertised to. In a traditional publishing house, different teams of people—sales, PR, advertising—implement a coordinated strategy to market a book release. As an independent author, you’re the whole shebang, although you can outsource some aspects of it if you have the money to invest.
Promotion is one aspect of marketing, and it’s split into two parts. There’s free promotion, called publicity: that’s the personal platform you create to give yourself and your books exposure to a wider audience. It mainly consists of things like your website, social media presence, newsletters and so on, but it also includes things like book reviews, your attendance at public events, and your networks and relationships (with readers, booksellers, distributors, librarians and so on) that facilitate getting your books into readers’ hands. It is what people refer to when they talk about ‘personal brand’, and generally the only outgoing cost for this kind of promotion is your time and energy.
Paid promotion is advertising, and that doesn’t just mean billboards and posters on buses (although, sure, you can do that if you can afford it). Paid promotion is available in a lot of different places, at various price points, and can be very useful for self-publishing authors.
Your marketing plan
Marketing your book is just like publishing it: you do it one step at a time. While it’s tempting to dive right in, book marketing can be overwhelming and time-consuming (not to mention expensive, if you get into advertising). Before taking any major steps, you should sit down and work out a plan.
In the next article, we’ll talk about the basics of marketing and start putting together some strategies. Until then, check out some of these great books and articles you can read to help you along the way:
- Basics of Book Marketing (article) by Joel Friedlander
- Book Marketing 101 (article) by Jane Friedman
- Book Marketing Plan: The Definitive Checklist (free PDF) by Tim Grahl
- Book Launch Blueprint (book) by Tim Grahl
- Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (book) by Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch
- How To Market a Book (book) by Joanna Penn.