I learned early that the do-it-yourself work ethic saves money. When I became a published author, I knew I could promote my books and keep more of the royalties for myself if did as much as I could on my own.
Name recognition takes TIME (do not expect instant success). However, it doesn’t have to take a ton of money.
I keep four things in mind when it comes to marketing my books while keeping within a budget.
- Don’t always listen to the experts.
- Be dedicated to an online presence.
- Use hands-on promotion whenever possible.
- Keep Yoda's philosophy in mind. “Do or do not... there is no try.”
One of the reason I don’t have much faith in the experts is that they proclaimed the death of the ebook around the time my first ebook, SEA OF HOPE, was published in 2001.
I owned a Rocket E-Book reader and to me it just as good as a paper book—and in many ways better due to the back light and unlimited font sizes. I had faith that the rest of the world would come around.
The ebook revolution took longer than I thought it would. However, once the Kindle launched in November of 2007, sales for ebooks skyrocketed.
According to a survey compiled by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group in 2012, e-books accounted for 20 percent of publishers’ revenues, up from 15 percent in 2011. This data represents only US revenues from approximately 12 to 15 trade publishers. With actual retail numbers, those figures might double.
The future of publishing is here, but the competition is fierce.
The most important part of my marketing plan is writing the best book and then writing another and another. Experts have plenty of ideas as to how an author should brand themselves and according to those experts I’ve done everything wrong when it comes to branding.
I’ve written in multiple subgenres of romance and used my own name. I have not changed my persona.
However, I am not alone. James Patterson, while famous for his thrillers has also written romances, inspirational stories, science fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, graphic novels, Christmas-themed books, and lately Young Adult. There is a James Patterson book for every audience. This has not hurt his sales. It has expanded his reach.
James Patterson doesn’t listen to experts and he makes a ton of money. (If I wrote faster, maybe I could catch up.)
Once upon a time when everything in the publishing world moved at a glacial pace, an author could write one blockbuster and be successful. Margaret Mitchell wrote one book, Gone With the Wind. Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird and never wrote another novel—even though she won a Pulitzer Prize for her book!
In today’s market, every author is competing with the likes of Nora Roberts. She has written more bestsellers than anyone else in the world. I believe she is now up to 203 full-length novels (or something like that). Her output is incredible!
Nora isn’t the only competition. With the advent of the Kindle, anyone can publish their books—that means there are more self-published books than ever.
What can an author do to make books stand out in the crowd?
Here’s what I’ve done:
1. Enter contests and win. This is so you can call yourself an award-winning author. It helps to give you credibility.
2. Be nice to everyone—even other authors. Some of them might give you a good review on Amazon. Getting good reviews on Amazon or other online sites does help—people do read those comments.
Don’t knock another author’s work. As my mother always told me, if you don’t have something nice to say—don’t say it.
3. Keep your ear to the ground by joining other professional writers’ groups. Belonging to a group is money well spent. You need support in this business. When new opportunities come up, you want to be the first author with her foot in the door. I heard about a new publisher, Prism Book Group, on the Marketing for Romance Writers Yahoo Group. I sent in Daddy Wanted and I got a contract.
4. Spend time every day online. Ebooks are online. I believe authors need a very visible presence if they intend to market their books online. I have a website and a blog. I put up blog posts at least twice a week. I am on Triberr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Shelfari, and LinkedIn. I have an Amazon author page. I am a member of several Yahoo groups as well.
All of that costs me nothing but time, even with my website, the only thing I pay for is my domain name. My website is free. Free is the way to go.
I had to learn HTML because in the beginning of the web, page building tools were not good or non-existent. Things have gotten much better in that regard. It’s a lot easier nowadays. Anyone can do it.
And yes, time is money and promotion uses up some of my precious writing time. However, nobody will know I exist if I don't do it. The connectivity of the web is a boon to any author. My blog posts automatically go to my Amazon author page, my Goodreads and LinkedIn pages. When I tweet the news about my latest post, it transfers to my Facebook page.
I often tweet from my cell phone. There are no excuses for not having frequent status updates. And the whole point of all this connectivity is to interact—to get people to respond to your messages. (Hint: photos often work best.)
Restricting your status updates to only writing related stuff gets old fast. Put in personal stuff. Or even silly stuff. It’s amazing what gets folks to respond to your comments. Once, when I posted a status update about buying Easter candy and then having a craving to eat a chocolate bunny, I hit a raw nerve. Many people responded and one woman confessed to devouring a whole box of Peeps. :-)
I recommend keeping your political views to yourself. People get very hot under the collar about politics and you might lose some potential readers.
Sarah Wendell--who blogs at http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/--strongly believes that offering free reads on your website will help sell your books. Free reads provide a taste--a sample of your work. J. A. Konrath has tons of free stuff on his website and has made a lot of money selling some of his other work for $1.99 at Amazon.
Check out his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com
Don't forget newsletters. They do get results. I use Mailchimp to send out my newsletter. I’ve collected names and email addresses for years. I advertise my contests and latest book. This is a tedious, but it works. Very famous authors do this, too. There’s a reason. It’s cheap and effective.
My Hands On—DIY Promotion Projects.
For these, I recommend HP’s trifold brochure paper. Best stuff ever. Already scored. I set up a Word document in a landscape format with three columns. On one page I place—in a small font--as much of the first chapter as I can fit—ending with something dramatic. On the other page, I put in images of my other books, a bio, and contact information. I like them better than bookmarks because your potential readers get a little taste of your writing. You can also leave them in all sorts of places.
I like these better than bookmarks, too. I keep theses in my handbag and hand them out to EVERYONE. (Don't be shy.) You can get postcards done professionally, they don't cost much, but if you have a laser print and a nice glossy paper, you can do this yourself as well. Having a laser printer has been a big help. I used to do everything on an inkjet, but it took forever.
I have a paper cutter at home, too, which is a big boost when it comes to cutting anything to size.
For one writer's conference I attached small tea light candles to my postcards. I put the candles in a small piece of tulle and tied it to the bookmark with thin satin ribbon. The tea light candles came from the Dollar Store—as did the tulle. It was a very inexpensive promo item.
I have a software program called Print Explosion for my Mac. I use card stock and put the image of one of my books on the cover of the notecard. I leave the inside blank, but on the back I put in either a book blurb or a rave review along with all the pertinent information about the book. I have offered sets of notecards as prizes—Romance Junkies often has contests and asks for prizes. Hoping that the recipients will then send a notecard along to Aunt Tilly and subsequently, Aunt Tilly will download the book on her Kindle.
With notecards, you have the possibility of getting in touch with more than one person.
Anyone who wins one of your shirts automatically becomes a walking billboard when they wear it.
Buy a good brand of iron-on transfer—like Avery. If you want to use a colored t-shirt, you have to use the dark t-shirt transfers—which cost a bit more. The white t-shirt transfers are cheaper and I believe last longer—but the image has to be flipped before you print it out.
You must have an inkjet printer for the transfers. There are special ones available for laser printers, but those types of transfers need a heat press—not an iron. And heat presses are not cheap.
If you follow the instructions, these come out nicely.
My favorite marketing project is the book video. This is perfect because—again—ebook readers are online. These little commercials for books should not be more than 2 minutes long—and preferably less.
If you have a Mac, you have iMovie which is super simple to use. For the PC, you can use Windows Movie Maker. Michelle Pillow has directions at her blog. That’s where I first learned how to do it. http://www.michellepillow.com/book_videos_how_to.htm
You need some copyright free music—and I recommend Kevin Macleod’s incompetech.com.
You need photos or video clips. (Make sure you’re not stealing these either.) You can buy some wonderful photos at istockphoto.com—the pictures are relatively inexpensive. Of course, it’s better if you can use your own pix. I carry my little digital camera with me wherever I go. Sometimes, I'll shoot a video, too.
Keep the words in a book video to a minimum. Some people do voice overs—I haven’t tried that yet because I have a squeaky, pre-k teacher voice. Maybe I should get hubby do it. He has a deep voice.
Once my video is complete, I upload it to Youtube, Facebook, and my blog.
Then I convert my book videos to DVD files. I make them loop, and have the DVD play during my book signings on a small DVD player. This helps attract attention.
I do these, too. It isn't difficult. Yes, it's a shot in the dark but sometimes it works--especially with local newspapers and magazine.
In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not.. There is no try.”
You cannot be shrinking violet in this business. (Did I tell you I was shy when I was a child?) You have to let the world know you are an author and that you have books available. Giving talks at libraries, other writers' chapters, and at conferences is a great way to toot your own horn. You can also write articles for chapter newsletters. This is all free stuff. It is promotion on a shoestring.
It doesn’t take much skill but it does take time. It’s harder than writing the book.
But it is something that no author can ignore.
There are plenty of books—you have to convince readers that your book is the one they should buy.