How to Market your Self-published Book––Twelve Points that Really Matter (Well, Fifteen Points)

22 Feb

I sat down this morning to write an article about how to obtain testimonials and endorsements and how they can help sell your book. That led me to think about what does sell your book. Are testimonials all that count? Not by a long shot. Here’s my list of things that sell your book, in order of importance:

  1. Your name. If you’re a top-selling author with a huge following, all you need to do to sell books is put your name on a blank cover. (Some of Cormac McCarty’s covers bear this out.) In the online age, authors who are well-known on the Internet have the same advantage. Up your recognition and fan base, and sell! Repeat customers are the best customers. Check out John Locke’s phenomenal rise.
  2. What people say about you.  I think this is the most important criteria in getting people to buy your book, assuming you aren’t one of the big names noted in #1 above. In looking at what influences me to buy a book, my friends’ recommendations count more than any ad,  any review, any anything. A real, flesh and blood friend, talking to me face to face and recommending a book, will get me to buy. On-line chatter about books also matters, both ways. A few bad-mouthings on-line and a book’s sales can be dead.
  3. Your book’s name. Here we get into the craft of book creation and selling. Your book’s title matters really, really a lot. A book buyer may see the title and nothing else  on a list in a directory or catalog or just its spine in a book store. Your title has to have emotional appeal. If you can make it funny, charming or terrifying, depending on your genre, bring it on.
  4. Your book’s cover. Buyers make up their minds in seconds. Maybe nanoseconds. Your cover is a tool of seduction, be it physical, mental emotional, or spiritual. The cover needs to grab and hold on. Here’s an article about award-winning book covers.
  5. Your book’s copy.  Copy is the most important writing in the book. Once you’ve gotten the buyer to look at your book, the words on the cover take over. Copy––the book’s title, rear cover text, book jacket flap text, “about the author,” and “about the book”––is what sells the book. This writing is not a summary, introduction, or display of your verbal talents. Its sole function is to SELL THE BOOK. Copy should have more hooks than a bait shop. People who are good writers tend to be lousy copy writers. Writing copy is more like writing poetry than prose, but prose intended to sell. The new version of this is your book’s sale page wherever it’s sold on-line. The words you put on your sale page are of utmost importance if you’re writing eBooks only. The book’s description is most important part of the sale page. I used to put all the awards each book had won with some reviews and testimonials at the top of my sale page. An old-timer in the book biz said, “No way. Put the description first. People just want to know what the book’s about. And make sure your page is clean and proofread. What you put there matters.” Another problem: some book retail sites jam your book description into an undifferentiated block of words. Not good for selling. You need to have good words, displayed so the buyer can read them.
  6. Testimonials. On the back of the book, the testimonials can be used as copy. How many times have you seen a book where the back cover is nothing but testimonials? That’s because they’re powerfully persuasive. If some famous person or institution says you or your book are great, buyers may take a chance. You can also plaster testimonials all over your website, social media outlets, and advertising materials. I’ll write about testimonials in another article.
  7. Reviews. Do they count as much as testimonials? I think so. A testimonial may move a potential reader to buy a book, but its reviews may, also. Reviews sites are all over: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Amazon UK, Shelfari, and Goodreads, to name a few. All sorts of personal blogs review books. Be aware of your star ratings and keep them high––as much as you can. How? I think the most important thing an author can do is watch to whom you send those initial review copies.  Make sure they like your genre and writing style. How? Ask reviewers who liked your first book to review the next one, if you have more than one. The other thing you can do is look at a reviewer’s other reviews on a site such as Amazon. What do they like? What kinds of reviews and star ratings to they give? Of course, these considerations only work for the review copies. The minute the book is out on the market and being bought by whomever it attracts, it’s on its own. You’ll get all sorts of reviews. People will pick on things you never imagined. Then the problem is developing a thick skin.
  8. Book awards. I have twenty-one national awards for my four books. I have no idea how these have affected my sales. I know that they have brought me other things. Like a wonderful literary agent, a distributor for one of my books in France, and  guest spots on radio shows. My awards also attracted a major scammer for a TV program who wanted to charge me thousands of dollars for a five minute slot in a live show on the opposite side of the country. It would have had no impact on my sales; I know from doing advertising in other fields.  So, the jury’s out about book awards. But, better to have awards to flaunt than not have them at all.
  9. Distribution. If you don’t have a good distribution network, your book will go nowhere. That’s not that hard for eBooks. Try smashwords or Kindle. It’s also not that hard for print books. Try Lightning Source or CreateSpace.
  10. Marketing plan and actualization of that plan. Same as Distribution. No show, no go. What marketing means is knowing your target market–– the people who like your kind of book, knowing who they are, where they are, and how to contact them. Then you have to contact them and follow through skillfully. See John Locke’s marketing plan for some really good ideas.
  11. Advertising. We used to own a furniture store. During that period, we did all sorts of advertising, from print ads in newspapers, the yellow pages and glossy magazines, to my husband talking about being the “Robin Hood of the furniture industry” on the radio. All of it did absolutely nothing that we could measure for our sales. Despite my rotten experience with paid ads, I am going to try some advertising on the “reader friendly blog sites” with my two new books for one reason: Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River Recluse. Ms. Chan parlayed her self-published eBook into a national bestseller. This article from the Wall Street Journal sets out her process.  Here’s what she did in her own words on Facebook. This article could be a marketer’s Bible. She advertised on some of the sites catering to readers of indie-produced eBooks. If Darcie did it, I’m gonna do it, too.
  12. Your book. Notice where I place this item on my list. Analysts usually put this item # 1. I place it where I do because I’ve seen books become major bestsellers that would make the professor who ran my writing group vomit. I’ve seen books succeed like crazy that would make people in MFA in writing programs gag. I’ve seen lots of books like this. It’s a mystery why people buy books about werewolves, zombies, vampires, mayhem, mawkish drivel, and semi or not-so-semi porn. But they do. All a book needs to to to succeed is hook something in a significant number of readers. It doesn’t have to be their higher Self or even a decent part of their character.  The “hookie” subject needs a fast moving story around it and a good editing and proofreading job.

Well that’s it . . .

  1. PRICE! OMG! How could a former economist forget price?  This very important item could go anywhere after #1. If you’re really famous and people line up for your books in bookstore parking lots before they come out, you (or your publisher) can probably charge pretty much whatever you want. That’s called price inelasticity. The change in the quantity sold doesn’t vary much as price is changed. Everyone who’s not in the magic circle of authors has to worry about  price elasticity. That means how much the sales of a book fluctuate with its price. I just had a personal wake-up about this. I price my eBooks at 99 cents. Yes, that a ridiculous amount to charge given what I put into the books, but it’s a price that sells. I was given some marketing advice by someone I admire highly, a pro in the book biz. “You should charge more. The 99 cent books are the junk books. You deserve more.” I raised the price of one of my Kindle books to $2.99. It went from struggling along to absolutely tanking. Its rankings dropped like a plummeting stone. That’s price elasticity. My books’ sales are highly price elastic. Why? Because I’m an emerging writer. I think I’m about 200 yards underground and digging out. I should emerge later this year.
  2. GETTING RICH SELLING BOOKS AND THE 99 CENT BOOK: Are 99 cent books junk books? John Locke and Darcie Chan, both tremendously successful self-published authors, charge 99 cents for their books. There’s no shame in that price. Yes, I’d rather have the 70% return that Amazon gives for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, but I’d rather get 35% of something than 70% of nothing.
  3. ANOTHER THING: An on-line friend said the two greatest words in marketing are FREE and NEW. Amazon is running a new KDP program in which, if you sell through Amazon exclusively for 90 days, you’re given 5 days in which you can offer your book for free. People are jumping for this. Facebook, Twitter and the blogs are ringing with people crowing about how many thousands of books they downloaded on their free days. This is very cool, except that all it measures is how well known an author is. The very Internet-savvy authors with huge numbers of Facebook “friends” and lots of readers are going to have thousands of people download their books. The others are likely to have a bunch of people download their books, but maybe not many. How does this translate in terms of longer term, paid sales? Write to me, regular authors, and tell my how FREE worked for you. (All the big name authors are already blogging about their spectacular results) How about the word NEW? Is it as big a selling draw as FREE? I’ve got two new books coming out very shortly and a third in the birthing process I’ll find out.

Sandy Nathan is the winner of twenty-one national awards, in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

Two sequels to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy are in production with early 2012 publication dates. If you liked  The Angel you’ll love Lady Grace and Sam & Emily.


7 Responses to “How to Market your Self-published Book––Twelve Points that Really Matter (Well, Fifteen Points)”

  1. Jemima Pett March 6, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Inspirational Sandy. Thanks for some thoughtful advice. A new marketer like myself can never read about these things too often. Putting them into practice is hard work and takes hours I didn’t know I had, but as someone else said, I’m in it for the long term, so don’t expect it all at once.
    How to work my next free day for my second book? 460 downloads on the first ones can’t be that bad for a children’s book, can it? Well, I like the 8 extra copies of the first one that sold as a result!

    • admin March 6, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      Hi, Jimima! Good to hear from you. Congrats on the results for your first book. Alas, as a self publisher, you will no longer have free days. Maybe I should have stated that in my article! I’ve been trying to carve out time to get my 2 new books through production, review a half-dozen that I’ve told people I’d review, and then do the rewrite of the next book. Oh, yeah, and rewrite an old blog article for a blog challenge. Part of the game. All the best to you. Pop by Your Shelf Life whenever you can.


      • Jemima Pett March 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

        Hi Sandy, me again. Apologies – I tweeted this article and those online magazines have picked it up and attributed it to me :embarrassed: Not sure how I should have tweeted it… huge apologies. I’m still learning about twitter!

        • Sandy Nathan March 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

          Is there a way to contact the magazines to correct the attribution? I like to get credit for my work. Maybe you could follow tweet a correction, too. Or give me the names of the magazines and I’ll contact them.

          • Glenda A Bixler March 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

            I helped a little by adding your name in front of link…hopefully to clarify…