In the previous two parts of this series, we have looked at finding your audience and creating a top-quality product. In this post we will consider marketing. How do you let people know your book is out there?
If you have done part 1 well, you already have many readers interested in your work. They are your first audience. The obvious first step when you publish is to let them know, by a blog post or email to your list.
Here are other strategies I have tried. I will tell you what has worked for me and what hasn’t.
Book blog tour
Many companies exist that will set up a book blog tour for a fee. They find book reviewers in your genre and ask them to review your book or interview you. The tour usually “stops” at one blog per day. This is a way to let readers beyond your current list know your book has been published. But you don’t have to hire someone to set up a tour. You can do it yourself.
I arranged blog tours for my first two books, but not for my third. The sales of that third book were very slow until another Catholic blogger posted about the book on Facebook. Then I got a big boost in sales. When she later reviewed it on her site, I got another boost. This was essentially a mini blog tour.
I have not found that blog tours give me huge sales number, but they do get the ball rolling. They help people who may never otherwise have heard of my book to hear of it, and sometimes to buy it. When you have posts on your book for seven to ten days in a row, there is a cumulative affect. Your book goes up in the Amazon rankings, becoming more visible to browsers. You start to run into people who say, “Oh, I’ve heard of that,” or, “I just read about that on so-and-so’s blog.” You build buzz.
So, will a blog tour make you a best-selling author? Probably not by itself. Is it one helpful tool to use? Definitely.
Connecting with other bloggers
In order to set up a blog tour, you need to contact other bloggers. Although you can just send them an email out of the blue, it helps if you already have a relationship with them. Start building this relationship before you finish your book.
Visit and comment on their blogs. Friend them on social media and comment on their posts there. I began building a relationship with the blogger I mentioned above by sending her the clipping of an article I knew would interest her. Not only has she enthusiastically promoted my books since that time, we have also become good friends.
Another way to connect is to join a Facebook group or Google+ community of authors or bloggers with a common interest. Many of these groups turn out to be little more than sites for link dropping. Find groups where people really support and communicate with each other. Besides Indie Catholic Authors, my favorite groups are the Catholic Writers Guild (CWG) and Clean Indie Reads. The CWG Facebook group is only open to dues-paying members. Clean Indie Reads is mainly for fiction writers, but I have learned a lot there as a nonfiction author. For the blog tour of my second book, I asked if anyone in the Catholic Women Bloggers Facebook group (currently being revamped) would be open to hosting me. Doing so helped me branch out to audiences that I had not reached with my first book.
These connections are great for doing joint marketing. At Indie Catholic Authors we currently do two joint sales a year–in June and December. Last December we tried offering coupons for our paperbacks on Createspace before Christmas. That bombed. The few of us who put our ebooks on sale at the same time did better, but it was still one of my worst Kindle Countdown Deals. I later discovered that most authors do poorly before Christmas. This year we’re starting our sale on December 26 and focusing on ebooks. We hope people who have found new ereaders under the tree decide to try our books.
Our second joint marketing effort in June was successful for many authors. No one made a ton of money, but for most participants it was the best promotion they had ever done. I had my second-highest sales numbers, but I also ran a paid promotion at Ereader News Today, which muddied the waters (and cut into my profits).
The more people who participate in these joint events, the wider the spread, so if you are an independent Catholic author, please join us!
The benefits go far beyond the life of the promotion. Here is one participant’s Amazon book page 3 months later:
Notice the “also bought” books. Every one of them was part of our joint sale. Some readers bought all 15 discounted books. That means that, for a time at least, customers who browsed any of them had all our books suggested to them as additional purchases by Amazon.
A joint event like this takes lots of work. But each time it should get easier to set up. And have greater participation.
Countdown Deals and free days
I have never offered my full-length books free. Free days work very well for many fiction authors. For me, with a limited audience for nonfiction, I don’t want to miss out on sales. I use Kindle Countdown Deals instead. My best sales have all come when I have 3 days at $.99.
If you can connect your book to a special date for your sale, do so. It’s a no-brainer for books about saints to discount them for the saints’ feast days. Many people are looking for just such books at that time. If you are promoting a romance for Valentine’s Day, you’ll have a lot more competition. I’m not sure how well that works.
Other Amazon tips
Pay attention to your key words and categories on Amazon. Don’t choose categories for your book that are so broad that no (human) browser will ever find you. I use “Carmelite Spirituality” for one of my key words and have three of my books appear on the first page, including my free ebook in the top slot. The books are somewhat lower when I search for “Carmelite.” Hmm. I wonder if I should change that?
Ask yourself what you would search for if you were shopping for a book like yours. You’ll notice that when you start entering search terms, Amazon makes suggestions. These suggestions tell you what the top search terms are. Use them if you can.
Promoting on social media
Some people say that Facebook targeted ads (not post boosting) have worked well for them, but you have to do them right. Every time I try to set one of these up, I have browser issues or the process is so convoluted I give up. If Facebook can make it simple, I will probably try one.
In the meantime, I know that the people I interact with through commenting on their posts, direct messaging, or participating in a group will see my posts more easily than others. Before I launched my first book, I was very active interacting with my friends, to make sure they saw my posts about the book coming out. I had over 1000 Facebook friends at the time. Some of them shared my post with others.
On Twitter, I noticed more retweets, messages, and mentions once I hit about 1200 followers. Now during my promotions, I try to follow a couple dozen more people on Twitter. Often they will glance at my profile to see my latest tweets and–voila–they see I have a book on sale for $.99. This is my secret for sales through Twitter. Shhh! Don’t tell. Tweets to my regular followers can easily get missed.
Pinterest always brings more people to my blog than any other social media platform. For my launch of Trusting God, I created pins with quotes from my book, using public domain photos. See the top of this post for an example. Each pin had a hashtag, the book title, and my name. Over the first two months after publication, I pinned, tweeted, or posted one to Facebook or Google+ regularly. I pinned one to the top of my Twitter page for an easy retweet for new followers.
It’s impossible to say how many sales I received through these social media endeavors, but I am certain that they did help.
I have also done a handful of radio and podcast interviews. With each one I have gotten some sales. Some shows, of course, give much better results than others.
My focus is now turning towards doing more public speaking. Next spring (God willing) I will be leading a retreat for moms in the next diocese over. Last May I gave two talks at the Minnesota Catholic Home Education Conference. I have also spoken at a handful of parish women’s groups and book clubs. I have done one online conference, and hope to do at least two in the spring.
How well can you sell at these events? My last talk, just a few weeks ago, had only nine women attend from a small rural parish. However, I brought along copies of all three paperbacks and sold a total of eleven. Not bad when combined with the stipend and traveling expenses I also received!
At the homeschool conference, when I had published two books, I sold 29. I also asked for a larger speaking fee than I had ever received before. Later, a woman who sells books at schools and conferences throughout the Midwest contacted me. She had bought Trusting God at the conference and wanted to order it and A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child for resale. I offered her a 40% discount and she bought 26 books. Last week I sent her a copy of Is Centering Prayer Catholic? for review.
If you hope to use reselling of any kind, you must price your paperback high enough that both you and the reseller can make decent money. After reading an article with this suggestion, I decided to price my book at $15.95 instead of $12.95. I now have a very good profit margin on my paperbacks. I don’t hesitate to offer the industry standard discount.
I see public speaking as similar to blogging–except you can earn money at it! You can speak about themes you are already an expert on. If they are related to your books, book sales will probably follow. Your take-home income from books you sell yourself is about double your Amazon royalty. You can decide whether or not to discount the books at events.
In the long run, public speaking can be much more lucrative than writing. Of course, I love writing and am not about to give it up. But I feel I can slow down (as soon as I finish my temperament series) and focus on selling paperbacks at events rather than always having to produce new material.
Promoting my book to bookstores has been mixed. I sent a copy to a bookstore in the city we lived in for six years. Even with multiple contacts, they never gave me a final yes or no. I eventually gave up.
However, Leaflet Missal Co. in St. Paul recently promised to include Trusting God in a future catalog and perhaps in their store. They are constantly sorting through samples, so they could not give me a timeline. At both stores I offered to do a signing. It seems that neither store does this very often.
I also have a Carmelite book shop in England that wants twelve copies of Trusting God for resale. I am still figuring out the best way to work that.
With the three recent successes on resales, I am planning to contact a few more large Catholic bookstores. Smaller neighborhood stores probably would not sell enough to offset the cost of time and review copies. I will probably post about my failures or successes in a detailed post later.
One other promotion I tried that fell flat was print advertising. Last December I ran an ad (quite expensive) in The National Catholic Register’s Christmas insert. I didn’t sell a thing. A short time later I had in ad in both the print edition of Our Sunday Visitor and on the OSV website. I did sell enough to offset some of the costs, but that was it. I will not try print ads again.
My next venture is into the world of hybrid publishing. I was approached by an editor at Emmaus Road to co-write a short book. It is now being edited and should be available some time in 2016.
Studies show that hybrid authors–those who both self-publish and traditionally publish–earn the highest income. I am hoping that this book will expand my audience, introducing new readers to my “backlist” as well. It may also help me get my self-published books in more stores and net me more media appearances.
Will I make as much this year as I did last year? The way things look now, probably not. But I have mostly been focused on writing and haven’t done as much marketing as I did this time last year. The advantage to self-publishing is that it’s never too late to try a new marketing technique. If a book does not take off right away, I can work hard on promoting it a year later and see a boost in sales. No one is going to stop printing my book if sales slump. Least of all me.
I hope you have found this series helpful. Now, in the comments, could you share some marketing techniques that have worked for you? Like everyone else, I can always learn something new. Thanks!
Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of Trusting God with St. Therese, A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child, Is Centering Prayer Catholic? and the free ebook Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life. She writes a spirituality column for The Prairie Catholic of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, and blogs at Contemplative Homeschool. She is also a columnist for SpiritualDirection.com. She owns the Google+ Community Indie Catholic Authors. Connie and her husband Dan have four young sons.