Whether you self-publish or work with a traditional publisher, the onus is on you—as the author—to promote your book. It may seem like a daunting task, especially when you have invested so much energy completing your manuscript, but selling your book doesn’t have to be complicated. Yes, you’ll have to put in a lot of time and effort but there are many simple strategies you can pursue that lay the foundation for more extensive investments in PR and advertising. In the age of social media, non-tech ideas are often overlooked. And strategies that enlist help from family members and friends are undervalued.
We asked several successful authors and publishing experts to share the secrets to their book-selling success. While their strategies are wide-ranging, they understood their audiences and built energy around their books. Identifying their market of potential buyers helped them craft and customize their strategies. Big Fish Media partner and author Laura Schenone notes that “you must think deeply about your audience and what would be of interest to the various segments of that audience.” Schenone would know; by understanding her audience, she crafted promotional and marketing strategies that augmented the user experience of her book—The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken. (You’ll have to read the rest of the post to learn what she did.)
So, what are some ways authors can leverage their passion, friends, and limited resources to reach readers and sell books? Here—in their own words—the authors and experts share what worked.
- Spread the Word with Business Cards: One inexpensive, easy, and low-tech way to build momentum about your book is by using business cards. Editor and writer Toni Sciarra Poynter suggests making cards with the book cover on the front and promotional information on the back—a short testimonial about the book, your website, and ordering information. “Keep them with you, just as you do your regular business cards, and offer them to people you meet who are interested in your book. Your publisher may provide these or you could design and make them on your own,” says Poynter.
- Capture Buyers by Creating and Giving Away a Free Resource: While working on The Freelancer’s Bible with Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz, Poynter says she learned a fundamental marketing strategy: “think of what you can give, not get.” In other words, Poynter recommends creating something you can give away and offer it to people who sign up on your blog or website. “When they do so, include an option box they can check if they’d like to receive a newsletter or email communications from you.” Deb Englander, editor at large at Wiley, also recommends curating a list of clients/fans/subscribers who have opted-in to receive your communications. “This remains one of the most effective ways to reach potential readers. Obviously, the larger the list, the larger the number of buyers but even a list of a few thousand subscribers is usually enough to boost a book’s ranking on Amazon,” Englander says.
- Use Your Subject Matter Expertise to Connect with Readers: Author JoAnneh Nagler has reached audiences by conducting readings of her book at public libraries because many libraries across the country have bought her tome—The Debt-Free Spending Plan. “People who are in trouble with debt have checked out the book from their local libraries and have called me. This means that the book is reaching people in need of its message,” said Nagler. She has held many speaking engagements—“author nights”—at regional libraries to support that effort. “Sometimes there are five people and sometimes 20. But it’s a chance to delve into the topic in some detail and to be of service.” Nagler also strongly advises authors to promote their books using as much radio and local television—a strategy that’s worked well for her.
- Be Creative and Host “Value-added” Events: Book signings and readings use to be staples of the industry, but as the world has become more digital and people are busier, it’s harder to get them to attend events unless you are famous. But what if you can offer more than the book at events and with reporters? That’s what Schenone did. To promote The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, a homage to her family and food, Schenone showed her audience how to make ravioli from scratch. “I created a performance and carried rolling pins and flour everywhere and did ravioli demos.” When she wanted to get on NPR, she did more than talk about her book; Schenone offered to go to Washington and make ravioli with All Things Considered host Andrea Seabrook. NPR took her up on the offer. She also invited reporters to her home to make ravioli. “They were fascinated to see it,” she said. Schenone doesn’t believe this tactic is unique to food writers. She challenges other authors to think about how they can create truly innovative events that involve audience participation.
While the strategies outlined above are feasible for authors at any level, the key is to think about specific ways to build energy and excitement around your book—ways that make sense for you and your audience. Whatever the technological tools you have available, you can increase readership by building relationships, creating content, and hosting events with potential readers.