If you’re just here for a list of great marketing resources, this is your lucky day. I’ll re-iterate what I said in the first piece of this marketing discussion: If you haven’t planned your marketing, you should do that first. Take a look at part 4 of this self-publishing guide for an overview of how to think about marketing your books and think about the elements discussed there before picking among the resources below.
- Social Media. Yes, I know, many of us hate the concept of becoming engaged in social media, but here’s the thing. You don’t have to do much. I’m occasionally on Twitter, by which I mean, maybe 3 posts a week and sometimes I don’t even open the app for a week, mostly my comments are responses to other people in the writing community. I have like 300 followers (which is basically non-existent in the marketing world). But my tweets about my book have gotten some attention, so it’s working for me (sort of). This isn’t about becoming a social media giant, it’s about finding a small group of people you can connect with somewhat regularly and then occasionally mentioning your book in relevant posts. And you don’t have to be on every platform, just the one or two that work for you. If you happen to be someone who loves making videos, go for YouTube. If you love creating interesting photos to convey a message, Instagram. When in doubt, join the Twitter writing community and answer writing tweets that sound interesting to you. The key here is to have at least half, preferably 2/3rds of your posts have nothing to do with anything your audience has to pay for.
- NetGalley. A lot of people don’t even know what this is until they start researching publishing. Netgalley is basically a web site that helps authors distribute advance copies of their books to readers for free in return for a review. Now, you won’t get 100% return. I got 362 readers and about 40 reviews… and that was a pretty good return. Still, this is the web site traditional publishers use, and if you go for discounts through BooksGoSocial, ALLI, or even just the listing offered through membership in the IBPA you can get listed for a reasonable price. If that’s still out of your range, there are other options for this type of service, but they don’t have as good a reputation in the publishing field. I genuinely don’t know how good or bad those other options are.
- Bookbub. This is a featured listing you purchase through the company after your book is released. You are not guaranteed a spot and if you get selected, the cost is relatively high. For a fantasy book, for example, buying a feature costs between $480 and $2500. While I haven’t directly used this company, I’ve heard very, very good things about them from those who have, including that they made way more money than they spent on the listing. But nothing is a guarantee. You could easily drop a thousand dollars here and make less than a quarter of that back in ROI.
- FreeBooksy/BargainBooksy. These are the same website, just slightly different services based on whether you’re offering a free or reduced price book. It’s basically the same deal as BookBub but way, way cheaper and with more flexibility. You can choose to list your book for between $45 to $110 dollars, or you can request a spot as a deal of the day (if you meet their criteria) for between $100 to $170, or you could promote an entire series (if you have more than one book out) for about $170. The subscriber lists for their fantasy genre are not much lower than Bookbub, though they are lower. Despite that, I know a few self-published authors who swear by advertisements on these sites.
- Amazon/Facebook/Bookbub ads. Purchasing advertisements can be a good plan, but there’s a few caveats. First, this is rarely worth the money before you release your first book. For the most part, an unknown author buying ads for their debut novel’s pre-order is just throwing money away. Once you have a couple of books out as a backlog, though, buying ads to spotlight a pre-order for the next book in the series might work. For those of us releasing a debut, ads after release might do some good. What I’ve heard is that the targeting algorithms may need regular tweaking, you may need to spend a decent amount on ads to get much return, and it’s hard (but not impossible) to make this worth the investment when you only have one book released. Since my book isn’t out yet, I can’t give you personal experience, but that’s what others say who have tried this.
- Emailing reviewers personally. Reviews are the lifeblood of any self-published book’s success, so including reviews from well-known reviewers is a great marketing strategy if you can get the people in question to try the book. This will also be the single most work-intensive portion of any marketing campaign that includes it. The reason for that is that you probably don’t want to just blast a mass e-mail at these reviewers. Instead, you want to evaluate the options and pick only the people who will be good for your book’s image—and between blogs, YouTubers, review magazines, and other social media, there are tons of reviewers to comb through, and some of them won’t accept self-published books so sending to them is a waste of time. As well, you want to give each reviewer a reason to care about picking up your book, which typically means explaining how your book fits in with the other content on their platform. That only works if you know what content they have on their platform, so there’s another mountain of research. That also means you have to write a slightly different form letter for each reviewer—and yes, use a form letter with a couple sentences of personalization. A personal letter to everyone will take you several months. But if you can get a few well-established reviewers to give you reviews (say, Fantasy Faction, The Fantasy Inn, or Fantasy Book Critic), people will definitely notice your book.
- SPFBO (or SPSFC). These are contests created by a couple of established members of the publishing industry specifically to help good self-published fantasy and science fiction books get more recognition… You know, because some people are fucking awesome. SPFBO was the original, standing for Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off and created by Mark Lawrence to get ten different well-known fantasy blogs to evaluate and discuss self-published fantasy books. This year is the first year of the spin-off, SPSFC, which I believe stands for Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (or maybe Contest?) to give the same voice to science fiction books. The submission windows are small (submissions rarely stay open for an entire day), but if you catch it and have a qualifying book, it can be great for your publicity.
- Foreword Reviews. Every self-published author should be submitting to Foreword Reviews. It’s free and while they might not choose to review your book, if they like the book and give it a review, it’s a huge step in the right direction. Again, reviews are the lifeblood of a successful book launch. This does not hold true for their affiliate, Clarion Reviews, which is probably perfectly reputable but is not free. Clarion reviews is a paid editorial review site. There’s nothing wrong with these, but there’s a time and a place for them and it’s not for everyone.
- Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Reviews is another paid editorial review site. They have a pretty big reputation in the publishing world, so you may want a review from them. But they aren’t quite the giant they used to be. These days there are several editorial review sites, and many of them are cheaper (Clarion Reviews, Blue Ink Reviews, etc.). Before deciding which company to use, first decide if you want an editorial review. One of the best uses of this type of review is as advanced marketing to gather some feedback you can quote either on your book cover or in a “readers said” page in your opening pages. This requires you to have a book ready to submit in time for them to read and review the book before you start your marketing in earnest. Completely honestly, the reason I didn’t do any of these type of reviews is that I mis-timed my release and wasn’t able to submit a copy early enough to get the review for my marketing. There are other uses for these reviews (Amazon has an entire section where you can add editorial reviews of your book to build hype) and they aren’t useless, but I simply wasn’t willing or able to pay the prices required to get one when I couldn’t add the quotes where I wanted to use them. These range from about $300 to $600 per review, depending on the site and the length of review.
- Building a mailing list. This is a big, big deal in a lot of writing circles. The main piece of advice I hear from a lot of successful authors on how they built an audience able to support themselves is that they built a mailing list and started a newsletter to keep the interest of their audience. If you look around my site, you’ll notice I don’t have one. I may start one, but so far I haven’t known what I’d even say in a newsletter. I have no desire to spam anyone’s inbox with junk mail, so I won’t start a newsletter until I have something to say. That said, a lot of authors insist this is the number one marketing tactic that worked for them. I doubt they’re all lying. If you can create meaningful content for a newsletter without losing all your writing time, this is a good tactic. You can even get help building your newsletter subscribers with the service AuthorsXP, and possibly save some money doing that through an ALLI discount code.
- Submitting to competitions. I’ve mentioned SPFBO and SPSFC by name, but there are plenty of other reputable competitions you can submit your books to for visibility. A couple reputable ones I know of are IndieBRAG and the Foreword INDIES. If you google self-published book competition, you’ll find a ton, and probably half to two thirds of them will be scams. I use the ALLI listing of competitions (found here) to evaluate any competition before I decide to submit to them, and if it isn’t there I typically assume the worst. It might be fine, but I’d rather not be the example that teaches others about a poor decision.
Now I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of marketing tools. ALLI has some discount codes for a few other providers that I haven’t even mentioned and there are plenty of things not listed on ALLI’s web site. But this should definitely get you started.
As a quick reminder. Many of the above resources only work if you’ve done the work to create a quality product targeted at the right readers. Keep in mind at every stage that self-publishing has a reputation of being lower quality, so any defect someone finds is likely to be added to the heap of “self-published novels suck and no one ever edits them” that plagues everyone who tries this route. I’ve had reviews that claim my book needed a good editor because the reader didn’t like the pacing, but my editor (who was a former employee of a traditional publishing house before she went freelance) thought the pacing was perfect. Anything you can do to look more professional (read: more like a traditionally published novel) will make you look more legitimate to readers on the fence about your book. Within reason. At the end of the day, every reader who loves your book has just as valid an opinion as those who don’t, so when you feel like crap about a bad review/comment/whatever, remember: Listening to only the negative comments disrespects every reader who loves your book. Don’t disrespect your readers. Trust them when they praise something in your book and focus on those elements when finding new ways to talk about your book. Use their words if you can (with permission, of course). Honest readers are the best marketing simply because money can’t buy their opinion.