The Best Way to Market Your Books

by James Scott Bell

Every writer is looking for that secret marketing weapon that works every time. Or a palette of possibilities that virtually guarantees success. But reality keeps affirming the old adage: We know that 20% of marketing works; we just don’t know which 20%.
But of course we all have to market our books. This applies whether we’re self-pubbing, going traditional or doing a bit of both. The author is expected to work the social media circuit, build a platform, get the word out any which way he can. Sometimes it all feels like loading mercury with a pitchfork.
Comes now the marvelous Joanna Penn with the new go-to

book. Joanna already runs one of the most helpful websites for indie writers, The Creative Penn. Go there and hang around awhile. You’ll find material aplenty, including a podcast with a certain author of note (at least, of note to himself).

In How to Market a Book, Joanna approaches the whole enterprise by way of a skiing metaphor. Marketing a book is like hitting the slopes on a fresh pack of snow, and so:
Your path is not a straight line. You have to zigzag
“Even though you know the general direction you want to head in,” Joanna writes, “you can’t direct yourself straight down the mountain, or you will certainly have an accident. Even pros have to change direction and turn their skis across the slope. There is no direct path, so don’t expect there to be.”
While you don’t want to fall victim to “Obsessive Promotion Disorder” (OPD), you do have to be aware and watch the terrain. One of the great advantages an indie writer has is the ability to change direction quickly via price pulsing, new cover designs, paid promos, or simply adding more product.
It’s easier to turn once you’re moving
“You need some momentum in order to turn on skis, so you actually have to get moving before you try. In the same way, you actually have to start writing in order to have something to edit and improve . . .You have to start marketing somehow so you can learn what works for you and improve over time.”
One of the benefit’s of Joanna’s book is that it is a menu of options. You can pick and choose what appeals to you, get started right away and establish some Mo.
You can’t learn it all from books: you have to get on the slope 
“You can’t be a great skier by reading about it or going to seminars or watching YouTube videos. You have to actually put in the hours skiing. The same applies to writing, publishing and marketing.”
There is a time for study. It should be part of your ongoing self-improvement program, as both a writer and marketer. But at the same time you must act. As a writer, you must produce the words. As a marketer, you must toot the old horn. Even if that horn makes barely a peep at first, at least you’re learning.
You’re going to fall over and it’s going to hurt
“But you get better over time. If you’re afraid of falling over, you will never be a good skier. Because you will fall, it happens a lot and it has to happen if you’re going to push yourself to get better and go on more advanced runs. So be prepared to fall, to fail, and to just get up again. Keep writing, keep putting your words out and keep experimenting with marketing.”
The writing life is so much about overcoming setbacks and challenges and perceived failures. The only way through it is to never stop, ever. The benefit is you get stronger that way.
Some days, the weather is perfect and you can see for miles and the sun is shining and it’s amazing!  
“This is meant to be fun! Yes, it’s a career and an income, but it’s also a passion. The reason we keep going back to skiing, keep going back up the slope, is that there is exhilaration and joy in the process, not just the outcome of getting to the bottom. Some days, the weather will be perfect and we will have amazing runs on pristine, soft snow. Other days, the

icy cold will make us grit our teeth to even manage one run. But we keep going back because we love it.”

You gotta love it to get through the hard times. And if you’re a real writer, you wouldn’t have it any other way. You take your shots because you know the joy of writing “in the zone.” You know how your writer’s soul whoops when you nail a scene. Even when that whoop is out loud at Starbucks.
So what’s the best way to market your books? Your way. Select from all the modes and means out there, doing as much as you want without taking away from the most important thing of allโ€”your actual writing. Write well, write often, and then tell people about it. Master the five fundamental laws in Self-Publishing Attack! and build your personal marketing plan with the help of Joanna Penn and How to Market a Book.
If you’re a published writer, what are your favored means of marketing? What walls have you run into? What would you advise writers to avoid?  

38 thoughts on “The Best Way to Market Your Books

  1. I love Joanna’s website, her energy, and her enthusiasm.”So what’s the best way to market your books? Your way.” Love that too. I’m still a novice in many ways but I’ve learned so much during the journey of writing and seeing my first three novels published. I’m not afraid of marketing but I want to learn more about what works for me. I’m in experimentation phase with lots of new stuff now including working on my first indie project which will be nonfiction.

    I like getting out in public for book signings but to be honest I don’t think that does much for marketing my novels, but it’s fun and I love to visit with readers and find out what they enjoy and what they are reading.

    My favorite to date is probably writing and organizing other writers for The Well Writer: but I have no idea if this really helps market my books, but I enjoy it and it keeps my presence out there.

    Book Clubs are fun. Love talking about writing and my novels with book club members.

    Love Twitter.

    Bottom line though is I have no idea if any of this works.

    • Jillian, you’re onto something, though. Doing something because YOU love it is valuable, even if that cannot be “measured.” Your love of it will come through and readers will pick up on it. But then add some things that you can actually track with data. A mix. And balance all of it.

    • Jillian,
      Thanks for telling about your experiences. I really enjoyed your first novel. I need to read the other two. And thanks for telling me about this blog. It has become my favorite!

    • Hi Steve! You can’t go wrong hanging out with this gang. Thanks for being an encouragement and reading Secrets of the Heart. Hope you like the next two.

      Jim, have you found an easy way to track successful marketing with your traditionally published novels? I think it might be easier to track the indie works.

    • You’re right, Jillian, that it’s more difficult when the means of distribution are in the hands of another, and when physical bookstores are in play.

      I had some successful book launches in the days of robust independent stores. But the measurement was limited to that store, people showing up and sales, etc.

      It’s much easier to track your own books digitally. One tool is bitly. Use that to get a read on your click throughs.

    • Thanks so much Jillian, and I think we’re all in constant experimentation. Things change all the time in terms of the Amazon algorithms and pricing opportunities and paid advertising sites go up and down … I think it’s best to always think of play and enjoying the journey (as per the skiing metaphor!)

  2. I nearly lost my left arm skiing, literally ripped the sucker off on the inside in a 40mph stiff arm against a mountain … mountain won, but it had a serious bruise.

    Luckily we’ve got some decent orthopedic surgeons up here that are used to putting arms and legs back together.

    But the analogy still makes sense, even after a limb-threatening injury I still love the memory of the exhilaration of flying down the 4000+ ft slopes of Alyeska outside of Anchorage, or cross-country skiing the 15K loop through the hills in Salcha Alaska. And I liken this writing stuff to that as well.

    There are ups and there are downs, and while I may not hit the slopes again, since serious bodily injury is much less likely in the writing business I see no reason to ever give this writing gig up. And taking the turns at high speed, edge to powder, tucked and flying.

    Yeeeeeee….whoa…okay back on track..eeeeehaaaaaaaaaa!!!

  3. for me, I find the paid ad sites that use mailing lists to be the most effective (especially bookbub) alongside a mailing list signup of my own and exposure though blogging. Other than that, Amazon takes care of the rest.

    For me, marketing is four simple things:

    (1) write a book people want to read
    (2) price it reasonably
    (3) make it easy to buy
    (4) get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible (using mailing lists and article / blog writing to boost exposure)

    • Nick, that’s a great system. #1 is the most important, of course. All the marketing in the world only gets you an introduction. Your book has to seal the deal, which is to create a new reader of your present and future work.

    • Agreed Nick and for fiction right now, those sites are really worth paying for. However, now they are well known, they’re also getting over-subscribed and many books don’t get accepted for them. So we always have to be looking for new options ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. >momentary threadjack<

    ::taps microphone::

    Just in case anyone thinks that hanging out at blogs like TKZ doesn’t make you a better writer, well, I have the 2013 Killer Nashville Claymore Award for best unpubbed novel of the year sitting on my hotel desk to prove otherwise.

    My thanks to every TKZ contributor and commenter for making this one of the most awesome places to hang out on the web.

    >/momentary threadjack<

  5. Another great subject for discussion. Thanks for telling us about Joanna Penn’s book. I have it on my wish list.

    As an unpublished writer, I sit up and pay close attention when this is discussed. I would be interested in seeing opinions on the ranking of various social media vehicles for building platform, i.e what is most important, which should you start with. And what does an unpublished writer blog about? What do you put on your website before you’ve published a book? Etc.

    And as for polishing the craft, I’m looking forward to your Quantum Story course at the ACFW conference in three weeks.

    • A recent reader survey showed Facebook ahead of other media for readers. As for what to blog about, anything that interests you or topics related to your research. Whatever comes to mind. Eventually you’ll find your path, but you have to start somewhere.

    • Joanna has had more success finding new readers with Twitter than with Facebook (which is more about connecting with people who already know you). I prefer Twitter as well, for its reach and flexibility.

      You should find what you LIKE best and specialize.

      As for blogging, I’m not sure it’s the best thing for a new FICTION writer, as it takes a whole lot of time and effort, which time could be better spent writing your fiction. Joanna LOVES blogging, and so is good at it. But remember she’s also very entrepreneurial. I’d put this lower on the marketing priority list.

    • Choosing your social platform is more about you I think ๐Ÿ™‚ When I started blogging and twitter I was writing non-fiction, so built a platform BEFORE I even considered writing a novel. I hardly ever blog on my fiction site, and when I do, it is related to my research and topics that are interesting to my readers – not about writing etc. I started The Creative Penn 5 years ago, before Kindle, before self-publishing was cool – in order to share how I got ripped off and how people could avoid my mistakes – it has morphed into something much bigger – but in terms of purely fiction, I wouldn’t emulate that way of blogging.
      Right now, I am delving into Goodreads which as a reader is awesome, and a great way to connect with readers authentically. I still love twitter and use it as a way to connect with influencers, but not primarily readers.
      Basically, there are no rules – try things and then evaluate … and have fun!

  6. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter; I pop in on Goodreads and Pinterest although not as often as I should; I send out a quarterly email newsletter; and I do a personal blog post once or twice a week. What works? Who knows? I write because I cannot NOT write. It’s in my blood. I also write for all the readers who have written to me through the years. Re marketing, my advice is to start BEFORE you are published. Establish a presence online so things won’t be so overwhelming once your book is available.

    • Right, Nancy. Start a “footprint” right now, first of all with a website, then adding a bit of social media. Concentrate on making the book the best it can be, lay out a preliminary marketing plan, and then work the plan. Tweak as needed.

  7. Thanks for the link to Joanna. I wasn’t familiar with it either. My recent experience at the Willamette Writers Conference made me realize that I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing so I’m getting back out ‘on the slopes’ soon:)

  8. I have found book promotion to be a high hills-low valleys experience. When my first book (a cookbook) came out last fall (2012) I felt kind of bipolar. Great review–high!! No answer from certain bookstore on a possible appearance–low! Repeat, endlessly.

    For me the best way to go is to target the audience who targets me, if that makes sense. I have an active blog and an active social media presence (especially Twitter), and I enjoy teaching classes. I have found that the random public appearances at random bookstores don’t seem to attract all that many people and therefore, don’t increase sales. So, I’ve kind of given up on those and I stick to the places where people naturally come to me.

  9. Thanks for the reference to Ms. Penn and the link. I share some of the same concerns expressed by Steve Hooley. I’m definitely buying How to Market a Book, to be pursued in conjunction with Self Publishing Attack, which I already have.

    Congratulations to Terri.

  10. I bought Joanne’s wonderful book the day I learned that it was available. I had been following her blog and was eagerly awaiting the book. There is so much advice out there for us newbies. It’s all well-meaning, and it’s all over the place as well. I appreciated having it in one place. I just went down the steps, checking them off.
    Book: cover, check. Still looking for an editor.
    Website with blog: check. Scary but I set it up.
    Amazon page: have it drafted, once I get the book ready, I will have it ready to input.
    There is a lot to do, but after reading her book, I feel I will be doing everything that I can to market my book (and stay sane). I do a little every day, tweaking as I go along.

    • Thanks so much Kathryn ๐Ÿ™‚ and don’t feel you have to do everything in the book. Everyone has the tools they prefer and we focus on different things at different times for different reasons – but it sounds like you’re starting with the essentials!

  11. Thanks Joanna as always some very sound and reassuring advice, you are right about not ‘zigzagging’ – I am learning I have to be flexible, innoative and open in my approach, and ride the ups and the downs on that rocky terrain …I am finding the whole journey a learning experience

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