A Marketer’s Guide to Book Promotion
by Joe Walters
Book promotion is a really big megaphone.
To promote your book, you have to yell about it in an appealing way so that everyone at the party hears it and thinks, “Man, I gotta get me some of that.”
And it doesn’t work.
So please please please don’t do it.
Instead, you’ve got some options for everyone at the party to learn about your book.
How can you promote your book? Here’s a quick rundown of your primary options:
- Your newsletter
- Other people’s newsletters
- Through publicity (media platforms, review outlets, podcasts, TV)
- Your social media
- Other people’s social media
- Participating in events
Let’s tackle one at a time.
(Please note: Our posts may include affiliate or sponsored links. Everything on Independent Book Review comes as an honest recommendation from our team.)
There’s a reason why I started with your newsletter. It’s the direct communication access point. When good & random things happen that might help you sell books (like if you were featured in a cool book list or something), you’re going to want to communicate directly with the people who would be most interested in buying it.
Social media is cool and all, but if you’re not a social media influencer or celebrity, it doesn’t touch email. Now, it’s not easy, but it is good—when you take the time to get good at it.
There are so many ways to execute email marketing effectively, like using reader magnets, providing free beneficial content, sharing regularly, and being wholeheartedly-genuinely you. (And, of course, doing your research.)
If you have only written one novel and don’t know when the next one’s coming out, then maybe take a breather on this aspect of book promotion. Dedicate your writing time to writing more books instead of spending your time producing free written content for your followers, who may have already bought your book and who probably won’t buy a second copy.
Other people’s newsletters
This is not about contacting your followers. It’s about appearing in front of somebody else’s.
This can be another author in your niche’s newsletter, yes. You can send one author (or multiple authors) a request to feature you or you can request to do a list swap. A lot of authors are looking for this exact type of thing—how can I provide new genuine, not-too-salesy content to my following while appearing simultaneously in front of readers who don’t currently follow me?
You can also add in the chance of appearing in a media platform’s newsletter, your indie press’s newsletter, or a local or niche-specific organization’s newsletter without swapping anything. You might want to consider offering something tangible—maybe a workshop or an in-person event—and you should definitely know the organization’s newsletter aesthetic before requesting their help. You should have an idea of how you & your book could be featured.
But still, that’s not all.
This is where one of my absolute favorite marketing strategies come into play.
There are newsletters out there that advertise free or discounted eBooks to thousands of readers. Authors & presses pay to be included in these newsletters, and their followers (who like to read eBooks voraciously—especially cheap ones!) scour the email in the hopes that their next favorite book is only $.99.
I love them! They can not only launch you into bestseller categories on Amazon and put you in a position to make money off your work, but you’re reaching actual real-life readers here. And isn’t reaching readers what this has always been about?
Here are ten book promotion sites I’d gladly recommend:
- Bookbub – Consider submitting for a featured deal on the fifth day of your promotion. If you’ve got the budget for it, I always recommend giving this one a shot. Please note that not all books will be accepted.
- Bargain Booksy – A good budget-friendly option that still moves books.
- Fussy Librarian – Super budget-friendly. 🙏🏼
- Robin Reads – A really passionate reader base with reasonable prices. In my experience, this one resulted in some reviews too.
- Ereader News Today – Have always loved this one. I’m even a subscriber, so I might even read your book.
- NewInBooks – Love the variety of names and titles this one gets.
- Freebooksy – Free ebooks only, which can be really effective!
- AudioThicket – An excellent audiobook option
- Book Barbarian – Sci-Fi & Fantasy only. I love these genre-specific ones because it’s clear the subscribers/readers came here for a reason.
- Red Feather Romance – Romance only
I’ve got more tips for how to advertise your book in the advertising section, so open up those link tabs and come on back to me.
You might have heard of this one. It’s probably the thing I hear most from my authors at Sunbury Press. How do I get featured in _____? How do I get interviewed on ________? Should I reach out to my local paper? How do I get my book reviewed at Foreword Reviews, Independent Book Review, and this awesome specific blog about my niche that everyone loves?
Well, here’s the secret.
You have to ask. (Or someone has to ask for you).
But you have to do it professionally and with purpose. Don’t just find their emails, cc them along with thirty other media outlets, and ask for them to read your book.
Here’s how I would recommend pitching that you or your book are featured at a media outlet:
- Research platforms you want to pitch & organize them in Excel or Google Sheets with platform name, website, email address, specific contact person (if possible), and your angle.
- Possible angles: What is your biggest selling point? Why would this specific platform find your story useful for their audience? Does your indie press have a relationship with this platform?
- Write a strong pitch letter. Be personal but professional, make your book sound awesome (but don’t overdo it), and ask specifically if they’d be willing to feature it. If they have submission guidelines, you NEED to follow them.
- Design a sell-sheet, press release, or attractive landing page that will do the selling of the book for you. Don’t use Amazon. You can attach the sell-sheet to your email, or you could create a shareable Dropbox link.
If you or your publicist has connections with media outlets, that’s about as close to a magic strategy as it gets. That’s one of the best reasons to hire a publicist. I chatted about this topic for a while over on this video if you want to hear more AND see my face.
The best path to being featured in a media platform is having a great book with a great cover, a great description, great blurbs—overall, a great product. You want the head of their organization to see this pitch and think, “Man, I gotta get me some of that.”
Your social media
I have been working in indie publishing for a while now. From Inkwater Press to Independent Book Review to Paper Raven Books and Sunbury Press—the most common question I get from authors is about how to use social media to sell books.
I don’t blame them. It’s…everywhere (and nowhere).
Sometimes (or, most times), I feel like a mediocre swimmer in a sea of social media posts. When things get popular on there, it feels like they’re the most popular things in the world. And if you’re an author, you, also, might welcome the idea of your book being one of those things.
But it’s not just about getting the proverbial megaphone and shouting into the social media void. It’s about creating content on the internet that other humans find interesting to engage with—to like, to share, to comment.
Give yourself time to grow as you create engaging content on your social media pages. Don’t jump on too many get-big-quick schemes. Don’t ask your followers to do things for you too often. Use graphics & cool photos. Link to your book (or author website with your book on it) in your bio. If you have an exciting announcement to make, announce it. Let your followers in on your fun. Help other users by liking, commenting, and sharing their posts when appropriate for your audience.
When people think about social media promotion, they often think about advertising.
This is when you pay for your post to show up in front of more people than it does simply by bouncing around the platform’s algorithm. And this can be super effective, super mediocre, or a super dud. It depends if you created a strong ad and if the users who are expected to engage with your content actually engage with your content. Be catchy, be cool. Run a sale or discount. Ramp up your spending at the right times. Target exactly which audience you want to see your book. Do it all with a plan or don’t do it at all.
I particularly like using social media ads (particularly Facebook) when running a discount AND doing one or multiple book promotion sites simultaneously.
Other People’s Social Media
Nothing sells books like word-of-mouth sells books. Tattoo this on my forehead. Write a catchy song about it.
When other real people talk about the books they love, they have a tremendous influence on other people who read.
One way the rest of the party can hear about the good aspects of your book is by having other people at the party doing the work for you.
The first way of doing this, of course, is by writing the best book in the world so that people can’t help but talk about it. I’d definitely recommend doing this. (Having the coolest book cover in town also helps).
The second way of doing this? Pitch people.
Form a team before publication made up of the people who want to support you the most and who might be willing to promote your book on their social pages when the time comes. Be active about this. Don’t just think that once the book comes out, they’ll do it on their own. Ask them beforehand, let them know what they could do that would be beneficial.
You can also reach out to book reviewers and influencers on social media who might be willing to talk about your book. In some cases, you can pay for this too, but I personally don’t love that concept (unless, again, it’s batched together with other promotions). In my experience, paying other people to get a bunch of likes on your book cover doesn’t always translate to sales.
And here we are! The grand daddy of them all.
You: “Should I pay for book promotion?”
But seriously, do you have it in your budget to advertise your books? Actually look at your budget.
Keep in mind that in the world of print-on-demand, you’ll probably have to print books and ship them. That costs money. Keep in mind that you also may want to send some physical books out for review, so we won’t just be accounting for the copies you plan to store in your garage. If you’re going to travel for any events, leave some aside there. Leave some room for some merch in case you want to make your events cool and dreamlike and good at selling books.
Now that this is out of the way…
Let’s take a look at some advertising options:
- Book Promotion Sites & Other Newsletters
- Social media
- Media platforms in your niche
- Review platforms
Ask yourself some questions: How much does each one cost? Will my target audience see the book on this advertising platform? How many of them can you do with your advertising budget?
As you’ll see, I’ve crossed off radio and Google. These are two advertising avenues that I would not recommend you use to sell books. They can work for selling some products, but in my experience and in the current time, books aren’t one of them.
Amazon Ads are excellent and you can absolutely sell books there. If someone’s on Amazon, they are one step closer to buying than they are on other sites.
As of now—no matter if you published with an indie press or you’re a self-published author, you can advertise on Amazon through Amazon Author Central. This deserves a million words of advice, so make sure you do a lot of research first, like with this book and this book and this book.
What’s my favorite way to advertise?
David Gaughran’s Amazon Decoded put me on to some incredible strategies and research on the Amazon store. Shout out to that dude and that badass book.
Because the answer is…
Using book promotion sites and Facebook simultaneously.
Here’s how I’d recommend going about it:
- 1st Step: Set up a $.99 deal for five days on Amazon.
- 2nd Step: Schedule book promotion sites on each of the five days of the deal, and ramp up your ad spend on the 4th and 5th days.
- 3rd Step: Design or purchase an enticing graphic that you can use as your ad on Facebook.
- 4th Step: Draft some killer sales copy for Facebook. Info about your book is obviously important, but the personal voice is too. Take your time with this.
- 5th Step: Advertise the deal on social media (with specific target audiences) on the day the promo starts and ramp up with a bigger budget on the 4th and 5th days.
I’ve seen this strategy not only get authors to the top of the bestseller lists on Amazon during the promotion, but remain there after the promo (when it’s full price). If it’s in your budget and this sounds like a fun and potentially fruitful exercise, give it a shot and let me know how it goes. 🙌
But make sure you add more categories to your book before running that $.99 promotion!
I like merch! But I mostly just think it’s fun. There are so many ways for you to spend too much on merch (like sweatshirts, bookmarks, business cards, posters, etc.), but there are also ways where you can increase book sales with it.
I like to think of using merch when considering all of the physical locations I will use them at.
This usually starts with your book launch event. Depending on the venue, you may be able to leave a poster, a sell-sheet, and bookmarks to inspire browsers to come to the event. But make sure they’re cool! Maybe your local coffee shop welcomes bulletin-board style announcements. Maybe your friends would willingly put a sticker on their laptops.
These…might result in book sales! They also…might not! And they all cost money. So if this sounds fun to you, do it. And have fun doing it! But probably don’t expect this merch to be the staple of your book marketing campaign.
Participate in events
You may have heard of book events. Maybe you’ve seen a reader come to your local bookstore. Maybe a signing at Barnes & Noble. But don’t forget about book fairs, writing & niche-related conferences or conventions, digital panel discussions on your topic. Workshops. Craft fairs where you might be only one of one or one of a few authors in attendance.
But doing book events isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It can be taxing work, expensive, and occasionally fruitless. So…
Do them ONLY if they sound like fun to you. And if you sell some books in the process, all the better.
Don’t forget to have fun with this author career. Unless you’re a living pseudonym, it’s the only one you get.
Got any questions about book promotion or questions you’d like me to answer in a later installment? Let me know in the comments!
About the Author
Joe Walters is the founder and editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review. He is currently a book marketer for Sunbury Press, and he was a marketing specialist at Paper Raven Books and the marketing & publicity director at Inkwater Press. When he’s not doing editorial, promoting, or reviewing work, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process.
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