What You Need to Know About Book Marketing (Including an Essential Task List)
by Joe Walters
Book marketing is a maze.
Authors and publishers walk into the entrance in hopes of finding book sales, and they find themselves lost, waving to other authors going in different directions. You’re going to find book sales in the maze, I promise, but they’ll vary and they can feel like lightnings in a bottle.
But the thing is—you can actually find a path here.
It’s complicated and the hedges shift Harry Potter-style, and it could take actual literal years to feel like you’re any good at it, but even then, the hedges will shift too. Your path will look different from mine and mine will be different from theirs and someone somewhere will do something that nobody has ever done and will produce the biggest splash any of us have ever seen.
But wait! Before your creative mind gets you convinced that, hey, that’s me you’re talking about!, I want you to know something.
Book marketing is a whole world. Welcome to it.
Here is what you need to know about book marketing #1:
The key to survival is about having patience, having fun, and writing more books.
Nothing sells more books than publishing more books.
In my early-goings as the marketing director for Inkwater Press, I was approaching it from a writer’s viewpoint. I thought, how can we make this book the bestseller it deserves to be?
But over time, I realized that there were more good books than publicity and book buyers have available. It’s just math. If we consider that the average American reads four books a year, and then recognize that around 4 million books were published last year, even the most right-brained individual can do the math to figure out that not every book can be a best seller. Even the best books from the hardest working authors with the deepest pockets can flounder.
So, after trial and error, I started thinking about book marketing as a publisher: someone who publishes multiple books—and continues to do so—so that there are multiple streams of income coming in. Backlist sells.
Before we get to the nitty gritty, give yourself patience and actual time to understand what book marketing is so that you can invest time and money into it. That’s what this blog post is for.
What you need to know about book marketing #2:
Think of it like a gill net.
What’s a gill net?
You obviously haven’t been watching enough Alone.
A gill net is a fishing net that you dangle into water so that fish can get stuck in it all on their own. The fishers have to set up the net, but they don’t have to stand at the water doing manual labor in order to retrieve the fish.
So as a book marketer, I’d recommend setting up a gill net.
How do you catch these slippery book sales without having to post on social media every day?
Complete these 11 book marketing tasks first:
- Get a book cover you love & that others love
This might seem like it’s out of your hands, but it’s hands-down the most important book marketing task, even if it’s completed by the design department (or, for indie authors, that person you found on the internet). You can send all the ads you want at a book with a mediocre, bad, or misleading cover; odds are, you’re not going to make your money back.
So first and foremost, do your homework on book covers, get feedback on it from multiple bookish people, and be willing to adjust your publishing timeline if it doesn’t turn out the way you’re proudest of. Here are some more tips on designing a great cover.
- Write a damn good book description
Your description is the second-most important & sustainable book marketing task. Reviewers & buyers need to feel like this book is for them in order for them to make the time in their varied schedules to buy it AND read it. It needs to be enticing, crisp, informative, buzzy, and tame all at once. Sound like a tough task? It is. But I got more guidance for you in How to Write a Damn Good Book Description.
- Write a stellar subtitle (if applicable)
Fun news for all you fiction writers: you can probably ignore this task!
Nonfiction writers: we’ve got more work to do! Subtitles sell books more than you can possibly know. Not only can they communicate exactly what the reader needs out of a book, but it can utilize keywords that increase book sales simply from showing up when someone types “How to plant trees” into Amazon.
- Write a damn good author bio
First: content rules all. If your name is Ryan Reynolds and you’re a movie star, your bio is going to be more enticing than Bobby Bobberson who just wrote his first book in Idaho.
But even if you are Bobby Bobberson, you can still highlight your most impressive & relevant details; you can be funny, sharp, and informative while doing so. Different readers choose books for different reasons, so make sure you take this long-lasting book marketing task seriously. A few tips:
- Start with your best.
- Don’t write too much. I like approx. 100-150 words.
- We don’t need to know your Bachelor’s degree, especially when it’s unrelated to the book’s content.
- Don’t you dare have any typos. Get that thing quadruple-checked.
- End it with a variation of “Learn more at BobbyBobbersonDOTcom.”
- Take a semi-professional author photo
Just do me a favor and don’t make it a selfie with your computer webcam. Don’t have a traffic cone or anything else glaring behind you. We should focus on you. Choose your outfit with purpose. It should match the setting (ie. I don’t love a suit in a bookstore unless the book is about business or politics). And lastly, I wouldn’t have the photo cropped anywhere below your chest. There are always exceptions, but the safe bet is usually to focus well enough on your face so that when the photo is shrunken to a thumbnail, you are visible.
- Get blurbs
I’ve also written a ton about this in an earlier post—What Are Book Blurbs and How Do I Get Them?—so honestly, I’d just recommend clicking in to a new tab and reading it after this post.
In short, blurbs are book reviews written by authors or experts in your book’s field. You’ll use these short book reviews early and they can be on your sales pages and back covers, so they’re always there to play a role in converting a buyer. If you can get Stephen King to write a blurb for you, do it. If you can’t (or just need some more help), read the link above.
- Create your author website
I’ve already mentioned this a couple times, but that’s only because it is an important hub for your fans to visit, especially after you’ve written multiple books. (Hint, hint: go write more books).
Just like the rest of this task list, I’d recommend doing this pre-publication. Have at least a Home page, an About page, a Contact page, and a Book(s) page. Include all relevant newsletter signups and/or social media pages in widgets visible on all/most pages. In my opinion, you do not need to pay for a business plan so that you have the domain BobbyBobbersonDOTcom. As long as it’s professionally designed, BobbyBobbersonDOTWordpressDOTcom works just fine.
- Set up your Goodreads author account
This is the fun part of the pre-publication list where things become way less time consuming! If you already have your cover, description, author bios, author photo, etc., then I’d recommend adding your book to the Goodreads database and creating an author page there. Include your photo, your bio, and links to your website/social media at least. But you can personalize it even further with interview questions, genre preferences, and more. Most important piece of this is making sure when your book does publish, that the ISBN is correct and the Amazon link is working.
- Request a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads in the back of your back.
I love this one! In your book’s back matter, there are already pages like acknowledgments, author bio, other books, etc., so I’d just recommend adding a page at the end there kindly requesting that they leave a review. Anybody who has reached this point in your book are pretty good candidates because they read your book so thoroughly—i.e. probably liked it—and they want to learn more about you. Be personable and approachable in your request, never pushy. And once the eBook is published, see if you or your publisher would be interested in adding the actual link to your product page clickable so they can click from their ereader straight to leaving a review.
- Design Amazon A+ & social media graphics
Since you have the book cover and an array of book blurbs, hooks, and short descriptions, you (or someone you hire on ye’ ol’ internet) can start designing graphics for you to use on social media, your website, newsletter, and Amazon A+ content.
Amazon A+ content is a relatively new feature for all books published with KDP, and I’m a pretty big fan of it. Just like how images/videos catch users’ attention on social media, you can design graphics to add to your Amazon book sales page. They should be good and professional and make good use of the space, so make sure you take a look at a few examples (like this, this, and this) before you get all Canva happy. If you’d like, we can actually design a couple review graphics for you with our editorial book reviews service.
You can create graphics for specific announcements (like pre-order day, launch day, a new review, etc.) prior to actually using them on social media. I’d recommend using Canva, but I’ve also had positive experiences with ColorCinch & Book Brush.
What you need to know about book marketing #3:
Some books sell better than others.
Just take a look at the tasks you were supposed to complete so far (Hint, hint: go do them).
Now realize that some book descriptions have bigger bites. Some blurbs are flashier. Some covers are out of this world. Some authors have done more impressive things than you have (Sorry).
Before you start researching which media outlets to pitch, it’s important to recognize that you are battling with heavy-hitters in your industry for national coverage. You can absolutely sell books locally, nationally, and internationally through publicity, but it’s best to know going in that you may only get responses 2-5-10% of the time, and not all of them are going to say yes.
With that said, let’s enter phase two: researching & organizing.
Complete the following 5 book marketing tasks:
- Research best keywords & categories
With Amazon KDP, you are allowed to upload your book using 7 keywords. A keyword is a phrase that browsers type into the Amazon search engine (ie—if they’re looking for a friends to lovers romance, they may type in “friends to lovers”). How do you find the seven best keywords for your book? Well…you can use a tool like Publisher Rocket or you can do your own research.
One of my favorite ways to do this (for free) is to write down a long list of potential keywords, type them into the Amazon search engine under “Kindle Store” or “Books,” and then judge the search term’s popularity by matching up how well the books match the keyword and how popular those books are via review numbers and sales rank on the book’s product page.
You are allowed to upload your book with two categories. A book category is similar to a genre or subgenre. For example, you can upload your book as Science Fiction & Action & Adventure if you’ve written a science fiction adventure.
But fun fact—if you upload your eBook and/or Book with KDP, you can add up to 8 more categories after the initial two. I’d definitely recommend adding additional categories so that your book has a higher chance to show up on Amazon bestseller lists, which readers sometimes browse for new purchases.
- Research & list media outlets in a spreadsheet
Now it’s time to put those keywords and categories to the test! Start typing them into Google to see which outlets are reviewing and talking about books and topics like yours. Jot them down in a spreadsheet, learn about them in order to determine which angle you’ll take to pitch them, and make note of the contact you’ll use to pitch them. It’s always best to get a real human vs. an info@… inbox, so keep an eye out for names and roles. Don’t worry about pitching them yet. Just find them and organize them first. Include bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and social media influencers in addition to popular websites and magazines.
And while you’re there, add IBR to your list! We review indie books of all varieties.
- Plan your physical launch (if applicable)
I love a good physical launch! It can be at a local bookstore, a coffee shop, a 7-11 (I’m looking at you, Kristen Arnett!), a library—just make sure you determine where you think will have the biggest response (like if most of your friends and family are in one specific area) and put together a plan of how you will sell the most books there. Get creative, plan drinks/food, do something unique (like a raffle and/or a party gift of some sort). Once you think you’ve planned a badass launch party, reach out to your #1 hosting option, ask nicely, thank them for the opportunity to ask, and mention which specific ways you will be bringing an audience to their location.
You do NOT have to do a physical book launch. You may miss out on a few sales, but if you’re worried about standing in front of people and reading your erotica, then just…don’t do it! Your book will not fall flat because of it.
- Research local events (if applicable)
Similar to the last task, start jotting down locations you may do other events. They can be readings, signings, conferences, fairs, and lectures at colleges or historical societies. Some authors have a lot of success at physical locations, while others feel the weight of empty rooms and don’t want to do it anymore. My recommendation is to only do a few and to focus so hard on getting attendees to them instead of trying to have an event in NYC where you don’t know anyone. When you’re famous, you can do that, but until then, feast your eyes on marketing tasks elsewhere.
- Research & list consumer reviewers
In that same spreadsheet you made for media outlets, create a new tab strictly for consumer reviewers. Who are consumer reviewers? People who review books on Amazon & Goodreads. How do you find them? Amateur sleuthing! Find books similar to yours (but probably not the biggest bestsellers of the year/all time) and read their reviews.
When you find reviews that you like, click on the reviewer’s profile and find if they have contact info or a website. Sometimes those reviewers accept submissions for possible review. Same thing goes with social media. Type in your keywords and hashtags and find people who are willing to review books for free. When you find them, jot down their name, their contact info, and which angle you’ll take in pitching them. Soon, you’ll be reaching out to them to see if they’d be open to reviewing your book. Make sure you’re patient and not pushy here though, as social media DMs can go poorly when you do them wrong.
What you need to know about book marketing #4:
Reclusive writers, beware! It’s time to include other people.
You can definitely stay reclusive and stick only to tasks that you can do yourself (like book promotion & advertising), but you are leaving some sales on the table. Honestly, that’s fine. “Be happy and write books” is my #1 book marketing motto, but if you really do want to sell the most books you can, it’s best to shed your Salinger persona and start talking to readers.
Here are a few tasks you can complete to do that:
- Build a launch team
This is one of my favorite ways to build buzz around the launch of your book! Open up another tab in that trusty spreadsheet and start listing the people you believe would support you the most. Think of your friends, extended family, and writers’ groups you’re in.
About a month before your book publishes, send them an email asking if they would help you around the launch date of your book by reading a digital copy and leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads within the first few days of the book’s publication. Some superstars are even willing to post about the launch on their social media profiles and/or to comment on your launch posts. Invite that! A lot of engagement in the early-going is such a great way to show non-launch-team members that your book could be popular and they better jump on it quick.
On launch day, email them to share the link where they can leave a review, and then, for those who don’t complete it that day, send them a reminder in about a week.
- Plan your author newsletter
Social media is cool and all, but it can change at any time. You can put all your eggs into the social media basket, and the algorithm could adjust so that the Facebook Group you’ve been curating and giving time and energy to no longer gets engagement. With email, you’re building your following directly through you. I like this.
However, it’s not just about making a MailChimp account and putting the link to sign up on your website. It takes a reader magnet, curation, intrigue, and regular mailings to make newsletters worth it. You’re going to need to do some research to figure this thing out, so get reading.
- Plan your social media strategy
There are whole books about selling books through social media, so this little paragraph isn’t going to do it justice. You can ABSOLUTELY sell books on social media. Some people use social media as their primary sales tool, and it works, but others use it that way and end up losing a ton of time doing it. As a whole, I kind of don’t like social media for indie authors. It gets people thinking they have to post multiple times a day across platforms to grow (which has merit!), but it just steals so much time away from other book marketing tasks.
I like to think of social media as a way to communicate with your fans and increase your following. You should be active on there—as active as you feel up to—and you should be personable on there. Mix professional with personal and follow the lead of the people you follow and admire.
In terms of strategy, I’d recommend jotting down which platforms you plan to utilize prior to publication and then planning your posts before, during, and directly after publication. Use a variety of posts, have fun, and consider advertising for book promos. Using Facebook ads & TikTok are probably my two favorite book marketing strategies on social media right now, but as always, that could change.
What you need to know about book marketing #4:
Getting publicity for your book can be helpful, fun, and absolutely debilitating.
Publicity used to be the #1 way to get sales, and it still works–but maybe not in the way you’d think. One right outlet can open so many doors for you, but it’s also possible coverage does nothing. So how is it worth your time?
Nothing in book marketing or publicity is guaranteed. It’s about taking risks in calculated ways and giving it a chance to pay off now or down the road. Try your best and smartest to get on podcasts, get book reviews, get author features, and more, but if nothing comes from it, don’t get too frustrated. You’re battling for limited media space with local authors, established authors, and Ryan Reynolds.
Intimidated? Don’t be. The worst they can do is ignore you.
Here are 5 tasks to complete in order to get publicity for your book.
- Send ARCs out to trade reviewers and other companies who require 3+ months in advance of publication
Some review companies (like Library Journal and Publishers Weekly) ask you to submit your book months in advance of your book’s publication for it to be considered for a review.
These review companies are definitely still worth pitching, as librarians and bookstores peruse these sites in hopes of stocking new books, and quotes from them go a long way in converting a pitch in the future too. So in that spreadsheet you created, check which places require this and make sure to follow the guideline.
- Submit your book to contests (optional)
Authors and publishers often have a love/hate relationship with book awards and contests, and I get it. But if your book wins the right award, it can do so much in increasing sales and validity.
Do your research first and determine which contests you believe could actually make a difference—more than just allowing you the opportunity to call yourself an “Award-Winning Author.” Some contests really do only offer that, and I wouldn’t recommend heading in that direction.
Hit the ol’ Google machine, type in “book contests” and “book awards” related to your book’s content and/or your location, and send that baby in to those you truly believe could help you sell books. I’ve also heard pretty good things about Book Award Pro as an option.
- Write, revise, and edit a compelling pitch letter
Think of your pitch letter as the email you send to get publicity for your book. It used to be on official publisher letterhead, and you’d send it snail mail. Things have changed! Basically, you need to write a pitch letter introducing yourself, your book, and why the recipient’s audience would be interested in a book like yours or in a person like you in an email.
Personalize each and every pitch letter so that the greeting is different and the angle with which you pitch is different. Recipients like to see that you know their platform and believe that the book is relevant and important to their audience.
For example, I run Independent Book Review, and we choose books for review that we believe will sell to our audience. If I’m going to pay a reviewer to review it, I want to know why a sale could happen for us. That could be because of a great cover, description, blurb, or author platform.
- Attach the cover or a press release
A pitch without a book cover is like asking someone to put a photo on their front door without showing them what the photo looks like. Recipients need to see this; it can sway their decision on both sides of the spectrum. A press release is a way to display the cover, description, blurbs, and author info in an appealing form so that the recipient knows the book has been professionally pitched and could even be a better book overall. A bad press release can harm the pitch though, so make sure it looks great.
- Follow the outlet’s guidelines exactly
The last and potentially most important task here is to read the recipient’s guidelines for submitting for consideration and actually follow them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best pitch in their inbox, if you don’t follow their guidelines, you’ll meet the email trash can.
Take a break for celebration: It’s launch time!
Launching a book should be fun, but since indie authors have had to adopt so many book marketing tasks, it can turn into a stressful and busy time. But…don’t let it!
You just wrote & published a book. Definitely schedule, plan, and post your social media posts and newsletter. Try to answer people who are engaging with your posts on social media, but do not spend your whole launch day tapping like buttons, commenting, and spying your Amazon sales rank.
Instead, go out to eat! Go for a walk and say hi to your neighborhood crows. Go to your family or friends’ house and play scrabble. Distract yourself but bask in your achievement. Cheers to you!
Once your book is available, you can complete the following tasks:
- Set up your Amazon author central account
Fun fact! When your book is live for pre-order or purchase on Amazon, you can create an author profile. When a browser clicks your name beside your book cover, they will be taken to a page with your face on it, your books on it, your bio, and more. When you create this account, you can also start advertising and adding editorial reviews to your product page.
- Announce your launch on all social media platforms and newsletter
This one may seem obvious, but if this counts as a reminder, then I’m a happy camper. So…do it! Get personal, vulnerable, and excited. Maybe even post a picture of you holding the book if you feel up to it.
- Email launch team
Once your book is available, your launch team can leave a review on Amazon. Send an email with a link and thank them for helping you out. If you want to link to your social media announcements, you can float that idea too. (But as always with respect and patience!)
- Update the signature in your email and newsletter
This is an easy one! Just head into your email and/or newsletter settings and add a hyperlink to your book so that anyone who ever receives an email from you, even if it’s about a pickup basketball game, has the option of seeing and buying your book. Don’t attach a long link though; either make a graphic clickable or make something along the lines of “Read My Latest Book” clickable.
- Start experimenting with advertising & promotion (optional but recommended)
I have worked for three publishing companies, and two of them did not do paid advertising. They still sold books. You do not have to spend money to make money, but it does help and you could hit a few walls. Even if you don’t want to spend money, you can run price promotions, meaning you can drop the eBook price to $.99, $1.99, etc.
But one of my favorite ways to do this is by dropping the price and then getting it featured on book deal sites (like those by Written Word Media). Here’s a big outline of how to use book promotion and advertising.
- Follow-up with media outlets
You’ve already pitched media outlets prior to publication, but now that your book is available, you can drop in and say that it’s finally available and you’d love the chance to be featured on the outlet. I’ve been pitching books for years, and the follow-up is usually the best way I end up getting coverage.
- Pitch bookstores, libraries, and non-bookstore shops/collections
This task is a BIG part of big-five publishers’ task lists and goals, but it falters a bit for indie authors. Major publishers have major distribution; they are able to send books all across the country for the chance to be included in bookstores, but indies either have to front the cost of printing and shipping or suffer under a returns policy when the book doesn’t sell in their store.
So while I wouldn’t recommend trying to get your book in every store in America, I would recommend trying some of them! Your local stores & libraries will have extra incentive to carry your book, and if you approach them professionally and kindly, you could end up getting a few sales from them, especially since many stores buy books to carry them in their store.
Non-bookstore shops are some of my favorite places to pitch (using a great pitch letter of course!) because yours might be one of the few books in the museum or gift shop. If your nonfiction book about local history would be helpful to a local museum, pitching is definitely worth a shot.
- Share reviews & press on all platforms
Reviews are great for a lot of different reasons, but if you get a review from a blogger, it might not necessarily mean you’re going to get a sale from that blogger’s audience. One of my favorite ways to use publicity is simply to announce it on social media and/or your newsletter. Having new and unique things to share is an important aspect of book marketing, and you want the outlet to know you care about how they helped you. A social post to help increase their traffic would be appreciated.
- Write guest posts
Do you have a lot to say about topics included in your book? Cool! Pitch some publications with a catchy title of a blog post you could write, and they might offer to publish the post on their high-traffic site. You may be able to find a way to plug your book (or not), but you’ll at least be able to include it in your author bio. This is a time-consuming task, and it could work wonders for you, but it also could not. Use your time effectively. Do a couple guest posts and see if it’s right for you. Here’s more I’ve written about guest posting as a book marketing strategy.
- Pitch book clubs
Local book clubs, library book clubs, topic-focused book clubs, national book clubs—research them, organize them, and pitch them! Some genres are better than others for most book clubs, so know your audience and whether they usually participate in them before you spend too much time pitching readers who won’t bite.
- Participate in conferences and fairs
Book & writing conferences are cool. I think they’re worth doing because of the fun alone, but I also like ones that don’t focus on books. Might even like them better for actual sales. Being the only person selling books at a craft fair can get you more books sold than you’d realize (Of course, with a caveat that every book and fair is different).
- Write more books.
You’ve written and published a great book. Good work. Keep on trying to sell it. But don’t forget the #1 thing you need to know about book marketing: the best way to sell more books is to write more books. So get writing.
And now you know what you need to know about book marketing. Good luck out there!
About the Author
Joe Walters is the founder and editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review, and he has been a book marketer for Sunbury Press, Inkwater Press, and Paper Raven Books. When he’s not doing editorial, promoting, or reviewing work, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process. Find him @joewalters13 on Twitter.
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