Authors write books to share their stories with the world, but sometimes that compulsion can lead them astray. Here are some of the biggest book marketing mistakes many authors make at various points in their careers — and how to course correct if any of these sound familiar.
1. Believing in sleeper hits.
I think that “sleeper hit” is just lazy industry shorthand for “we have no idea how the hell this book started selling” — which also contains the tacit admission that the publisher probably wasn’t doing very much to get sales going, but I digress. The simple fact is the Discovery Fairy doesn’t exist and you can’t will it into existence either. If you do nothing to sell your book… it won’t sell.
In simple terms, books sell because somebody tells a reader about them — and that “somebody” can be The New York Times, Oprah, an algorithm, or another reader. You must get that conversation started or it will never get going. And keep feeding it, or it will run out of steam. The Third Law of Thermodynamics also applies to books! Which brings me to…
2. Being afraid of the Sales Bogeyman.
It’s an ever-evolving list: the summer slump; Also Boughts disappearing; algorithm changes at Amazon; contentious elections. People might tell themselves that it’s the holidays, so everyone is busy. The weather is nice — we’re all spending more time outside. Kids are off school and parents have less time to read. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that the economy is so good that people can now afford flashier forms of entertainment, or that times are tough and people can’t afford books.
These are all “macro” effects on the market — some of which I’m very skeptical about as they are often overstated or wholly illusory, but that’s not the point here. Macro effects are mostly for larger entities to worry about: Penguin Random House, J.K. Rowling, Ingram, Amazon.
The sales of an individual author will be much more affected by the “micro:” you, in other words. When did you last release? When did you last advertise or otherwise promote? These two things will be the biggest influencers on your sales. Everything else will pale in comparison. Focus on those.
3. Talking to everyone the same way.
You don’t speak to strangers the same way you speak to close friends, and so it should go with marketing. Some audiences are cold, others are warm. Some are in a purchasing mood, others are not. The tone of your marketing communications should always reflect that context.
A cold audience shouldn’t get a hard “buy” message, so an ad with a softer call-to-action can often work better for a very broad audience on Facebook. In the same vein, a reader signing up for your mailing list for the first time probably doesn’t want to immediately get an email hyping your books and asking for money. Maybe you should give them something valuable first.
4. Treating ad platforms as identical.
It’s not just audiences — we can slip into treating ad venues alike. Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub are all quite different and you will get the best results by tweaking your strategy for each channel. Every platform has its own quirks, and you can give yourself a huge leg up by leaning into those quirks rather than fighting them.
To give one basic example, an author who is a superb target for you on Facebook might be far less useful to you on BookBub Ads, where the size of their following will be heavily skewed by how many Featured Deals or BookBub Ads they have run — so you often need to develop a separate set of authors to target specifically for BookBub Ads. Many authors don’t realize this, try their usual targets at BookBub, and invariably get tepid results. But those who go to the trouble of building a custom list of author targets won’t just improve the performance of their BookBub Ads, they could also discover new authors to target elsewhere or otherwise cross-promote with.
There are many more differences between the platforms in terms of audience, targeting, bids, and price sensitivity, as well as which images work best. These are all challenges, but also opportunities to gain an edge.
5. Thinking too far outside the box.
Some authors are always looking for the next thing — the next BookBub, or the next popular social media network. The next marketing trick, basically.
But the most successful authors spend most of their time focusing on their core business — producing great stories as regularly as possible, and marketing them through what can now be described as conventional digital marketing channels: email, reader sites, Facebook, BookBub, Amazon Ads, cross-promotion, and newsletter swaps. For nonfiction, maybe some content marketing too. There’s enough in all that to be getting on with.
Think inside the box. It’s full of money!
6. Spreading yourself too thin.
In fact, it’s often enough to produce good stories regularly and be very good at just one of those ways to reach readers. You are far better off being an Amazon Ads expert and ignoring the other ad platforms than being moderately good at all three of them. You are far better off having a wonderful email game and very little going on at Facebook than flitting between everything.
No one has time to master it all. Focus your limited time and energy (and ad dollars) and play to your strengths. And if you are starting out, don’t try and become good at everything at once. It’s an impossible goal and you’ll drive yourself mad.
Focus on one thing and master it. Then move on to the next.
7. Listening to our Inner Artist when it comes to business.
Our Inner Artist can rule the roost during the creation process, but as soon as that book is done, it’s a product that needs to be sold. If we listen to our Inner Artist at this point, we can be led astray on matters which exclusively require hard-headed commercial logic, like covers, titles, and blurbs — these things are all product packaging and should be treated in that manner.
Our Inner Artist can also muddle our thinking when it comes to targeting our ads, whispering in our ears, trying to tempt us to target our ads to people outside our core audience. This voice must be ignored! Aside from wasting money, being overly broad with your targeting can lead to all sorts of other things which are arguably worse: scrambled Also Boughts, spiking DNFs, plummeting sign-ups, and the slow rot of tepid sell-through.
8. Forgetting that reader targeting is about more than ads.
Most who use Facebook, BookBub Ads, or Amazon ads to sell books understand the importance of granular targeting over a scattergun approach. But reader targeting should inform everything — from keywords and categories to book and series titles, descriptions, back matter, and how you talk to your readers during your newsletter onboarding process.
For example, an author of snarky and humorous first-person contemporary romance usually has a very strong voice, one that is entirely different than the voices of those who write third-person omniscient historical novels or bleak military science fiction. This tonal difference should shine through in every aspect of presentation and communication, right down to the sign-up form for your mailing list or your author bio. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader and try and view everything from her perspective.
The most successful authors usually have every element singing from the same hymn sheet, each acting in harmony with the others.
9. Focusing too much on discovery.
Many authors focus almost exclusively on discovery and forget it’s only the first stage in a long process of converting someone from a stranger to a superfan. Discoverability is a challenge — especially now that there are over seven million books in the Kindle Store — but it’s only one of many challenges that you face. I’d even argue that the rest are more imposing, especially since we spend relatively little time focusing on them.
Possibly needing a little more attention are things like:
- Buyer distraction: There are around 250 other titles advertised on a book’s product page on Amazon, so you need to keep potential buyers focused on your book cover and description.
- Aftercare: Often we aren’t very good at turning buyers into fans, at communicating with readers regularly, or at speaking with them at times other than when we are asking them for money.
All these problems are solvable, of course, but they require a different approach than discovery problems — yet we automatically reach for discovery tactics when sales drop. Take a more holistic approach.
10. Marketing all the time.
It might be trite of me to say that the most powerful marketing any new author can muster up is a new release because we all know that, and it doesn’t really tell us anything useful.
It’s also a bit of a cheat, as a new release will invariably be accompanied by a big push. So, let me come at it from another angle: You don’t need to market all the time. I know, I know — heresy! I see authors constantly fretting about spending time and money marketing every day and how this is cutting into their royalties and their ability to write.
It’s a kind of madness, especially when there can be a better way. If you understand how Amazon’s algorithms work, you can tailor your marketing campaigns so that you only really push your books for a few days every month and Amazon will pretty much take over and do the selling for you, if you get it right.
One of the most successful authors I know — who gets All Star bonuses every single month and millions and millions of page reads in Kindle Unlimited — only runs ads five to seven days a month and coasts off that spend the rest of the time. When you concentrate your marketing power in this way, you often get more bang for your buck and free up more time and headspace for writing, which means you get to release faster while stressing yourself out less — a win all around.
If you wish to learn more about how the Kindle Store works, and how that affects marketing, you get a copy of Amazon Decoded when you sign up to my free marketing newsletter, which goes out every Friday.
What about you? What marketing advice would you give if you could travel back and speak to yourself when you first started out?
The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.
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