With each passing year, there seem to be more and more book marketing tactics you can use to amplify a title’s exposure and reach more readers. And it can be tough to keep up with all of them! So what are some of the biggest (or newest) book marketing strategies that authors have been using in 2021 to promote their novels?
We’ve compiled a list of strategies we’ve seen authors buzzing about so far this year. Some tactics can help directly increase book sales, while others may help expand an author’s platform, which can lead to future sales. And while this is by no means an exhaustive list of book promotion tactics, we hope it helps give you some ideas for strategies to consider as you create your next marketing plan.
They’re promoting permafree first-in-series as “reader magnets” over the long haul.
One tried-and-true book marketing strategy is to make the first book of a series permafree as a “reader magnet,” hooking them into the rest of the series. Many authors then run BookBub Featured Deals for these permafree books to open the floodgates on downloads and follow-on sales for later series books — BookBub partners who make the first book in their series free see 8x higher sales of the other books in the series than partners who discount the first book to $0.99 instead. Some partners find this strategy so effective that they repeatedly run Featured Deals for the same permafree book (over a span of years), sometimes even updating the cover, making it fresh for BookBub’s audience.
Authors continue to use this strategy in 2021 to great success. Self-published author Jane Steen’s first-in-series historical mystery The House of Closed Doors has been permafree since 2016. Before the launch of the newest book in the series, Jane redesigned the book covers for the entire series to refresh the branding and appeal to a broader audience. In January 2021, she again ran a Featured Deal for the permafree first-in-series, driving 18,000 new downloads and doubling the sales of this series over the following month.
There are a variety of other ways authors promote their permafree titles as well, including promoting the free book on social media, running display ads (such as BookBub Ads and Facebook ads), and offering them on their websites in exchange for a mailing list signup (many use BookFunnel to automatically deliver the ebook to new subscribers). You can see the latter in action on bestselling author Tina Glasneck’s website — she offers readers a free copy of Zero Hour for signing up to her mailing list.
She then sends an auto-response email that links to the book on BookFunnel, so new subscribers can quickly and easily grab their free copy.
They’re promoting audiobooks to diversify their income streams.
The audiobook market has been growing rapidly over the past few years; the average number of audiobooks consumed by audiobook listeners ages 18 and up per year increased to 8.1 in 2020, up from 6.8 in 2019. And with audiobook readers listening to more books than ever, authors and publishers alike are meeting this growing demand. Audiobook production of surveyed publishers rose 18% in 2019 from 2018, with the companies producing 60,303 new titles last year. And Findaway Voices reported that the best selling audiobook genres in 2020 were romance (with 146% growth over 2019), mystery and detective (158% growth), and fantasy (68% growth). So indie authors writing in these genres have big growth potential in the audiobooks market!
Self-published authors are also investing more in producing and promoting audiobooks to diversify their income streams. According to bestselling author Nana Malone, audiobooks can become a sizable portion of an author’s revenue: “For me, depending on the month and the promotions I’m running, audio revenue can amount to anywhere between 12-20% of my revenue each month. If I didn’t have that I’d be missing out on the bottom line.” In order to get her audiobooks in front of as many listeners as possible, she promotes her audiobooks by running price promotions (and using Chirp Deals to boost the discount), sending newsletters, and promoting them on social media, often building hype by giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at the narration process.
Audiobook production can be a significant investment, but many authors are able to recoup that investment by running ROI-positive marketing campaigns. Author K. Patrick Donoghue did just that by combining BookBub Ads campaigns with a Chirp Deal, selling over 2,000 copies of the audiobooks in his science fiction series within one month. “I sought a Chirp Deal in order to aid in rapidly recouping the audio narration and production costs for the three books [in my series],” he told us. “This was a tall order since I invested in a pricey narrator. The net royalties from the 28-day Chirp Deal and my own [BookBub] ad spend during the deal will recoup more than 50% of the combined audio production costs. I anticipate recouping the remaining portion in the next two to three months. The Chirp Deal played a significant role in making that possible.”
They’re making smart author branding decisions.
Effective branding is a huge asset to an author’s platform and audience-building efforts, and ideally evokes an emotional response from readers who want to know what kind of stories they can expect from an author. And lately we’ve been hearing from authors who’ve nailed down their author branding strategy.
Ines Johnson now makes six figures a year as a self-published author, and attributes much of her success to having solidified her author branding. She’d started her indie author career by publishing all of her books — paranormal romance, sweet contemporary romance, and erotic romance — under her own name. But over time she realized that her audience for each of these subgenres wasn’t necessarily interested in the others. “What I learned from my readers was that the level of steam matters most,” Ines told us. So she split her brand into three separate pen names for each subgenre, enabling her to target her marketing to readers more effectively.
According to bestselling author Erica Ridley, it’s important to solidify branding at an individual book level as well: “Readers react differently between genres — or even between books or series by the same author. Testing is critical, and things can change.” She emphasized that how you describe a book impacts the effectiveness of all of your marketing efforts. “Create a short list of four to five tropes or key characteristics you can display as easily scannable bullet points,” she said. “I like to share this list on social media and in my launch week newsletter blast. It helps readers see at a glance why this book is for them.”
They’re creating resources for educators.
One creative thing we’ve seen authors doing this year is creating resources for teachers, librarians, and parents. Not only is this a creative way to get a book into students’ hands, but extremely helpful to educators struggling with time constraints during an exceptionally challenging year.
YA author J. Elle created an entire curriculum — a five-week unit of day-by-day lesson plans to teach her instant New York Times bestselling novel Wings of Ebony, which launched January 2021. She recommends considering this strategy whether or not a book is in a children’s or young adult age market category. “Oftentimes,” she said, “the greatest barrier for teachers introducing new books is finding the time to create an entire curriculum to go with it. So almost anything premade you can give them is helpful.” Her curriculum delved into the book’s writing mechanics and literary devices, and helped spark important discussions. “It also examines the story’s real-world relevance and its application to Black history while weaving in discussion on topics such as social justice, racism, allyship, and privilege.”
Claribel A. Ortega created home learning resources for her middle grade book, Ghost Squad, which takes place on and around Halloween, and promoted this downloadable PDF on social media at the start of October. The download included a discussion guide, glossary, arts and crafts, creative writing prompts, and more.
They’re joining forces with other authors.
While authors might have had to physically distance themselves over the past year, they’ve nevertheless been working together in many creative ways, both to develop and promote their books.
Bestselling authors Pippa Grant, Lucy Score, Claire Kingsley, and Kathryn Nolan collaborated to write and promote a multi-author book series, successfully running four back-to-back launches that landed at the top of the Amazon charts and put all four authors on the Kindle Unlimited All-Stars list of top 100 books and authors during their launch months. According to Pippa, “We planned everything over video chat, Messenger, and email, and we were in constant touch as we wrote our own books, built a series bible as we went along, and brainstormed world-building elements.”
And when it came time to launch their series, they coordinated production, release and preorder timing, distribution, titling, cover designs, pricing, and of course their marketing plan. “Once each book was available for preorder, we all made sure to add them to our BookBub Author Profile so that we would be eligible for the New Release Alerts that BookBub sends to each of our followers.”
Authors have also been teaming up to promote each other’s book releases via virtual launch events. Some host these events via Instagram Live, which allows simple split-screen broadcasting and lends itself to casual conversations and audience engagement. Others stream their events on YouTube or Facebook Live using streaming software like StreamYard or Be.Live to create split-screen livestreams with participant name tags, custom backgrounds, and chat quote overlays. And many times they partner with independent bookstores who take care of these technical details — check out the Ripped Bodice Bookstore’s Facebook page for some great examples of launch events they’ve run!
They’re bookstagramming their ebooks more than ever.
While many authors have been posting gorgeous photos of their ebooks on Instagram (and other social media sites) for years, more traditionally published authors have been using this strategy over the past year. Thanks to the pandemic, many publishers have reduced their print runs of advance reader copies (ARCs), which authors had previously used to stage photos and promote their books during the preorder period. Since these traditionally published authors have had to make do without ARCs, they’ve been getting more creative with their ebook covers.
Erin Bowman took this picture of her Dustborn ebook in front of a blurred background that fits the look and feel of her usual Instagram aesthetic.
Adam Sass posted a picture of the title page of his ebook Surrender Your Sons to celebrate the launch of his debut, alongside bookmarks promoting the same title.
Many authors have also been posting ebookstagrams to spread the word when their ebooks are discounted. Evan Winter set his ebook of The Rage of Dragons in front of a fireplace, and the reds in the fireplace make this photo pop (and go with his dragon branding!).
They’re trying out TikTok.
The social media landscape is constantly shifting with new players entering the field, keeping authors and publishers alike on their toes. While some authors prefer to focus on writing and dependable ROI-positive marketing bets, others are eager to experiment with these new platforms to see if they’re a good fit for their audience, their personality, and their interests.
The past year has seen the rise of TikTok, a social network where users share short-form videos of their dance moves, pets being hilarious, pranks, creative recipes, DIY crafts, and more. And as with other social networks, a bookish community has formed! Under the hashtag #BookTok, users share book recommendations, reader reactions, shelfie tours, and mini-reviews. More and more authors have started joining the platform, even before interest spiked due to the New York Times’ report on how #BookTok is impacting book sales and bestseller lists.
Chloe Gong, an instant NYT bestselling debut author, has found success on TikTok reaching her young adult audience, and several of her videos have gone viral. “Since I write YA,” Chloe said, “TikTok is where a lot of my teen audience is based, and I spend a lot of time on the app myself as a younger creator so it felt natural to make that a place where someone can ‘find me.’ I love interacting directly with readers and keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s trending in their circles. I would never write to the trends or change my books to fit them, but observing what’s hot helps me position my author brand to build interest for my work. Besides, TikTok is unlike any other social media platform because it’s curated via algorithm and I can appear on the feeds of anyone with any interest in the content I post even if they don’t follow me, so it’s the platform that feels the most rewarding for me when it comes to getting my name and books out there!”
TikTok might not be the best fit for every author. Creating videos isn’t just a time-intensive activity, but the videos that take off on TikTok are authentic and off-the-cuff rather than curated for marketing purposes. Authors focused on marketing may find a better use of their time on influencer outreach — offering to send free books, without any requirements or obligation, in the hopes of being featured in an upcoming #BookTok video on the influencer’s page. But if you enjoy creating videos and love giving readers a glimpse of your author life, it might be a fun platform to try.
What book marketing strategies have you been hearing a lot about so far in 2021? Let us know in the comments below!
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Click to tweet: A must-read for authors! 👀 #WritingCommunity https://bit.ly/3flPh15
Click to tweet: How authors are promoting their novels in 2021:
📕 Permafree books as “reader magnets”
🎧 Audiobooks 👉 diversifying author income
✍️ Smart author branding
🍎 Resources for educators
🤝 Author collaborations
📸 Bookstagramming ebooks