What does it take to get from a small, independent digital-first press to the New York Times bestseller list — and a deal for a new book with a Big Five publisher?
Thanks to a collaborative effort and smart marketing, her book eventually hit the New York Times bestseller list. Immediately following this success, a literary agent reached out to her, offered representation, and sold her next novel in a print deal to Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
We interviewed Kate to find out how she approached her marketing strategy for her debut novel. She was kind enough to share the book marketing lessons she learned.
What were your goals for the book launch of Thought I Knew You?
Thought I Knew You was my first book, so I didn’t have specific goals beyond selling the book and crossing my fingers that people liked it. Even then, I wrote the best book I knew how to write at the time and I couldn’t do anything about it if they didn’t like it. I did read all reviews and catalog things I could do better in the future.
My overall goal is always to write the best book I can and try to get people to read it. Every reader matters, and every sale counts. Unless you have huge backing from a powerful publisher, not adopting this mentality will sink you for sure.
What marketing did you implement prior to this book’s release?
Unfortunately, I didn’t do very much. I gave away a few review copies to friends. Because I was with a small press, I didn’t have access to a cache of advanced reader copies (ARCs) and galleys. My publisher gave ebooks to book bloggers, but mostly after release.
My publisher organized a blog tour that didn’t run until after the fact. In hindsight, I would have run Goodreads giveaways to get the book cover on people’s shelves. I was lucky enough to have a gorgeous (and memorable!) cover, and to have a lot of hometown friends and family to help me spread the word.
For future books, I have and will continue to use the time before a book’s release as prime advertising, giveaway, and buzz-building time. For your first book, it’s tough because you’re an unknown. People have a hard time anticipating a book from an author they’ve never heard of, unless you have the power of a large publisher telling them to.
How did you market your book on launch day?
I actually contacted my local newspaper and they ran an article, kind of a “local girl success” story. I went out to dinner with my husband and my parents and a few other family members. Thought I Knew You was a slow burn success, not an overnight sensation. Then again, I am not convinced that overnight sensations exist.
How did you continue the momentum in the weeks following your book’s launch?
When Thought I Knew You launched, I had zero connections. So I started making friends. In hindsight, I should have done this earlier. The women’s fiction community is hugely generous. I read a lot in the genre, so it’s easy to reach out to other authors, read their books, help them. They’ll help you. Be genuine.
I contacted everyone who had a book review blog in the genre at the time. I offered free review copies, guest posts, interviews, giveaways, candy, and my firstborn. Most of the people I contacted were happy to include me. I did this, fairly relentlessly, for over a year. I kept expanding my circle, running book giveaways (including Goodreads), chattered on my Facebook page, chatted back to commenters.
I did one neat promotion where I ran a giveaway for book clubs. I found most of the book clubs via Facebook and Twitter, and also contacted some local book clubs and sent them the link. One lucky book club got 10 copies of Thought I Knew You and a free visit or Skype session. I collected the emails as part of the entry — close to 1,000 entrants! When the giveaway ended, my publisher reduced the price to $0.99 and I emailed all the entrants to inform them of the sale. I think almost every one of them bought a copy, plus they told the rest of their book clubs. From there, the book was picked up by a few bargain book sites. It was a nice bump in readership.
In addition to the giveaway, I also attended book clubs, skyped into book clubs, and held book signings. Most authors do these things. I just did them for quite a bit longer than people usually do for one book.
What did you find was the most effective way to garner new reviews?
Reviews are tough. The only real way to garner new reviews is to:
- Write a good book.
- Get people to buy it.
I did do a few review services (like NetGalley or similar), and those are fine. I contacted book bloggers for a year or more after release. The bulk of reviews have to come from genuine readers though. The only way to do that is to do steps one and two. Steven Pressfield touts the “Ten Thousand Reader” theory: in short, a book will stand on its own or die once it is read ten thousand times. If it’s a mediocre book or one that doesn’t resonate, you can buy yourself 10,000 readers, but you won’t get any word-of-mouth.
Which marketing tactic do you think had the biggest impact on book sales?
Without a doubt, BookBub. By the time Red Adept Publishing bought a BookBub Featured Deal, I had exhausted all my known outlets for marketing. I think if you read in the women’s fiction genre and have any kind of online life, you must have seen the cover at least once.
When the BookBub deal ran, it was a Monday and my publisher made the (very smart) decision to keep the price low all week to really maintain the momentum. The sale and the BookBub deal, along with the long price tail, led to somewhere around 10-12K sales that week. For a small press book with only a few thousand sales to start with, it was a huge deal (to me). There are books that sell millions, I know this. Thought I Knew You continues to sell a handful of copies every single day. I have no delusions of grandeur but I was, and still am, beyond thrilled.
Which marketing tactic had the least impact?
This is impossible to quantify. If you have the energy, try everything. Whatever you do try, tackle it with enthusiasm and genuine excitement. Be at least semi-smart; don’t give your money to fly-by-night websites promising to sell a million copies of your book. Give your money to large, established websites with proven track records. If it’s free and you have the time, inclination, and desire, then try it.
Thought I Knew You did so well that it caught the attention of a literary agent, who landed you a book deal for your newest title, The Vanishing Year. Can you explain how this happened?
This was possibly the craziest day of my life. BookBub ran the Featured Deal, the sales went a bit bonkers, but then they continued to climb for the remainder of the week. My publisher and I spent a lot of time on the phone jumping up and down and squealing. I was their second book published (they’ve since had other successes, most notably Claire Ashby’s When You Make It Home), so they were just as excited as I was. We both said, “wouldn’t it be cool to hit USA Today,” and then we laughed.
The following Thursday, I was contacted by Mark Gottlieb at Trident Literary Agency, who offered me representation and at the same time told me that Thought I Knew You had landed at #17 on the New York Times ebook bestseller list and #24 on the overall list. I thought it was a prank call. I was in my car at work and I cried. I said I’d have to call him back, and then I called my husband and my mom. (I might have called my mom first, but shhh!)
Aside from garnering attention from New York, how do you typically measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns?
I don’t precisely measure my campaigns. I do cap my spending at a certain point, as I don’t have an unlimited budget. But self-marketing is such a crapshoot. There are guaranteed sales (freebie runs or BookBub ads), but anything else is just about the number of impressions on your cover — the number of times a potential reader sees your cover or hears about your concept and thinks, “huh, that sounds interesting.” If it happens enough, they click “buy.”
Readers are everywhere and you have no idea how, when, where, or why they’ll see your cover. I have been known to slip cards into books at bookstores, airports, and chain stores. This is literally immeasurable. I have no idea if it even works. I still do it. I do everything I have the energy and time to do. It’s important to focus on the things you find fun, otherwise you’ll burn out and do nothing. I know for an absolute fact that Doing Nothing is the only thing that doesn’t work.
What do you wish you knew now that you didn’t know when you started marketing this book?
One book doesn’t make or break your career. You’re not a special snowflake and neither is your book (most likely). There’s a certain freedom in that, once you internalize it.
I wouldn’t have done anything differently, but I might have had more fun and less angst doing it. Also, that the only way you fail is if you quit. That your first book is just that: your first book. It might be good, it’s probably not spectacular, and you’ll get exaggerated reviews on both sides of the spectrum. That people will love it and hate it and there’s a kernel of truth to be found in their interpretations of the story. That I still had so much to learn.
To be honest, I wish I knew all these things now. I still suffer from the same anxieties as I did four years ago! I’m convinced it never goes away, and I’m learning to live with it.
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