As a newer author, it’s easy to become either wildly overwhelmed by the amount of book marketing advice on the internet, or to try to do everything that people suggest. As one myself, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do everything. I simply didn’t have the time. So I needed to set goals and priorities, and choose tactics that worked for me as an individual. I wanted to grow an audience who perhaps found me through one book, but stayed with me through many.
I’ve tried a lot of different things to get there, but ultimately I’ve settled on five different ways to grow my audience — and maintain the connections I’ve made. (Retention matters!)
1. Grow a mailing list
For me, growing a newsletter list has been an exercise in patience. I don’t set numerical goals to get X number of new subscribers every week or month, though I have an annual goal of 500 new subscribers. Here’s what I’ve done to get more subscribers:
- I talk about the substance of my newsletter on social media. For example, I might tweet something like, “Working on my newsletter this afternoon! I’m sending it out on Friday afternoon. This month I’m tackling impostor syndrome, and promoting your book in this news cycle.” I get the most subscribers this way!
- I retweet my newsletter subscribers’ tweets about how much they appreciate my newsletter.
- I run giveaways, and share that I’m doing a giveaway on social media.
- I frequently change my Instagram bio link to my newsletter and promote it in my stories or on my feed with an image.
- I link to the mailing list on the homepage of my website, but most of my sign-ups seem to come through Instagram and Twitter.
While I definitely get sign-ups when I give away popular books, my subscribers stay because I provide valuable content.
The other key to growing a mailing list is to send out a regular newsletter — I aim for the first week of the month, and when I miss this window my engagement decreases — and to deliver something recognizable. I think there’s value in a template newsletter and a consistency of content. For instance, my newsletter always starts with the same header image and “table of contents”, and contains mostly the same subject headings.
In the newsletter, I talk about what I’m writing, what I’m reading, and where I’ll be. And then I usually have a giveaway section, a funny interview with my pets, or insight into something I’m struggling with (like impostor syndrome!). Sometimes I’ll include a section on podcasts I’m enjoying, or new music I heard.
But I always keep at least three or four regular sections. Whenever I send a newsletter, readers reply and tell me how much they appreciate their favorite section and always scroll or click straight to it. Not only does that warm my heart (and justify my time!) but it means I’m doing my job right.
I genuinely enjoy sending my newsletter. It’s a space for me to be honest, kind, empathetic, giving, and hopeful. It feels more intentional than social media. And I already know everyone reading it genuinely wants to hear from me. Though this takes several hours every month, to me, this is worth it.
2. Design eye-catching graphics for social media
Other ways that I’ve found to stand out — and that’s the first step to finding an audience, offering them something unique that they can’t get anywhere else — is by using quirky graphics to my advantage.
I worked with GIFGRRL to create custom GIFs for pre-release and post-release around my YA debut The Girl with the Red Balloon. I got a lot of compliments on these!
These were paid GIFs, so I realize not all authors will be able to or want to use the same strategy, so here are some free options to consider as well:
Ripl and Spark Post – these apps make it easy to create simple GIF-like videos for Instagram and Twitter. Neither have steep learning curves and I’m careful not to overuse them — I’ll create these videos for book releases, new newsletter days, cover reveals, new essays, or preorder campaign reveals. So no more than twice a month. I don’t want to overwhelm or irritate people, but I do think that this is a great way to catch someone’s eye while they’re absentmindedly scrolling.
Here’s an image I created with Spark Post:
Canva – I created a quote template so that my teaser quotes are eye-catching and branded. I really like how easy Canva is to use. Full disclosure: I pay for a pro level of Canva but I used the free level for years and it worked just fine.
Again, I try not to overuse the graphics because I want them to stand out. I’m judicious in my approach. But they are effective!
3. Participate in events
Participating in events can be very effective if you’re able and willing to invest — while newsletters and graphics are often free or low-cost ways to grow an audience, attending events frequently costs money. They also cost time and energy. So regardless of your budget, it’s important to select events wisely.
I prioritize events I can drive to or in cities where I have family or friends who can host me. For bookstore events, I try to buddy up with an author-friend or two. We’re then sharing audiences and increasing the likelihood of a good turnout, which is crucial for our bookstore partners and our own time and financial investment. I also try to request events at bookstores where I already have a relationship — I’ve attended other events there, I buy books there regularly, or I’m friendly with the staff on social media.
During my debut year, I applied to several festivals. I got into a few of them, and was lucky enough to be invited to a larger festival as well. Those seemed like great investments because most people aren’t attending a book festival because they’ve heard of me; they’re attending because of big-name authors and get introduced to me through attending the event.
I’ve had a lot of success and fun attending book festivals. I love learning from other authors and listening to panels. In order to make it worth my time and money though, I now attend festivals at which I can participate on panels and book signings. I enjoy panels and generally think I do well on them, and I want to make sure my books get into the hands of interested readers while the impression I’ve made is still bright in their minds. I also promote my presence at these events on my social channels, so readers in those areas know where to find me!
I found book festivals by simply googling around, or through word of mouth. And I didn’t get into every one I applied to, but I am trying again this year and next year for the ones I missed previously. For my second YA book, I’m trying to return to bookstores who were enthusiastic about my first book or hosted a great event for me in the past, and plan to make some new connections with bookstores in new areas, again always working with other authors so we can get some cross-genre audience sharing.
Participating in events isn’t always easy due to the cost, physical toll, and time. But if you can swing it, I think it’s worth it. Staggering events throughout the year maintained the buzz for my debut book much longer than I expected for a smaller book from a smaller publisher, and it helped me make librarian, bookseller, and teacher connections that keep giving. I find face-to-face interactions with readers to be fulfilling, and if I can afford to travel for an event, I make it happen.
4. Appear on podcasts
One thing that I’m fairly comfortable with is pitching myself. So for the most part, I’ve pitched myself to newspapers, book festivals, and podcasts.
Appearing on podcasts focusing on books, the writing process, the creative life, and figuring out how to write and sell the books of your heart is a natural extension of one of my favorite things to talk about. I love discussing how I work, and listening to how others work, because we all work differently and find our own ways to books. I think that’s fascinating.
I was lucky enough to be on one of my all-time favorite podcasts, 88 Cups of Tea with Yin Chang, in September, and that was a real treat. I loved talking about process, balancing a day job with writing, and my debut book journey with Yin, who is a fantastic and natural interviewer. Not only did I find a broader audience through Yin, but I connected more deeply with the 88 Cups of Tea online community, which I value so much.
But if you’re not into recorded interview-style promotions, then maybe podcasts aren’t for you! Maybe a blog tour is better for you, or doing more in-person events. The key is to pitch yourself to things you really want to do. Wasting time on things you aren’t super into isn’t fun and is just going to be a mental and emotional drag on you.
5. Recommend other authors’ books
The best part of the writing community isn’t selling books or growing an audience. It’s connecting with other readers — we are all readers, right? That’s why you’re here! I don’t consider recommending other authors’ books to be a way to grow an audience, but a way of giving back and connecting with my community. If audience growth is part of that, great! If it isn’t, that’s okay too.
I try to stay up to date on recent books as well as read-a-likes for my books. If someone loves my book, what should they read next? (Answer: if you loved The Girl With the Red Balloon, try Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, The Girl from Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig, and Sekret by Lindsay Smith). I include book recommendations in every newsletter I send, and I always make sure to recommend books by authors across the identity spectrum, so that I don’t fall into a rut where I recommend books only by people who look like me or live similar life experiences.
You can also follow authors you love via BookBub Recommendations — a tool I just discovered! I’m super excited to find new books this way, as well as to leave recommendations of my own and grow my audience on BookBub. I just added Iron Cast by Destiny Soria as my first recommendation!
It’s important to set reasonable goals. I’m a smaller author at a smaller publisher. My goal this year is to grow my newsletter list to 500 people. I want to do 10 events this year (what I can financially afford). I’m doing a big preorder campaign for my second book and I put money behind that instead of traveling this year — we’ll see how that pays off! I’ll continue making graphics on my own, pitching myself to different podcasts and blogs, and recommending books.
But mostly: I’m going to continue to put my time and energy into growing my audience through paths that also feel fulfilling to me and not like a waste of time or energy. Growing an audience should be about making connections and forging ties in a community. It’s not just whether the books I write appeal to readers, but whether I can continue to offer value, insight, and support to my audience between those books, through those books, and through all my other platforms.
If you’re a newer author looking to grow your audience, I recommend you write out your goals and priorities. Be reasonable. Set achievable goals and stretch goals. Write out the platforms and paths you genuinely enjoy using. If Twitter makes you miserable, don’t use Twitter! If you love Facebook, use Facebook! If all of social media makes you hurl, do more local events! And remember that progress is progress. This isn’t a race or a competition. Find your path and embrace it.
Want to share this post? Here are some ready-made tweets:
Click to tweet: Great marketing tips for debut authors here! @Bibliogato shares five ways she’s grown her audience as a newer author. #pubtip http://bit.ly/2PROBBr
Click to tweet: Fascinating to see how @Bibliogato reached more readers as a newer author! If you’re a recent debut, how have you grown your audience? http://bit.ly/2PROBBr