At last week’s Romance Writers of America (RWA) Conference, one of the biggest annual US publishing conferences, there were many panels about book promotion. On these panels, authors, publishing professionals, and industry thought leaders shared a wide variety of book advertising tips, from high-level branding advice to in-the-weeds sales funnel and Instagram tips.
We’re excited to share some of the top book advertising tips here for anyone who couldn’t attend RWA 2019. Note that this recap merely scratches the surface; it would take a full-length book (and a time-turner!) to share all of the marketing-related learnings from this conference.
1. Create reader sales funnels
A sales funnel is the journey a reader takes in order to eventually do business with an author or publisher. Dana Kaye, founder of Kaye Publicity, explained how to implement sales funnels to increase book sales. The funnel breaks down into four main stages:
- Awareness: the reader first hears your name or book title and starts to become familiar with your work.
- Interaction: the reader engages with you through social media, your website, or at an in-person event.
- Interest: the reader signs up for your newsletter or downloads a free ebook.
- Sale: the reader purchases one or more of your books.
You can drive readers down your sales funnel across various marketing channels. Take email marketing, for example; when someone signs up for your mailing list, you can set up an automated email series driving potential readers who just became aware of you (by finding your website) and interacted with you (by subscribing) to become more interested in a specific title and ultimately land a sale. Dana recommended setting up an email sequence like this:
- Welcome email: a brief introduction to you and your work, with a free piece of content.
- Backstory email: a deeper dive into your writing and your backstory.
- Social proof email: reviews of your book, awards and notoriety, read-alike suggestions.
- Tripwire offer: a discounted ebook or other low-cost content (hook readers with this first sale).
- Free gift offer: another free piece of content, access to a Facebook group, or other free offer.
You can also apply this sales funnel methodology across other channels, like Facebook ads (to target readers who’ve visited your website) or quizzes (to email content to readers who selected specific quiz or survey responses).
2. Create a high-concept hook to grab readers’ attention
In order to make your sales funnel as effective as possible, it’s important to nail the positioning of each of your titles! According to Sourcebooks Assistant Publisher Kay Birkner and Editorial Director Deb Werksman, for 31% of readers, a book’s message (a.k.a. the book’s positioning) was the one factor that most influenced their book purchasing decision.
To make a book irresistible to readers (or acquisition editors!), create a compelling “hook” to draw them in. A hook is 1-3 sentences that answers the question: What makes this book a must-read? Many great hooks include a framing device (“this” meets “this”) to help cement the idea in a reader’s mind. Most importantly, you want to shift the focus from the book to the reader. Focus on the emotions and feelings the book will evoke rather than a summary of the content. And if you don’t get it right the first time, you can always reposition titles in your backlist to boost sales later.
3. Create a 12-month marketing plan
If you want to feel more in control of your marketing, authors Maria Connor and Callie Hutton suggested creating a comprehensive 12-month marketing plan tailored to your own unique needs. Planning a full year ahead might seem daunting, but there are several benefits to creating a year-long marketing road map:
- Helps communicate deadlines with assistants, a cover designer, a PR person, etc.
- Creates a central source for all details and materials.
- Ensures consistency from release-to-release.
- Lets you use your backlist to its full extent.
- More organized, professional, and intentional.
- Streamlines your process, leaving more time to write!
The marketing and production elements included in your marketing plan could be:
- Release schedule. How often you’re launching a title, in what series, and in what formats (ebooks vs. print vs. audio).
- Cross-promo products. Newsletter swaps, joint giveaways, Facebook groups, etc.
- Travel. Personal vacation, conferences, writing retreats, book signings — anything that makes you unavailable.
- Price promotions. Determine a discount cadence for freebies.
- “BookBub protocol.” Plan for (1) what books to submit each month (e.g. if you’re launching a new series book, submit a previous book in the series), and (2) what to do around a Featured Deal.
- Display Ads (AMS, Facebook, BookBub). Track what books you plan to promote each month, and on each advertising channel.
- Website. What updates need to be made, and when.
- Newsletter. Plan the content, sending frequency, and list segmentation. Also, will you resend to people who didn’t open an email 5-7 days later?
- Busy release dates. Track other authors’ releases that you don’t want to overlap with.
- Retailer promotions. BookFunnel and other follower-growth tools.
- Reader magnets. Rotate the free content you’re using to hook new readers.
- Holiday promotions. Which holidays you’ll focus on, and with which books.
- “Maintenance promotion.” Check all profiles once a quarter to keep bios and other content up-to-date.
4. Use Instagram to connect with readers
Instagram, with over 1 billion active monthly users and an active #bookstagram community, is a fantastic way to reach new readers and build an audience. Stephanie Scott, a 2017 RITA Award finalist for Best First Book, shared tips on how to use Instagram to connect with readers and grow your reach.
Optimize your Instagram profile
These were some basic tips Stephanie shared on how to optimize your profile page:
- Use your author name rather than a username like “bookgirl7”
- Upload a professional profile picture
- Write a bio that describes your author brand (make it voicey!)
- Include your latest book title, series, and/or publisher
- Have the link point to your website or current promotion*
- Keep your location general, or list the nearest major city.
- Bonus: Include a custom hashtag for your brand!
*Stephanie had more advanced tips for the link you include on your profile page. Since you can only include one URL, she recommended using a third-party app to direct viewers toward multiple links, such as linktree, Link in Profile, or LNK.BIO. Better yet, you could create a landing page on your website that has a free incentive or bonus content for signing up for a mailing list. This should be a custom link specifically for your Instagram visitors so you can track these sign-ups separately.
Content ideas for your Instagram photos
Stephanie recommended choosing three main subjects and rotating between them (e.g. books, coffee, your family pet). But if you’re stuck on what to share, consider posting a picture that:
- Reveals something about yourself
- Describes your writing process
- Hints at an idea you’re working on
- Shares frustrations others can relate to
- Tells a funny story or
- Shares an experience using your writer voice (in the description!) to engage readers
More interesting Instagram tips
- Include a call-to-action in each of your descriptions encouraging readers to comment.
- You can include up to 30 hashtags in each post; save hashtag lists to a notes app on your phone so they’re easy to copy and paste into Instagram.
- Search for your own book and/or name as a hashtag. Readers often love when authors repost the pictures they’ve posted of their books (just make sure to give credit in the caption!).
5. Market your audiobook
A book is a book, but different audiences prefer different formats. So there are different approaches authors can (and should!) take when marketing ebooks or print books versus audiobooks. Michele Cobb, executive director of the APA (Audio Publishers Association), offered a checklist of tasks to tackle, as well as tips for creating marketing tools using the unique materials of the format.
- Make it clear your book is available as an audiobook. Include audiobook information and ISBN in your outreach, especially when working with outside publicists.
- Select an audio sample. Share a short audio clip on your website, social media, or SoundCloud.
- Create a simple video. Use the audio clip and cover art to create a short video (ideally less than 30 seconds) for sharing on social media or as a paid ad. Remember to use a high-resolution cover image!
- Alert your audience. Let your fans on social media know the audiobook is available.
- Boost posts or advertise. This can be an affordable way to increase exposure.
- Craft a newsletter feature. Devote a newsletter to your audiobook. Give a behind-the-scenes look at the production process, a photo of the narrator, and a sound clip.
- Create a title alert. Send reviewers and bloggers an alert that focuses on the audiobook. (Tip: Include firstname.lastname@example.org on your list!)
- Write a think piece. Write a think piece about creating your audiobook that is easy for bloggers to use.
- Special sales price. Ask your distribution network about discount opportunities. Offer your audiobook for a low price for a limited time.
6. Use podcasts to promote yourself
Podcasting is an exploding medium, with new book-related and fandom podcasts cropping up every month. Authors Lindsay Emory (Women with Books podcast), Sarah MacLean (Fated Mates podcast), Jenny Nordbak (Wicked Wallflowers Club podcast), and Laura von Holt (Mermaid Podcast) provided tips on how authors can promote themselves via podcasts. There are several different approaches:
- Start your own show. This is a massive workload; the panelists estimated ~12 hours of work per episode.
- Pitch yourself as a guest on a show. Then you’ll be able to reach a new, established audience.
- Create a monthly newsletter as a podcast. This could be instead of or in addition to your email newsletter.
- Purchase advertising. Buy sponsorships or ad placements.
If you decide to take the plunge and try your hand at your own podcast, there are several benefits to doing so:
- Improve your craft. You spend so much time talking about craft in each episode, the level of thought you put into why a trope or scene works makes your own writing better.
- Meet other authors. Chat with people you typically wouldn’t otherwise. This gives you permission to have those conversations you want to have and makes you feel valid in a space where you feel you don’t belong.
- Great for marketing. Build a platform. Meet other people who have interesting lives.
- Get early ARCs. As a book podcaster, you’ll get the chance to request galleys.
- Gush over books! Have fun recording each episode.
But, again, the panel warned the audience of the significant time investment involved — which can be frustrating since podcasts are usually a slow build. It’ll take time for people to find you. But getting a high volume of listeners isn’t necessarily the right goal! Instead, find a niche you’re passionate about and cultivate a loyal audience that also cares deeply about that thing.
7. Build a unified author brand
Laura Kaye, a New York Times bestselling author, offered tips on how to build an author brand to help readers understand why they should care about you and your books.
According to Laura, effective branding is foundational to the development of your writer platform and audience-building efforts, and ideally evokes an emotional response from readers. She suggested you answer these questions when building your author brand:
- What motivates you to write?
- What motivates you to write what you write? (Attitudes, beliefs, and life experiences.)
- Are you writing for a particular ideal reader? Who is it and why?
- How is your work unique from other authors? What is in your stories that readers might not find in other stories?
- Which authors are your books most like? How are comparable authors branding themselves?
- What would be the biggest compliment a reader could offer about one of your stories?
- What facts, feelings, and interpretations define you and/or your stories? Is there an argument you’re always making in your books?
- What themes connect all the stories you’ve written or want to write?
Be consistent with your branding on your book covers, your websites, your book descriptions, your ads, your social media posts, and so on. This can improve the perceived quality of your products, boost consumer recognition, and could help you sell more books.
8. Consider redesigning your covers
Authors Jackie Lau and Zoe York shared tips on how to create stability and growth as an author with a large backlist who launches new releases infrequently. They recommended making the most of your backlist and assigning yourself one actionable marketing job each month. One particularly valuable action item they recommended was to redesign your covers with the help of a professional designer.
Covers get stale with readers over time. According to Zoe, if you’re indie published and your series launched in 2013, it’s time to redesign your covers to give them a 2019 look! Even if readers have seen your book 20 times and assumed they weren’t interested, they might get intrigued by the new cover — or forget all about those first 20 impressions.
Also, if you got a BookBub Featured Deal for one of your books last year, they recommended redesigning your cover before submitting for another Featured Deal for that book! Again, this could prevent people from overlooking your deal if they remember passing on it the first time.
9. Mix up your social media content
Unsure what to post on social media? According to bestselling author Eliza Knight, authors should start building their brand by learning more about their target audience — their demographics, what other authors they’re reading, and what their interests are.
Once you know more about them, there are so many things you could post on social media, customized to their interests. Here just some ideas you can use as a launching point.
- Articles and videos relevant to the setting in your books
- Funny things relevant to writing or your themes in general
- Share what you’re reading
- Ask readers for book suggestions
- Reader polls
- Pictures of places you’ve visited and things you’re doing
- Pictures of your pets
- Inspirational quotes
- Funny memes
- Teasers of your books
- Quotes from your books
- Book trailers
- Book graphics
- Blurbs/reviews of your books
- Reminders to sign up for your newsletter
- Exciting news
- Random giveaways
- Funny/interesting things you’ve come across while researching
- Live videos
10. Be strategic about swag
Lynne Silver, a contemporary romance author, encouraged authors to think of swag as “promotional products” that help with brand marketing. She presented two main goals it can help authors accomplish:
- Attract readers at events. Once you get them to your booth, you can then try to hand-sell your book. Even if they don’t buy it right then, they’ll keep the takeaway and be reminded of your book later.
- Build loyalty with existing readers. If you’ll be attending an event soon, email your existing readers or street team to say you’ll be at the event, and if they approach you and say they’re in the group, they’ll get a special piece of promo. They’ll walk away feeling special, since they received a gift that nobody else did.
Of course, many authors use promotional items to incentivize preorder campaigns and to make giveaways more enticing. And even though swag may not directly sell too many books, they can help readers remember your author brand. Lynne shared the following stats:
- 88% of people remember the advertiser on a promo product.
- 82% of people keep a promo product.
- 79% of people research the brand on a promo product.
Lynne recommended choosing swag that makes sense for your brand, not just a random item that happens to look cute. Don’t choose a consumable item, such as chocolate with a fancy wrapper, since the reader will throw away the wrapper! Also, just because a graphic looks good on your website or Facebook page doesn’t mean it’s going to look good on a one-inch piece of plastic. Work with your designer on a non-gradient, high-resolution image that will work on promo items. And Lynne’s secret tip to saving money? Research promotional companies based close to where you live — at least on the same coast — to save significantly on shipping costs!
Were you at RWA 2019? What other book advertising tips did you take away from the conference? Let us know in the comments below!
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