Digital Book Marketing Strategies That Sell

Originally Posted May 21, 2020 by Joe K.
Last Updated November 20, 2020

We’d be lying if we said digital book marketing is easy. There were 1.6 million books self-published in 2018 with 40% growth over the prior year. If self-publishing continues to grow in the same trajectory, over 2 million books were published last year. No matter how your novel has been published, it’s a given that you are competing with hundreds of thousands of authors who also want to make it on the best seller’s lists.

This doesn’t mean book marketing is dead. Far from it.

It’s more critical than ever authors plan and execute effective digital marketing campaigns.

The following guide will walk you through many aspects of digital marketing, but it’s important to keep three things in mind:

  • You will always be more invested than anyone else in how your book does. This means traditionally published authors (unless you’ve reached JK Rowling heights) should be just as committed to marketing as the next person.
  • No one can possibly tackle and perfect everything at once. Focus on what you’re comfortable doing and find friends or contractors who can help you learn the rest.
  • What works in online advertising today will likely change tomorrow.

Given the current online ecosystem, we’ve outlined what we know works today.

Before You Begin

Whether you’re traditionally published, hybrid published, or an independent author, developing a marketing plan for your book is a necessary exercise. The process will force you to uncover facts about your buyer audience and book that will shape your marketing strategy.

The most critical components of your plan prior to charting out your digital marketing strategy include:

  • Buyer demographics research
  • Author branding
  • Advertising budget

Demographics and branding are the pillars that will shape every piece of collateral and word of ad copy you create going forward.

Buyer Demographics

During pitch sessions, agents often recommend prospective authors include works their book is similar to in their pitch. Why? Chances are they’ll be able to glean who your target readers are and how easy your book will be to market.

Demographics will help tell you which social media platforms your market prefers and what kind of tone will appeal to them. Check out this Sprout Social 2020 article with detailed social media user demographics. For example, if you’re a cozy mystery reader with a target audience of women over the age of 50, you’ll probably spend most of your time on Facebook. On the other hand, if you’re a non-fiction technical writer predominately targeting men over the age of 25, you’ll be living on Twitter and Reddit.

Not sure who wants to buy your books yet? Check out similar authors and review their social media followers. You’ll get a good idea of who is likely to pick up your book.

Author Branding

In short, branding is the part of yourself you let readers see. It’s the part of you that produces your books, loves related creative works, and can talk about your characters all day. If you’re a non-fiction writer, it’s what makes you an expert in your field.

Your brand is not your dog, really weird quirks, or political views. Then again, if your book is about any of the aforementioned things, then this is the part of yourself you’ll want to share as part of your brand.

Knowing authors with similar works makes it easier to research branding ideas. Look at their websites to get ideas of what you do and don’t want to do. Check out NY Book Editors’ article for more info.

Your Marketing Cornerstone: A Website

Websites have been around since the beginning of the Internet, and we haven’t seen any signs they’re going away. Think of your website as your marketing hub. It’s a great place for your reader to get to know their favorite author (that’s you), discover their next read, and get the dish behind your inspiration for their favorite characters. You’ll be directing visitors to long-form content (blogs) on social media and linking to it in various advertisements, particularly if your book is sold on multiple marketplaces.

Must-haves for your website include:

  • A custom URL based on your pen name
  • User-friendly navigation
  • Uncluttered pages
  • Blogging capability
  • Email subscription capture
  • A book listing feature to showcase your published work

Remember that your website should always reflect your brand. This is why we recommend all website URLs and social media accounts are created around your author persona. If you choose your first book’s title, you’ll have to start over when you launch your next novel.

For more information on creating your website, check out our article here.

The Importance of SEO

It’s best to establish a website and blog before you sign your first book contract. The longer you keep fresh, high-quality content on your website, the better your domain authority will be. This impacts where your website shows up in search results.

Why does this matter?

People tend to click on the first three search results on a page. At a minimum, you want to make it as simple as possible for readers to find both you and your books.

You don’t have to become an SEO expert to improve your search rankings. Try to keep your content original, relevant, and always choose writing higher-quality pieces over cranking out volume. If you want to learn more about SEO, SEMrush, Moz, and Ubersuggest offer free content to get you started.

For expert tips on blogging, stay tuned.

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Use Social Media

Social media is a strange but powerful tool that many authors don’t understand. You’ll do well if you remember people on social media are there to be entertained and connect with others. They don’t respond well when they’re bombarded or even peppered with sales-centric posts.

It’s okay to occasionally (once a week for most platforms) post alerts that your book is on sale or create images with quote blocks to entice readers. It’s even more acceptable to share a witty piece of dialogue or a dramatic snippet from a current work in progress. Character backstories, inspirations, or an interesting fact about the world you created are all welcome. Check out your favorite famous author’s page. Chances are they’re focused on entertaining their readers over hawking their books.

If social media isn’t going to drive book sales, why use it?

It’s a great place to connect with your readers and build a network of writers who can help you fine-tune your marketing tactics and participate in cross-promotion. Authors with similar reader demographics can help dramatically increase sales by promoting your book in a newsletter or on their social media account. Just remember, quid pro quo. Engage with authors who you look forward to promoting.

Most social media platforms have a business page or business account feature. While a standard account will suffice for most platforms, you’ll need to sign up for a “page” on Facebook. This allows you to keep your personal accounts private, post advertisements, and boost posts.

Paid Advertising on Social Media

Paid social media ads should be used only for special occasions. You can purchase ads to drive website visits or email list subscriptions, and design advertisements to boost book sales. Keep in mind your campaign goal and your budget. It may not be worth testing an ad for email subscription sign-ups, but announcing a sale is a good investment.

Start with a low budget, make your target audience narrow, and watch your ad performance like a hawk. Changing the headline, image, and copy can all make a big difference, so try your design out on friends before spending money. If your click-through rate is under 1-2% and you don’t generate a sale after your initial test budget limit, kill the ad and try something else.

Facebook has changed its algorithm to reduce business page posts on page follower feeds. If you have a particularly clever post, you may try purchasing a boost to increase your followers. Just remember that the post should be on brand or you risk attracting an audience who won’t be interested in buying your books.

Email Marketing: Effective and Affordable

Some people make the mistake of ignoring email, but most of us spend a lot of time in our inboxes. It’s also a great tool for authors because it’s inexpensive and we’re good at writing!

Here’s a list of rules to keep in mind:

  • Do have a sign-up form prominently displayed on your website.
  • Don’t ask people for more than their email address. The fewer fields you require on your subscription form, the better.
  • Do respond to people when they sign up with a welcome email. This can often be done automatically.
  • Don’t email your list more than once a month unless you have great news about a new release.
  • Don’t forget to research email newsletter best practices like this article on SPAM trigger words.
  • Do link to your signup form on all of your social media profiles.
  • Don’t write a long email. Keep it to the point and save your extra words for your next novel.
  • Do advertise a freebie prior to sign-up. Bundling a few chapters of exclusive content is a tremendous way to encourage people to subscribe to your newsletter. Link to your freebie in your welcome email.
  • Don’t add people without their request in writing for legal reasons.
  • Do have a small reminder at the bottom of your emails that the recipient is receiving the email because they signed up for your newsletter.
  • Don’t forget to include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of your emails. It’s a legal requirement.

The rule with any digital platform is to favor quality content over quantity, but it’s important to not let your list go cold. It’s okay to send out a short email updating your readers and linking to things you’re currently watching or reading.

Another way to boost your readership is to cross-promote with similar authors. You can offer to encourage your readers to read their books in exchange for the same.

The Coveted BookBub Feature

In the mid-2000s, blog book tours were all the rage. Then the Julie/Julia project turned every aspiring writer into a blogger. This medium is so saturated only the most established websites have enough traffic to warrant paid advertising.

Then along came BookBub.

BookBub is a massive email database of readers looking for next-to-nothing priced books to feed their addiction.

A $0.99 digital book sale featured on BookBub used to guarantee a new author thousands of downloads on the first day. While the returns have significantly diminished and the prices have climbed, BookBub features still offer the highest return on investment compared to nearly any other advertising platform accessible to independent authors.

The problem is every author knows about BookBub and wants a coveted feature. To up your chances follow BookBub’s listing requirements to a T, check out their guide, and keep submitting as often as you are allowed.

Let People Get to Know You Through Video

As search algorithms advance to include speech and image results, video is an essential component of any marketing strategy. Because more people are rushing to be seen on YouTube, you’ll need to work hard to be noticed. Share your videos widely (provided your message is on point).

Keep in mind that content is always key and working from a script or detailed outline is best.

People won’t tolerate boring monologues, frequent phrases like “um” or “you know,” or bad audio quality.

People will tolerate lower production value, but this is subject to change as cheap video tech improves.

If you have a limited budget, invest in a good microphone. At this point, you can get away with using your laptop’s built-in camera.

The exception to this rule is the book trailer. They can be a flashy way to promote your book on your website or social media accounts, but the production value is everything. Don’t skimp and invest in a producer who has a portfolio of amazing book trailers.

Amazon Advertising

Amazon allows independent authors to purchase two kinds of advertisements: look-alike or sponsored features in the “Products related to this item” section and paid search advertisements that list your book near the top of the page.

Your Amazon Advertising strategy should mirror Social Media. Set a budget and stick to it unless your ads are outperforming expectations. If your sales are exceeding your budget by a healthy margin, you’re doing well.

If you’re traditionally published, you’ll need to rely on your publisher to advertise on your behalf.

Stay Flexible

Technology changes daily. First blog tours were wildly successful, then Facebook ads, then Amazon advertising, then BookBub, then vloggers, and the evolution continues.

Authors are a scrappy collective who tend to find creative solutions to book sales stagnation. Unfortunately, large publishers with large budgets learn from their authors and throw money at the same tactics, making it hard to compete for advertising space.

This doesn’t mean you should give up.

Remember that there is strength in numbers. Always work to expand your network of authors in your genre. A collective group can learn new tactics much more efficiently than a single person trying to go it alone.

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