If You Don’t Enjoy Marketing, You’re Doing It Wrong

I can already feel the heat from those approaching with pitchforks! But if you hear me out, I think I can convert at least some of you to the idea that if you don’t enjoy marketing, you’re doing it wrong. Let me explain.

Sometimes marketing can seem like a Sisyphean task. There’s always something you could do to promote your work, and there’s never enough hours in the day. Many writers are already hard-pressed with demands from the rest of their lives and have to battle hard to carve out writing time. The pressure to promote squeezes that precious writing time even further.

On top of that, many marketing tasks just seem unpleasant. Writers can often be introverts who don’t like pressing the flesh – either in cyberspace or meatspace – and the very idea of marketing is hive-inducing. I get that, I really do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I think that if marketing is making you feel icky, you’re probably doing it wrong. If it’s too expensive, you’re definitely doing it wrong. And if it takes up too much time, guess what? You really are doing it wrong.

Stuff that can make you feel icky:

  • Book signings
  • Hanging out on Goodreads
  • Emailing reviewers
  • Spamming reader forums
  • Tweeting buy links
  • Posting to reader groups on Facebook

I don’t bother with any of this stuff. Some is completely ineffective (Twitter spam) and some is potentially useful (emailing reviewers) but isn’t worth the time cost. In certain genres, a Goodreads presence can be very useful, but if it makes you feel uncomfortable then you’re not going to execute effectively and should just avoid. Anyway, if you need reviews (or readers), there are easier ways.

Stuff that’s too expensive:

  • Hiring a publicist
  • Any advertising without a positive ROI

I’m keeping this section short because these are the two most common mistakes. I can see the attraction in hiring a publicist – you hand over some money, to a pro, and you put your feet up and watch the sales roll in (or spend more time writing). But it doesn’t work like that. Publicists are incredibly expensive, and they don’t focus on promotional opportunities that actually shift e-books. They tend to specialize in carving out traditional media attention, which has a poor track record at shifting digital products.

I’ve been interviewed in national newspapers with millions of readers. I know writers who’ve had appearances on national radio and television. The result is always the same: a slight movement of the sales needle, nothing more – less than an appearance on a small blog would generate, and dwarfed by the sales spike an ad on a large reader site can bring. If a media appearance falls in your lap, great. But that’s about as much effort as I’d recommend putting in.

As for advertising, there’s a whole army of sites competing for your advertising dollars. Many will make huge claims about the size of their audience, but only a small few will return a positive result. It can be tricky to discern which is worth your money. Some sites will claim huge numbers of Facebook fans, but if you look closely at their page you will see little or no interaction – a sign that all those Likes aren’t actually seeing their updates, making advertising with them pointless. There’s a chapter in Let’s Get Visible about how to evaluate any advertising opportunity, and I’ve uploaded the relevant excerpt here (PDF) for those who want to read it quickly.

Go through the process outlined there. If it looks like you won’t get a positive return on your investment, don’t advertise. Be realistic. Avoid magical thinking. You won’t just save yourself money, you’ll also vote with your feet, helping to ensure these sites beef up their audience or cut their prices.

Don’t say “It’s only $20, what’s the harm in trying.” Every site will have been tried by someone already. People tend to share their results (at places like Kboards). If you pay the $20 despite the poor track record, you are simply encouraging the site to continue providing poor value (and wasting your limited budget for advertising).

At the other end of the scale, I’ve seen people spunk $5,000 or more on a major Goodreads or Amazon campaign. And I’ve never seen anyone come close to getting a positive return on that huge outlay – even writers with an extensive backlist. Don’t be tempted, however much cash you have to spare.

Stuff that takes up too much time:

  • Blog tours
  • Guest posts
  • Interviews
  • Platform building

Blog tours can be effective in some genres, but for most of us it’s simply not worth the time required to generate all the necessary content needed for each site. Blog tours can also be expensive – either in terms of time setting it up yourself, or cash to an organizer – and in most genres the effort or expense is a waste. Guest posts and interviews fall into the same category. I still do them occasionally, but that’s usually reserved for a big release.

Given that I have a decent-sized platform, you might be surprised to see platform building up there. But here’s the thing: platforms shift way less books than you think. IMO, they aren’t great at shifting books on a continual basis. They can be great for launching books – and the distinction makes sense if you think about it. Your blog readers can only buy your book once.

Platform building is the kind of thing that pays out long term, but it’s a slow build, and quite a slog. It’s also very time intensive. I think you have to enjoy something like blogging for the sake of it, and not expect a quick pay-out.

If you have extra time to spare after you hit your writing targets, and have devoted a small amount of time to the kind of marketing I recommend (explained below), then you can spend a little time on things like interviews, guest posts, and platform building. But only if you enjoy it. It’s certainly not a necessary condition for success, and definitely not a sufficient one. You still need books to sell, and you still need to make readers aware of them through marketing.

The good stuff:

  • Price-pulsing
  • Free-pulsing/Permafree
  • Mailing lists
  • Cheap/free intro to a series
  • Advertising on sites with a positive ROI
  • Group promotions
  • Box sets

All of this stuff is effective. None of this stuff will make you feel icky. Every one of these tools is something that you can afford in terms of time and money (within reason when it comes to advertising).

I think when people caution writers not to waste time or money on marketing, they think of blogging, interviews, hiring a publicist, and spamming Twitter or Goodreads. But that ignores a whole bunch of stuff you can do which fits your budget, doesn’t take up much time, doesn’t make you feel like a huckster, and actually works at selling books and building your audience.

It takes no time or outlay to make the first book in a series free or 99c. It takes five minutes to email BookBub or ENT about an ad spot. It might take you an hour or two to learn how to set up a mailing list, but that’s something you will benefit from for your entire career (and the most powerful tool at your disposal).

I’m not disagreeing with those who say that writing should be your primary focus. Of course it should. The more books you have, the bigger return you’ll get from any marketing effort. But I don’t think you should wait to promote. Whether a book takes you two months or six months (or longer), isn’t it worth an hour or two of your time to put together some kind of promotion for the launch?

If a book’s sales have flagged six months down the road, isn’t it worth an hour or two of your time to use one of the (effective) tools above to resuscitate its sales?

What do you gain from waiting? More writing time? I’m not suggesting cutting into that. At all. I’m suggesting finding the time elsewhere. For those of you with kids, or two jobs, or an illness to manage, I get that time is tight. But everyone should be able to find an hour or two around a launch to give their book a good push, and maybe another couple of hours six months down the road when sales dip. Even if you’re releasing four or five books a year, that’s not a crazy time commitment.

A good launch can mean the difference between hitting a good rank for a day or two, and hanging around in the upper echelons of the rankings for several weeks. A good promotion can pad your bank account, swell your mailing list, and bring you a horde of new readers who will both check out your existing work and eagerly await the next.

But hey, if you don’t want to promote, that’s your call. You’re just making it easier for the rest of us.

If you do want to market your work, and you stick to the stuff I suggest, I can’t guarantee success, but I can guarantee you will enjoy marketing more. You still need a good book, well presented. And you still need a little luck. But if you keep at it, you will get the hang of it and start to see results.

And that’s what we’re all doing this for, right? We all want to be read, otherwise we’d just leave all these stories on our hard-drive – which is roughly the same amount of readers you’ll have if you do nothing to actively build your audience.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

180 Replies to “If You Don’t Enjoy Marketing, You’re Doing It Wrong”

  1. Note: I’m running out the door (to write) but I’ll be back in a few hours to dive into the comments. Something about this topic can make people crazy so… be excellent to each other!

  2. Hi, David – interesting post, and sort-of timely for me. I’m into the final straight on my novel and have been giving a lot of thought to how I’ll go about launching and marketing it. It’s actually something I’m very excited to get into, but I’m still trying to work out which approach(es) are the best fit for me. This post was useful for confirming some things I’d already ruled out and stressing stuff I’d ruled in.

    I have a lot of prep still to do, but this was an informative start – so thanks.

  3. Well said. When I first started, I considered marketing to be all the painful, low-return stuff you mentioned up top. What I figured out over time is that the “good stuff” is what moves books for me, and it’s made me fairly successful with very little time spent on it. Low resistance marketing techniques FTW!

    1. Low resistance marketing techniques. I like that.

      But yes, it’s quite serendipitous how the most effective stuff is also the cheapest (certain ads aside) and least time-heavy. Hark, a sign!

  4. Great post, David. What you say echoes my experiences, which is comforting to know. And there’s a few suggestions on your good stuff list that I haven’t tried yet, so I’ll be looking into that shortly. Many thanks for sharing your tips.

  5. The platform point is a particularly good one. The relationship between website traffic and sales is often misunderstood when it comes to writing fiction.

    While there are a few exceptions, the reality is that sales drive web traffic — not the other way around. Readers will not discover your work because of your blog. They will discover your work because somebody recommended you, or because your book showed up on a recommendations list, or maybe they found it on another author’s list of “also boughts” on Amazon. If they like it, then maybe they’ll look at your website to find out what else you wrote.

    Having an active platform — that is, readers who actively promote your work for you — is priceless, and, as you correctly point out, is a long slog. It doesn’t happen by blogging or by facebooking or by tweeting. There’s no magic recipe based on percent of time spent on this or that effort. It’s not how it works.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again.

    Social media is a fulcrum.
    Backlist is your lever.
    If the lever is too short, then it doesn’t matter how solid the fulcrum is. You still won’t get much purchase.

    Keep fighting the good fight, David.

  6. I agree with everything you said….Especially things varying in certain genres. I think the big thing is to pay attention to what works for you and your work. I do have to add that perma-free works better than I thought it would. There are a few things that work for me (Facebook Ads) that don’t seem to work for anyone else, but it could just be my target audience.

  7. Wow man. This is great stuff. Information that young, excited need to know and guide them for successful career in this field. Thanx!

    Sent from Samsung MobileDavid Gaughran wrote:

  8. Hi David. After adjusting keywords and categories for my WW2 book, The Black Orchestra, it began to sell (from March 1). By November, sales were dwindling (to about 4 per day) so I ran a Countdown Promotion on Amazon.com (with almost no supporting advertising). The promotion resulted in sales of 420 books in 6 days. Since the promotion ended (on Dec 12), my book has entered a new division, and is now selling close to 50 per day. Conclusion: Countdown Promotions work and leave a lasting effect. I will be releasing a sequel, The Wings of the Eagle, on Jan 8, and have been alerting the market (via twitter and my blog) so that may have helped. I documented details of the promotion on my writers blog http://jjtoner.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/anatomy-of-a-countdown-promotion/

    1. Nice results, JJ. I especially like that sales are hitting 50 a day 3 weeks later. You might see a drop in a week or so, or you might have hit a nice groove with recommendation emails. Either way, I’d say December was a great month for you overall.

      And best of all, you have a sequel to give things an extra boost. Looking forward to reading that post, I’ve seen precious little of people’s experiences with Countdown.

      1. David, I just did a KCD on Dec 22, and paired it with a BookBub promo. As usual BB came through with flying colors, and I got + 400% ROI. Also, the fact that the KCD now allows you to retain the 70% royalty on the lower price meant both more revenue on the same number of sales, and a lower ad cost as I fit into the ‘under $1’ level on BB. Having the price changes ‘automated’ was also a great stress reducer. I think the only thing I’d do differently next time is to move the price up a bit faster. My books are regularly priced at $4.95, but I left Deadly Coast at $0.99 for three full days before starting the incremental increases. Since most of the big sales come in the first 24 hours, I could have probably increased revenue by restricting the lowest price to say 36 hours.

        Great post, by the way, and I couldn’t agree more with your take on marketing. At any rate, it certainly reflects my own experience. Thanks for your insights.

  9. It’s reassuring to read that someone like you also avoids the horrible marketing practices of all too many writers. God advise all round. Thanks, David.

  10. Awesome post, David! I think with the recent discussion floating around the writer world, it’s nice to have somebody clearly define what various marketing/promo efforts are, and what people may be referring to when they discuss the topic. You’re right: the stuff you outlined as cheap and easy DOES count as promotion and marketing, and it’s very effective!

  11. David — speaking as an old ad-man, your call for vetted, transparent traffic numbers, is a concept whose time has come. Publications and print media have been under the gun to provide circulation figures for decades now, and its only a matter of time before some regulation comes to online ad venues, too. I am also glad to see you make the suggestion for writers not to throw good money after bad. $20 can buy me two perfectly good bottles of decent wine. Better me than the guy who runs the “trust me” ad venue site!

    1. I think we can be the market force that demands such transparency, but we have to vote with our feet, and stop thinking of $20 here or $40 there as throwaway money worthy of an experiment. And we need to look a little closer at sites that claim big audiences (esp. when you don’t hear authors raving about the sales dump the ad brought).

  12. Twitter spamming does not work. Period. It annoys the reader.

    Twitter personality and style does work. I find interesting, inspiring and funny folks on twitter (not just writers). I buy books from witty writers, read their blogs, sign-up for their e-mail lists and generally push the word around of those I follow and who engage with their followers.

    Wit works, but it falls into that long term category of platform building. If you like tweeting, I think twitter gives you a return on your efforts.

  13. Brilliant, brilliant post. And just the sort of thing I was thinking about. I have a launch coming up and not as clear and idea on what to do about it as I should.
    Having confirmation on some ideas I figured were rubbish and others I thought might be good are pretty useful too.

    And, for the record, pulse-pricing is an odd one, but it’s certainly pulled me up the rankings. Now to see what it does to sales!

  14. Thank goodness I can stop tweeting ‘buy’ links! I don’t do it very often 🙂

    Of the first ‘icky’ list, I’ve only done the twitter thing and one book signing which I didn’t think I’d sell books at and, in fact, nobody came. Of the second list, I wasted some money in the lull before Christmas, looking for anything that would boost my books. I have a nice long list now of sites that don’t work, which I will try to remind myself of next November.

    Of the last set, the only one I don’t do is price pulse, but that’s because of I have two permafrees that lead into series.

    I can’t emphasize the mailing list enough. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    1. I think you can do it in some limited circumstances. Certainly tweet a new release – that’s information that your readers want and need. Definitely tweet about a sale. You can tweet about the odd review here and there, but don’t overdo it (I see some people tweeting about every review they get on Amazon. IMO, stick to a big blog review or a media mention etc.)

      As for price pulsing, you don’t need it so much as you have permafrees leading into your series. But you could experiment with dropping Book #2 to 99c on a day when your permafree is advertised somewhere like POI or BookBub, to see if you increase the sell through in the series. Might be worth trying, but you ain’t doin’ much wrong as it is!

  15. Good points David. I look forward to coming back to this post in the future. I enjoyed Let’s Get Visible and have been recommending it to my fellow authors.

  16. Good points, though it still pays to get to the right reviewers and book clubs, the “influencers” if you will – who can reach more individual readers… That’s what our Winner Circle is about (and for anyone reading this comment, use promo code VIPW20 for a $20 discount – will get you an entire year’s subscription for under $40, with updates on festivals, conferences, book clubs, reviewers, etc.

  17. Price pulsing works well on Amazon, but I’d avoid it with the other vendors. It can take weeks to get your title back to regular price at places like B&N or Sony. I thought they had all caught up from my pre-release pulse but an email from Amazon warned me that Sony was still at sale price and they might just remove my title if I didn’t match it. I know I’ve heard David warn about this before, but I didn’t realize just how long it can take for some of the vendors to apply price updates.

    The kicker was Amazon had set a deep discount (60%) on that title and it got cancelled when I had to set the price back to 0.99 for several days. I finally emailed the staff at Smashwords and they were very helpful, getting in touch with Sony and asking them to execute the price updates.

    I think it’s time for me to go back and re-read ‘Let’s Get Visible’. Lots of good advice in there.

    1. I actually don’t recommend using Smashwords for price pulsing unless you opt out of the stores with slower connections like Diesel and (in particular) Sony. I don’t know if they still have problems with Kobo too (I go direct there now), but that could be one to watch also in that regard.

      D2D is much better for price-pulsing books on Apple and B&N (and direct is best with Kobo). D2D has some drawbacks v Smashwords tho, more here: https://davidgaughran.com/2013/08/27/choosing-the-right-distributor-smashwords-vs-draft2digital/

      1. They are, indeed, having problems with Kobo. I tried the pre-order option at Smashwords and the vendors were a mixed bag in terms of response time. Apple was very fast to load the pre-order for the new book, but Kobo didn’t get around to it until almost a month after the end of the pre-order period.

        This might be due to the big over-reaction in the UK, but that’s still not a mitigating factor as far as I’m concerned. Business is business and you don’t go into panic mode every time a juicy item hits the papers. My title (hard science fiction – no sex or erotica) sat in their inbox while they tried to sort out whether someone else’s book has bestiality in it if a werewolf turns back into a human at the last second…

        I understand the need to deal with the PR backlash, but they still need to provide a consistent, reliable experience for customers and suppliers alike. It’s in our best interests to have strong competitors in this industry, but I’m worried about the future of companies like Kobo.

  18. See, I was standing there with the pitchfork (pointed right at your head, no less) when I started this article. And now, I’m standing the pitchfork upright, and asking you to pose for a picture with me (like the folks in the Green Acres Tv show; or like the American Gothic painting, only happier).

    Those are certainly doable marketing items, and things that don’t make you feel like a door-to-door salesman. 🙂

  19. Reblogged this on Journey Taker and commented:
    I totally need to figure out marketing, and this seems to have a lot of solid, time-tested advice in it. I’m guilty of feeling overwhelmed with just my day-to-day writing and household tasks, much less all this other stuff. Well, 2014 is a new year and so calls for a new approach … right? 🙂

  20. What type of group promotions work best, David? I’d like to look into more opportunities in this vein for Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative and a couple of other groups I’m involved in.

    1. The clear winner is box sets. Multi-author box sets especially are catnip to power readers.

      Aside from that, something that might work for HFAC is the basic idea of running a 99c sale with a bunch of authors and cross-promoting each other with your respective platforms. These days though, a little advertising (and/or blog outreach) should probably be in the mix to ensure you get the ball rolling.

  21. Let’s see… I tried:

    Mailing lists
    Cheap/free intro to a series
    Box sets

    Didn’t work. Only thing left on the list is spending money with an advertiser.

    I think this stone will sharped these pitchfork tines nicely…

    1. It’s hard to judge what you’ve done (or how you’ve done it) without any more details, but I’m sure we can find some room for improvement somewhere.

      For example, when you say permafree didn’t work, did you make the first book in a series free or a standalone (former is better by far)? How many more books were out in the series at the time (you need *at least* one, preferably two, but more is always better)?

      It might simply be the case that you need to throw some advertising into the mix. Not necessarily anything as expensive as BookBub if that’s out of reach price-wise, but even a little spotlight on a permafree can get the ball rolling.

      As for mailing lists, whatever about anything else I’ve said DO NOT give up on this tool. It costs nothing to set-up, costs virtually no time to maintain. Leave the links on your site and in the back of your books (read the post I linked to, if you’re not familiar with this).

      Mailing list sign-ups will always be a function of sales (outside of actively getting people to sign up by giving them something like a free book or competition entry… which I don’t do). To get the sign-ups rolling, you need to get sales moving.

      That all might sound chicken-and-egg if you are still struggling, but you’ll see what I mean once you get the sales needle to move. A decent-ish promotion will give you a decent-ish sales spike, and you’ll see some of those readers sign up to your list. Next time you launch, you’ll see the book go a little higher in the rankings – which brings you more visibility and new readers. Some of those sign up for your list, then the next time you launch…

      And so on.

      1. As you said, to get the mailing list sign-ups rolling, you need to get sales moving. That IS a chicken-and-egg thing, because no sales equals no sign-ups. And I’m having no sales… so.

        You won’t get sales until you get discovered by customers. All of the advice above is useless if it isn’t seen by your potential customers. What is needed is a sure way to get discovered and gain interest by your market… even when your market already shuns you (for being an Indie author, for instance). A mailing list won’t accomplish that.

        Paid ads might work… IF you can afford the outlets that will put them in front of your desired market, AND you’re clever enough an ad writer to get their attention. I have yet to manage either.

        1. Sure, mailing list sign ups will be a function of sales. If you have no sales, you’ll have no-one signing up to your mailing list.

          But there’s a bunch of ways you can get sales rolling (just make sure you have that mailing list sign-up in the back of your books before you do any of this stuff). You said you tried permafree intro to a series, but how long did you give it? What did you do to put that permafree book in front of readers? Putting something free won’t magically make it visible to your target audience. That might have worked in 2011, but it doesn’t work now. Same goes for running a 99c sale. There’s simply too many books doing that at any one time for price (or free) to act as a discovery tool *on its own*.

          Which means you need something with it. The simplest, easiest, and most effective is an ad. I’d recommend reading the excerpt I linked to above before parting with your cash, but there are a bunch of sites where you can advertise a freebie or a 99c sale. Not all of them are expensive. Some are, like BookBub, and you need to consider carefully. But the #2 and #3 sites (ENT and POI) don’t charge anything to feature a free book. ENT charge 25% of the sales you make on a 99c ad – but you literally can’t lose money on that. POI don’t charge at all.

          Another couple of sites to check out that charge very little to feature 99c sales: Kindle Books & Tips and BookBlast. And then there are loads more places you can advertise a freebie that don’t charge anything at all. There’s even some (free) tool which will do the submitting for you.

          Finally, you don’t need to be a clever ad writer. They write their own copy. In some cases, they pull directly from your blurb, so make sure that’s as tight as it can be (and the usual stuff: good cover which speaks to genre, tight sample, clean formatting).

          I hope there’s some stuff there you can try.

      2. The authors of “Write. Publish. Repeat.” suggest newsletters sent out relatively frequently covering a range of topics besides book announcements. David suggests announcement-only mailing lists with occasional mailings. I understand the rationale of both approaches, but it may not be clear when one is more appropriate than the other.

        1. Thanks for mentioning this, Paolo, as it’s worth going through the differences.

          For everyone else, there’s two approaches to how you should use your mailing list. The first is the “monthly newsletter” approach, where you mail out news, updates, competitions, new release info (if applicable that month), and so on each month. The second approach (which I employ) is to only hit your mailing list when you have a new release (and often the content will just be about new releases and nothing else).

          *** Newsletter Approach ***

          PROS: The advantage of the first approach is that you are engaging readers more, and engaged readers are likely to become passionate advocates of your work that will spread the word about your books to more of your target audience. Aside from the Write. Publish. Repeat. guys, I know a bunch of romance authors who use this approach. It’s particularly suited to those who are releasing very frequently, and therefore have a new release to mention almost every month anyway (once you count additional editions like paperbacks, or maybe audio too, etc.). It’s also suited to those who don’t have a blog (or Facebook page) where readers can engage with them (and the newsletter is the only way readers can keep up to date with the latest news). It’s also a handy approach for those managing the releases of multiple authors or large backlists, as they have something they can dangle in front of the readers each month (free book, 99c sale, new release etc.).

          CONS: The disadvantage of this approach is that (a) you have to generate all that content each month (which takes time and energy) and, most importantly, (b) readers might not want a newsletter, and might just want to know when the next book is out. For me as a reader, I avoid signing up to newsletter-style mailing lists for this exact reason – my inbox is cluttered enough as it is. Finally, if you are not especially prolific, and you are already blogging and updating to your FB page, you simply might struggle with enough stuff to say every month and might end up just padding it out or phoning it in – which is not something you want to do to your core, engaged readers.

          *** New Release Approach ***

          PROS: Telling readers you are only going to email them when a new book is out can encourage readers to sign up who are wary about the amount of email they already get. If they know they are only going to be getting a few emails a year, that can take away that reluctance to sign up to yet another list. This approach is less work for the author, and there is less that can go wrong. Also, this approach tends to lead to less unsubs – people deciding they don’t want your emails anymore. It’s hard enough to get people to sign up without losing them before they’ve even had a chance to buy something.

          CONS: If you are a slow writer (like me!) there can be a large gap between emails. They may have forgotten who you are. They might even think they never signed up for your list in the first place, and report the email as spam (I think with a large enough list, you are going to get some of this anyway, but the longer the gap between emails/messages, the more likely it is). Secondly, this approach is inherently less engaging as you’re only emailing readers when you want something from them (purchase my new book), instead of when you are giving them something (news of a comp, sale, free book, etc.).

          *** Which is best for you ***

          More important than picking one or the other is picking one and sticking to it. To put it another way, make sure you fulfill the promise you made to readers when they signed up.

          Don’t tell them they are getting a monthly newsletter, then only mail them months later when you have a new release. Similarly, don’t promise not to clutter their inbox and restrict communication to new release announcements, then mail them every time your books are free or 99c or in a boxset. Keep the promise you made on signing up – that’s more important than anything else.

          If you’re not sure what approach to pick after reading all the pros and cons above, I’d suggest going with the New Release approach. It’s simpler and less work – and there are less ways you can screw up!

  22. Thanks David, for another helpful article. Marketing is a kind of treadmill that you jump off at your peril. The only marketing that really works is word of mouth, but one has to get the work into the mouths in the first place – and that’s the difficult part.
    The email list makes sense, but what if you write in several different genres?

    1. Hey Jan – re different genres, there are two approaches I see people using. Some keep separate lists for each genre, others (like me) have one list for all subscribers. I prefer the latter approach because it’s easier to manage, and you have the chance of some crossover purchases from people that signed up for one genre but might like the other genre you write in. The only real downside is that you might get some unsubscribes from people who only wanted to hear about that one genre, but I think the risk is minimal and not worth splitting the lists for (unless you are super prolific, and/or the genres are radically different like SF and erotica)

  23. While I scrolled through the other replies, I want to start with Steven Jordan’s latest reply. Did a mailing list really not work for him? My day job is in marketing and I find that e-mail marketing to be one of the most useful tools for reaching an audience and developing potential buyers. In marketing parlance, it’s called “lead nurturing”. You find your leads–in the case of writing, you find potentially interested readers–and then you stay in touch with them by sharing valuable content. When they’re looking for something to read, they will remember and think positively of you and may look for what books you offer.

    David’s point about not chasing publicists and advertising also is likely a good idea, though I do like the idea of building an online platform via blogging (and social media). In the end, anything you can do to develop relationships with potential readers and other industry professionals who can provide you visibility or referrals, is a good investment of time. Trying to sell, sell, sell on Twitter just doesn’t work (as David also points out). It’s amazing how many times I’ll scroll through Twitter just looking for interesting tweets only to come face to face with lots of “Buy, buy, buy” messages. That will work (maybe) if the authors took time beforehand to get to know me, etc. and I know they’re good people out to live the dream of being published writers. I will support them, if so. But that’s not the majority of writers I come across on Twitter so, for the most part, forget it. (Jonathan Gunson is an exception–I really like how he represents himself online and replies whenever you retweet one of his messages; I respect that and he has a large following).

    This is a good post, David, so thank you. My problem is, in someways, just the opposite of what you write about here. Ever since I started developing an online presence about four or five months ago, I find that the expertise I have from my day job (marketing) tries to take over, I get a zillion ideas (that I think through strategically) and I have to remember that my primary job (which, truly, I do love) is to write.

    Happy new year.

  24. David, usually I think you’re right on the money but I have to seriously question this comment: “It takes five minutes to email BookBub or ENT about an ad spot.”

    It probably takes less than five minutes to email Bookbub. However, that doesn’t mean you will be accepted there. Most aren’t. And if you are how much does it take to PAY FOR THE AD? Hon, have you looked at the cost lately? Seriously, I question the advise to spend that kind of money if you only have one book out. Someone might decide to do it anyway. There is a good chance they’d bread even, (IF they could get it accepted which ain’t easy) but that is probably about all they would do.

    I think what you are trying to do here is dispute KKR’s much disputed blog post. I understand if you don’t agree, but you missed the mark on that argument.

    1. Let me say that ENT is less costly and seems to be somewhat lower bar for getting a promotion. They never gave me a lot of sales, but they do some people. It’s a matter of genre since I write the wrong genre for their list. I would consider that a better bet for someone with only one book out.

    2. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve disputed something, but that wasn’t the target here. I’ve only read one of her discoverability series (the last one), and I’ll tell you how I feel about it after I’ve read the next one. I don’t want to judge the theory until I’ve seen the whole thing.

      But I will say this. If her posts stop writers from wasting time spamming people on Twitter, then that’s great. If that’s the point, I’m all for it. On the other hand, I wouldn’t agree with the position that writers shouldn’t market until they have a large backlist. That’s all I’ll say until she’s done with the series (and I’ve actually read the rest!).

      As for the rest of what you said, sure BookBub charge. I linked to a whole chapter about how to evaluate if it’s worth it. That chapter from Visible is pretty future-proof, and I think it’s a good way to evaluate any ad site (as things change quickly in that sphere). Any expense should be considered very carefully (I think I made that point pretty clearly later in this post).

      (P.S. I don’t know if you are specifically referring to BookBub’s HF list, but my own experience is that list isn’t as strong (for the price) as some of the others I’ve tried. Would that be your impression too? Have you ran your fantasy stuff there?)

      1. David, can you delete the one that I posted on the wrong reply? I’m not sure how I did that. :-/

        Anyway to reply to your question: I think KKR is talking about spamming twitter, but also running out and throwing money at any advertiser who will take your money. For someone’s first novel, no good advertiser with a decent ROI is going to take the ad. It really is that simple. People get these unrealistic expectations for their first novels and then the crash of reality tends to be unpleasant. I have been irate at certain people over at kboard saying that if you advertise and promote enough, of course you’ll get a lot of sales with that first novel. This is a new theme and a disturbing one, because most of the time it isn’t true.

        As for Bookbub, I’ve advertised both my HF and Fantasy. The last HF I advertised for a 99 Cent promotion had just over 1800 sales which I considered a decent ROI even at the high cost of their HF ads. I’ll have to look at what you said about ROI to see if you agree. I don’t have the figures on my last fantasy BB ad in front of me but I know that it also made money and it was simultaneous with the release of a sequel to the novel and it definitely bumped sales of the sequel.

        I just really hesitate to recommend BB to new novelists. I have seen them get very, very discouraged at being turned down time after time, and almost all other advertisers are a total waste of money. There are only a tiny handful of exceptions.

        Really, I agree with your post. I just felt that comment didn’t indicate how difficult BB ads to get, especially for a new novelist. Trying to buy one for a while isn’t realistic for most. Of course, there are always exceptions though so I suppose trying doesn’t hurt IF you expect to get turned down.

        1. Deletion – done. As for BookBub, it’s a pain in the ass when you get refused (I’ve been there and so has pretty much everyone I know at some point, no matter how much they have sold). Sometimes the stated reason makes no sense. Sometimes they seem to change policies at whim.

          In general though, when I check out newbies who are complaining they got knocked back, I immediately see areas in the presentation where they could improve. Sometimes the cover isn’t great, sometimes the blurb is a little dry (and the book is actually great, just the blurb doesn’t reflect that). Other times it’s the formatting which isn’t as neat as it could be.

          Most of the time though, it’s that nebulous criteria of “critical acclaim.” (BookBub will sometimes give a reason if you ask why you were refused, and this is the one I hear most often.) Unlike other sites like POI, KBT, or ENT, BookBub don’t set the review min/avg in stone – I guess they leave it purposefully vague to allow them wiggle room for big names. Anyway, it seems the minimum needed is a 4.0 avg and 20+ reviews. But that’s a minimum – and some people I see complaining about getting rejected only have three reviews! (First task on publishing for newbs: get lots of reviews so you can qualify for the ad sites.)

          Reading through the lines, they also seem to want to see stuff like reviews from book blogs. I know people who got knocked back, and all they did on resubmission was reformat their blurb, giving prominence to juicy quotes from book blogs. So that’s another tip for anyone getting knocked back.

          One more: give them alternative dates in the comment box and make sure you tick the box saying your dates are flexible. If the requested date is already booked – and you don’t give them alternates/tick that box – that will be an automatic refusal. I always make sure to give them lots of options. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get accepted.

          But I would hesitate to recommend BookBub to newbies based on cost alone. Some genres are okay, but some are eye-wateringly expensive. And, yes, I fully agree that losing money is a big possibility if you only have one book (as you get no spillover sales to the rest of your backlist).

          However, while BookBub is the biggest show in town, it’s not the only one. You literally can’t lose money on an ENT ad. POI don’t charge. KBT is around $50. Last time I went with BookBlast, I think it was $20 or something. So, BookBub aside, advertising is cheap – and advertising is just one of the suggested tips above. (But advertising is like butter, everything is better with advertising!).

          Random aside, I stumbled across this really interesting video last night on advertising. It’s from the 70s, but you can pretty much substitute “digital” for where he says “direct response” and it’s quite relevant today:


      2. I can’t agree that you can’t lose money with an ENT ad. I have come pretty close. They actually and they say up front that fantasy doesn’t do great there. They don’t mention Historical Fiction, but mine has done rather poorly there. However, I would put it on my very short list of advertisers worth paying money to. They do much better for romance. Romance does spectacularly there from what I have seen.

        You mentioned some others. Several of those I have tried with varying success. I would say KBT is probably one of the better of the 2nd tier choices.

        However, I must mention that I have run an ad with Bookbub fairly recently with a book that had substantially fewer than 20 reviews. They also ran one for a novel with a 3.9 star average but it has some outstanding 5-star reviews. As you said, they leave themselves wiggle room.

        Thanks for posting the video. You’re right. That is interesting.

        1. Yo, I meant the Bargain Book ad. They take 25% of your sales, so you literally can’t lose. [Note to those darn kids: this is literally how you use literally.]

    3. You’re right that you can’t lose money on the bargain book ads although they don’t always have outstanding results. On the other hand, sometimes they do. They are certainly worth trying. And if you can get one (they only take submissions for those during January), their Book of the Day ads are reasonably priced and worth a shotif you are in one of the genres that does well there. I usually pick one up even though I know they’re really not a great venue for me.

  25. Timely post for me. Marketing is up at the top of my list this year. What exactly is price pulsing? I get it, but is there a strategy? And what about pre-launch activity? I have a small list and I forewarn people on my various facebook groups, but that’s it. Would love some hints.

    I have 18 titles on Kindle/Createspace. I started a year ago with cookbooks, after 5 of them I did 3 childrens books, then in August found cozy mysteries. I have to out and a third will launch next week. They tripled my sales (small but sales nonetheless). I’d say my biggest marketing tactic is to do series and lots of books with links to all books in the back and a ploy to get people to sign up for my list.

    Any other advice?

  26. I tried Mailchimp about 6 months ago. Set it up and placed it on my web site (front page). I got no takers. I had to hire a web designer to work out what was going wrong. It turned out that the Mailchimp thingummy was (invisibly) overlapping my book graphic which prevented people from either subscribing to my mail-list or accessing Amazon to buy my book. That exercise cost me Euro100 odd. I gave up on Mailchimp at that point.

    1. Absolutely don’t give up on Mailchimp! I beg thee!

      A mailing list is the most powerful tool at your disposal. The most powerful! If you can convert even a tiny percentage of your readers into mailing list subscribers, your launches will get much more powerful each time because you are concentrating your sales over a shorter period, and can zoom up the charts.

      If you have the sign-up to your mailing list at the back of your books (*the* most important place, if you don’t want to screw with your site again, at the very, very least, have the sign-up link in your books), each sales spike from a new release (or promotion) will add more names to that list.

      Give it another try – at least in the back of your books. It’s not a magic bullet. Having it there won’t increase your sales. But it will allow you to reach more and more of the readers you do sell to with your next book. And your next. And your next.

      1. I’d need to set up a business address before setting up with mail chimp. They want to make your physical address visible and I’m not really comfortable with that.

      2. Good idea. I’ll call the UPS store.Canada Post is usually too pricey… I wasn’t going to finish the Mailchimp account setup, but you’ve convinced me of its value.

      3. I totally agree with David about Mailchimp. It is because of him that I opened an account. It is free, simple to set up and basically can be left to its own devices until you have a new release.
        I have two short stories out in a series: one free and one for 99c. My Mailchimp link is at the back of the books, on my blog and FB page, and at the bottom of all my emails.
        I don’t have many signups (just reached double-figures) but I don’t expect many yet. It is lovely, however, whenever I get an email saying I have a new signup) about one a month).
        In relation to the question of offering different genres, I give people a choice of ticking which books (genres) they are interested in, as I do memoirs (police), will do action, fantasy, children’s books etc. Once a signup checks the genre box, I can do do a selective newsletter for the different groups of people. With no selection, they fall into a wants-all group
        One question I do have for Lord Gaugh is, only 50% of signups opened my first and only newsletter and only 50% of them clicked on the link, giving a success click-through rate of 25%. Is this about normal?

        Thanks for another great article, I really must come back here more often!

        1. That’s about normal, from my own numbers and those of other authors who’ve shared. I think you will get higher opens and click-thrus with the newsletter approach – because those subscribers are more engaged – but you might get lower sign-ups (from those who don’t want a newsletter and just want to hear about new releases). Keep in mind that your actual open rates are likely much higher. Those numbers come from pixel tracking – where a tiny (pixel sized) image is inserted in your email. If the pixel is loaded, that counts as an open. However, if someone has images blocked (Gmail often does it by default), has their email client set up to get text only (non-HTML) emails, or has similar restrictions because of a work address, then even if they open your email, that won’t count as an open because that pixel/image wouldn’t have loaded in their browser/email client. I’d guess some of that stuff messes with click tracking too, but I don’t know for sure.

  27. You stopped me from edging down the “… new year, gotta revamp the ole blog for a different focus” platform for a non-blogger. I have one, it has research and other things that draw traffic occasionally, but I’m not a social media maven. Thanks for the reminder to flow where you’re comfortable.

    Finding that promotion site with a good ROI is sometimes an expensive up front learning curve, as some sites that do well for some genres only do so-so for others. Keeping an ear to KBoards.com is one way of learning quickly, but sometimes you need to pay some “stupid tax” first to figure it out.

  28. I got a PM from a bestselling erotic romance author, who wanted to make a few points but remain nameless – which is great, because there’s a lot of stuff particular to erotic romance that writers should take onboard (and, she says, contemp. romance and NA too – which has a lot of crossover).

    Anyway, she’s sold an insane number of boos, so here it is:

    1) ER readers wait for sales, and they’re on top of them. They are super smart and have groups specifically dedicated to watching for sales. For this reason price pulsing can be suicidal.

    2) Rafflecopter giveaways from fellow authors and ER blogs, while losing some of their cache at this point, can really build a page with likes from readers who love the genre, but haven’t read you yet. These are fans waiting to happen.

    3) Relationships with bloggers is absolutely critical.

    4) A reduced price at launch, for the first 24 hours can pull the book up and make the launch super successful. If you do a cover reveal, you can add anticipation and brand recognition, so that launch is more of a “finally, it’s out!”

    5) Blog tours, while critical a year ago, are now a bust. Many bloggers are sick to death of them.

    6) Mailing list mailing list mailing list….I attribute my successful launch of two books into the top 100 to the mailing list.

    1. Regarding differences with erotica, I think (but authors in this genre please chime in) that a lot of this springs from the fact that a lot of the big reader sites and deal sites won’t feature more adult stuff, and readers have to come up with new ways to find new reads and cheap deals, and create their own little networks on GR and blogs and elsewhere.

      1. Mailing lists are great. But someone putting out their first novel just plain wont have one, or at least won’t have an effective one. When you already have a following, this is great advice for someone who already has built up a following though.

        What disturbs me is people talking as though the same thing works for a new novelist as works for an old hand. I simply do not believe that is true–or not usually. Sure there are exceptions, but they really are exceptions.

        1. The important point is that you have that mailing list sign-up in place from the beginning. I was lucky to get that advice before starting. I know others who tear their hair out wishing they had done the same. Don’t make that mistake, people. Start a mailing list now. Put the links on your site and in the back of your books. It will start off small, and grow slowly to begin with, but it will grow with time, and once you hit something like 500 names or 1,000 names, you will really being to see its power.

      2. Not ER writer, but I am a Romance Novelist and I have been active in the industry for many years. What you’ve stated here, and more, is why my partner and I started our Author Marketing 101. com blog. We also wrote a book, because IF Novelists (and Memoirists) Ain’t Havin’ Fun With Their Marketing – They Are Doing It Wrong.

        Our message is about the Author PERSONA, as they are novelists (that’s their platform) and their genre is their brand. So they just have to push-pull- POP having fun.

        Keep up the good work – we will too!

  29. This was a GREAT post! I haven’t tried the mailing list yet but i’m going to do a facebook ad when my book is free next Sat and also doing a blog tour *and a giveaway* we’ll see what happens with those. I’m also going to try the 99 cent thing too! I’ve heard it works but I only have one book out. I made the mistake of going with KDP Select and pricing my book at 2.99, which for a new author is kind not good. But my KDP select ends Feb 25th and so I’m going to price it at 99 cents and see how that does. Anyway, thanks for this! Really big help!

    1. If you act quickly, you have time to set-up your mailing list and put the link in the back of your books before that promotion. See my post linked to above on how to do it (and why it’s so bloody important), or see my comment below with a more detailed step-by-step if needed.

      Feel free to play with price and see what results you get, but make sure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve (e.g. build audience vs make money now) and whether each price achieves that for you or not. In general, if you price at 99c, you don’t leave yourself a lot of room to discount for a sale. Many reader sites won’t feature books that are permanently 99c (as that’s no deal for their readers, just the reg price). What you might find more effective is having the regular price at $2.99 (or higher) and running a sale now and then at 99c (esp. in conjunction with an ad – on a reader site, not Facebook).

      And I wouldn’t be afraid to price a full length book at $2.99. New author or no.

  30. Mailing lists, Mailchimp? I need a degree to get Mailchimp up and running! David, I think you need to re-write the Mailchimp ‘how to’. Many I know who have tried to set up with Mailchimp (not necessarily writers but also commercial small business) find it defeating. I admit to being no techno-whizz, neither are the people who have had the same issues as myself. Any advice?

  31. Wow, I feel dumb now. I wish this post had been out four months ago, when I first started trying to promote my books. I’ve done exactly what you say not to – dropping dimes all over the show trying to figure out what works. The only things that had any effect was doing a giveaway on Goodreads, and I’m still not entirely convinced that it boosted my sales.

    Do you have any recommendations for good ROI sites to advertise on besides the two that you mentioned? I’ve gone from 250 sales per month in the first two months to less than 30, and I’m desperate to boost ’em back up again.

  32. Goodreads is a fake and a fraud, and hostile to authors. Writers should boycott that site. Booklikes and leafmarks are just clones of the worst part of goodreads troll culture and should also be avoided.

  33. I LOVED this post. I have done many of the things on the list. The biggest sale booster for me was putting the first book in my series up permafree. My sales skyrocketed. I’m doing a bookbub ad, Wattpad is featuring the book, and a review only blog tour in conjunction with listing on all the free sites on Jan. 15th. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  34. I started to use Mailchimp but then I found out that you have to put your address and it shows up at the bottomof every email. I’m not comfortable with that but I think I can use my mom’s business address and be fine. And my earlier reply, I did mean do a 99 cent sale, not have it that way all the time. I was going to atke out a facebook ad but do you suggest a better site? I am on a really tight budget so I need someting cheap. Facebook is five dollars a day. And once my entire series is out I’m going to consider putting my first book parma free. I also want to get it up on more platforms like smashwords and itunes and barns and noble. Anyway, thanks again for this post and reading the commetns have really helped too!

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  36. Great post, David. Gosh I wish I wrote adult fiction! As I write children’s books (my ebooks are aimed at ages 7-10 and 8-11) I’m not sure that mailing lists in the back of my books will be effective (or appropriate) – but I will give it a try; perhaps some little ones will ask their parents to sign up.

    I do now have a mailchimp sign-up on my self-publishing blog and new author site at least – and will use those as part of my next book release…

    My only advertising experience so far was on Kindle Books & Tips but it didn’t seem to work – I think marketing children’s books is just a different ball game. But what has worked for me recently is opting back into KDP select after 6 months trying out Kobo & iBookstore. I had next to no sales on either and in the meantime my Amazon sales plummeted. I’m now back to around 100 sales a month and hoping to get back to the 150 or so a month I had previously reached. (Believe me this is good by kids’ books sales standards!) Also helped by following your advice on choosing categories and keywords! (The Secret Lake is now often at #1 for children’s books > ebooks > historical fiction > europe and/or for >time travel and ranked around 20-35 for action & adventure (in the UK at least…). Previously it had dipped in and out of the top 100 for action and adventure only.

    Keep up the good work, David. Will now go and find out more about those other sites you mention for ads.

    Are you in Prague by the way? Might be planning a visit there this year!

    1. Yes, Prague! Loving it here. Wonderful city.

      And yes, marketing kids books is a totally different ballgame. It’s quite the challenge as you are aiming at the parents rather than the kids. Perhaps some other authors in that genre can chime in with their experiences. As for the mailing list, you could word it something like (but I guess you need to be delicate here) “If you want to read more about the adventures of X, ask your mum or dad to sign up here so they get an email when the next book is out.”

      1. Yep – absolutely it would need to be phrased that way. For any children’s authors looking here to be honest I’ve found that school visits are the place to sell lots of print books in one go! And, so far, KDP Select for ebooks… and then organically via children’s book review sites, which can lead to mini spikes… Parenting blogs are another place to hang out but there are only so many hours in the day, as we all know!

  37. I love this. I’ve done 99% of these (for better or for worse)… some I’ll never do again. I started indie publishing in 2012, and I also have a small traditional publisher. I’d also love to throw out making sure you have a stellar cover and hire an editor (or 2) in addition to putting your book through several alpha readers. Investing in your “business” is important at this stage. As an avid reader as well, I find that I’ll download cheaper books, and many times be disappointed and in the end not even finish reading it, which means I won’t review it. Once you have had a really great product, then your reviews will reflect that. I’ve done the whole gamut mentioned in this article, and my MailChimp list only gets a fraction of click-ons that I’d hope it would get. BookBub has at least give me the ROI, and hopefully a few new readers. You can re-apply to BookBub. But please pay attention to categorizing on Amazon. I believe it really does have an effect. With your social media, use it for “social” purposes, then throw out something about your book maybe once a month. Not more than that. Also… if you only have ONE book out, you need to get another one out, and a third… that’s when you’ll start seeing a difference. I had a book coming out with a traditional publisher that was a change in genre for me, so I indie published a 4-book novella series that was in that same genre, and the sales bounced off of each other. My 4 new experiments are a box set (with 6 other authors in similar genre), Kindle Countdown deal (which you can only do if you put the book into the KDP select program), and writing a series with 2 other authors so that we can cross promote our readership. #4 is I bought a 100 ISBN’s and am now going through all of my e-book only releases and adding those in, hoping for more cataloging through Bowkers, etc. The first e-book I did it for last week has started to jump in sales. Related? I don’t know. I’m slowly assigning the rest. Also, don’t discount novellas and short stories. You can make them companions to your full-length novels and the time to market is much quicker. You can offer them at a lower price or use them as experiments with all the marketing trends going around. I did a FaceBook ad about a month ago, and had maybe 30 click-thrus. Jump in sales by a dozen… nothing to be excite about. Also, FaceBook required that I have a “like” page with the same name as the ad, so now I have a FaceBook page for a single book title. That’s annoying to me because I don’t want to keep up one more thing. Will be deleting it probably.

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  39. Great job, David, as always. Enjoyed your “Let’s Get Visible” book, and can’t wait to read your new one.

    I published my ninth novel a few weeks ago, my first thriller, Deadly Commitment, and have promoted it in several ways: I made a book trailer, which has only had a few dozen views, even though I promoted it with a couple of Facebook ads. I ran a five-day free KDP promotion and only gave away a few hundred copies. I did a giveaway on Goodreads for ten paperbacks and got a few good reviews, gave away 50 ebooks on LibraryThing and got a handful of reviews, wanted to run a BookBub ad, but didn’t have enough reviews.

    So, I decided to promote a different genre, my 2008 cozy mystery, Sweet Ginger Poison. I ran a five-day free KDP promotion and gave away over 8,000 copies. Then I lowered the price to $0.99, lowered the price of the second book in the series, Ginger Dead House, to $2.99, and lowered the price of the boxed set to $3.49. Now sales are going very well for these books.

    Because of this, I have decided to put the second book in my thriller series on the back burner and write a third Ginger Lightley cozy mystery. I should have already done this, I guess, since “Sweet Ginger Poison” was on the main Kindle bestseller list for an entire month in 2011. But after it fell off of all the bestseller lists, I thought its time had come and gone. Looks like I was wrong.

    So, what have I learned from this? Give your readers what they want. Duh. 😉

    Also, I have a mailing list (I use AWeber, which works great), but it is not a “new release” only list. I am about to change that. I believe you are correct in saying that more readers will sign up if they’re not worried about getting a lot of unwanted emails. I’ll use my website, Twitter, and Facebook for readers who want to stay connected.

    Thanks again! Great advice.

  40. Thanks for the advice. My goal for 2014 is to put more effort in marketing. This gives me an good idea of where to focus my efforts for the year. I already blog; it’s something I’ve enjoyed for three years now. I don’t think I’ll ever give that up. Twitter and Facebook though could disappear and I wouldn’t miss them.

    Reblogged on my website.

  41. For anyone that didn’t get the email; ENT will be taking bookings for their (coveted) Book of the Day sponsorship in about half an hour at this link: http://ereadernewstoday.com/authors-promote-your-kindle-books-here/

    They had over 1,500 applications for something like 220 spots last year. I expect demand to be higher this year. All the deets are at the link above, but I very much recommend shooting for a 99c sponsorship (rather than higher priced) based on past performance of mine and others.

  42. Great post. I love book marketing and enjoy looking for opportunities to promote my work. I agree with what works and what doesn’t, particularly the advertising sites like BookBub. I’ve sold at least 2,000 books via BookBub alone.

  43. Since launching my debut novel four months ago, my experience of what sells books and what doesn’t has matched what David says in the article and comments exactly.

    I’ll add only one thing.

    The advice not to market until you have a several-book backlist should be taken with a grain of salt. I think I first came across that pearl on Kris Rusch’s blog. I’m glad I ignored it.

    Your mileage may vary. Mine did.

  44. Thanks for the great article, David. With the flood of options for promotions and marketing out there, articles providing a framework for categorisation based on effectiveness are a heaven-sent. Also great for learning about new opportunities 🙂

  45. Great tips! Sometimes I know I spend too much time and have too many questions unanswered. I never have been able to interact on Goodreads – can’t figure the system out for some reason. Thanks for having that on your list of what not to do!

  46. Loved that video you posted in a comment – we are at an opportune time, eBook publishing by Indies has much to offer, and direct email lists is a great way to grow awareness. I plan on using my chimp account this year. Thanks David

  47. Just wanted to let you know i really enjoyed reading this. My brain hurt a little, but it was a well presented thought, the exact opposite of what i do. Not that i have a lot of use for marketing right now. I don’t feel that i need a large audience, i just wanted a place to express certain thoughts without feeling judged.

  48. Although I already said I mostly agree with you, there were some spots where I didn’t or at least had some discomfort besides what I mentioned about the difficulties of Bookbub for new authors, so I’ll throw them out there for consideration.

    I agree that spam on Twitter is obnoxious. Don’t do it. That doesn’t mean that a Twitter presence is a bad thing. Of course, I say that because I am very active on Twitter. I just rarely mention my novels except in my profile. Anyone who looks at my profile (and people do) and wants to look at my work can easily do so since there is a link there. I do get at least some sales from followers who do that.

    I also post links and thanks yous to blog reviewers who are nice enough to review my work. I consider it a courtesy to send traffic their way. You don’t want to go overboard, but a tweet every day for a couple of days about someone else’s blog does not constitute spam. I always include a comment thanking the reviewer. A tweet announcing a new release for a day or two (and I mean one tweet a day) for a couple of days is reasonable. Beyond that, there is a lot out there to talk about and I prefer to just talk to people who have similar interests. (Yes Scotland in 2014!!)

    I don’t think it is a waste of time contacting reviewers. For example, I contacted a number of top HF Amazon reviewers (many of whom also blog) about reviewing A King Ensnared and am having excellent results. They are also reviewers who are likely to have people in the genre watching for books they recommend. I don’t bother with anyone who doesn’t actively seek out my genre. Those nine reviews of AKE within a month of release (much better than my usual number) are directly attributable to my requests for reviews and the high rating is because they are people who know the genre.

    But your recommendations for advertisers is spot on so I don’t argue with everything, just wanted to give an alternative views on some of your comments.

  49. Hey David. As always, I enjoy reading your posts. I was a bit skeptical with the idea of enjoying marketing, because it’s been a struggle to get my book noticed. However the suggested marketing tools such as price pulsing, takes very little of your time and is free to do, and might I add simple to do. It’s something I’m utilizing now as we speak. Unfortunately though Amazon has been very reluctant in making my eBook free when trying to set it free through Smashwords. I’m curious if they will eventually budge. Would I have to sign up for KDP select to set it free?

    1. No, there are other ways. What you need to do is set it free at a retailer which Amazon price matches (such as B&N/Nook, Apple, or Kobo). B&N/Nook don’t let you directly set a free price, but you can set a book free there via Smashwords. Kobo lets you set books free directly. Apple does too, but like many authors I don’t go direct with Apple and use a distributor like Smashwords or Draft2Digital to get in the iBookstore, and I can set books free via them.

      If you are using Smashwords, make sure to opt out of the other smaller stores (Diesel, Sony etc.) before setting your book free. If you don’t, they can be super slow to put it back to paid (like weeks and weeks) and Amazon will price match Sony, leaving your book stuck free on Amazon for longer than you might like.

      Although, if you are making it permanently free (like the first book in a series, to hook readers), then you don’t need to worry so much about that. Just be aware it will slow down the transition back to paid, if you ever decide to do that (and they can also be slow in pulling the books down, in case you ever want to go into Select).

  50. Great article! Any tips on driving blog traffic? I have a fiction blog that I am going to try to add content to and (hopefully, maybe) publish when it’s finished. I haven’t published anything, so I’m not selling anything. I just want people to read my blog…for free! I have Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and pepper every coffee shop in a ten mile radius with my business cards. Anyone have any tips of driving blog traffic when the blog is all you have?

  51. I have read both of David’s books, was a discovery tour and I highly recommend them. As I am under the fist of AuthorHouse I can’t do much about pricing and other tactics. But at least I stopped any idea to spend money on the avenues that David warns about. I was on BBC radio a week ago, interview on my book. I am sure there was zero impact on sales, anyway I can’t check much with the Authorhouse black box. So, I decided to think and prepare for the next book and then follow the road indicated by David. And as another comment said, I’ll keep the US$ 20 (or more!) to buy a drink, in my case a good Belgian beer instead of wasting it on useless promotion.

  52. Thanks for this, David. I’ve recently come to many of the same conclusions as you state here, after spending a great deal of time in building that author platform. I recently held an experiment on Twitter, gaining me about 1,000 followers during the 3 weeks I ran it. Any effect on book sales? The faint possibility I gained 1, yes, 1, for 3 weeks efforts!
    I found this a very useful and stimulating piece. As one of those writers who truly hates the marketing thing, I’ve gleaned a good deal from this piece and will make the effort to put some of it into practice, especially when the first volume of my fantasy trilogy is published in spring.
    So, thanks again.

  53. Two cents from the peanut gallery: As a reader, I go to author’s blogs to find out more of what they’ve written. There might be more available than is on the author’s page on the seller’s site. And I might get a better description of the book.

    I say this a lot, but I think a few authors shoot themselves in the foot with their blogs – present company excluded. And I’m sure it’s not a pervasive issue. But there is no bigger turn-off than wanting to find out more about an author’s books – and instead finding page after page of venomous blog posts about politics.

    I guess I need just a little mystique with the author.

  54. I found this a really useful post, but at the same time feel that you’ve assumed too much knowledge. I’ve never heard of price-pulsiing or free-pulsing before, and while I can hazard a guess at group promotions, it’s still a guess.

    1. Hey Ciara – Yeah those two are a bit jargony, and you probably could have figured them out if I’d used plainer language. My bad.

      Anywho, price-pulsing is simply a fancy term for dropping your price to 99c for a few days, then jacking the price back up after the book peaks in the charts. That’s all. Works best in conjunction with an ad on a site like BookBub, ENT, Pixel of Ink, or KBT.

      Free-pulsing is the same, except the price you set is zero. You can do that via Kindle Select, or by getting Amazon to price-match a free price elsewhere.

  55. Nice to see a number of held suspicions given some validation. Not to be lost in the strategy breakdown is the fact that a large portion of the author woe and requisite market spam comes from folks with one or just a couple of titles on the market. I’m finding more and more that ‘success stories’ have two common elements: quality and volume.

    Thus, thanks for the insight and now I’m off to write!

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  59. Great advice as usual. I’m in the process of trying to market right now. i just hope it isn’t too late for me. I launched my book already. I’m thinking about unpublishing it, and to start focus building a mailing list. David, there’s a lot of self-pub “gurus” out there that only care about making “guru” fortunes and fame, but when i read your advice columns. I feel like I’m reading from a writer first, and for that i’m grateful.

  60. This is a great article and a great title! It is very important for self-publishers and authors to know that they are not entailed to spend a lot of money and time on their marketing strategies, but that they still need to do something. The majority isn’t aware that the most time consuming and expensive thing there is, is to fix mistakes you made in the past while not making anything for your book sales when you could have.

  61. Hi David. I’ve written (and self-published) 10 books over the past 16 years. I’d planned to peddle the next one to an agent/publisher, and still intend to. Your book (“Let’s Get Digital”) and your blog have caused me to keep the self-publishing option open. The last book I published was in 2010, which was an eon ago. I was aligning my ideas with the state of the publishing industry then. Your works have brought me up to speed on the situation now. Thank you. I would also like to point out that I downloaded some 20 samples of books on the self-publishing subject from Amazon. I read through them all carefully and chose yours. Keep up the good work. Cheers, Ian.

  62. Thank you for a concise, prescriptive list of marketing to-dos. Most advice-givers waffle and qualify. You do not. Now all I have to do is find out what pulsing is (that will tell you where I am on the self-promotional learning curve).

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  64. I like this idea: it takes away that icky feeling. It reminds me of a story from Tony Robbins. He had phone calls to make that he dreaded. So he filled his jacuzzi and made them all while relaxing.

  65. Hello David, I have been reading your book Let’s Get Digital and want to thank you for this great compendium of knowledge. And this post here is very apropos. You have courage. I decided at the end of last year to “go indie” and have since been editing my stuff, getting covers and now am putting it up on Amazon and Smashwords. I’ve got about 1,000,000 words in books and short stories. I am especially grateful for the advice not to check the KDP stats every 5 minutes. I have been hard pressed not to do this. I feel as though I have two side of my personality going at the same time, the one who knows that patience, perseverance and long haul think will win the day and the other guy, the impatient, sullen jerk who wants it all RTFN. Any ideas on how to maintain a calm mental sea before your proverbial ship comes in i.e. sales traction?

    1. I’m convinced that (for certain types of people at least) the act of checking sales so regularly is what creates that impatience and dissatisfaction. You load up your reports and see that nothing has sold since the last time you checked an hour ago. Then you go through the rest of the country stores where there’s even less chance of a sale, then you close the window in a bad mood. Then check again fifteen minutes later. Even if a sale has appeared, the joy will be short-lived while you page down through the other countries.

      But if you just check them once a day in the morning (which is all I do now outside of a promotion/new release), then you get to go “Ooh, 34 sales, that’s pretty good.” And then you close the window knowing you aren’t going to open it again for another 24 hours. It becomes routine pretty quickly. IMO, nothing kills the joy of sales quicker than regular checking, and nothing keeps poor sales at the forefront of your consciousness more than regular checking. So there really is no good reason to do it.

      As for the bigger picture, I remind myself that the path to success rarely goes in a straight line. That sales go up and down with regularity – for everyone, including the biggest sellers. That all sorts of things outside my control will affect my fortunes and I should only worry about the stuff I can control. But also that the biggest influence on my career is firmly in my control – my output and how smartly I present it and market it – and that if I keep working hard and putting stuff out there that my ship will came in. A SHIP FILLED WITH DOUBLOONS.

      1. That’s probably the sanest viewpoint to have on the subject. Control the things you can and to hell with the rest and it doesn’t have to be any one way. I think anything else just makes you neurotic. Another point, a big one for me, is the fact that for several years I had been pitching to New York publishers and getting nowhere. You can only be denied the “right to play” for so long before the exasperation swamps you. So every time you check for microscopic progress on the Amazon stat, all that denial and rejection comes back all over again.

        Thanks for your views. I think they’re pretty valuable and yes, doubloons, really so much better than dollars.

  66. Thanks for the information David. If nothing else I have learned that being interactive generates more traffic and that Sisyphean means endless and unavailing. 🙂 I would be interested to know how you can find out how you could be sure that you were advertising on a site that had a positive ROI. There is a lot of misinformation and grandiose claims floating around on the internet. Like most of the processes with marketing my husband’s book (apart from valuable information I have gleaned from reading books like ‘Let’s Get Digital’) I have found that sometimes the marketing God’s are smiling on you and sometimes they are not. Look forward to reading more of your posts. Katie

    1. I have a whole chapter on that in Let’s Get Visible, but here’s the relevant section:

      21. How to Evaluate an Advertising Opportunity
      New sites spring up all the time. Some are worth experimenting with (as long as their prices aren’t too high), but others are best avoided. How do you evaluate whether an advertising opportunity is worth the cost? Well, there are a number of metrics you should look at:

      1. Traffic. Most sites will have information on their advertising page about how much traffic they get. If they don’t, ask them. They should be able to provide this information to potential advertisers, and not doing so is a major red flag. Obviously, the bigger the better, but be careful. I’ve seen plenty of sites claim to have far more traffic than can be verified. One way of checking is to look at the Alexa ranking of the site. The number you should be particularly interested in is the score for the US (rather than the raw score), as that’s where most of your readers will likely be and where the highest penetration of e-reader ownership is.

      2. Mailing list. Rather than sit and wait for readers to come to them each day, most sites will mail out the various deals to their subscribers. If the site doesn’t quote their mailing list numbers, ask them.

      3. Facebook. These days, a key component in a successful reader site is a thriving Facebook Page. It’s very important not to get seduced by the raw number of Likes they have on their page. Facebook made changes to how updates are displayed to users in mid-2012. If a follower doesn’t engage with that Page in any way (i.e. Like their updates, click on their links, comment, or share) then Facebook starts to hide updates from those Pages. As such, what you are looking for is a Page with high engagement levels: lots of Likes, clicks, comments, and shares on the posts themselves (rather than the Page). Only then can you be confident that a good chunk of the readers liking the Page will actually see the books promoted there.

      4. Results. Some sites have a section detailing the results people achieved advertising there, but be aware that they may be cherry-picking data or presenting out-of-date information (some sites used to be very effective, but no longer are). The best thing to do is to track a few books yourself, particularly those in your genre. Make a note of the ranking prior to the promotion (or when it is first posted), and then look at it again later on, and then again the following day. Using the Rank to Sales Estimator [LINK to back], you should be able to get a rough idea of how many copies the author shifted.

      Consider all of the above before parting with your money (unless it is a proven site that you know still gets good results like Ereader News Today, Pixel of Ink, or BookBub). Pay particular attention to how books in your genre do. There’s no point spending money promoting your fantasy novel when the site under consideration only gets good results with romance or thrillers.

  67. I just purchased from my publisher the rights to all seven of my novels. (That rumble you just heard was not a sonic boom; it was all my synapses firing in unison in a gigantic YIPPEEEEE!) Now I am a card-carrying indie publisher, a newbie with seven books to sell. I have been advised to re-launch every book, one at a time over the course of several months? Does that sound like a plan to you?

    1. There are plenty of variables – whether you need new covers, what editing/proofing is needed (if any), how quickly you can get that done (and pay for it etc.) – and I don’t know all the details (genre, length, whether it’s all one series), but if I was in that situation, I’d see if I could release one a month until all seven were out.

  68. Hi Dave

    First, just wanted to say thank you for sharing your knowledge. It’s much appreciated. As every self published author knows, it’s difficult to determine if you are doing the right or wrong thing, and its so helpful for people to share their experience and what they have learned. So, cheers!

    I have a question. How easy is it to get Amazon to make a book free. I publish directly with KDP and Kobo. For all other retailers, I use Smashwords. So, if I set a book to free on Kobo and Smashwords, do I just have to wait days/weeks/months for Amazon to pick up the change?

    The reason I ask, is that if I want to make a book perma-free, then that’s not so bad. As long as Amazon pick it up eventually, then great. But if I wanted a book to be free for, say, just a week, or 2 weeks, would that be virtually impossible?

    I wondered if I had to use Smashwords to distribute to Amazon in order to have greater control over pricing? As I have already been publishing directly with with KDP, I shudder at the potential cock-up that might occur if I then try and use Smashwords to distribute to Amazon (as the Amazon version and the Smashwords versions of my books use different ISBNs).

    If you, or any other readers know the answer, that would be great, thank you.

    Kind regards


  69. Intriguing article! Very nice ideas on marketing! I had one pitch letter recently where the novel is about a woman who commits infidelity, so in the pitch letter to send to radio producers, there are little bullet points; a recent study, and of course you cite the study, shows that women cheat more if they’re unsatisfied in bed. It’s not a question of compatibility or family finances or whatever; they can just be unsatisfied in bed and they will cheat, and that number is on the rise. It’s that stuff that would catch a producer’s eye, and that might get you on the show when it is hard for novelists to get on the show.

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  71. Great post Dave.

    Naturally I have done all the “don’ts” as well as some of the “do’s” – this is a really healthy reminder of what the real priorities are.



  72. hi Dave — Outstanding, practical advice. Of course as an interviewer of indie authors I take (very mild) exception to the “no interviews” counsel, as I think a brief interview with a well-chosen venue can be very useful, but that’s a very individual decision. The wisdom of your advice is solid.

    1. Group promotions are any kind of collaborative effort between authors to come together in some way to either promote to each other’s audiences, or pool social media reach etc. It can involve anything from a group sale – like this: https://davidgaughran.com/2012/03/21/st-patricks-day-blowout-results/ – to doing a box set together, e.g.: https://davidgaughran.com/2014/04/22/thinking-inside-the-box-building-audience-with-bundles/

  73. Just re-read this and wow! thank you so much for sharing your experience and excellent advice. Wishing you continued success, your generosity (if not your talent alone :>)) warrants it.

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