Marketing Uncovered: How To Sell Books Marketing Resources

Marketing is more complicated than ever, but the tools we have for reaching readers are fantastic these days, and the rewards for reaching the summit of Mount Discovery are simply immense. Even worth this long-ass intro I’m about to drop! Sometimes we forget. I hear people complaining that things are down across the board and Amazon is squeezing the margin out of everyone, or that the Golden Era is over.

Sorry, it’s not true. The game has changed, and you might need to retool your approach, but don’t mistake that for a downturn. It’s dangerous to be over-influenced by Moany Maura threads on Kboards or Facebook. They will naturally attract fellow travelers — those who are also suffering right now for whatever reason. It’s totally not representative though. One why: if I was to post there, for example, and say that I’ve already made much more than I did last year… I would sound like a dick. Always beware confirmation bias.

I’m far from alone either. The KU author whose marketing I manage just hit 10,000,000 reads yesterday. For May. Which is insane! Last year was a record one for him and this one is shaping up to smash that. And if that doesn’t boggle the mind enough, there’s 50+ self-publishers out-earning him in reads right now too and a serious crowd nipping at his heels.

Look, I know exactly how painful it is to play catch-up. I hit a low about 18 months ago. Stomach-churning sales drops, ones which made me all blocked up instead of writing for my life, just to compound things. I stopped promoting too, rounding out the trifecta of ennui.

I did one smart thing though: I put everything on the table, questioned all my assumptions and realized many were flawed. I decided to revamp my whole approach (a process that is still underway, life is a WIP!) and then tested the Living Jesus out of everything. As such, I don’t just have a considerable toolbox at my disposal for marketing in this crazily amped-up 2018 Bookapalooza environment, but also have a growing sense of what each tool is specifically best for — meaning I can put the parts together with intent.

Reader sites, to give you a basic example, are usually the cheapest clicks but only scale so much. Facebook Carousel Ads are great for pushing those troublesome middle children in a series but can be finicky in other ways. AMS ads are great for adhering ideal Also Boughts to a new release, but the reporting makes me want to perform laser eye surgery on myself with an icicle. BookBub Ads will also help with Also Boughts but can be expensive and are better as a Get Out Of Jail Free card for my money.

Then there’s content marketing — wonderful for non-fiction, awful for novels. Or those precious mailing lists, they’ll happily do the heavy lifting on a new Book 4 but something else will have to pick up the slack on those earlier books. And the vast array of aforementioned reader sites will usually be great for that Book 1 but less useful if you switch them to a Book 2 or 3, and some won’t even take those anyway.

BookBub Ads, on the other hand, may be effective at shifting freebies, but most of the work should probably be done by the cheaper muscle-for-hire at Freebooksy or Robin Reads. There’s always a trade-off though because those sites don’t scale but BookBub does — albeit to a (growing) limit — whereas Facebook is only limited by your know-how, imagination, and budget. And tolerance for risk, I should underline two or three times.

Wonderful! We’re all caught up. Kidding.

Let’s twist this kaleidoscope of anecdotes into something more digestible, and pretend we are actually launching that fourth book in a series I mentioned above. I’m going to give you a marketing plan, is what I’m saying. But I’m not just going to throw it out there and get you to admire the girth of my nous. We’ll build up to that.

First, the pricing approach. These hypothetically awesome books are all $4.99 regularly, but will be discounted for the launch week of Book 4 — with the exception of our official new reader-greeter: Mr. Book 1, normally $2.99. And in this soon-to-be-amazing sample book marketing plan, we are just taking one of very many possible approaches. This is most certainly not a prescriptive catechism. It’s a way. Indefinite article, people.


Your first thought might be that this is leaving a lot of money on the table. Even if you are in KU and getting 70% on those Countdowns, you’re still leaving a lot behind. Couldn’t you get $4.99 from all your mailing list people by the time they are deeply hooked and eager for Book 4? Of course you could. But we’re building something bigger and we want to ensure your list all buy the moment they get the email, and not the next day or week or month. We want to condense those sales. Corral them, even, but I’m typing too damn fast to go backwards!

(This approach works wide as well as in KU, just be aware of the usual caveats, which I’ll repeat in a bit.)

We’re running deep discounts across the series for a few reasons. Most pertinent right now is encouraging spillover. The lower the step up in price from one deal to another, the greater the immediate sellthrough. Which is what you want. Yes, your writing is stellar enough to funnel readers all the way through your series losing nary a soul, but we need the price to be enticing enough that they grab the next book (and the next book) right now. Sales now. Visibility now. New eyeballs now.

You want the sales right away so that the entire series will rise up simultaneously and dominate your niche. There is no greater social proof then all 9 books of a series appearing in the Top 20 of a given subcategory on Amazon. Readers just gobble them up at once, overdosing on FOMO.

That’s the price-stepping logic, in part at least. But what about getting up into them charts in the first place? Well, let’s start with the easy parts.

Your mailing list will sell the new book, and reader sites are usually the cheapest clicks in Christendom, particularly for a freebie. Yes, I hear you. That fruit was so low-hanging that Earthworm Jim could have had a nibble of its delicious nectar. Captain Obvious chipping in here with some real pearls of wisdom. THANKS GRANDPA.

Self-publishers know it’s easy to flog the first and last in any series. Ads pushing price promos on the former, existing fans set loose on the latter. It’s those middle feckers where things can get unstuck. Because what we ideally want is all books moving up together. Oh. Wait. Digression needed. *clears throat*

This is where marketing in 2018 is like riding a unicycle while juggling chainsaws and spinning plates on your nose. You’re aiming at:

  1. Selling a lot so your book jumps up the Best Seller charts and gets seen by lots of new people who buy it.
  2. Selling increasing amounts over an extended period so that your book moves up the Popularity List and starts getting recommended en masse to Amazon customers.
  3. Selling at a consistent level over four/five days with as few dips or spikes as possible to convince the Kindle Store algorithms that you are the real deal.

Errr, and this also:

  1. Only selling your book to the right readers so that your Also Boughts are in good shape and Amazon’s system has a clear read on who to recommend your book to (i.e. the highest converting readers).

Oh and if you could do that for all 4/6/9 books in your series simultaneously and have them all sell similar amounts too that would be great, thanks.

Before anyone develops their own personal opioid crisis, let me caveat: this is hard. Even when you know exactly how to do it, this is hard. We’re shooting for the moon here, but falling short can still land you somewhere pretty sweet.

Anyway, we need some tools to move those trouble some middle-of-series books. Some of the work is already done by our smart decision to engage in price-stepping. Thousands will download that freebie. Plenty will follow through to that cheap Book 2 also… if the price gap isn’t too big.

We’re still looking a little thin on Books 2 and 3, but we’re about to roll out the big guns: Facebook and BookBub. I’m going to do a few things with Facebook here, and something with BookBub Ads you mightn’t expect. First some totally made-up theory!

You know when you have slaved over a book and weeded out all 4,000 typos and your editor finds 5,000 more? Then your proofer finds more again? And then you upload six new versions in the first week cleaning up yet more? Yet you still find one super embarrassing one the first time you crack open the paperback? Yeah.

I think we notice different things in different contexts, like that time my ex-girlfriend didn’t know how annoying I was until the first time we were trapped in an elevator.

Aaaaaaanyway, in the fast-moving, ab-filled newsfeed of Facebook, I absolutely believe in hitting that audience more than once, with a slightly different ad. Not just a tweaked image or ad text, but a different format too, so they’ll get a Carousel Ad, a static image ad, and maybe some video too. And if you set it up right, the sellthrough to those troublesome middle fellas is unreal.

Okay! Here’s our yacht-generating launch plan with all those elements incorporated:

I’ll take two of your imaginary and planted questions…

What about AMS? I find it too unresponsive for a launch plan. I like AMS for a baseline of sales and for attaching those Also Boughts to a new release, because I can drill down to specific books and authors quite handily.

What about BookBub Ads? I have the opposite problem here. BookBub Ads are so damn responsive they are my Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Remember all those moving parts and chainsaws being juggled and this being hard? Well, the car goes off the road all the time. And BookBub gets it out of the ditch.

Book 2 lagging behind the pack? Drop some BB on it. New release looking saggy because one of your email sends was borked? Call Señor BB. Freebie stuck behind a block of scamweasels? Your BB springboard will leapfrog those fools.

And then if you haven’t needed those BB-shaped superpowers during the first few days of the launch, you can still drop that bomb on your last couple of days, channeling your inner Vanessa Williams and saving the best for last.

Finishing strong isn’t just a good way to form long-lasting booty call scenarios, it’s also great for the Amazon algorithms. While I said that the ideal is four or five days of consistent sales, the absolute ideal would be a slight upward tick all the way along. I just didn’t want to bug you while you were busy juggling.

Oh, and don’t forget to split your mailing list over those four/five days, or otherwise redistribute your juice to compensate ad-wise, or else Dr. BB will have to make an early house call.

Further Resources: All my damn books. Just kidding! Well, actually not kidding…

Let’s Get Digital — the basics on publishing everything the right way and finding your first readers.

Amazon Decoded (FREE)figuring out them Amazon algorithms and associated marketing.

Strangers to Superfans — how to create an army of raving fans who promote for you.

Reader Sites — way easier for me just to link to Nicholas Erik’s awesome tiered promo list.

BB Adswriting a short book for all y’all to cover this. If you had been on my weekly marketing tips and tricks mailing list for the last few months you would have the basics, but I’ll totally be talking about this again.

FB Ads — lots of well known stuff like Mark Dawson’s course and Michael Cooper’s book but I haven’t experienced either because I’m — errrr, I walked myself into this — working on a bit of a different approach for this too but, eh, do some searching! Lots of opinions, lots of advice. Facebook Ads are crazy complex and there are a million ways of doing everything. One resource I have actually used and can properly recommend is anything by Jon Loomer. His stuff is great but be warned those are general pointers he gives out, not book-specific advice.

AMS Ads literally have nothing to put here. I’ve detailed my frustrations with AMS in this post. I have a lot more experience with AMS now. Am I any better at it? I don’t even know how to answer that question because all the frustrations laid out in that post are still a source of endless beard-tugging AND reporting is worse now, with full results taking up to fourteen everloving days to come in. Ain’t nobody got the time. (Blind clay pigeon shooting as usual, in other words.)

Everything else — the hundreds of free blog posts here covering everything to do with marketing and publishing and any imaginable related topic. Which are no longer buried! Not only do I have a much better search function now, everything is also broken down into six handy categories. You’ll probably want the Marketing one to begin with and you can easily scroll through all those posts and/or dig through all other topics.

P.S. Welcome to the new digs! *curtsy*

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.