Ah book marketing. Still the bane of my writing existence. It’s time to see what I learned after publishing my first novel. What would I do again, what would I do differently, and what am I still uncertain of?
Self-publishing is a long game. It’s only been a couple of months since I released my first novel. But it’s also an ever-evolving process, one I’m learning as I go along. I call it The Process. I borrowed the name from the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. They went through several painful years of losing in order to build up a contender. Although their season ended unceremoniously with a drubbing at the hands of the Boston Celtics, their future is bright. The Process worked.
I’m not there yet. Marketing my first novel has been painful at times, and full of errors. Yet I’m learning some lessons already. And I’m going to borrow again from the 76ers to write about it. [Yes it’s another one of my weird NBA/self-publishing mash-up posts – gotta blog about what you love, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ]
Here are a few things that I’d do again in a heartbeat for my next novel, some I’ll never do again, and a few in between.
Lessons Learned About Marketing My First Novel, as Seen Through “The Process”
For Philadelphia, The Process was all about building up high draft picks in the search for a future superstar. For marketing my first novel, my process was about trying out all sorts of tactics I’d read about, looking for things that worked. I’m going to review some of those, both big and small. I’ll slot them into categories, each named for one of the 76ers four biggest draft picks. We’ll go from arguably best to worst (Sixers fans, don’t @ me!)
Joel Embiid (unequivocally the right call)
Although vulnerable to health problems, Embiid is on the cusp of superstardom. He’s already a social media superstar. Like Embiid, these are things that were absolute winners.
Library Thing: This website is sort of like Goodreads, but with more stringent guidelines. If you sign up as an author, they have a giveaway mechanism (which unlike Goodreads is still free) that gets your book in the hands of people who like to put up reviews. I had a very high hit rate of people actually reading the book, many of them bloggers.
BookHippo: This is a UK-based e-book newsletter that advertises books available for 99p on Amazon.co.uk. You need to sign up for membership to use it, but it’s free and it did generate a few sales, so there’s absolutely no reason not to do this!
Ben Simmons (the right call, but flawed)
The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year wowed audiences with his skills this season. But during the playoffs, his inability to shoot the ball from distance was cruelly exposed.
Blog tour: Although I’d been in independent contact with a few blog reviewers, signing up with YA Bound Book Tours really extended my reach. Plus, they were able to organize a giveaway that I had neither the energy nor ability to put together. Overall, I got a nice boost to my social media following and some crucial blog and Goodreads reviews. But I only got one all-important Amazon review, and that was from a blogger I’d already been in contact with. Which leads to a chicken or egg question: did bloggers I’d been in contact with agree to review my book because I was on a blog tour, or did they only sign up for the blog tour because they already wanted to review my book?
Markelle Fultz (jury’s still out)
Markelle Fultz is the great basketball enigma. He was injured and/or disappeared for a large chunk of the season, and only recently showed glimpses of why everyone thought he was so good in the first place. The next two items are things that I think have worked alright so far, but it remains to be seen how well they’ll work for future books.
Going with Kindle Select: This is one of the great debates in the self-publishing world: should I go exclusive with Amazon for me e-book? I’m still not sure of what works, but for now, I’m trying the hybrid approach. I’m launching the e-book exclusive with Amazon, then will consider going wide when I’ve built a bit of a name for myself. This takes advantage of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Countdown Deals, and preferential treatment for AMS ads during the initial marketing.
Slow building the book: Amazon’s crucial ranking algorithms reward gradually building book sales rather than big launch splashes. A soft launch is also nice in that it allows mistakes to be made and corrected without too much disruption. However (see below), I think having more reviews out early would have helped with a lot of the marketing efforts.
Jahlil Okafor (need a do-over)
Okafor never really found a place with the Sixers and was riding the bench before being traded to Basketball Siberia (aka the Brooklyn Nets.) Here’s a couple of bad moves on my part.
Rushing the launch date: My first novel is set during the Battle of Stalingrad. Somehow, I got it in my head that I wanted to build marketing around its 75th anniversary. In the end, this meant I rushed a few things. For a first time publisher, this wasn’t totally bad. If I had kept waiting for things to be perfect, I might still be in the draft stage. But I didn’t give myself enough time to get bookbloggers on board and gather reviews. The good news is that with a slow build approach, there’s still time to make this happen.
Writing the e-book without clean format: I want to eventually go wide (i.e. sell the e-book through outlets other than Amazon.) My preferred way to do this would be through Smashwords, which distributes via pretty much all the channels not covered by Amazon (e.g. Nook, iBooks, Google Play, etc.) But Smashwords has a very unforgiving formatting process. It will take me time and effort to get my current MS Word e-book manuscript up to Smashwords standards. All of that could have been avoided if I’d written up my e-book draft in a clean format, using the Smashwords style guide as a template.
That was by no means an exhaustive list. I’m still learning about marketing my first novel, even as I work on the sequels. Like I said, it’s all a process. And as they say in Philadelphia, “Trust the Process.” The Process works.