7 Self-Publishing Marketing Strategies (That DO Work In 2018)

If there’s one thing constant in book marketing, it’s change. In fact, with more than 4,500 books published on a daily basis, it’s more true with each passing day. Because more authors are vying for increasingly smaller consumer attention spans.

And if that scares you, well, it should.

Because the thing about book marketing in 2018 is that you just can’t get comfortable. What worked well 5 years ago might not even get you out of the starting gate today. In fact, what worked well even a year ago might not cut it.

And you certainly can’t just publish a book and then do nothing.

But I find that lots of authors do just that. They publish a book, and if it’s awesome, which it really must be, they think that’s going to be enough to sell it. But people aren’t going to buy your book just because you published it unless you’re already famous. And most of us aren’t. Even those of us that have found success as authors didn’t get here by hoping and dreaming. Yes, we found success by daring to dream big, but we also got here by working hard and staying ahead of the curve and the competition.

So what does work? Digging in to find out what the competition is doing and then doing it differently and doing it better. Bottom line: we must get incredibly creative as indie authors and book marketers if we are going to succeed this year and in the future.

And equally important as knowing what you need to be doing, is knowing what you need to NOT be doing. Because you want to spend all your creative energy as wisely as possible. You want to spend your time doing things that are productive and that actually work for you, and you want to stop wasting time on things that don’t work.

So with that in mind, I’ve developed a list of things that you need to focus on this year. And if any of them sound like no-brainers, they might be, but that doesn’t change the fact that countless authors are still doing these things wrong, wasting precious hours on strategies that simply don’t work anymore.

It’s time to stop. It’s time to get real. And it’s time to do things that work for you and your book, and lead to your success.

Here’s my assessment on some of the strongest switches you can make in your game plan.

1. Out with the Generic, In with the Personal

Generic is so last century. Really.

Because we are constantly marketed to. In fact, we live in a world that slams us with thousands of impersonal messages and ads each and every day. It’s on TV, on social media, in our inboxes, on billboards, on the radio, on our web searches, and yes even our text messages.

Advertising is everywhere. And consumers are beyond saturated with messages that are not on target, emails that don’t pique our interests, and phones that are filled with thousands of generic missives, just waiting for us to respond. The thing is, we don’t. In fact, many of our inboxes automatically file ads in a promotions folder for us to get to—or not—when we have time.

But no one seems to have time any more. And we’re finding that attention is the new currency. And in order to get it—and keep it— you have to personalize.

So Get Personal!

Personalization, in anything, always takes longer and considerably more effort, but in the end, it can pay off in big ways.

We’ve all gotten the emails that say “Dear Sir” if you’re a woman, or “Dear Madam” if you’re a guy. These emails always feel lazy and they very rarely get our attention.

However, emails that are personalized (“Dear Penny”), or even start off by attempting to make a connection go a long way. For example, they might say something about a blog post you wrote that the sender enjoyed, or maybe you’ve connected on Facebook or Instagram and they loved your recent vacation pictures.

Whatever it is and whatever you’re doing: don’t be generic.

This also goes for pitching – if you’re pitching bloggers or the media. Make a comment on a recent story they did, or blog they posted. Just a small, thoughtful addition like that will make your pitch stand out amidst the thousands of other pitches they’ve gotten that week.

Because that’s the reality, they all get thousands of emails.

2. Forgo Print Ads in Favor of eBook Ads and Sponsored Posts

An author I worked with recently told me that he had spent a huge portion of his budget on a print ad in the New York Times. A $5,000 print ad.

And then he went on to say that he was holding off on additional marketing until he saw how it worked. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work at all.

I have to tell you, I wasn’t surprised, because he was otherwise relatively unknown. Print ads, unless you’ve already got a platform, are best to avoid. And even if you do have a platform, it’s still sketchy, because print is expensive, and it still only counts as one impression with that individual.

But just because print ads aren’t working well, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give up on all advertising. In fact, there are some pretty powerful avenues available to you that I highly recommend as strategies.

One of them is eBook Ads. Even these ads may start to fade this year, because I’m finding that you have to do more ads now to get the same amount of bounce. And this goes back to 4,500 books being published every day. There’s simply more competition and you must go above and beyond to stand out. But, they’re still a strong strategy because they are cheap, and you can do a lot of them and still spend far less than $5,000.

Sponsored posts are another great use of your advertising dollars. Because you can spend a relatively small amount of money, and still get a lot of power out of it. It gets your book in front of a reviewer, who then shares their truly honest opinion with their own followers. And, on top of that, it usually gets featured placement on their site.

3. Genre-Based Blog Tours are Better Than Generic Blog Tours

It’s a sad truth that you used to be able to host a blog tour and see the momentum for your book kick in almost immediately. That’s not really the case anymore. Blog tours that are more generic in nature are a complete waste of your time and money. Because people are putting more weight on niche blogs than they used to.

And it makes sense. We want to read about things we like from people who like them too. So where better to go than a genre-based blog, or a blog that follows one or two related specific interests?

Blog tours that are focused on your book topic, specifically, are far more effective and a better use of your time and money. They tend to be more work, but they are absolutely worth it in the long-run.

Keep in mind that this might mean getting your book featured on 10 blogs, instead of 100 (which some tour companies offer) you should absolutely place a higher emphasis on niche blogs.

This is one of those times when less is more. Because micro influencers may have a smaller circle, but they tend to have a loyal following and wield a higher level of influence on that group. What good is an influencer or blogger with hundreds of thousands of followers if only a handful of people actually interact or pay attention to what they say?

4. Press Releases are Out, Newsletters are In

Press releases really aren’t effective anymore. Not for books, especially if you’re not super well-known or have something major to also announce. Because while having written a book is a huge accomplishment, it’s simply not newsworthy.

Before you spend time and money on a press release, you must first ask – why would anyone care? And by anyone, I’m not talking about your family and close circle of friends. I’m talking about the people you barely know or don’t know at all. Why would they care enough to click over and buy your book?

For most of us, that answer is “They wouldn’t.” And that’s okay. It shouldn’t be a shot to your ego. It’s just a quick reality check and an effort to save your precious time and valuable budget. So, save your big announcements, and big drum rolls, for something that really matters.

What you can do however, is put your newsletter to work for you!

According to Experian, “Transactional emails have 8x more opens and clicks than any other type of email and can generate 6x more revenue.”

Why do I love a newsletter so much? Because with all of the noise on social media, with all the algorithm changes, and changing public opinion, you really need a way to connect with your readers. They want to hear about your specials and promotions, your new releases, and any new information you have to share!

This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to spam them every time you write a new chapter. But regularly, say once, maybe twice a month, let them know what’s going on. Give them some great content, sneak peaks into characters and story lines, and maybe even a sample chapter.

You can also encourage interaction by doing polls, getting their input on character names, and feedback on any number of things. And if you really want their thoughts, set up a survey (Survey Monkey is great), and offer a giveaway for people who respond.

And if you’re running dry on things to share, look at wacky calendar observances, consider sharing some of your own favorite books with them, or maybe swap newsletters with a fellow author and cross promote your work.

Another important note on newsletters is that you must make it easy for your readers to sign up. Your website should feature a prominent sign up form for your readers and visitors. And this is something you can do even if you don’t have immediate plans to start your newsletter. Those email addresses are indie author gold!

5. Don’t Rely on Social Media to Sell Books

Once upon a time, Facebook was a powerful sales tool without having to buy ads. That’s not the case anymore. Especially with some of the new algorithm changes. And, I think you’ll find that other social media sites are going to start following suit. Even Pinterest.

But, social media is still a great tool in your book marketing arsenal, just not as it relates to direct sales. Instead, social media should be looked at as a way to get exposure and build relationships and engagement. But a word of caution before we drill further into this: be careful how much time you spend on your social media…not all exposure is created equally, and you can really make strong use of the time you do put into social media.

So what can you do?

First, you need to decide which social media sites are best for you. And while you want to take your own personality and style into consideration, you also want to take into consideration your buyers’ habits. Because it’s all about your target audience and being where they are. So if they hang out on Twitter, guess what? You need to be active and engaged on Twitter too.

If your target audience is on Instagram or Facebook, then you need to be there instead. And above all, wherever you choose to be, make sure to keep up on it. A social media account with no activity tells potential fans “Abandon all hope, Ye who enter here.” Well, perhaps not quite so dramatic, but it definitely sends the message that you don’t care. And if you don’t care, why should they?

But what about those algorithm changes?

Well, the big takeaway is that Facebook and other social media are most interested in quality content that builds community and engagement. So the key is not to post at your audience, but to start a conversation that they engage with. How? Well, put less emphasis on selling your book, no more than say, 10-20% of your posts should be about business, actually selling to them.

The rest of your posts should focus on really connecting with your fans. And here are a few of my top ideas for building engagement with them!

  • You can post contests and giveaways.
  • Share current topics and ask for feedback on what people think about the all-new Dancing with the Stars cast. (Twitter’s trending topics offers great ideas for what’s happening now!)
  • Like with your newsletter, pay attention to wacky observances and post about them. Every loves fun holidays like National Lollipop Day and No Housework Day. So you can share what you’re doing to celebrate and then ask your fans to share how they are.
  • Talk about things you’re doing, either personally, or in your writing. And invite your fans into your world.
  • Be a sharer! Share things you love, great advice you’ve gotten, or even some great successes or milestones of fans and fellow authors. Plus if you’ve got some great insights on your topic or industry, share those too. But don’t just share posts willy nilly from other pages. Go into each link and share it freshly from your own page! Make sure you are the one getting “credit” for the engagement boost.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring images into the mix either. Images are powerful, they can be funny or inspirational, and they can give your readers a great way to interact. And with Facebook’s new post backgrounds, you can turn almost any post into an image extremely easily.

Pro Tip: If you create custom images on sites like Canva, don’t forget to watermark them with your URL or social handle. Inevitably, your fun posts may get separated from your profile, and if they do, you want people who love them to know just how to reach you.

  • One word: GIFs. Ever since Facebook introduced the GIF reaction, I’ve gotten great engagement on posts that ask people to share a GIF that describes their reaction. It’s a lot of fun to see what people find and what they come up with!

What about groups?

On Facebook, groups are a powerful way to really engage with your super fans, people who really love your work. By connecting with them in VIP groups, and offering some special swag, you can really get them to buy into what you’re selling. And more importantly, they’ll tell their friends about it too! Remember up above when I was talking about micro influencers? Your VIP fan group members are your micro influencers, so make sure to treat them well. It will pay off.

And you don’t have to spend a ton of time on this. You can preschedule posts once a week or so and then just go in to respond and connect as your schedule allows.

The bottom line with social media today is to use it to create personal connections. And no matter what you do with your social media, as you get engagement, make sure to return it. Reply to people’s comments when you can, and definitely like them. Just like with getting personal and using genre-specific blog tours, you’ll get a bigger return from getting personal, being personable, and treating your fans like the individuals they are. The better you do at this, the stronger your connections will be – even without buying ads.

6. Be a Good Blogger

Remember when I said some of these things will sound obvious? Well, don’t practice bad blogging skills. You should be blogging. Absolutely. But you’ve got to do it well. Don’t just throw random content on your site for the sake of blogging. After all, there’s a ton of content out there, so you want yours to be really great. Before you share something, ask, would you want to read it? If the answer is no, then it’s back to the drawing board.

So what good blogging skills can you practice?

Well for starters, as I’ve said, put out really solid content even if that means reducing the times per month that you blog. I used to blog four and five times a week, but the stuff I put out wasn’t always great. Now I blog much less frequently, and I like to think that it’s stronger, better content.

This is another case of less is more, especially when it comes to content. Not only will your readers appreciate it, but Google loves superb content and will send you more traffic for one great piece, than five so-so blog posts that are only interesting to you, and maybe your cat.

And don’t forget about the power of guest blogging. It’s a great way to build relationships with other authors, book bloggers, and people who have a shared interest in your topics. It gives you an opportunity to get in front of someone else’s audience, and, at least in theory, drive traffic back to your own blog. And after all, the more traffic you get, the more eyes that you get in front of, the more chances you have of selling more books and achieving your goals.

7. You Wrote it, But Stop Promoting YOUR Book + Alignment

Wait…what?

If you’re wondering why I, a book marketing person, am telling you not to promote your book, then I get it. But, realistically, while it’s not passé to promote your book, you’ve got to make sure that you’re doing it the right way.

That much makes sense, right?

So let’s go back into one of the points I made when talking about press releases. There are 4,500 books published every day. So the fact that you’ve published a book really doesn’t matter to most people. To your family and friends, yes. But not to anyone else. And that’s what makes this one of those marketing trends you’ve got to watch out for!

If I’ve got you thoroughly confused by now, then bear with me. Because people don’t want to read your book, per se, but they do want to read a book that is of value to them.

Starting to click now? Great! Because here’s where we get into the features and benefits. You want to tell people about the features of your book and why it’s beneficial to them. It’s age-old sales advice that helps you get away from the desperate-sounding “Buy my book! Please?” speech.

I’ve been telling authors this for years. Always market what your book can do for your readers, because that’s what they care about. And, you’ll find that this is more true now than ever. Because that’s what readers—all consumers really—actually care about.

So, promote the benefits, promote how it’ll make the reader feel, what they will learn or how wildly they will be entertained. That’s the key when it comes to creating a sales pitch that will actually sell! There’s no magic to this, but the “trick” so to speak, is understanding what pulls in buyers.

Have you heard of Frankincense Oil? No, this isn’t a Christmas quiz. It’s an essential oil that’s been popping up in studies as an effective alternative cancer treatment. It actually kills cancer cells. And more than 35% of all adults will be diagnosed with cancer at some point, so are you interested in learning more?

See what I did there? I likely got you to go from, “Did she forget the topic of this post?” to “I need to look this up.”

I talk periodically about alignment, which is exactly what I’ve done here. In a nutshell, alignment connects two ideas that aren’t otherwise obviously related. It essentially solves the problem for the reader. And then the next step down the path is to convert them into buyers. Granted the example I used touches on a very serious topic, but the same concept can be used across the board.

But first, you need to figure out the problem that needs to be solved. And it may not be what you think!

We were working with an author who wrote about managing Lyme Disease, which is a very specific, tough market, because it’s not a big one. Despite an increase in Lyme awareness, there aren’t a ton of Lyme Disease books on Amazon. And while reduced competition may sound great, in reality, especially Amazon reality, it’s not really. Because any books related to it have a high-numbered sales rank. And, the bigger the number, the lower the number of books sold.

As I was building recommendations for this author to improve her Amazon performance, it was not as worthwhile to use “Lyme Disease” as a target keyword. Instead, I dug deeper into the illness itself and discovered that it’s often mimics “other” issues. The laundry list includes thyroid problems, arthritis, and other ailments that are more frequent search terms. And the solution? We presented the author with a set of Amazon keywords tying her book to those issues. Ultimately, this gets the book in front of readers looking for new ideas for managing their illnesses and/or symptoms – not just people who already realize they’re battling Lyme Disease.

Following this practice for just about any non-fiction book, we can boost the overall bounce of the book on Amazon.

Although this particular strategy is one we most often follow with non-fiction, you can follow a similar path for fiction books too. It’s just a little less obvious. However, you can utilize it by tying your book to ideas that may be of interest to their target audience. Maybe it’s paranormal elements, or a specific romantic hero profile, certain settings, or even complex family relationships.

Ultimately, whatever you align your book with, it’s important that your book description matches up. In the case of the Lyme Disease author, I suggested she update the book description to include these other ailments. The idea here is that readers from a new audience will see the book and say: “Oh, I hadn’t considered that!” and, ultimately, purchase the book.

The Bottom Line

These strategies are solid. And I think you’ll find that putting them into play will turn things around for you this year. They work because they’re all about connecting with people and personalizing the experience. And really, that’s the key takeaway here. Be personal in all things, and you’ll see your hard work pay off!

***

Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. 

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at www.amarketingexpert.com.

11 replies
  1. avatar
    Lev Raphael says:

    This is very helpful. I’ve published 25 books and the publicity strategies have been constantly changing. Years ago you had to have postcards and bookmarks and “stuff.” Then your own web site. Then book trailers. Then engagement via Goodreads, etc. And nothing is guaranteed beyond the work you put into writing the best book you can.

    Reply
    • avatar
      Penny Sansevieri says:

      Lev hi there and thanks for your comment! Things have changed so much, haven’t they? But I still love the idea of postcards and bookmarks. We get so much electronic, that it’s nice to have something mailed, you know? Good luck!

      Reply
  2. avatar
    Pat Muir says:

    Very good marketing advice. I am fumbling. I have got some good independent (4-star) reviews for my mystery novel “What happened To Flynn” posted on Amazon. I have the e-book loaded on Nook, Smashwords and other distributors. I have set the book up with Ingram and Spark. I have had my book featured for one day on the on-line book club that gave rise to 371 free downloads from Smashwords and 16 purchases from Amazon. My current plan is to go to local libraries and see if I can make presentations to any affiliated book clubs. I tried advertising briefly on Facebook, but was unsure which audience or how wide that went to. What’s next for me?

    Reply
    • avatar
      Penny Sansevieri says:

      Hey Pat! Thanks for writing – have you tried Amazon ads or Bookbub ads yet? You might love both of these – I think I have an article on this site, if not on our amarketingexpert.com website about Amazon ads! Thanks for writing and good luck!!

      Reply
  3. avatar
    Heather Killough-Walden says:

    This is good advice for sure. Absolutely and no doubt about it. But what I *really* want now? I want Penny to come work for me as my advertiser and marketer, lol. I’m exhausted. I’m a NYT and USA Today bestselling author who’s published 45 books. I’m beginning two new series, just launched a Youtube channel, I’m running an enormous international giveaway worth thousands, and I homeschool my kid. 😉 Is there a way to somehow obtain enough energy to actually do all of the magnificent marketing things suggested above? Or… can I hire Penny for guaranteed coffee and homemade biscotti?

    Reply
  4. avatar
    Cheri Roman says:

    Penny!! I didn’t even look at the author on this until I got to the end, at which point I realized that I’ve been to a couple of your talks for the FWA. This is a great post, very helpful. Thanks!!

    Reply

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