Marketing, building a platform as a writer… There’s more to being a novelist than most people think.
(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)
I’m no expert on how to market fiction writing. Although I’ve produced video documentaries, radio news, published non-fiction articles and a short story or two, I’m still editing my novels. However, what I know for certain is I’m having fun here — meeting you! Who knew I’d encounter so many friendly people from all over the world, who would open my ridiculously sheltered eyes?
In my hugely romanticized imaginings, I picture an Author with a capital “A.” On virtue of their talent, they only need to work a little hard to attract a super-star literary agent and publisher. For this reason, they never lift a finger to sell their books. The Author sits at an incredible desk in a gorgeous office with a spectacular view. After a walk with their dog, a shower, and a scrumptious breakfast, they begin their day writing. Until they get hungry, that is. That’s when they enjoy a tea or a hot chocolate or an espresso with sweets such as the madeleines writer Marcel Proust used as analyze memory.
Next, said Author does some more writing, takes a stroll for inspiration, writes a tad, then shares dinner with famed thinkers and creatives. The Author’s day ends with a blissful night of rest. The next day, the Author joyfully wakes to do it all over again. Oh, no — I forgot to mention their lunch — well, you get the picture…
Alas, that daydream is akin to figuring that all the amazing painters of bygone days did was simply dab at their canvases between tasting the displays of sumptuous meals they depicted, and doing whatever with their human models. They might chat brilliantly with their clothed subjects who were always famed and genius, or they could indulge in a tryst with their naked and willing gorgeous ones.
In my fantasies, nowhere does marketing rear its head. Certainly, in my dreams, the fame of great Authors never involves any of them setting aside part of their day to develop an author platform.
Now for Reality…
Most Authors, even ultra-talented ones, work hard — and that work includes getting people to know about them.
The novels I’m writing are in the form of letters to a deceased grandmother, so I’m delighted that many stellar authors began their careers by serializing their books. For instance, Charles Dickens, who wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and “Oliver Twist,” was a master of episodic, a.k.a. serial, storytelling. His chapters, which were featured in newspapers, garnered so much attention that he bound them into the popular novels we know did quite well!
Another successful writer who worked that way is Helen Fielding. Her colossal hit, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” was first serialized in newspapers.
Armistead Maupin did the same with his “Tales of the City.” He’d get home from wild 1970s San Francisco parties, use them as inspiration for his serialized newspaper column, and voila! He was rewarded with success, fame, fortune, movies, and I hope more.
Now, let’s consider Bloggers.
The blog posts of E. L. James, who’s known for her “Fifty Shades of Grey,” mushroomed into a money-making atom bomb that included books, movies, and who knows what else.
Also, Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” blog eventually made her lots of money as a book and a movie.
My idea is to eventually podcast bits of my novel and then get it into print. First, I started with this blog. Here I continue to do my best to create a larger and larger circle of friends interested in novels and arts, and who might be so kind as to spread the word about my writing.
Author Charles Sterling, who blogs from Russia, is here to show us that the marketing/platforming side of writing may not be all that awful after all. He published his first novel when he was fifteen! Since then he’s put out at least eight novels and a bunch more sorts of writing. He’s also a digital artist. Read on for his book-selling experience…
Book Marketing & Author Platform by Charles Sterling
One day at age fifteen I walk into my father’s room and I ask him; ‘how difficult is it to write a book?’ He replies, ‘son, it’s the easiest thing in the world!’ Now, whether he was right or wrong, I believed him, and that belief allowed me to write my first ever 75k book at that young age.
Had I asked him ‘how difficult is it to sell a book?’ perhaps the answer would have been different. Selling a book is a whole other world. When you’re writing, you’re an artist. When you’re marketing, you’re in the business sphere. That’s where book marketing and the author platform comes in!
How to market your book
Having been marketing since 2011, when I made my first thousand dollars I used methods that would never work anymore! As times change, so does marketing. But luckily I adapted my approach and saw a steady improvement and increase in sales. The wonderful thing is, it’s like a snowball that goes down a hill and keeps getting bigger. The more books you sell, the more Amazon recommends your books!
Here’s what I did for my past few books.
- Set your book for free and do some promotion stacking through “free book promotion” websites. This will give you thousands of downloads and some much needed reviews.
- Pin your book with an inviting image to the top of your Twitter.
- Promote it in forums like Reddit and GoodReads.
- Have an incredible book cover.
We eat with our eyes first! And we do judge books by their covers. I guarantee you that if you had the best book cover in the world, your need for marketing would be zero. The book cover would do the job for you all the way to the New York Times Best Seller list.
Often enough as writers, after we’re done writing and we get onto promoting we start looking for ways to get more viewers. We forget about what we’ve been working on so hard and begin relying websites and methods to get us where we want to be. I wish to reiterate on this extremely important point, a good book cover sells your books first! And the reviews sell your book second, so make sure your book is wonderful too.
Personally, I design my covers myself because I’ve been graphic designing as long as I’ve been writing. Essentially one must look at the top selling book covers in your niche create something thematically similar. The reason being that, readers out there already know what they’re looking for, so it’s your book cover’s job to accurately portray that.
Now, I chose to market my ebooks exclusively through Amazon for its KDP program allowing you to set discount prices as well as put your book out for free. The free book part is important to get some reviews going early on. Amazon is also a good focus point because by putting all your effort into your book, the algorithm helps push your book forward by placing it in the “Recommended Books” section of your potential readers, which is what allows you to sell books even when you haven’t marketed for months.
I’ve tried publishing in Barnes & Nobles and SmashWords, but so far really enjoyed focusing on purely Amazon.
The Author Platform
It’s super easy, but super important to have! Once you have an author platform you’ll be proud of yourself and even feel a little famous when you appear in Google searches.
I believe Twitter is perfect for a few reasons; most authors and readers are either on Twitter or Facebook. Instagram is an image based platform, I tried it for a while and didn’t quite like it.
On Twitter the hashtag game is a lot stronger than on Facebook, making it easier to fit into a specific niche and target specific groups of people. The retweet function is nifty as well, as others retweet your stuff for more people to see!
So if you do decide on Twitter, get a photogenic picture of yourself and write a short and sweet bio. No need to be too long. Pin your book to the top of your page, and spend the rest of your social media rants about yourself, things you find funny and your opinions on things. If your Twitter is filled with nothing but your book, people will turn away.
Your book will already be pinned on top, so every single person that comes onto your profile is forced to see it before they see the rest. “The rest” should be inviting things and things that people can relate to and understand you better as a person. You want them to say “wow, I like this person. I’ll follow them and take a look at their book.”
To get followers is really easy; go around your niche and comment and put likes on people’s stuff. Thirty minutes of twittering a day and you’ll have a thousand followers in two weeks. I did just that with no complications!
Get either a Wix or a WordPress website going, use a free template to make it look nice, and fill it up with your stuff. Have a page for your books, have a page for your author bio, a page for your short stories or poetry, or even a page for pictures of your pet.
Images you use on your website will appear in Google Images, so make sure to keyword them with your name.
Words that you use in “Heading” format will appear in Google Search, so make sure they’re your book titles or your name. Then add your website to your Twitter and you’re basically set! A website might seem like the hardest part, but once you did it, you no longer need to worry about it.
My own website charlesimagines.com is as easy as that, yet has all my work neatly laid out for people to see, and it took me just about two days to fully complete.
Aha! An Amazon page is an author platform too! Make sure all your books are listed in your Author Central. If you have a blog, you can link it to your Author Central as well. Then in your GoodReads account make sure all your books are linked to your Amazon page, because often people write reviews and comment there.
This part is not difficult, and if you have some problems (like I did) just write them an email and they fix everything for you.
It’s a good time to mention that, Amazon has over 3000 different categories for your books, but you only get to see around 250 when you’re actually publishing. If there’s a specific category that you need (like mine was Young & Adult Pirate Adventure eBooks) then you’ll have to contact Amazon and they change it for you.
Reap the Benefits!
As a few final thoughts, I’ve only started using Twitter and adding things onto my website about five or six months ago and the benefits that came with it were enormous. I was discovered by authors and readers, invited to do podcasts, got free book reviews on other people’s websites and most importantly… I emerged from the shadows and began connecting with people!
Book marketing is usually a slow and steady process that gets faster and faster the more you do it. I started off with numbers like 2, 5, 13 and some months later they turned into 900, 1500, 3000, and are still on their way up.
At first things might seem like they’re not working out, or you’ll get tired or you might feel like it’s a waste of time, but the longer you go on, the more the puzzle pieces start fitting together, and the more the grind seemed worth it.
My final tiny advice that I wish to share applies to anything and is based around the principal of ‘compound effect’. Much like going to the gym or eating healthy, it’s about doing something small every day. This gets multiplied by hundreds of days, and the effects become massive.
This was the case with me; my first books back in 2011-2012 kept bringing me paychecks (despite the books being clearly written by a teenager) and then the books that followed were stranded in a desert with no activity. I was left wondering what was going on and what I had to do to make it work again, and ended up committing a huge portion of my time to learning on promoting and marketing.
I had to change my old fashioned book covers, market in different places, create better keywords, and I started seeing my numbers grow again. As of recently, the author platform I built has greatly helped!
What are your thoughts on selling books?