By guest blogger Jane Trueper, circa 2014. Last updated 11 November 2019.
I’ve had a number of requests from clients for information on how to market the book they’ve just written and I’ve formatted. So I invited blogger Jane Trueper to research the issue and write the following guest article. I’ve updated it in the years since it was originally written. —Erika
A lot of eBook authors know how to write really well. A lot fewer, however, know what to do once they’ve written their eBook. If you’re one of those authors, read on to find out how to market your eBook in order to help it succeed once it makes its digital debut.
Imagine your last trip to the movies: what did you do when the previews came on? You may have heaved a sigh of exasperation at the sheer length of the preview portion, or maybe you showed up a few minutes late, knowing you had ample time before the main feature began. Chances are, though, that if you saw even a couple of the previews, you nudged your friend at least once and whispered, “I want to see that!” Movie producers are masters of marketing. They begin promoting films months in advance, often before the movie is even completed.
Similarly, Apple is known for generating excitement about its new product launches well before the announcement of what the product even is. By the week before its release in September 2019, several versions of the iPhone 11 sold out, with 2019 shipping estimates projected by industry insider Ming-Chi-Kuo in the 70 to 75 million range. SEVENTY MILLION! To use an often-used comparison… laid end-to-end, that many phones would stretch from Philadelphia, down across the Atlantic Ocean, past Puerto Rico, across the Caribbean Sea, and across the entire South American continent to land on the island of Tierra del Fuego at it’s tippy bottom end. That’s so far south that penguins hang out there!
So how do you build anticipation for your eBook? For starters, you should tell people you’re writing it. Announce it to friends and family, yes, but your reach should extend well beyond that. If you have a website, dedicate a page to your upcoming book. Consider having a cover designed to include a compelling visual accompanying your description of the main plot line and major characters. Perhaps most importantly, include a link to sign up for an email mailing list so interested readers can be notified when your book makes its official debut. MailChimp.com offers free mailing list services for up to 2000 subscribers.
No website? Consider setting up a website exclusively to market your new eBook. You might want to hire a professional for this – after all, you’re a writer, not a programmer! A website doesn’t have to be a huge, complex undertaking. It can be as simple as a few pages: One announcing your book’s release date with a grab-the-reader synopsis of the book (the type of thing you’d see on the inside flap of a hardcover book), a page providing a short biography of you as the author, and a contact page, so people can get in touch with you privately. Don’t forget a link to the mailing list mentioned above!
Social media is also an obvious option… keep reading!
Sell Your eBook in the “Write” Place
Punny, right (write)? But really, selling your eBook in the correct forum is an important marketing decision in and of itself. Once you’ve started building anticipation for your upcoming eBook, you’ll want to choose where you will distribute your eBook. First, though, it’s important to understand the differences between a formatter, a distributor, and a retailer.
- A formatter (also called a converter) formats your book to meet the specifications of one or more distributors or retailers. You can take the files generated by a formatter and go directly to most retailers (Sony is an exception) to publish your book yourself. Some distributors, like Smashwords, also accept book files produced by formatters. A formatter generally charges a flat rate for formatting your book, which may vary based on your book’s individual characteristics, like length, number of images, complexity of formatting, etc. A formatter generally does not request a portion of the sales of your book. A reputable formatter will provide you with a file you can use at your choice of distributors or retailers.
- A distributor (also called an e-publishing service) agrees to upload your eBook to a retailer, or multiple retailers. Smashwords and BookBaby are examples of distributors. BookBaby’s publishing package includes distribution to several retailers, including Amazon, the Apple iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. Distributors also often offer conversion services from Word and PDF files to ePub (which works with most eReaders) and .mobi (which works with Amazon’s Kindle). There are differences even between distributors. Smashwords, for example, accepts book files produced by formatters (and do not do formatting themselves) and charges a fee per sale, but does not charge an annual fee. BookBaby, on the other hand, accepts book files produced by formatters and charges hefty fees for making changes. At the time of this writing, it is unclear, on their site, whether they charge a per-sale fee. An important point remember is that except for select retailers you do NOT need to go through a distributor – whether you do or not is entirely up to you.
- A retailer is, as you might have guessed, an online seller of eBooks. Most retailers, with the notable exception of Sony, allow authors to upload and sell by contracting directly with them, which is what you’ll do if you don’t go through a distributor. One retailer you may need to use a distributor with is the Apple iTunes bookstore. In order to sell in the iTunes bookstore, you either need to go through a distributor like Smashwords or use your own Macintosh computer – if you don’t have a Mac and want to publish to the iTunes bookstore, you’re stuck with using a distributor. Note, though, that anyone with an Apple product that can read books (iPad, iPod, laptop, desktop, etc.) can also still purchase your book through Amazon and other venues, so uploading directly to the iTunes bookstore isn’t absolutely necessary for Apple product owners to read your book.
Now you know the difference between a distributor and a retailer. So to best market your book, should you go with a distributor, or upload to retailers individually? On the one hand, if you upload to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you’re going with a retailer that by itself has over two-thirds of the eBook market (Bloomberg.com suggested in March of 2019 that this number was as high as 88.9%). On the other hand, Amazon is pushing its KDP Select program, which requires an author who signs up to agree to exclusivity for the term in exchange for certain benefits. While that might sound good in theory, the general consensus is that foreclosing the other 55% of the eBook market in exchange for exclusivity on Amazon might not be worth it. In a now-offline article entitled “The Truth About Amazon KDP Select,” author Karol Gajda wrote that he didn’t feel it was worth it. But several other authors he contacted had different experiences. Keep in mind that you can still sell on Amazon KDP without choosing the “Select” program that requires exclusivity, both by uploading on your own and through agreements with distributors.
eBook distributors offer several benefits that might weigh in favor of choosing one to help your publication process as opposed to going it alone. For one, you’ll get aggregated sales data across all retail platforms (very helpful come tax time). You may also actually earn a higher percentage of sales if you upload to a retailer through a distributor than if you did on your own – Smashwords, for example, promotes the fact that its authors get 60% of the sales price of a book priced above 99 cents that it uploads to Barnes & Noble, whereas the author uploading the same book on his or her own would get only 40% if the book were priced below $2.99 or above $9.99. In the case of some retailers, though, the percentage may be lower, so be diligent and thoroughly explore the returns for all vendors!
The bottom line is that, to effectively market your eBook, it’s a good idea to have it available on as many platforms as possible so people can discover it. Deciding whether you do that through a distributor, through uploading directly to retailers, or a combination of both will require you to weigh the costs and benefits of factors such as time, money, and your comfort level with the various distributors and retailers. (Anecdotally, most of my clients, with a few notable exceptions, say the majority of their sales come from Amazon.com. –Erika)
Let Your Readers Know More About You
Regardless of the route you choose to go for distributing your eBook, you should use the “about the author” pages on each retailer to your advantage. These pages are provided by the retailer expressly for you to promote yourself as an author. On Goodreads, for example, readers can click on your name next to your book title in the Goodreads catalog and they will be taken to your author profile. On that page, you have the ability promote other books you may have written, publicize upcoming events, or write a blog. Similarly, on Amazon’s Author Central, you can add your bio or blog and you can track your book sales. Readers want to know about you, author. The more they know, the better they can decide whether they identify with your writing style and the more likely they are to decide they want to take a chance on your book.
Use Social Media to Your Advantage
If you’re like me, social media may be one of the first places your mind goes when you think of marketing a product. Love it or hate it, social media is pretty much unavoidable today, so marketing your eBook through at least one major platform – whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another – is essential. Some ways to promote your book on different social media platforms include:
- Facebook: It almost goes without saying that you should announce your eBook’s release on your personal page. Beyond that, however, you may want to create a Facebook page for (1) yourself as an author (choose “Community of Public Figure” and then “Author” as the category) or (2) your book specifically (choose “Business or Brand,” then “Book” for the category). From there, you can invite people you know to like your page and link to your page from your personal website, if you have one, or link to your Facebook page from any “about the author” pages you have at individual retailers. Once your page gets 30 likes, Facebook gives you access to Page Insights, which tells you things like how your “fans” found your page, fan demographics, and whether any fan has written about your page on Facebook.
- Twitter: As you may well know, Twitter is a “micro-blogging site” on which users post short “tweets” of text or images that are seen by followers. Twitter is best for tweeting not just about your eBook launch, but for connecting with people who may be interested in reading your book. This requires defining what types of people may be interested in your book, posting regular tweets about things of interest to those groups, and following people in this sphere in the hope that they, in turn, follow you back. For example, if I wrote a novel titled Living as a Christian Woman, I might define my ideal reader as a woman, age 25 to 65, who is active in her church. I might tweet about an interesting blog article that covers the fact that the majority of women in the U.S. today do not identify with any particular religion, and how this correlates with increased unhappiness. Finally, I would follow people who tweeted about similar subject matter.
- Instagram: Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing social networking service, is huge these days with certain sections of the population. Owned by Facebook since 2012, it’s only been in the last couple years that it’s really exploded. Instagram is kind of like a smaller version of Facebook, but focused on, as mentioned, photos and videos rather than on text-based messages. You can, however, send direct messages to other users, so this is another way for you to interact directly with your existing or potential readers.
Blog All About It
Besides choosing the right distribution method for your book, using blogs effectively is one of the most important things you can do to market your eBook. Remember that website I told you to consider setting up exclusively to promote your eBook? A personal blog serves the same purpose. WordPress and Blogger are two well-known blogging platforms. You can install (or have installed for you) WordPress on your own website, as a separate section or even the main page. Many people use WordPress for their entire site, as it has grown, over the years, into a convenient site management tool.
Besides setting up your own blog, you should consider sending links to free copies of your eBook to other bloggers and asking them to review your book on their blog. Don’t just send to any bloggers, though: as with Twitter, you should define your eBook’s target audience; consider what blogs they read, and target those. Or, if you blog for someone other than yourself, add a tagline to the bottom of your blog post.
Record What Works — and What Doesn’t
As with many things in life, marketing your eBook is a matter of trial and error. While this article can give you good information as to what options are available, exactly which methods you pursue are up to you. Make sure to keep track of what marketing methods you are using, how many books you are selling during that time, and your general impressions of how different techniques are working for you. If something isn’t working for you, tweak it and collect more data. And lastly, congratulations on writing your eBook!
Jane is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism where she majored in Advertising. She is now a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Jane loves writing and hopes to publish a book (or eBook!) herself one day.