As an entrepreneur, self-publishing a book can be a great way for you to build authority and share your ideas with a potentially unlimited number of people.
That said, authors still have to get creative with marketing. This is especially true in today’s saturated market — Bowker reveals that 727,125 titles were released by self-published writers in 2015, and these numbers are only expected to rise. Never before has it been so easy (and so hard) for a previously unknown author to make an entrance in the world of literature.
Here are some of the unique, counterintuitive ways that self-published entrepreneurs have marketed their books.
1. They grow their following before they release their book.
“You have to have fans before you write your book, not after,” says Cary Carbonaro, author of The Money Queen’s Guide for Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear.
Carbonaro released her book a little over a year ago, in October 2015. Since then, she has reached Amazon No. 1 bestseller status in the categories of new release and wealth management. She accomplished this by following the “80/20” rule: focusing 20 percent of her effort on writing, and 80 percent on promotion.
“It is counterintuitive to me, but an audience is key; I am still finding mine,” she admitted to me. “In the 10 months since my book came out, I have done a nonstop media blitz. I want to share what I have done with my fellow authors. I am known in my profession and my book is about empowering women, my story and financial literacy for women.”
Carbonaro is a full-time financial planner, and authorship is her second career. This makes focusing 80 percent of her efforts on promotion a challenge, but she has managed to make it work by being engaging and interactive on social media — Evan Carmichael and Nexus have both listed her as a top finance expert to follow on Twitter.
A great strategy for someone interested in audience building is to start blogging.
Jesse Tevelow, self-published author of the bestseller The Connection Algorithm, warns aspiring authors not to forget to set up landing pages and use an email marketing service to build an email list.
“Authors often forget about the marketing side of things, but it’s almost always the difference between success and failure (in terms of sales),” Tevelow told me. “You can write an amazing book, but if it looks ugly and you don’t have a marketing plan to build buzz, no one will buy it.”
2. They start a ‘launch team.’
While an audience is important, not everyone who follows your blog or subscribes to your YouTube channel will necessarily want to buy your book.
To successfully market his books, Jesse Tevelow used a launch team: a group of people he found pre-publication who genuinely cared about his work. The team helped amplify the effects of his marketing efforts (which he has previously discussed in detail) once the books were written. Other best-selling authors like Pat Flynn and Michael Hyatt have also mentioned using launch teams.
You can find your team members among the most engaging people on your email list, or from scouting targeted people who share an interest in your book’s subject matter on social media. Facebook groups are a good place to start.
Tevelow plans to go over launch teams in more depth in his upcoming book, Authorpreneur. He has also released a marketing platform called LaunchTeam, to help authors find and grow their own community of ambassadors.
3. They know how to pitch major media outlets.
When we hear of successes like Carbonaro’s and Tevelow’s, it can be hard not to feel overwhelmed. The thought of putting immense effort into writing a book, only to put 80 percent more of that effort into marketing the book can be intimidating. But getting featured in major outlets doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive.
Tevelow recommends appearing on podcasts as a good way to gain exposure.
“It’s the best ROI for the smallest amount of effort,” he said to me. “For example, writing a guest post might take 30-to-40 hours of work. Appearing on a podcast takes about an hour — and can move just as many copies.”
Of course, podcasts aren’t the only option. Multi-award-winning author and PR coach Gisela Hausmann says that even getting on TV is an achievable goal, as long as you pitch the station’s anchor correctly.
Media exposure is an important part of any good marketing plan, because unlike what happens with social media platforms, you aren’t sharing the space with millions of other authors when your work is featured on a news segment or in an article.
But whether you decide to contact magazine editors, podcast hosts or your local news anchor, writing a good pitch is what can make or break your media blitz efforts.
Hausmann, who has written a book titled Naked Words 2.0: The Effective 157-Word Email as part of her series of “naked” (no fluff) books for helping indie authors with marketing, says the number one issue she encounters are “me-mails.”
“People, including authors, do it all the time,” Hausmann said to me. “Using too many I’s, my’s, and me’s will turn every email into a me-mail. In other words, it’s about ‘me’ (the sender) instead about ‘you’ (the recipient).”
The ability to write “you-mails” may not come to most of us intuitively, but it is a skill that can be learned. Start by rewriting your pitches to focus on why your book is relevant to the outlet and how media outlets can benefit from covering you (rather than telling them why you want to be featured), and you will receive much more favorable responses.
4. They get competitive.
While self-published books aren’t eligible for many major awards, such as the Man Booker Prize or the Governor General’s Literary Awards, there are some competitions that specialize in self-published titles. Hausmann believes that the experience of entering a book competition is worthwhile whether or not you win, because it forces you to consider how your book “stacks up” (pun intended).
“Typically, most of us don’t follow ‘the competition,’ but once we think about entering a book, automatically, we begin to check out others’ books,” she said.
Competitions are also an opportunity to learn more about your genre and possibly improve upon your work. In 2013, Hausmann said, she entered her book Naked Determination: 41 Stories about Overcoming Fear into the eLit Awards and won the bronze-level prize. When she saw which books had won silver and gold, she realized that she could have done better.
“I went over my book again, with a red pencil, and also hired a new editor,” she said. “Then, I entered it in the Readers Favorite Awards and, indeed, the book won gold.”
Hausmann recommends that all authors enter their book in at least one competition, but not without thoroughly researching the award first. By taking a look at previous winners, and then going to Amazon to check out each book’s synopsis, you’re engaging in research that can help you to grow as a writer.
5. They aren’t afraid to take charge.
Most entrepreneurs have a story in them, yet few will put pen to paper. Writing and publishing a book can seem like an insurmountable task, but successful authors take this one step at a time until they have reached their goal, and aren’t afraid to take charge to reach it.
Self-publishing is the best way to maintain maximum creative control over your work, including the design, pricing and release date.
“I’ve spoken to all types of authors, including those who traditionally published their books and achieved bestseller status. The message I hear most often is that people aren’t happy with the traditional publishing model,” said Tevelow.
“I would never deter anybody from trying to publish with a traditional publisher. However, authors need to consider that it might take years until they find one,” added Hausmann, who has registered all her books under her own publishing imprint, Educ-Easy books.
There are pros and cons to each model, of course, but if authors opt for self-publishing, they should ensure that they register their book’s ISBN (whether under their own name or their imprint/publisher name), as this number serves as the book’s commercial identifier.
Individual services such as editing can be contracted out, and the books can be uploaded directly to bookseller websites. So-called “self-publishing” companies that offer to do these things for you will expect a steep cut, as well as ownership of your ISBN, which can cause problems down the line.
And at the end of the day, while writing a good book is an accomplishment in itself, it is the marketing that can make or break your book sales; therefore, it’s best to get started on both as soon as you can.