Most Valuable Marketing Tools for Self-Published Authors


1 Word of Mouth

What it can do for you:

  • It can generate sales even when you’ve had a couple of recent unfavorable reviews. What a reader’s buddy tells them about your book carries more weight than what some random stranger writes on your Amazon product page.
  • It doesn’t rely on Amazon to sell your book through search results or customers-also-bought lists. Those can change over time. Word-of-mouth sales can yield traffic during times when Amazon’s marketing isn’t helping your book.
  • It helps your book get discovered. Instead of having to hunt your book down amongst thousands of others in that genre, your book is reaching readers’ ears directly.
  • It lends credibility to your book. Somebody that readers trust is recommending your book.
  • It gets readers interested in your book and puts them in a positive frame of mind at the outset. Readers discovering your book on Amazon often approach it with concern.
  • It can lead to a very long-term chain reaction. A few readers hear good things about your book. It may take weeks for them to buy and read your book. If each of them recommends it to their buddies, the number of readers and recommenders has grown. Many months later, what starts out small can lead to something much bigger.
  • It can build your reputation as an author. This helps not only to sell one book, but to generate interest in your full line of books.

Word-of-mouth sales can be the most valuable, but also the hardest to get.

How to earn them:

  • Your book has to have a wow-factor. When strangers pick up your book and feel impressed with the read, you really have something. Your book’s strengths need to compel readers to want more of that. Give readers more than they expect; much more.
  • Fiction books need to evoke strong emotions in readers; they need to also deliver on readers’ expectations for the genre. Nonfiction books need to fulfill the range and depth of information that readers want; they also need to be well-organized, communicate ideas clearly, and present the information at the right level.
  • You need to shore up your book’s weaknesses. Even if the storyline or characters are incredible, readers find it hard to recommend books with editing, formatting, or other issues. Their reputation is on the line, too, in the recommendation. Your book needs to earn it. You’re charging money for your book; it needs to appear professional.
  • If your book has that wow-factor, get it into the hands of readers. Run promotions, find bloggers who review books in your genre, and find and interact with your target audience. Find experts to read your book and politely request an editorial review or a quote that you can use in your book’s blurb—that’s a professional recommendation that carries weight with some customers.

When the author goes the extra mile to impress readers and produces a book worthy of word-of-mouth praise, this can have a huge impact on the long-term success of the book.

2 The Horse’s Mouth

What’s the next best thing to hearing positive things about a book from a trusted source?

Interacting directly with the author, of course.

Even in today’s world where millions of authors are getting books out there, it’s still a treat to meet and interact with the author.

Why does it matter? This personal interaction can do things that your product page can’t:

  • Show your passion and enthusiasm for your book.
  • Make the reader feel special. Don’t just draw interest in your book. Get interested in your readers, too.
  • There is greater potential to establish credibility as an author.
  • Answer any questions that the reader has.

Of the most common ways for books to sell, personal interactions with the target audience is the one big factor that is most accessible to self-published authors. (The other big factors include shopping the bestseller list, shopping by the name of an established author, browsing through the gigantic haystack of books on Amazon, professional book reviews, and bookstore recommendations.) When you aren’t dealt a good hand, you better play the one good card you do have. If you do play your cards right, you can eventually benefit from the other popular ways that books sell, too.

Think long and hard about where to find your target audience. Go out and interact with them. Charm your potential readers.

While you can reach greater numbers online, interactions in person are more likely to result in sales and reviews.

3 Flash It

Your book needs attention.

Shoppers will be browsing through hundreds of thumbnails in search results. Others will see your cover when they come across your marketing efforts.

Your cover needs to stand out.

It also needs to look the part. If it looks like a mystery, but it’s really a fantasy, your sales will be a bad romance.

A fantastic cover won’t provide long-term success for a lousy book.

But a fantastic cover can have a significant impact on the sales of a quality book.

For a highly marketable book (i.e. there is demand for the book and the content delivers on expectations), investing a modest amount toward a fantastic cover can pay nice dividends in the long run. And what you might lack in terms of financial investment, you can make up for in time. After all, time is money. Take the time to learn the how-to, get feedback, and get it right.

There are no guarantees in the publishing business, but most successful self-published authors credit their covers for being valuable players on their books’ sales teams.

4 Talk to Me, Baby

An effective cover grabs the attention of the target audience and brings shoppers to the product page.

Now it’s time for the only salesperson you have at the point-of-sale to close the deal.

“Who’s that,” you ask? It’s your blurb.

The description of your book isn’t a summary. It’s a sales tool.

The blurb needs to attract attention right off the bat. It needs to engage interest in the first line and hold that interest until the customer clicks to Look Inside.

Many effective blurbs are very concise, especially in fiction. Too much text there can be intimidating. If you’re exploring hundreds of books, you don’t want to read a long description for a book you might not even buy. In nonfiction, you can make important points easy to read by using bullet points (such formatting is possible through Author Central).

If the reader gets bored, it’s no sale. If the blurb doesn’t reinforce the genre depicted by the cover and title, it’s no deal.

Once the blurb generates a click to Look Inside, the Look Inside needs to wow the customer into making the purchase. Like the blurb, the Look Inside needs to engage interest immediately and keep it throughout. It must also look professional and read well.

Finally, the book must deliver on the promise made by the cover, blurb, and Look Inside. Otherwise, you get returns and frustrated readers.

5 Hunt ’em Down

Your book is out there, but who knows it?

You want to find your target audience. The word for this is marketing.

A great cover and blurb help, but first people must find your book. Recommendations are great, but first people must read your book. First, you need to get your book discovered.

Paid advertisements probably won’t be cost-effective for marketing a single book. Unless you have an amazing promotion going on and you supplement the paid advertising with much free marketing. In that case, a BookBub (click the link to learn more) or other type of promotion may come in handy.

There are many free marketing strategies, which are often more effective for books than paid marketing. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites help you build a following and interact with your target audience. The key words here are target audience, which means posting content that will be relevant for them, using appropriate hash tags, and finding relevant Facebook groups.

Social media is a slow process. Now you go from just getting your book discovered to getting your social media pages discovered. You can do this through months of effective posts, interacting with people in your target audience, and directing readers to your social media pages in an About the Author section in your book. Then you’re kind of going in circles. But your social media helps two ways: You want people to discover you and your book, and you also want to attract fans so you can tell them about your next book when it comes out.

Don’t forget old-fashioned media: newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. Local papers often have column inches to fill and local radio stations may have minutes of air time to fill. Think about what can make you interesting to their audience. You’re selling yourself to sell your book. Learn how to prepare a press release package.

Remember, personal interactions are valuable to self-published (and all) authors. See if you can put together a successful reading or signing. Visit local libraries to see if you can get a paperback copy in circulation there or volunteer to read (appropriate material) to kids or senior citizens (visit a senior citizen center, too). Try to get stocked in local bookstores, and antique and other kinds of stores that sell books, but don’t specialize in books.

You need to work hard to find your target audience. But you can also help your target audience find you. Over time, turn your blog into a content-rich website with nonfiction material (even if you write fiction) that will attract your target audience through search engines. Your goal is to get 100+ visitors daily to your site through relevant search engine queries after a year of posts. That’s a lot of people discovering you and your book. It starts out very slow, but if you do it right, it can be very effective toward long-term success.

6 Can’t Get Enough

It’s easier to market several similar books than it is to market a single book.

It’s also easier to buy a book from someone who looks like a committed writer. When readers try out new authors, they’re looking for someone with the potential to provide a lifetime of good reading. If you just have a couple of books out, there isn’t much potential reward even if the book turns out to be good (i.e. comparing a reader who likes your book to a reader who likes a book by an author who has a dozen books out, this second reader will be enjoying many more books).

You also look like a professional writer when you have several books out.

And then each book that you sell helps to sell your other similar books. A hot promotion on one book helps to sell all your other books. More books, more readers, more recommendations, multi-book sales… If you’re looking to grow your sales, you need to publish a full line of books.

Don’t try to build Rome in a day. Take your time and get your books right. Just look ahead to the future. Your long-term goal is to have several good books that all help one another. It won’t help at all to have several books out unless readers enjoy them.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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18 comments on “Most Valuable Marketing Tools for Self-Published Authors

  1. I think the biggest thing new authors need is to educate themselves. Sure, you can fix anything you publish later – but it is better if your book at least starts with everything in place. There is so much good advice out there – like yours – that there is no excuse for some of the crappy books being put out.

    Fortunately, those books tend to sink like the boulders they are, but this isn’t rocket surgery: the steps are learnable.

    Lots of authors have gone directly to my ‘never even look at anything from this guy again’ list. Life is too short.

    Listen to Uncle Chris, people. He knows whereof he speaks (from my experience as a reader). I plan to.

      • As my mother said about manners: why not have the very best – they’re free.

        Information on self-publishing is virtually free now – as well as information on writing and editing. You can, if you are willing and/or poor, get it all – including covers – at practically zero financial investment.

        This is a good thing. It is relatively new. And it is available to everyone.

        May all readers find writers willing to do the work. To get that PhD in SP.

  2. I’ve built databases and/or websites for mom/pop business for the past 15 years and bottom line, backed up by stats, the absolute best ROI (Return-on-investment) advertising is word of mouth🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this information! I’m getting ready to publish so this was totally worth my time. I appreciate the thorough detail. A lot of other bloggers don’t go into that much depth. I found it genuinely helpful. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for this great post Chris!
    To enrich the marketing strategies for authors, in addition to what it is mentioned here, I’d like to include the following which I could test with good results:

    1. Take advantage of the launch of a new site to give your work a shock of publicity tools and also obtain honest reviews on the platform where you have published your books. The platform has a paid membership but they are offering free memberships for a limited time. I can’t guarantee that they’ll still be available so you should try to take advantage while it lasts.
    2. Fill in your author information on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. It’s really important that we connect to the reader, especially when they don’t know us.
    3. Regularly edit and improve the description of your book on those online stores. The description doesn’t just tell what your book is about IT’S ALSO THE READER’S FIRST IMPRESSION. A reader judges your writing based on your description. It’s important not only to inform the reader, you have to seduce them.
    4. Create visual support for your book through a website so that when you post on social media you have a visual connection. If you can’t afford the investment in a professional web page, create a blog. There are tons of tutorials.

    Well friends, that’s my mini summary of what I have experienced first-hand.
    I’m already putting it into practice daily with my book and I’m seeing my sales increase daily.

    Stay well,
    Avid reader on my Kindle

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