May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Last week I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’m presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I’ve managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years. You can catch up here.
So in Step 1 you assembled your online infrastructure—blog, Twitter, Facebook fan page—and in Step 2, hopefully found a little corner of the internet that likes you and wants to hear more of what you’ve got to say. You have built an online platform. Hooray!
Now we’re going to share news of our upcoming book with the people who visit that online platform, but we’re going to very careful to (i) not piss anyone off, (ii) not to come across like a shameless self-promoter and (iii) keep up our end of the bargain at all times, regardless of what happens with our book. It’s time to launch our book online.
What’s Our Aim Here?
Yesterday we talked about starting a blog, Twitter page, etc. under the heading “Find Your First Readers.” The idea is this: to assemble a group of supporters who, when our book comes out, will be among the first to buy it. Hopefully this group will then spread the word by reviewing our book online, telling their friends, etc. They’re going to help us give our book a good start in printed (or coded) life.
We’re not talking about hundreds or thousands of people. (Although that would be nice—chance would be a fine thing.) We merely want to ensure that when we release our book, people we are not related to and have never met in real life will be waiting to buy it, and buy it because they like our writing and/or are interested in the book’s subject matter—and like our writing and/or are interested in the subject matter because we got them liking our writing (through posts, tweets, etc.) and gave them reasons to be interested (through book-related content, which we’ll get to in a sec).
For example when I first released Mousetrapped, I sold about 100 paperback copies in the first month. (My focus wasn’t yet on e-books.) At my real-life book launch which was not attended by a single person I wasn’t related to or friends with, I sold 38 copies of my book. So who bought the other 62?
- People who’d been reading my blog for the past few months and liked my writing style
- People who’d been reading my blog for the past few months and thought Mousetrapped sounded interesting
- People who’d been reading my blog for the past few months and wanted to see how my book had turned out, perhaps because they were considering self-publishing too and wanted to gauge the quality of the finished product
- As above, but with Twitter
- As above, but with Facebook
- Followers of blogs whose owners had been kind enough to host me for a guest post or giveaway
- Followers of book blogs whose owners had been kind enough to review my book.
Now let’s address three very important points before we go any further. The first one is that you have to give your blog value. A blog that exists just to advertise books is an empty shell, and not a blog at all but a mere advertisement masquerading as something else, like those stupid “advertorials” you see in magazines these days. (Do they really think we’re that stupid? Please.) It won’t succeed in either being a blog or selling books, because it doesn’t have any value of its own. So give your blog value. As I’ve said already, only do this if you want to do this, and I don’t mean self-publishing, marketing and promoting your own books. I mean the individual things, i.e. being a blogger, being a tweeter, etc. Again, create the blog you want to read. Do you want to read a blog that merely says “buy a book” over and over again with just a slight variation each time?
The next point is that you must always keep up your end of the bargain. I would estimate that something like 80-90% of people who read this blog have never and will never buy a book of mine—and that’s okay. It’s okay because I don’t just blog to sell books. I blog because I enjoy it, and I want self-publishers to have the information I wish I’d had when I first self-published. So whenever I’m using this blog to spread the word about one of my books, especially in the lead up to its release, I always ask myself, Is there enough here for the people who aren’t interested? Have I delivered the kind of posts that my loyal blog readers are expecting? Or have I turned this blog into nothing more than an annoying advertisement this month?
In the Terminator movies, the problems start when a computer program called Skynet becomes self-aware and decides to terminate humanity. In one version of the story’s timeline, Skynet “wakes up” and starts its killing spree on April 21, 2011. Last April 21, some clever clogs started a Twitter account for Skynet, its first tweet being something like “Hello world.” It was a brilliant idea, and the tweets were pretty funny. But on April 22—and after collecting thousands of followers—instead of shutting down the account or keeping it going (perhaps as the apocalypse got into full swing…), the person behind it started advertising his friend’s album. Cue 140-character outrage—and it was justified, in my opinion. Because the tweeter hadn’t kept up his end of the deal. We’d signed up for Skynet, not the hard sell.
The third point is that this is NOT to be confused with scamming people into buying your book. As in, collecting as many pliable disciplines as possible, chaining them to a newsletter and then instructing them all to buy your book at exactly 10:01 on Monday morning in a concerted effort to—artificially—push your book into the bestseller lists. That’s called Being a Moron.
Stranger, Meet My (Not Yet Released) Book
I think your aims when you’re preparing to release a book should be:
- To inform the world at large that it exists
- To get the people who know about it interested in it (i.e. find potential readers)
- To get potential readers caring enough to say, “I’m looking forward to reading that”
- and to do all this BEFORE the book comes out.
Let’s work backwards. Why should you do this before the book comes out? Because if you don’t, you’ve wasted so many opportunities. Someone once told me that on average, a person has to hear about something three times before they buy it. I don’t know about that, but I do know that the amount of times I’ve said to myself I must buy that book greatly outnumbers the amount of books I’ve bought. That’s partly because I can’t afford it (I actually daydream about no-budget shopping sprees in Waterstones…) and partly because I forget. I need reminding a few times before it snags.
Time and time again I’ve seen Twitter friends release books and tell me about it for the first time on the day of its release. There’s only so many times you can do the “my book is out now!” tweet before you get embarrassed and we get annoyed, so let’s say you tell me twice about your book being for sale. But what if, instead, you’d been slipping me delicious details about your book for the past eight weeks? What if you’d blogged about why you’d decided to self-publish it? (That would’ve been one time.) What if you’d put two potential covers up and asked me and your other Facebook fans which did I prefer? (That would’ve been two.) What if you’d make a fun little book trailer and shared it on YouTube? (That would’ve been three.) What if you’d had a Twitter competition that tied in with the book? (That would’ve been four, at least.) What if you’d got a book blogger to review it, and then tweeted a link to the review? (Now we’re up to five.) And then you’d told me that your book was out now, twice. Now I’d have heard about your book seven times, and I’d either be buying it for sure or blocking you. If you’re a blogger or tweeter I like—and presumably you are, because I’m following you—it’s definitely going to be the first one.
As for getting people interested and caring about your book, you do that through the content you chose to publish, post or tweet about it. Here’s some of the things I did to give some you ideas (hopefully!):
- Shared my personal story of why I decided to self-publish it
- Blogged about all aspects of self-publishing, including my mistakes
- Shared things like the cover design (the stages of it), synopsis, photos of proof copies, etc.
- Made two book trailers (you can see them here)
- Posting pictures from my time in Florida on my Facebook page
- Had a PDF preview that readers could download for free
- Tagged my “shameless self-promotion” tweets on Twitter with #mousetrappedmonday and confined them to 3-5 tweets of a Monday afternoon
- Wrote guest posts on other blogs
- Gave copies to book bloggers and other review sites and then linked to the reviews.
Doing this online—and hopefully getting retweeted, recommended, followed, etc.—will cover the “exists” bit.
Tip: I find it really helpful to think back to the last book I heard about and then went out and bought, and examine why I did that.
Go For Launch
Another mistake I frequently see self-publishers making is failing to have a release date. You should have one. I know that as self-publishers it’s hard to judge exactly when your book will be available and it’s even harder to get your Kindle edition to coincide with your paperback and your Barnes and Noble listing to match them both, but don’t worry about all that. We don’t have to pick a day and then, come hell or high water, ensure that all our listings go live on that exact date. For self-publishers, your release date can be any day when (i) you decide that you’re ready to launch and (ii) at least your Kindle and paperback, if you’re doing one, are available to buy.
Then turn your online spaces into party central for the week around it. Have a virtual launch party. Go on a blog tour. Give away some books. Have a contest or competition for a juicy prize. Perhaps even give your book away for free for a couple of days, or 24 hours, just to get things going. But for the love of fudge, do something. Don’t invite me to the saddest book launch in the history of the world, i.e. a single post or tweet that gives me a quick run-through every rejection you’ve ever suffered, and then says, “So I self-published it. It’s on Amazon now. $2.99. Here’s a link. Excuse me while I log off, have a nap and expect there to have been hundred of sales by the time I wake up later.” If you wrote the thing and you’re not excited about it, why the hell should I be?
Another tip: look at that list of aims again. Now think of a tweet that says “My book is out now! Just $2.99 on Amazon! Buy it! Please RT please RT please RT” and ask yourself how does that get people interested?
So you’ve written your book, decided to self-publish it, self-published it, built an online platform and got people you’re not related to excited about your book to the point when they’ve exchanged their hard earned cash for a copy of it. The hard part is over. Tomorrow: what to do next to try and keep your book from disappearing into the Most Books Abyss…
Oh, sorry—I meant the easy part is over. Oops.
While we’re on the subject…
I feel like my regular blog readers know me really well, and always know where I’m coming from. But this blog has been getting a lot of attention from new sources in the last couple of weeks, and so a lot of people are stopping by here for the first time. Some, it seems, are getting the impression that I’m only interested in making money, and that I couldn’t care less about writing as a craft or an endeavor all of its own. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m different to a lot of self-publishers (and self-published bloggers) in that I’m still pursuing traditional publication. If a publisher approached me tomorrow and offered me a €5,000 advance, I’d take it, even though I could make four times that releasing the same book myself, because getting published is my dream, and I’d love the opportunity to see how the experts do all this. But this is “How To Sell Self-Published Books Month”, so the focus is on selling. And I need to make money from self-publishing because I do it full-time, and the income it generates allows me to not have a day job but instead devote myself fully to writing the book that I hope will, one day, help me achieve my dream of traditional publication. If you don’t want to make money from writing, I can only assume you don’t love doing it as much as I do, because making money from it is the only way that you can do it all the time, unless you win the lottery. And even if you are published by someone else, you still don’t get to “just write” all the time. You have to participate in the promotion, and so you should. It’s your book, after all. Helping the people who invested in it get their investment back is the very least you could do. When you self-publish, you’ve made the investment, and so you need to get out there and sell your book for the same reason.
To receive each new post by e-mail look for the subscribe box in the sidebar or footer, or follow me on Twitter for a reminder with a link. Or just come back here if it’s not too pink for you. Teaser alert: I’ll have another FREE book for you tomorrow…