Unless you’re a brand-name author (e.g., John Grisham, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, etc.) marketing your books likely feels somewhat akin to preparing for a colonoscopy. I know. I’ve done both--marketed my books and swilled 55-gallon drums of go-juice so a doctor can push a little camera (with attached snippers) up my posterior plumbing. I look forward to neither. But in the new world of publishing, unless you’re in the aforementioned group of elite writers, you’re going to have to get out there and gulp your 55 gallons.
As a minor leaguer, you aren’t going to have vast amounts of marketing dollars backing you up. In fact, if you’re with a small or even medium-sized publisher, you probably aren’t going to have any. Except if they’re yours. I know I’ve spent more than a few of my own bucks trying to get bottle rockets attached to my sales. I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Mostly what doesn’t.
Admittedly, it’s hard to measure success. The only way I have of doing that is to track my ebook sales rankings on Amazon. (That works fine for me, since the vast majority of my sales are in digital format.) The biggest problem is that the rankings bob up and down due to a lot of other factors besides deliberate marketing efforts.
Anyhow, here are a few approaches I probably will avoid in the future:
Virtual book tours
These are electronic tours through the blogosphere where you pay someone to set up book reviews, guest blogs, and interviews. I’ve done a couple of such tours and can’t say they’ve ever moved the sales needle much.
I’ve been warned off hiring a PR firm by a number of authors. Such firms might work well for a nonfiction writer with a platform, but for a novelist, such an investment is likely a waste of money.
Book signings/speaking engagements
Except if it’s a book launch, I’ve learned sales at book signings are close to zero. I’ll do local signings since they don’t cost much (and they keep my name out there), but I always do so with low expectations. I have to remember, except for friends and family, nobody knows who I am. For a speaking engagements, a handful of sales are possible.
I’ve tried FB advertising several times. Often it’s been in conjunction with promotions on Amazon set up by my publisher. (More on that later.) I tried advertising on FB once without the benefit of anything else going on and I can’t say the results were stellar. I tried to filter out the noise (typical ups and downs) inherent in sales rankings, and determined--best guess, anyhow--that I spent $180 to make about $25 in royalties over what I would have otherwise.
✦ ✦ ✦
Okay, there are some things I think are important to do, and that don’t cost much. They are efforts that keep your name visible and (hopefully) make you look professional.
You MUST have a Website
I splurged to get one professionally built and maintained, but you don’t have to. You do, however, need a site where you can promote your books, blog, list up-coming appearances, and crow about your awards and recognitions.
Facebook Author page
By the same token, you should have an author site on Facebook. It’s where you can keep your name and books in front of the public. And it’s free! (So far.)
I don’t have a Twitter account, but I’ve been advised it’s a good idea--for all the same reasons cited above. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Again, it’s free.
Let me end on a positive note. Here’s what really works, at least for me:
Promotions on Amazon
I don’t set them up, my publisher, BelleBooks, does. And they are the only efforts I’m aware of that truly rocket my sales rankings. As I understand it, these days books have to be nominated for Amazon promotions, such as Kindle Daily Deals or Monthly Deals. But once selected, a book will take off like an Air Force F-22 in afterburner.
H.W. “Buzz” Bernard is a best-selling, award-winning novelist. His novels include Blizzard (the most recent), Eyewall, Plague and Supercell. Buzz is a native Oregonian and attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; he also studied creative writing. He’s currently vice president of the Southeastern Writers Association. He and his wife Christina live in Roswell, Georgia.