Every publisher and literary agent will tell you that responsibility for the success of your book rests heavily upon you, its author. Although traditional media campaigns still play an important role in the marketing plans for new books, they are no longer enough. To maximize — or perhaps even replace — a traditional publicity campaign, you need to reach out to your audience directly by building and nurturing a strong online author platform.
Before founding a publishing company, I was a longtime arts and lifestyle newspaper editor. Over my 15 years in media, I saw our book coverage capacity plummet as reporting staff was relentlessly cut back and the newspapers themselves shrunk in size. I was dismayed to have to turn down highly appealing pitches from authors and their publicists every day, despite my interest in their books, simply because we no longer had the resources to cover them.
Every media outlet in the world is facing a similar crisis today. That’s why as a publisher, I now counsel all of our authors to build a relationship directly with their readers. I’ve seen first-hand that a strong grounding in online book marketing makes a decisive difference to any book’s ability to succeed in the market.
This is true for traditionally published authors as well as those who are self-publishing. Traditional publishers are far more likely to take a chance on an author when they know that he comes with an engaged following. If you’re planning to self-publish, a strong online platform is even more critical because you are entirely dependent upon your own ability to promote and distribute your work.
Here’s how to market your book to make it a winner.
1. Start early
It’s never too soon to begin raising awareness of your book, and of you as an author. If you’re starting from scratch with very little presence online, you should ideally begin your platform-building efforts even while you are writing.
It takes a while to gain traction and build a following. And by sharing updates or asking for feedback on your book while you write, you stimulate curiosity and a sense of personal investment in your audience.
2. Build your website around yourself
You need to have a website, and it needs to be built around you, not around your business or your book. It’s surprising how many authors still overlook this critical piece of advice, relying on Facebook or their publisher’s website to act as their main online home.
But think about it. Your website will forever be under your control, and will never become obsolete. Instead, its power and relevance will only grow stronger as your career develops.
Your site doesn’t need to be fancy — in fact, it’s better not to pack it full of unnecessary features and distracting design elements. Aside from a page dedicated to your book and an “About me” page, the most critical element of your site will be a blog. By maintaining a regular blog you can build a following even while you write, and when your book is ready for publication, your readers will feel they already know you.
3. Focus on growing an email list
Email is the available today, and if you’re serious about selling your book, you must use it.
Offer a flagship piece of content on your website such as a mini ebook as an incentive to join your list, then send out a monthly or even weekly newsletter to stay top-of-mind with your followers. To keep their interest high, your newsletter ought to contain more than just “news” about you. By offering something useful, insightful or entertaining, you’ll gradually build an engaged audience who looks forward to hearing from you.
Choose the nature of your newsletter content based on the type of reader you’re courting, and the nature of the relationship you want to cultivate with those readers. This could be as simple as a filled with links to top news from your industry, perhaps embellished with your own analysis. Or if your target readership is highly visual, you might choose to create a filled with your own inspiring graphics, articles from your blog, embedded videos, quizzes and more.
4. Be generous
Marketing has changed in the digital age. Intrusive and coercive advertising has given way to , in which book-buyers (and consumers of all types) follow their own pathways to find the things they care about. To bring them to your door, you’re going to have to drop some breadcrumbs — plenty of them.
Show the world what you know by blogging and guest posting. Draw people to your site by offering tools and resources for free. Above all, if your publishing arrangement permits it, consider making a free ebook or PDF version of your book. It’s possible that you might cannibalize a few sales this way, but you’re more likely to win others simply by spreading the word.
5. Use social media strategically
Social media quality is much better than quantity: you don’t have to be on every social network, and when you’re just starting out, you really shouldn’t try. It’s much better to do a few things really well than to take a scattershot approach that has no focus and no goals.
Determine where your target readership is most likely to be concentrated, and start by building a strong presence on that network.
6. Seed early reviews
I can’t overstate the importance of those first few weeks after release. To improve your book’s discoverability on Amazon, it’s critical to have a handful of solid reviews — aim for 10, at a minimum. It’s ok for some of these to come from family and friends, but it’s even better for those to come from top Amazon reviewers and verified buyers.
How do you get them? Start by asking, of course. Offering a free copy of your book to the right people in exchange for a review can give an enormous boost to your sales. Go to and look for reviewers who have reviewed books similar to yours. You can also simply look up reviewers whose reviews you have enjoyed!
Each reviewer has a profile with an email address. Reach out to them with a non-pushy personal note, and a copy of your ebook or PDF version. Be gracious, be grateful and respect their opinion if they don’t love your book. Sour grapes will sour your reputation, but being a good sport demonstrates the professionalism you want to be known for as a career author.
What marketing strategies have helped you spread the word about your book?