I was recently asked if I would do an interview with a national newspaper. I readily agreed, until I was told the piece was all about entrepreneurs. Probably like the majority of authors, I've never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to reach a large audience - so I began scribbling notes in order to be ready for whatever questions the interviewer might throw at me.
As it happened, the journalist asked the usual sort of questions about my writing and my novels, so those notes were never needed. I thought they might be useful to some of you though, because, after all, what does an entrepreneur do? They sell a product. And that's exactly what a successful author does. We put our books out there and attempt to market them so people will find them and buy them.
Of course, some writers will scoff at the vulgar idea of making money. I've heard things like, “I'm not doing it for that, I just like to write.” Well, that's up to you. Personally I'd like to be able to make a living and I see nothing wrong with being rewarded for my hard work.
So, here's a few simple tips on how to approach marketing your novels like an entrepreneur. I hope you find them helpful...
First off, being an author is hard work. The actual writing part might be easy for you, but that's far from the end of the story when it comes to selling your books. Get used to the idea that you won't have very much spare time. Sell your Playstation 4 or Xbox One.
Before you publish anything, it has to be presentable - so hire a cover designer. The first thing potential readers will see is your front cover image, so make sure it looks professional or no one will click on it.
Once you're ready to unleash your new book, its time to get the word out there on the internet and social media. Personally I find Facebook the best platform, but I also use Twitter and have accounts on GooglePlus, Goodreads and Pinterest.
Making your author name easy to find on a Google search is a good idea too. There must be hundreds of thousands people called Steven McKay out there on the internet, so I added the middle initial (not telling you what it stands for though, answers on a postcard, winner gets a signed paperback) and...well, try Googling “Steven McKay”, then try “Steven A. McKay” and you'll see what I mean, hopefully. Make your name just a little bit unusual and readers will be able to find you easier.
How do you get people to follow your Facebook page though?
Try giving something away in return for shares or “likes”. I regularly run competitions where I offer entry into a draw to win signed paperbacks in return for people sharing my posts on their own pages. You can offer ebooks but, to be honest, I haven't had much success with that, so if you don't have a paperback version of your book – get Createspace or another print-on-demand service to make you some. They really are an excellent way of spreading the word and thanking your hardcore readers for helping you reach a wider audience.
You can also use paperbacks to run giveaways on Goodreads, which attracts a lot of readers. The first time I tried this, I had almost 2,000 people sign up for the competition – that's a lot of people that became aware of my debut novel in return for me posting a couple of paperbacks to the winners. I wouldn't suggest offering any more than two copies though – it just adds to the postage costs which can be very high if someone on the other side of the world wins, and offering five copies doesn't seem to attract any more entrants than offering one or two (as I found out to my cost!).
Many authors seem to be introverts and don't want to place themselves in front of an audience unless it's from behind their keyboard, but doing interviews with your local newspaper or radio station along with other public appearances can be great marketing and great fun.
When I was younger, I suddenly developed a terrible fear of being in a crowd – social anxiety disorder it's called. Going to team meetings at work and even meeting friends in the pub for a night out would make me physically ill, so I'm the last person that would feel comfortable appearing in front of an audience then, right? Wrong! I know lots of people share this anxiety but I eventually decided I had to overcome it. Since then I've sang and played lead guitar at gigs with my band, been interviewed on radio and even sat in front of an audience of other authors as part of Amazon's KDP panel at the 2014 London Book Fair.
Yes, I still get nervous – but I don't let it stop me. If we want to be a success, we need to overcome our fears and, honestly, these things are always so much fun!
Don't sit waiting on an opportunity to appear on radio or a book-signing or whatever to come to you - you need to get in touch with the people in charge of these things and let them know you're available. Don't be too pushy, but be forward and get your name out there.
On a similar theme, any author will be contacted from time to time by other aspiring writers looking for advice, or even just readers wanting to tell you they like your work. Reply to every one of them. The likes of George RR Martin or Bernard Cornwell get so many emails that they simply can't reply to them all – that's fair enough. But there's no excuse for a low-level author like you or me ignoring people when they contact us. I've emailed authors myself and some of them ignored me while others (yes, even Bernard Cornwell) were good enough to reply. Guess which ones I feel a sense of loyalty to as a reader? Which ones I'll leave good reviews for when I buy their books?
Don't be a big-shot – reply to people that take the time to contact you. It's polite and it'll create loyal readers.
Now, you've sold a few books and made some money, what next? As I said earlier, cash opens up opportunities for writers. You can try advertising for example. I've used a few different services and you can read a short blog post of mine from last year about it here.
As I write this article, I've just paid for a Bookbub promotion and I have to say, it's been well worth the money. Wolf's Head has jumped literally thousands of places in the Amazon.com Kindle charts and sits at number 39 overall and number 1 in each of the subcategories it's listed in.
Don't throw money out at random – try different things and research what might be the best options for you. I do find Facebook ads work quite well at a low level though, just by spending a few pounds, so you could start there. Don't be reckless with your earnings, but understand that you need to spend money to make money.
One last point as an aside from the marketing business: keep records of incoming royalty payments and outgoing costs such as advertising fees or narrator/editor costs, for tax purposes. Start as soon as you publish your first book so you don't have to hunt back over old bank statements and emails etc.
Also, a list of helpful contacts – reviewers/boggers and worthwhile advertisers, for example – so you remember them for your next book release push, will be handy.
Ultimately, we all have to understand that making a name for ourselves as authors is a marathon, not a sprint so if you don't see much success after a year or two, don't be downhearted, just try some new strategies. Writing is fun, but finding new readers and being rewarded for your hard work is fun, too - so get out there, market, and start selling as many books as you can.
And, if you stumble upon a great tip – share it here with the rest of us!
Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon KDP stand. Wolf's Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller while The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.
If you found this useful, take a look at Steven's essential article on self-publishing.
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